Sunday, 24 July 2016


Chairman Mao at the uni
Pudong district buildings and the Huangpu River from the Bund
It has been a long, long week since I got back from China. I spent the last two days of my Shanghai trip confined to my hotel room with food poisoning which was not fun. I also fainted at Shanghai Airport and woke up on the bathroom floor (with a sore head) surrounded by kindly airport officials who called doctors (help comes in multiple figures in China). Mortified! Anyway, I was let on the plane but it was a long, hard flight and the combined smell of noodles and perfume almost did me in. I got home eventually and have had a bit of a lost week of sleep, sickness and general dullness (with two exhausting forays to Dublin for a gig and a wedding.) Whatever bug I picked up does not seem to want to let me go :(

Huge duck, Fangsheng Park

Anyway, up to that point the trip went well. We got to see a little of the city (vast, smog-lidded, high rise blighted) and we enjoyed the International Short Story Conference as always. It's lovely to re-connect with old friends/short story lovers.

Aquarium eel

Looking up a shark's rear end at the aquarium :)
My fave thing and I didn't have much :(

Communing with penguins
My husband and I had some time to explore Shanghai so we went to a bazaar (again, vast) and to the aquarium (I love belugas and they had three), to lovely Changfeng Park (beside our hotel) and to the Bund to see the amazing modern buildings. The heat was incredible (30 to 35C and humid) so we would walk for a bit, then hide for a bit in anyplace that offered air-con.

Jetlag, oncoming illness, and pre ice-cream mania...
Large waffle cone in YooShake - is this the food poisoning culprit?!!
Food was difficult for us as veggies so we did not dine well overall and I have no idea where I picked up the bug. Maybe an ice-cream bought from a park stall? Or one eaten in YooShake? Who knows...

Ann Luttrell at Dashu Wujie
Baby courgettes and mushrooms
Lotus hearts
The Irish contingent were delighted to have dinner at gourmet vegetarian restaurant Dashu Wujie at the invitation of Zhao Lihong, director of the Shanghai Writers' Association. The food was incredible: lotus hearts with asparagus, teeny tiny courgettes, tofu and seitan done in many ways, avocado wrapped in beetroot etc. We talked Cork (Zhao Lihong has been published there),Yeats, Wilde and the Irish language with the help of interpreters.

Jamie O'Connell introducing me and Alan McM
Alan McMonagle

Me reading my story 'Napoli Abú' from the conference anthology
Tracey Slaughter, NZ
At the conference, which took place in the East China Normal University, I enjoyed many readings by the likes of Gish Jen, Yiyun Li, Robert Olen Butler, Clark Blaise, Felicity Skelton, Katie Singer and her daughter Kayla, and my friend Alan McMonagle (we read together).

NZ panel: Tracey Slaughter, Jack Ross, Frankie McMillan,
Leanne Radojkovich, Bronwyn Lloyd
I really, really enjoyed the panel of New Zealand writers who were as down to earth and vibrant as one might expect. NZ author Frankie McMillan also gave an interesting paper on flash fiction which is having a renaissance in her county. Inevitably at a conference so vast it is impossible to get to everything but, considering I felt pretty unwell most of the week, I got to lots.

Clark Blaise, Robert Olen Butler, Gish Jen and Yiyun Li
There weren't many books for sale at the conference but I managed to get Gish Jen's s/s collection Who's Irish? and it is totally brilliant - funny, deep and informative on the Chinese immigrant experience in the States.


Shanghai was as hectic and strange as I'd expected (it was my first time to Asia). The clichés stand up: lots of overloaded bicycles transporting odd goods; funny signs 'translated' into English; lots of hawking, nose-clearing and spitting; copious amounts of bullfrog and pig intestine on restaurant menus; a sweet and friendly populace.

Welcome sign in the s/c beside our hotel
Sugar Report - a café in the s/c and its cryptic/appropriate message

Sweet shop
A very empty Shanghai Tesco
The whole 10 Yuan shop (or a €1.40 shop)

Because my eating forays were so haphazard over there, I took pics of cakes especially for John Foyle, who always enjoys the foodie aspect to my travel posts. Here you go, John. Enjoy!

