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Location: Dublin, Republic of, Ireland

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Oh...what a night!
We finally adjourned to a pub with the kind of loud music and small merry crowds holding on to their last pints - that reminded me of the old days.
Later, stepping out of the taxi at 2am, I remember birds still singing in the trees, a moon looming ahead and stars glistening everywhere.
I slept at 3 and it's now 8am.
I'm flying Lufthansa this morning and will be at Frankfurt airport for some hours.

It's amazing how in one's final hours in a country - and even if that departure may be attributed to a season and that even if necessity may constitute for itself a thorough packing -... yes, it's amazing how the quivering heart may suddenly crave the oddest of commodities, so trivial by comparison and yet immediate by the illumination of a heartfelt parting.
A lipstick, mascara, stationery and a Polo shirt all demand a pick-me-up for my hand luggage.
I'm in town for last minute errands. As usual, I have not packed. And I sigh at the kind of clutter
I had been in the habit of accomodating that was intolerant to my mother even when I was just 4. Or maybe, 3.
I left my some of my books with GB - my affectionate apey friend who sometimes comments.
But now Des another good friend and editor of my poems, is left with so much more. Even my jigsaw puzzle which I haven't yet opened.
I shall soon be back and there really is no need to take all that much...because all the Christmassy bits will still be here when I return and they unlike me, are not going anywhere...or so, I console myself.
I also forgot to mention that Dublin's streets were officially lighted up for Christmas 2 days ago and a gorgeous tree stands on O'Connell Street.
This evening, there is Anne Enright and also an open mic poetry reading in town, organised by Seven Towers Publications. My name has already been given so I shall be reading some poems. Not poems but lyrical prose which has become fashionable and which I am more at home writing. My poetry has always leaned towards the narrative. At the moment, I haven't yet decided what to read.
Say...something like this which I wrote awhile ago in London.

painted by sunsets and shadowed by ghosts in the mindset. I hang your silhouette, an illumination of a lantern near the bleed of a cut in my heart. I touch you; the skin on my finger burrowed in the bliss of your kiss. I wait on tiptoe, reluctant for this loving moment missed. I see at once if something is wrong…I ask you about a scar from a mark that stayed too long…or perhaps of how your face beautiful in the morning light…would trace a blight that settles tenderly on the tip of a lip. You say it’s nothing…why am I so moved by a change in something of an expression…in anticipation of a haphazard arrangement so annoyed if I see your sideburns trimmed in a way to turn a destiny true, in a way that simply does not suit the majestic you. Perhaps it’s because I want your face chiselled awhile from its furrowed brows to a handsome smile…sculptured in my memory where youth holds on to its shaky, mirrored fantasy. -suzan abrams

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Today, I'm too lazy to move...to go out...to stretch myself...to do anything. It is a bit of a shake-up; I have to step out of this lull to fly again shortly. However much I avoid travel, it seems to be firmly entrenched in my destiny and spirit...opportunities will present themselves unexpectedly...I cannot avoid the door that suddenly opens in my favour, like a gust in the wind.
I haven't been able to read or write because I'm thinking about where I'm going and what to take and things like that...
Then I will tell you after I've been..after this weekend, you will know where I am. :-)
I am in my element in airports...have always felt very at home in them. And I do feel that the destination I'm heading to is round the corner, even if it isn't.
It's a matter of infinite patience with luggage and screening machines, queues, coffees and a handy paperback. So you know I'll be at an airport bookshop followed by a cafe. Yes, I do know a thing or two about airport cafes from travels in the past and can recommend a good few. :-)
In the plane, I'll be caught up with the telly from pure habit.
Can't ever sleep. Will wait for the hotel at my next destination.
But I will drop notes on this blog except maybe on the day that I fly.
I'll be leaving Dublin for a fortnight.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Caption: My ticket for Anne Enright.
Yesterday wasn't as cold as the day before. I spent all day reading the papers...if you see how chunky they are you'll understand: The Observer, The Irish Times and such.
In fact, I don't know when I last read so much with the recent exception of London and Ireland.
In the evening, we went to settle my accomodation.
I'll be sharing a cottage with an American playwright and poet.
I'll be seriously writing.
She and I are at the same crossroads in our lives; at the moment she's buried in other projects; fiction and a screenplay with which to shape her language, to look for that perfect form and structure and to seek her own success.
The difference is that she has already staged a play in Dublin and published a book of poems in the States.
I'll be working on my play or a novel. Either way, I shall finish one of the tasks. And I also have my poems that are being looked at by Des.
The cottage is pretty. It has animals and a back garden with leafy trees and a wooded lane. Nature hints at a delightful read in the outdoors, come the summer.
A short walk brings me to the Liffey River. There, I shall see swans.
Later, the 3 of us, celebrated with Christmas wine.
I listened, elated, while my friends talked poetry.
I became instantly merry. I felt cheery and heady.
I remember laughing a lot.
I have re-connected with the dreams of my childhood when even then I tossed up a surreal realm in which to write and read. My time here may be seasonal and momentary but the effect I suspect, to be monumental.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Today, is the first time I'm looking at any kind of publishing market in over a year. And also that of theatres. It is a new time for me. The last time when I was ever as diligently involved in creative writing, had to be in my early 20s. Then I became flooded by so many experiences, not all of them good and some, truly overwhelming. But now and here once more, a new day.
I have to pretend I have never written...formulate once more that schoolgirlish lark, that the world is open to any kind of unexpected opportunity. I musn't measure my enthusiasm but keep going.
I'm ready now when I wasn't ready before, although a few opened doors had lain whispering hope, in my orbit of darkness. But now, it's time for me the sleepyhead to wake up, roused by a newborn sun.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Yesterday, my friend and I went to tea at the Film Institute at Temple Bar. Or at least, he helped himself to a pot while I settled for wine. Cobblestone pavements down the alleyways, sheltered by colourful shops and cafes of every description make Temple Bar, the celebratory carnival that it is. Throughout history, novelists, artists, poets and playwrights, met here for a camaraderie.
We turned suddenly to the right and were confronted by an attractive courtyard which as always masqueraded a stylish cafe; plus, there were tables in a slightly dimmer alcove beautifully shrouded with red lighting. It is guaranteed to make you glow which in turn decieves the mind so that the diner may fancy himself or herself, in the middle of a sunset. We queued for our drinks...others for chunky slices of cake, bagels and sandwiches.
The effect was atmospheric. The film school also boasts cinemas. It exhibited a list of screenings for the evening and people were hurrying for tickets at the box office. And of course, a quaint speacialist bookshop on a variety of film texts and material, stays tucked away beside the cafe. At the alcove, tall posters and playbills of Hollywood's golden era, towered over us.

