Patrick Deeley is a poet and author born in Loughrea, County Galway. His writing has been published widely in Ireland and abroad over many years, and of his six collections of poetry with Dedalus Press the most recent is ‘Groundswell: New and Selected Poems’. His literary awards include The Éilís Dillon Award and The Dermot Healy International Poetry Prize. He has just completed a memoir entitled ‘The Hurley-Maker’s Son’, extracts from which can be read at Numero Cinq online literary magazine and in the Spring 2015 edition of New Hibernia Review.
In ‘Razzle Dazzle 2015 Anthology’, Loughrea itself frequently becomes the main character
Razzle Dazzle 2015, Loughrea Creative Writing Group, edited and introduced by Liam Nolan.
By Patrick Deeley
In this anthology, which I very much enjoyed, the town of Loughrea itself frequently becomes the main character. It’s the ’centre of the world’ for many of the people who feature in these stories and – when the stories travel back in time to the early days of the writers themselves – it often becomes, to all intents and purposes, the only place in the world. The town setting allows the protagonists to ‘be themselves’ and to interact more convincingly with each other in their own familiar environment, but it also offers each story the possibility of being ‘contained’, the sense of enclosure and connectedness which are both helpful and necessary in bringing the characters to life.The anthology also travels ‘out of town’ on occasion, as well as featuring a number of highly effective fact-based articles which the editor, Liam Nolan, aptly refers to as ‘think’ pieces. These reports help to ‘ventilate’ the book. They bring changes of scene and tone before we again eavesdrop on the goings on in Abbey Lane or the Railway Hotel, or zero in on the various front rooms and back gardens where the action happens and – as one story has it – ‘the fable of the town’ is created.Liam Nolan’s own ‘On the Sands of Boulogne’ uses sturdy yet elegiac language to catch the tragedy which took place just off the coast of northern France in August 1833, and to convey a keen sense that we are actually witnessing the calamity as it unfolds. I enjoyed ‘Back where she Belongs’, featuring his history of Ballycotton Lighthouse and his celebration of the heroic Patsy Sliney, for its unfussy detail and for the clarity and directness throughout. Moving from the rescue of people to the ‘rescue’ of a lifeboat, and from the conversion of a lightship to a pirate radio station, is a neat and engrossing turn. ‘Doctor on the Bridge’ gives an insight into the stressful lives of doctors but, for me, a real highlight was ‘Inevitable Twilight’. I loved the close and authentic detail of the telling and Nolan’s ability to describe things in a nutshell – ’fought out of a tight clinch’, or ‘hitters, sluggers, swarmers, slam-bang merchants’, or the almost throwaway ‘they led with their faces’, were just a few of the memorable expressions to leap out at me. This is a heartfelt and knowledgeable piece. It illustrates the terrible consequences that so often follow on from the prize fighter’s glory days, but also the lack of any other options behind the bravery, the exploitation and the savagery involved.
Eamonn McNally’s ‘A Poet of Note’ threw me at first. I thought I was in for a story in the manner of the old seanchai but it grew modern and developed a bit of bite and is all the better as a result. I felt that it ended a little hastily and would have enjoyed seeing the characters being developed more. ‘Communion Suit’, on the other hand, is full of enriching detail and catches the character of the people he knew and the specialness of the day. Such expressions as ‘In Abbey Lane nothing was simple’, or ‘the Lady of the Lane’, or ‘a lady who liked news’, are plainspoken and memorable and convey how much this story matters to the narrator. ‘The Shooting Man’ has a good, relaxed rhythm to it and is enjoyably anecdotal with well-drawn characters. ‘The Lodger’ is witty, catching a time of innocence, but I was more taken by ‘The Dealer’, a story about a chap ‘with flair for deception’. Here the author’s ear for spoken word and his fidelity to the nuances involved – such as in ‘modern reproducted’ – come through strongly as he gives a marvellous insight into the life of the peddler, the passing of the old auctions and the tricks of the buying and selling trade.