Chocolate bread at Ichido, French bakery
Cream buns at Ichido
Bun(ny) - I was too sick to eat anything but his bready ears :(

Saturday, 23 July 2016


Illustration by Jane Webster
I have a new story in todays' Irish Times, 'Storks', about the aftermath and pain of miscarriage. It's set in Spain, mostly in Cáceres, where I was invited to an Irish Studies Conference a few years ago by the lovely Carolina Amador. Cáceres is a beautiful, mystical place. You can read the story online here.

Friday, 1 July 2016


Pregnancy loss has plagued my life for 16 years. I have written about it a little in my novel The Closet of Savage Mementos and a lot in poetry collections, most especially in my last one The Juno Charm. And I have a story called 'Storks' forthcoming in The Irish Times that is about the aftermath of miscarriage.

But today I have a short-short story (flash) in a brand new UK-based magazine for women writers called Halo. Halo is a gorgeous and welcome outlet for women and the art work for this issue is fabulous. There will be a limited number of print issues soon - keep any eye on the Halo Twitter account for more on that.

My tiny miscarriage story, 'Tilt', is on page 36. Go here.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

PARIS & EDIS AFTERS - report and pics

'Between my finite eyes -' Emily D.

I was at the Emily Dickinson International Society (EDIS) Conference this past weekend in Paris, which was, of course, trés jolie: Emily and Paris, two of my favourite things all wrapped up together. We enjoyed the 'blue and gold' of Emily D's June - the sun shone often - though there was more than the odd 'curious Cloud' too.

Butte aux Cailles graffiti & Juno
Fondation des États Unis
The conference took place at the Cité Universitaire, in the 14th arrondissement, in a trio of beautiful old buildings, full of oak and marble and delicate murals. Our hotel (a bit cruddy, tbh) was a 20 minute walk from the uni, through residential streets and Parc Montsouris. The park held one of two Clark Lunberry art installations, inspired by Emily D.

Clark Lunberry ED text on the pond at Parc Montsouris

It's always lovely to reconnect with fellow Emily fans and I even managed to overcome shyness and talk to some ;) The theme of this year's conference was 'Experimental Dickinson' (apt) and I heard papers on Emily's letters (especially those to her beloved SIL, Susan, as well as to her friend, and posthumous editor, Thomas Wentworth Higginson).

Dr Emily Seelbinder with Juno, both sporting Emily D T-shirts

Also, some great papers on teaching Dickinson, including a fascinating one from North Carolina-based scholar Emily Seelbinder, who challenges her students to create an objet d'art using Dickinson's poetry as a jump-off. (My kind of class). The students have produced fantastic work, everything from art books, to fortune cookies containing Dickinson aphorisms, to a boardgame: 'Dickinson Dash to the Death', and a T-shirt connecting Kanye to Emily :)

Georgiana Strickland's paper was about the discography she is compiling of interpretations/versions of Emily's poetry that have been set to music. We were treated to various extracts from different composers, including Aaron Copeland and, my favourite, Craig Hella Johnson.

Natasha et Linda

That paper set us up nicely for Saturday evening's concert 'The Poet and the Muse: Dickinson in Song', with soprano Linda Mabbs and pianist Natasha Roqué Alsina. It was fascinating to hear, for example, four different composers' versions of 'Will there really be a "Morning"?', performed one after the other. Linda Mabbs is a beautiful singer and her interpretations were moving and funny, and her explanations of the arrangements were really informative.

ED and Celebrity panel: Paul, Páraic & Elizabeth

I went to a panel on ED's dealings with literary fame - her own and others'. It was great to hear papers by Elizabeth Petrino, Páraic Finnerty and Paul Crumbley that looked at different aspects of 19th C literary celebrity and where ED saw herself within it all. And how she may have had a firm eye on posthumous celebrity. Fascinating stuff. (Páraic Finnerty has just reviewed my novel about ED, Miss Emily, in Breac - a wonderful review, I am honoured.)

Lunberry 'Written on Air' installation - Fondation des États Unis, Cité Universitaire

There was a lot of overlap as ever with the content and themes that people chose to present on. Emily D's penchant for concealment and revelation came up a lot, the known/unknown nature of her life and work.