I came away feeling quite heady. It was a lovely evening and office workers looking forward to the weekend, went shopping with merriment. I strolled over the bridge and river, eating dark chocolate - an indulgence I rarely treat myself too. But life couldn't have felt more carefree.

I also picked up an old novel, famed at this moment, for its nostalgic musty smell. September Roses by Andre Maurois tells of a scintillating Parisian love story written in 1958. The characters are named and listed beforehand in a theatrical manner and the plot switches from Paris to Peru and then back to France. It bears all the hallmarks of a dangerous intrigue. Think a young and beautiful Peruvian actress called Lolita, a distinguished novelist named Fontane and his possessive wife, Pauline.


Friday, 23 November 2007


Bitterly cold. Wrapped up to the nines. A delicious breakfast. Ran to the double-decker bus. Made it. Market day in town. I hurry to keep my appointment with the travel agent. Paid for air ticket and collected it already, for next week. Wonderful travel agency & excellent customer service. I'll fly first to a European city, then elsewhere. I'm getting a tiny place of my own - but it's mine, yay - permanently in Dublin. I'll be moving between London and Dublin.
How does it feel like being in the Republic of Ireland? It's a picturesque city with vast famed literature, with cafes too numerous to count, with bookshopes too large to explore and now with exciting, generous Christmas offers found in department stores everywhere. It's hard to find these kind of offers in Asia. Maybe because prices always include shipping and such.
The Irish are said to love to shop but they have a gentle manner and are always polite.
I sometimes return home with a stack of magazines and newspapers...there is just so much to read here and again compared to South-East Asia, they cost very little; plus all the magazines...fiction, women's, men's, literary, cuisine, fashion, society, specialists etc are always hot off the oven. They appear on shelves 2 days before the printed date. You're also entitled to free gifts and offers. Plus, England and Ireland share everything closely - they're like twins when it comes to the media.
In fact, Dublin is still like the England one glimpses endearingly in old storybooks, the kind of buildings, shops and culture that still stay untouched by the advances of time. Heritage works nicely with modernity.
I have just been to a lunchtime poetry reading. Chapters Bookstore on Parnell Street has organised a series of festive poetry readings for the Christmas season. I've missed a good few but it was nice to settle at the back of the shop, and in between shelves on chairs, neatly laid out in a semi-circle.

Today, featured published Irish poetess, Catherine Ann Cullen who really drew me in with her reading. She's quite well known in Ireland and her performance - reading&dialogue - were spontanous. I loved it that she made her poems for us so personal reading from her book and also new pieces on paper and each one had a family story - perhaps of her husband, her daughter, her mother-in-law and even one of a favourite rosemary tree out in the garden.
If you'e not yet famed or made your name, it is better I've found to read in front of strangers and not always people who know you because if strangers give you a hearty applause, that's the best test for your work really.
However, Cullen who has published A Bone in My Throat (12 euros) with Doghouse, doesn't need any introduction and it was wonderful to see her family and friends come out to listen to her read. It promoted an intimate feeling of togetherness...such is the valuable tool of poetry.
It is afternoon and tea-time. A friend is coming to meet me in the city so I have to go.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