Oonagh Timson in her short story ‘Della May’ works an effective and affecting oracle by leaving out – in sympathy with the theme – more than she reveals. In ‘Home is where the Heart is’ I loved the idea of the train driver stopping on the journey from Attymon to Loughrea for a cup of tea at a nearby house, and the comment ’We knew we would arrive some time!’ I also relished the authentic details throughout the story, such as the mention of an ‘ex-medicine bottle of milk’, the eels in the river, and the gas masks and air-raid sirens after the arrival back in wartime England.
Joe Conmy’s ‘The Funeral’ is gently reflective and for me the observation that ’Life was punishment enough for any human’ struck home. ‘The Gift of Words’ works as a good tribute to WB Yeats and shows how poetry can work in subtle ways to influence our moods and bring shape to the rhythms of our lives. ‘Light and Music’ is, I feel, possibly Joe’s strongest piece here. It gives us a slice of social history, not least some people’s preoccupation with dust(!), and contains the valuable observations that the radio provided as much education to young people of our era as school did, and that music worked as a therapy for broken hearts.
In ‘The Card Game’ Ray Gately plays a dexterous game of 25 and behind it, quietly, we get a glimpse into emigrant lives. The lightly comic touch of ‘The Game of Love’ works well, while both ‘The Green White and Gold’ and ‘Millennium Magic’ with their emphasis particularly on athletics and rugby are interesting and informative. But of Ray’s stories here I was most forcibly struck by the atmosphere created in ‘Bringing him Home’, the short, unembellished sentences and the quietly evoked no-nonsense lives of the protagonists a standout.
Noreen Garrihy’s one story here, ‘Typical’, caught the judgmental attitude of the pass-remarkable ‘Bridie’ character well, before bringing through the young mother’s difficulties and illustrating how wrong assumptions can be.
Johnny Kelly’s ‘The Big Launch’ is a witty chronicling of the manufacture of counterfeit Euro notes in denominations of 300 and 400 Euro – the ‘real’ denominations are of course five, ten, twenty, fifty, one hundred, two hundred, and five hundred Euro – and of how the counterfeit notes were circulated in gambling casinos and holiday resorts throughout Europe in or around 2002. No crime is victimless, as Johnny reminds us, but his telling of the story does justice to ‘the ingenuity of the scam’.
Pat Lawless in ‘The Curate’ looks closely at loneliness and thwarted love, but for me the really sharp descriptions – including those of hens and rooster – in ‘Big, Red and Posh’ proved more memorable, while I thought that the idea of ‘birds of a feather flocking together’ was starkly and unsentimentally borne out. ‘Finbar the Miner’ is a curiously fascinating piece, well told. My favourite of Pat’s stories here is ‘The Painted Lady’. True or not, this makes for a gripping, acutely observed yarn.
Mary Lane Heneghan’s ‘Weekend in Festival City’ catches Galway’s feel-good carnival ambience well, while ‘Last Train to Galway’ tells the sad but hopeful story of a young drug addict with sensitivity – most effectively when it relies on the boy’s own words. My particular favourite of Mary’s offerings here is ‘Sizing up the Sixties’. This takes us on a grand carousel of memories. It recreates the spirit of an era by documenting the strife and the successes, the tumultuous public events associated with it, before moving – with an apposite change of tone – to quiet, personal recollections.
Veronica Creaven-Newell’s ‘I saved him’ is a well-written, unnerving tale of derangement. ‘Know your enemy’ indeed. ‘Home’, a tale told aslant, switches from scene to scene, from this life to the other and back, ambitiously and effectively, while ‘On Loan for a Day’ warmly recreates a family occasion complete with a ‘happy ever after’ ending.
Fiona Nolan’s ‘Pinhole in the Sky’ gives us an interesting and sometimes sceptical take on travellers’ tales neatly counterpointed with a near fatal event. Its various strands could perhaps be woven a little tighter but I like the ambition it shows and I love the idea of Katie ‘feeling the victory of life surge through her’.
To sum up, Razzle Dazzle 2015 is, as editor Liam Nolan states in his Introduction, essentially about people, and the people you’ll meet here are a diverse and entertaining group well worth getting to know. I commend Liam and the members of Loughrea Creative Writing Group on this finely produced anthology.