Me and Ju, on our way to the concert and banquet
Banquet bread and wine :)
Lovely people: EDIS President Martha Nell Smith with conference organiser Antoine Cazé

We had the conference banquet on Saturday night in the Fondation Deutsch de la Meurthe in the gorgeous, balconied, wood-lined Grand Salon. Despite making it known we were vegetarians in advance, there was little for us to eat. Even the ratatouille contained fish (why? why?). So we ate bread and drank wine and, sure, what else would you need?! Juno was delighted to meet other EDIS members' children and had a ball with them, outside the fondation building, running about and chatting. (I must add, though, that the lunches at the conference were outstanding - the choccie tart! The cheesy puffs! The salads! All very delicious.)

View from the Tour Eiffel

We had four full days and two half days in Paris and, apart from the conference, we managed to squeeze in a lot: shopping, sightseeing, scoffing, walking, art etc. The area we stayed in, the Butte aux Cailles, is gorgeous. I had stayed there before and loved its olde worlde charm. It's full of sweet bars and restaurants and there is the most incredible graffiti/wall art everywhere.

Skaters outside Notre Dame - they were brilliant
Finbar at Notre Dame
The Seine
Deyrolle window display
We visited the famous Deyrolle in St Germain to see the taxidermy. No photos allowed inside, but I took one of the window display. You can buy a stuffed bison, lion, piglet or duckling, depending on your budget. Though a duckling costs about €200... I made do with a vintage map/poster of vegetables annotated in French.

Forlorn and covetable dolly at the marché in Vanves
We went to the marché aux puces at the Porte de Vanves. We wandered for ages, buying nothing, only to have a flurry at the end. I bought a blue enamel brooch by Bretaudeau Paris; a silver tone pendant with opalite and turquoise stones by Miracle (both for €20), and a turqouise, floral Japanese pot for a tenner. Juno bought yet more Playmobil (and was ripped off) but I am nonsense at haggling myself, so I said nothing.

'Standing Girl Nude, Turned to the Left with Arms Crossed' - Paula MB

We also went to the top of the Eiffel Tower - such joy to see Juno's delighted face. And we stumbled on the fact that there was a temporary exhibit of Paula Modersohn Becker's paintings at the Palais de Tokyo. I wrote an (unpublished) novel about Paula years ago, so it was great to re-connect with her and see some work that I have never seen because it is privately owned. That was a real bonus.

Grass jelly drink, anyone?
What else? Oh yes, we went to Chinatown for a look around but it was pretty grey and grim, apart from the great Asian supermarkets, like Tang Frères.

And we watched the Ireland vs France match in a bistro in St Michel, having failed to get into two jam-packed Irish pubs. That was fun until our team were hammered. We consoled ourselves in Notre Dame Cathedral: mass in progress, hymns being sung, candles twinkling. Heaven felt near, as Emily D. might say.

Falafel, Le Grenier style
More consolation, then, in our favourite Parisian veggie restaurant, Le Grenier de Notre Dame. Drool. Followed by dark choc from the gelateria next door. Slurp. Le Grenier has poshed up a bit, mind you, since we were last there. As has Shakespeare and Co., which feels a bit Disneyish now, I hate to say, though I bought an Emily D. book I don't have - JCO's Essential Dickinson. (Husb also brought Juno to Disneyland Paris; thankfully I escaped that torture. I did my bit years ago with my two older kids. Once was quite enough.)

George Sand's house - tea garden roses
'Nobody knows this little Rose -
It might a pilgrim be...' ED
George Sand's house
We also went to George Sand's house, Musée de la Vie Romantique. Well, it was Ary Scheffer's house but George lived there with him. They have an incredible collection of her jewellery and some fine portraits by Ary. And there's a tea garden where I had the best chocolate mousse of my life.

I wanted one of these so badly. Too pricey, though :(
Métro station ads are the best
So, it was a marvellous trip, all thanks to the Arts Council for funding me. It's great to be home too, though I'll have to get used to no more pain au chocolat for brekkie and no more nightly booze.

And at some point I guess I will stop feeling exhausted out of my brains and start some proper work. I have rewrites on novel #4 to tackle and class prep for Saturday's IWC class. For now, I will just let myself feel I still have one foot in Paris. With Emily and all those who love her.

The EDIS conference poster
'I've seen a Dying Eye
Run round and round a Room —' ED