I'm so excited which is why it's hard to even write a blog post properly although, it's excellent discipline for writing...especially when I am still slow in returning to the craft.
I'm excited that everything is going well...I feel shrouded by my own blessings, just walking down the street. Everything around me is so peaceful. For many months, this just wasn't the case.
I think reading just holds it all together for me. It keeps me restful and focussed. Also, being with good friends...real friends...and feeling loved. And I'm enjoying your company too, my blogger acquaintances, whenever you think of coming by, JCR, GB, Ty, Rob etc.
It's properly winter now and very cold. Zero temperatures tonight and colder tomorrow. I lost my leather gloves in the shops somewhere yesterday. From Australia and England to over here, people do run up from time to time waving my shawl, a glove or even coppers. I stay clumsy to a habit that's not stopped.
The trick is to fish out a second pair of black gloves and guard it very carefully.
I popped over to Eason Bookstore on O'Connell Street. My place for Man Booker Prize Winner - Anne Enright's reading next week has already been confirmed but tickets still haven't arrived.
I bought Christmas cards and wrote it all out at what one would call a tiny intimate cafe. Rob, if you're reading this, I ask that you check it out...a quaint Christian bookshop on Abbey Street facing the tram tracks.
Go straight downstairs to the little cafe called The Haven that opens at 10am and closes at 4. Wonderful coffees, teas and sandwiches. But the decor is so inviting with brightly coloured children's picture books scattered about the walls and watchful too, over the pretty seating. It's not ever crowded and is a wonderful place for cuppas and long private conversations. Plus, as always, excellent customer service. Ooh...I really love inspecting coffee haunts.
I'm the kind of writer and reader who thrives on cafe life and in Dublin, I look forward to one, everyday.
Later, I dropped everything off at the post office, crossed over to the travel agency and booked a flight for next week. Got it easily for the date and destination of my choice with no problems plus very helpful travel agent. I'll be back in Europe before Christmas.
I can't push myself to write; otherwise I become really unhappy with my stories and words. But I feel peaceful enough...or rather at a level now when I can concentrate diligently on a major piece of writing so that's my next goal. Life is good.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007


Sorry I just don't have time to fill in a post for today but will tomorrow. I haven't been doing much. Just reading. I've finished all the books I've talked about and am now reading this very old english classic, a story called Cranford, published by Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell, who was first discovered by and stayed a very good friend of Charles Dickens. She writes in a kindly maternal fashion about a group of do-gooder spinsters, embroiled in the class system of what's proper and what's not in old Great Britain. I feel comforted just reading her.
It makes me think of marshmellows and hot cocoa and putting my feet up on a comfy sofa.
Briefly, I'm enjoying my life and am thinking about shopping and flights. It is so close to Christmas time and I'm cheered by all the Santas I keep bumping into, in Dublin.
I will write properly tomorrow.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

I actually did meet James Kelly by a remarkable co-incidence at Temple Bar yesterday and wanted to talk about it today, except that there's no time. So tomorrow maybe. I may be closing the comments box permanently. I won't be publishing any more fiction or poetry as I did in the old days, and would prefer to submit these peices for publication instead of displaying them on a blog.
I suppose I just want this to be a diary, maybe too a literary diary regarding my impressions on books and writing - because I've been so bad at keeping diaries & notes and later regretted this terribly - and my life is really looking good these days and it will be nice to look back in a year or two to see how I re-started my journey as a reader, writer and traveller after having left these pursuits for so long.
So my blog will be I suppose, interesting only to me.
Today, is a day when I felt vibrant, alive, full of vitality. I sang to myself all morning. Can't remember when I last did that. Then I finaly bought my Christmas cards, settled myself in a cafe, wrote them out and dropped them all in the post. I met a friend at a bookshop, we went to have coffee at the Writer's Museum and now I'm going to go back window-shopping. It's Christmastime. I need lipsticks, a perfume, creams, notecards, a journal with which to continue my play...I never knew when I last felt so restful and contented.
And I'll be travelling again...taking an international flight although I'll soon be back in Dublin.

Monday, 19 November 2007

James Anthony Kelly - A Dublin playwright & poet

A friend was surprised when he saw that I had bought The Newman Murder, a play written by James Anthony Kelly in 1996. I had found no traces of Kelly, his book or The Rathmines Theatre, a company which had been formed to produce his works in Ireland, on the web. (please see 2nd part of post below).

Which all hints at a marvellous obscurity.

He then showed me 2 poetry booklets by Kelly - published in a raw, avant-garde format and reminiscent of small independent presses.

Apparently, Kelly is recognised as highly-talented, but one who prefers to do his own thing and shuns publicity. When he publishes poetry, he sells them on the street for a couple of quid, knowing people will buy them. He presents himself as a writer for the sake of his spirt and not for wanting to be in the limelight.

He prefers to stay in touch with the common man and sometimes lunches with the homeless, although he is anything but.
I ask if I can meet him. If I'm in Dublin long enough, I'm told, I'm bound to bump into him on the street.

Isn't it thrilling to meet a writer who's doing his/her own thing enough to create a distinction and not to be a cloned as any kind of a commercially-packaged warehouse assembly.
In this day, even the lack of any significance becomes a rare commodity...a way for a writer to stand out from the crowd. Kelly can afford to indulge in this, adds my friend, because of his talent.

Today, the sun tries a peep but the rain still hasn't stopped.

Picture credit courtesy of Classroom ClipArt


Sunday, 18 November 2007

Silent Melancholy

It is frosty today, a cold and melancholy Sunday. The rain beats softly on the window pane and without fuss. The morning could have been noon and the noon, another time on the same day. The evening will look like night and the night, like an evening gone black before it lost the light. In the season's stillness, my mood feels surreal.
I stay indoors.
The furthest I have ventured out is to the corner shop and this wearing a light sweater. It is a little daring, considering that it's freezing. The cashier on duty is my new friend and we make small chat. I had waited patiently in the queue, my hands full with little necessities...a bottle of milk, butter, crisps and the Sunday papers. This time, I choose The Observer and look forward to the book reviews. I come back with the sniffles and wish I had put on my coat.
I think it is the perfect day for instant noodles. Chinese but not a takeaway. I once stocked a bundle of packets for such moments. The steamy aroma is soothing.

I have just finished reading, a stage play, the one I bought yesterday from Chapters, called The Newman Murder by James Anthony Kelly. It tells the story of a bitter abused woman and I was so caught up in the 2 acts, that I didn't realise the main character would be murdered. It is a powerful and intense play although I feel the emotions of the characters are exaggerated. I also liked the idea of symbolism using objects, a bread bin for a snake and a dead lamb, representing the loss of goodness and a disillushioned love.
Plus, there are highly clever lines.
Last year, I wrote a play and stopped as it was one-thirds through. I still have it with me and realise while reading Kelly that my character roles had stayed on the right track.
I also learnt how a playwright could use different characters by shouting aloud instructions and lamentations, while glancing sideways - backstage - where the characters stay invisible, or staring at an audience while in contemplation.
When you think about it, it really feels surreal, reading a play in a cosy room, nestled in a favourite armchair, and eating grapes and drinking tea on a winter's day.
My read hints at obscurity, which makes it more special. The play was written in 1996 but there is no sign of the playwright or threatre, where it was to have been performed in Dublin, anywhere on the web.
I am all at once intrigued.
From somewhere, up the old chimneys, birds squawk in an excitable chatter.
I will spend the rest of the day being still, reading and writing my own story.
And the jigsaw puzzle... Of course. I had quite forgotten.


Saturday, 17 November 2007

A Saturday Morning in Dublin

Today, was a wonderful day. Once more without warning, I was a woman, racing from an infant sunset to an old dawn, reliving my childhood in a spontaneous fashion and rediscovering girlish dreams.

We went to the Writer's Museum on Parnell Street, Dublin. where Ireland's famed literary influences still rise from the past like scattered ash in the memory.

They were all there, housed with a hushed reverence high up the walls of long watchful galleries. A cafe leads out to an open courtyard and a specialist bookshop, which incidentally turns out to be a merry quaint place in wooing the customer with tempting literature of all sorts...poems, stories, ballads, odes, history; and this stacked up in various shapes and sizes like an exciting pack of cards. Then count too, the generous array of novelty and knick-knack stationery items with the mark of Irish literature eagerly stamped on the lot, that makes for an engaging collector's item.

Just viewing the ancient manual typewriters, manuscripts, letters, postcards, photographs and listening to an audio commentary on the daily escapades of the many novelists, poets and playwrights which graced Ireland's proud history, I was straightaway drawn to the nut-and-bolts of the writing craft myself; while no longer worrying about any kind of intellectual debate and frenzy.

James Joyce was Irish but he wrote in Zurich and Paris, Casey the playwright chose to live and write in London after a lifelong tiff with the legendary Abbey Theatre in Dublin which was for so long influenced by the formidable Mrs. Gregory. She thrived on a reputation for gathering writers and artists together for she felt to be an essential camaraderie.

Of course, it didn't mean the likes of Joyce were less patriotic. On the contrary, they chose the rich privilege that grabs the spirit of writers - though not many take up the offer - to write freely and to thrive on the independent will without obligation to any geographical location.

I was overcome with emotion on spotting Samuel Beckett's glasses and tears welled up in my eyes.

This haphazard post wouldn't be complete if I didn't talk about the sprawling Chapters bookstore, just down the road from the museum. It was so big, it would take more than half a day to explore everything. Chapters spots one of the biggest secondhand displays upstairs. It is a floor with mass stock so varied, the shelves have been painstakingly categorized and manned by an efficient information service.

Still, its regular customers appear constantly amazed and thrilled. Such curious titles as "Antique Books" or 'Hurt' books, wait with glee for the unsuspecting passer-by. How easy it is after all, to become a prisoner of titles. :-)

Later, I would purchase a slim paperback on the The Newman Murder, a play by James Anthony Kelly for just 3 euros. I would squeeze the book of mystery with an important air of secrecy into my winter coat pocket.

Downstairs, stand newly-published titles and inviting hardbacks together with a variety of packaged classics - think Penguin & Vintage that are all going for a song. But in Chapters, I also found the most creative and interestingly-designed stationery, not really seen anywhere else - not that I remember in London, Melbourne, Africa, Singapore or other Irish bookshops so far. Fabulous notecards, journals, writing paper, sketchbooks, decorative organizers and diaries to suit every personality. Thinks several rows of such an extraordinary collection.

After much silent debate, I settled on the Nancy Drew series for myself in the new year...postcards, address book, a journal...each collection had a host of colourful pictures and the address book just had to be the most original with several vibrant scenes splashed about in bright colour together with a host of b/w sketches. The journal even contains a chapter reprinted from the original series.
I shall have to explain why I bought Nancy Drew but I'll save it for another post.
And also, why I ended up buying a 1000-jigsaw puzzle, bearing the picture of a comic restaurant scene in Italy.

On another plus side, I received an unexpected gift of a cell phone and we had a lovely walkabout at the open-air fruit and vegetable markets that led on to Jervis Shopping Street. Ireland is good for me. I didn't know when I was last so happy...laughed so much...

Picture Captions: Top (Journal), Middle (Postcards) Bottom (Address Book).

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Friday, 16 November 2007

Yesterday, I booked my seat at Eason, for an Anne Enright event.
The current Man Booker prize winner will be reading from The Gathering, in O'Connell Street, Dublin, at November-end. From hindsight, tickets get snatched up pretty quickly.
Christmas is everywhere now. Hardly the slow hum of carols with which to entice the shopper but rather what I find charming are, the festive window displays, the tasteful (and not garish) decorations, twinkling Christmas trees and in bookshops, a vast array of Christmas reads for adults that have popped up from nowhere - and this to say nothing of childrens' - ranging from the classics to contemporary fiction and bestsellers.
I thought I might start a string of Christmas reads this month, just for the sheer enjoyment of it. I blame the child in me who refuses to grow up.
I picked up a very attractive new hardback by Maeve Binchy called This Year It Will Be Different. I have always loved a heartwarming Binchy. The copy which was going for a special Christmas offer at 12 euros (otherwise 22 euros) proved delightful with its assortment of delicous Christmas tales, focussing on fictitious Irish families in 2007. Already, I'm halfway through.
I'm looking forward to re-reading Dicken's A Christmas Carol and his shorter works like The Chimes and The Christmas Tree. Besides, one of my favourites, The People's Friend Magazine has come out with a Christmas fiction special and right now, I feel my world is a rollercoaster-library which never stops spinning.

Thursday, 15 November 2007


I could have playacted a character snatched out of a Joan Baez song or the tragic victim that makes for the subjects of Marianne Faithfull's own dissipation in her subdued ballads.
Or I may have strayed through the forest, watching trees with Enya.
It rained all day in Dublin and so softly, the skies may have hummed a lullaby. I myself, could have strolled into the scene of a poignant film with my colourful umbrella, joining a silent mutiny with a carnival of others who dodged their own to avoid being hit by mine and still others who dashed about in raincoats and winter hoods.
Together, we formed a street orchestra...a Broadway musical with lively moves, hushed down to 'mute'.
My gaze everywhere was wistful, pensive, thoughtful.
The Liffey River danced wildly to the tickle of heavy raindrops. It looked like a cauldron of boiling stew. Unappeased and unsettled. I could not find the ladle to stir its fury to a new glory.
Everywhere I felt the poignancy of an invisible romance grip me like steel.
Sandwiches and coffee...sandwiches and coffee...and sandwiches and coffee...
Finally content and made warm by the intimacy of a friendly cafe, across the river, I spent the afternoon writing my new story in my new writing voice...a female character I must learn to love shortly if the story is to continue.
I rediscovered a passionate pursuit for reading.
And now, a passionate re-discovery for writing. I wrote until dark.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

I finished reading the late Frank O'Connor's selection of gripping irish folktales; 335- pages in all, in just a day. (see below).
I'm shocked at myself.
While other things go on - yes, they do :-) - entering into another blissful period of books at this time of my life, leaves my spirit restful, refreshed, contented.
Because of certain circumstances in the past, I wasn't able to read anything at all, for a long while.
But it's back to a touch of hedonism.
Up to now, I've been fortunate with every book purchase.
I've not felt inclined to curse a story as disappointed readers often do or fling a book away.
My best guide is intuition, the careful study of an outlined plot, and an author's vocabulary. And sometimes, even the spontaneity of a devil-may-care mood.
I ignore advertising blurbs that go over-the-top, use superfluous words or praise an author lavishly. That's hype.
I'm interested in new books but won't worry about a bestseller list.
You must tell me where you read, sometime.
I read on trains, in trams and in a favourite armchair where I currently live.
I also like reading in cafes or on park benches with a coffee when the weather is warm. It creates a really congenial mood.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

More bookshops in Dublin

I'm reading Frank O'Connor's selection of classic Irish short stories. The thick book spots a shiny cover with its nostalgic picture of wagons and horses, and its soft full weight rests quietly in my hands, even as I intently browse through the lyrical folk tales of ramshackle farms and taverns.

At 12 euros, it proved a handsome find.

I had picked it up at Hodges Figgis on Dawson Street; it is Ireland's biggest bookstore situated on the south-side of the river, and just opposite another splendid Waterstone's branch. They lie, bestowed with a friendly rivalry on a quiet road, that's peppered with quaint, interesting cafes and designer boutiques. You'll find Trinity College at the top of it all.

What an engaging time, I had.

A bookshop on a street differs from a bookshop in a shopping mall, to me. It conjures up pleasurable secrets like a towering house, full of mysteries. You could hide behind a shelf or in a corner and never be found. You know you're behind doors that have no openings leading into other noisy plances. Besides, Eason's (and there's another branch here as well), Hodges Figgis is huge (think a cluttered but hushed art gallery) and I haven't yet had time to explore it all.

But the ground floor, houses one of the most extensive displays of classical stories and odes, I've seen anywhere in the world. Shelves with nothing but Green literature, another decked only with ancient dramas from Rome, if you get my drift. Irish literature is famed and vast and many of its famed storytellers, take prominent pride of place, near the front door.
I'm (not talking about the basement which houses bargain books - a novel or poetry-book going for just 2 or 3 euros or the different displays on the top floors).

The silent reverence amongst the inspecting audience is always remarkable. The cosy welcoming intimacy made me want to hover about all day but I'll have to be back for more.
Customer service is excellent here and at Waterstone's.

Waterson's across the road exhibits a stylish cafe on the balcony. Perfect for eleveses, lunches and traditional afternoon teas. It attracts a good quiet crowd and the service is glorious. Here is where I finished my morning with a slice of cake and a delicious hot chocolate mixed with indian spice.

I also had a peek at Reads, on an adjacent road. It's a bargain bookshop announcing generous discounts even for new novels; plus its famous for its large assortment of quirky book ornaments.

Monday, 12 November 2007


This morning, I wake up to poetry being recited on a web video. Someone is listening to a poet and I too, try to turn the engaging audience but with little success. I think sinfully of hot coffee, longing for its aroma and sweetness . I think of how my life has changed miraclously; that I would now wake up to poetry.
A lingering intangible gift surely.
I stifle my yawns, close my eyes once more and soak in the moment.
It is a beautiful winter's day. The sun bathes the city with a soft golden light even while it is cold and the autumn leaves have long died. Did you know that it rained softly yesterday, teasing the Leffey River with playful ripples and confusing the surprised gulls that attempted majestic swoops?
Then I had stood in the open-air market square in the middle of Temple Bar, with a few other bookworms, choosing ancient reads. They reminded me of my father's library as a young man. It was all very exciting. Choosing reads in the rain while others sipped coffee and ate cake at stylish sidewalk cafes and watched us with open interest.
The bespectacled bookseller was pleasant but could not define why one slim paperback would cost 2 euro and another slimmer version, 10 quid. "Well, it did come all the way from South Africa," he says helpfully. "Tell me more history," I plead. My conscience insists I justify a lighter wallet. Besiides, I really like the old Irish poems that cost a tenner.
"Would you prefer a bag," he asks, smiling. He looks amused and his voice is consoling. I say, no with something of a petulant sulk. He's been coming for years to the market square, a friend tells me. Indeed, he does very well. In the end, I buy both books. The other is a work of non-fiction and discusses the anatomy of what makes a villian.
I am suddenly hungry and run along the smooth shuny pavements, that are fairly crowded with West European tourists. I stop at the Cafe Aroma which is my favourite decorative cafe, for scrambled eggs and toast and a hot chocolate. It offers a warm intimate atmosphere, fried eggs that are fluffy, soft and delicious on the sense and is a good corner to ruffle up the odd daydream.
Customer service in Dublin stays by my travelling experience, one of the friendliest and classiest in the world. The sales staff in many places are always smiling and very polite.
I spend all day, in the city and forget that it is already dark. Afterwards, the tram takes me straight to my doorstep.
Later, I will read newspapers and magazines. I will write. A story I started out rather vaguely as a matter of discipline as I had assured myself is starting to take shape. But it is not the kind of story that any agent would be interested in. It is not mainstream fiction but alternative. I don't even recognise my new writing voice but I like it. I decide to keep on.
Today, I inspect the south side of Dublin, next to Trinity College and just as literary with its bookstores and numerous cafes. They stand in harmony with card shops and designer boutiques.. But I'll leave today for another time. Once more, the sun calls me to come out to play. And isn't life just so short.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Meeting Frank McCourt in Dublin

This Sunday morning, I met Frank McCourt, author of the famed memoir, Angela's Ashes, who told me that he "didn't want to travel anymore."
When he heard that I had come from Malaysia enroute London, he enthused that he had been down the Singapore trail about 2 years ago but can't see himself going back that way again." "I don't want to travel anymore," he replied, shaking his head. "I've had enough. You know, I just want to go home. Just want to be home."
Naturally, I considered myself lucky to have met Mr. McCourt on homeground. His smiles are rare but evident once comfortable with conversation and on answerng questions. He was in town to meet with fans. Think family crowds - with a diverse range of personalities - and various photographers at Eason's. He arrived late and also looked old and sadly, frail. But what a joy to have met him!
I must say thank-you to the Eason's staff in O'Connell Street, who are excellent in helping us feel at home, while we wait for an author. They're always polite, obliging and friendly. Angela and the Baby Jesus tells the story of McCourt's mother's unexpected adventures as a very little girl in a vain attempt to protect the baby Jesus doll from danger. She snatches it away discreetly when no-one's looking for protection. Perfect for a Christmas gift.


Saturday, 10 November 2007

Why I Seldom Re-Read A Book

For a book to stay close to the memory or have changed perceptions, meant that it had surpassed its 'entertainment' value and delivered a monumental gift. It probably offered its reader more refuge at that time than the closest companion and its story may stay a keepsake, a mental heirloom or a legacy to the individual heart.

I suppose for some of us - I have the impression this doesn't happen to everyone - it's not just the quality of the book that shines, but the environment that once surrounded that given time of the said read; one that may have been layered with romantic idealism, appeared ethereal and fleeting, once shaped in the mind and now no longer found. After all, the imagination is a strange thing.

This is where apprehension comes in. The read is attached to that moment of a reader's life considered beautiful but fragile.

For example, the friendships of the time, the lifestyle, the simplicity of an everyday routine etc that stayed once to form an intimate episode or encounter.

Years later, the reader picks up an old favourite but views the unexpected affection of a remembrance. The book is vivid for its memory of a larger experience than what fills the pages, and according to the reader's temperament, may be best left untouched.

So it isn't just about the quality of the book but also the preservation of a memory.

Having said this, there are other books like Dicken's A Christmas Carol and his Christmas tales that I re-read every time December draws near. It's almost like a tradition. I've re-read A Christmas Carol for years and still find it offers refreshing lessons.

Friday, 9 November 2007


Cold artic winds. Rain. Skies all bleak and grey. But window-shopping in Dublin demands a festive mood. And why not. Gypsy ladies whisper secret fortunes near Temple Bar. The older Romany men wear weather-beaten faces and drum up equal attention with the lure of forgotten Latin tunes played on accordians, percussion instruments and the acoustic guitar. Bustling crowds at sidewalk cafes. Who wouldn't care for a steamy cuppa after all? Office executives, talking on the pavements while snatcing a quick smoke. An ambulance going to somewhere. Garda with their blaring police sirens going to somewhere. The fire engine going to somewhere.
I remember London.
Tired with shopping, people lean against the many display windows for small chat. I must have walked for hours along the Jervis & O' Connell streets, my smile evident to all. So gallant was my mood though I admit to having felt unwell.
Then I had wandered into shoe shops, toy shops, book shops, cafes, the post office, department stores with petulant gazing and careful planning for what I'd like to buy on the weekend. I had inspected lipsticks, soaps, boots and sweaters. The Christmas decorations are all up now. Should I be the first to send out cards?
The city is equivalent in atmosphere and mood to Sydney's shopping district on Darling harbour. An exact air of congeniality and family jocularity prevails. Clanging trams, chiming clocks and peeling church bells all at once. Is it possible to be blissful in the immediacy of a moment with an armful of simple things? If so, then somewhere along the way, I with the traveller's heart, have already made mine.

On having just read Edna O'Brien's The Light of Evening published last year, - and I finished reading her in 2 days, yesterday - I was pleased to once more engage with an author who never tires of producing a distinct form, one after another, with narration.

Her stories - in this case, featuring a distorted mother & daughter relationship - are not always easy to read I suppose, unless you care for an unexpected form. O'Brien's technique of writing in a sing-song structure with the aid of numerous commas is difficult to comprehend. You could have been listening to careless gossip but one, meticulously structured

She may also jump from chapter to chapter, tackling a plot that differs from a straightforward sequence. She may hold her plot up to the reader from sudden unsuspecting angles.

The consequences could be dire. In slight horror, you may be left wondering...as to the whereabouts of a certain intimate character that appeared to whizz in from nowhere - make an impact on another character's life and then zoom out again as if it never was.

In fact, several characters step in and out to conjure up a surreal mood. I could have been at a theatre really or the cinema.

But O'Brien's unusual writing reminds me once more of why her stories stay unforgettable and how they differ from the mainstream.

She draws up fictitious relationships - slightly based on real life - ones that are painful, dodgy and may even be many times left unsolved. Still, somewhere along the way there is redemption.

In The Light of Evening, a mother disapproves of her daughter's choices with marriage and writing. Dilly disapproves of Elenora' stories that are considered radical and unacceptable in conservative Ireland.
In real life, O'Brien's mother was said to have hated the thought of her daughter being a novelist.

I was happy to see Edna O'Brien's books being sold in Dublin bookstores once more. This from having listened to her interviews many times in the past and understanding at the time, from the pain in her voice how she often found it hard to reconcile with the fact that her earlier novels eg The Country Girls part of a subsequent trilogy - had been banned in Ireland and her early printed stories, burnt.

Not so anymore although the Irish novelist continues to make her home in London.
The Light of Evening is dedicated to O'Brien's mother and her motherland.


Thursday, 8 November 2007

I am about to read Plato in great depth. I feel ready to do this, with my interest in philosophy, and this particularly heralded to the Greeks, being greatly heightened in the last year. I was first drawn to the works of the former student of Socrates and teacher of *Aristotle, when I developed a deep affinity for the novels of the late British novelist, **Dame Iris Murdoch, some years ago. She was a lover of ancient Greece's celebrated thinkers and peppered her many plots with classical theories.
Reading Plato has stayed a lifelong desire but I never had the time or acumen for it as I finally do now.
*Interestingly, Aristotle was a teacher to Alexander the Great.
**Also strangely, I never realised until now that Iris Murdoch was born in Dublin.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

I spent the whole day re-living my glorious new adventure on books. My personal odyssey has not stopped since I returned to London and Dublin, a month ago after a long dry spell in Asia.
I'm reading once more like the old days and the only concern I have is in containing myself. Back then I would rarely be seen without a book in my hand, in an overly-large pocket or in my handbag. I could devour a slimmer version at super-speed and be ready for more. Looks like I haven't yet lost the old touch. I had a lovely time exploring downtown Dublin today. I must talk about this in greater length.
Not possible today as I am about to rush out again this evening.
What I wanted to describe were the numerous colourful cafes that abound and of how many bookshops appear to boast their own complimentary cafes. Rven the humbler Christian stores, hide neat little eating-places tucked away downstairs where you could look over your purchases with a hot beverage, pastries and cake. Eason's treats you to an upstairs cafe and there's also a tiny one on the lower ground floor which sellls a variety of cafes and muffins. This popular floor displays the childrens' titles, plays, poetry, psychology and philosophy with about as much variety as a Garden of Eden. :-)
I picked up one of my all-time favourite authors, Edna O'Brien's The Light of Evening and am already onto page 63. Remembering earlier reads, I sigh as she brings the lovely stretch of past back. Published last year, this novel which talks about a painful yet poignant relationship between an Irish mother and daughter, is now being released in paperback. It also continues to mirror O'Brien's distinct talent.
I have long had a penchant for women's weekly magazines with their fiction specials. These days, they are seldom to be found in South-East Asia and even if shipped along, cost a small fortune. Here they're sold for a steal just under 1 euro or if it's especially thick and glossy, for under 2 euros.
Surely, it is the time to indulge and have fun.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Just Me....

The sun shines brightly in Dublin this morning. Unusual for a November winter.
Although it's a brilliant day, I will not go out to play.
It's been a long while since picking up the pieces of my writing craft and restoring my enthusiasm to what it once was.
I'm glad to say that this jigsaw puzzle is almost complete.

At least, my reading interests are progressing happily. My one drawback is that my taste in literature has widened in recent years and so, I actually feel bereft without some kind of a guide to lure me on to specific works and to measure my depth in understanding and appreciation of the classics. To sort out the problem, I may enrol for a course or go to classes.
Caption Insert: My editor, Desmond Swords.
Today, I am compiling work for my poetry. It takes a long time, is tedious and solitary. I had not realised the fair amount of material I had churned out in the last year but am now grateful that I did.
My editor is Desmond Swords an Irish poet, who is working with me to help me get my writing back on track. He reviews my work, will edit and teach me to shape it all to a more definite depth and style, before it is ready for a collection. He is strict and industrious about an art, over which he himself has laboured for 6 years and loves furiously. In this respect, I make particular reference to the ancient Irish bards.
Reminds me of another brilliant Singaporean editor I once had, called James Siow, who helped me with magazine journalism. They're made of the same mettle, they are. :-)


Monday, 5 November 2007

Title Promotion through Book Crossing

"... A publisher left more than 200 free books across Dublin at the weekend to encourage more children to read.
Copies of The Most Beautiful Letter in the World written by Fair City actor Karl O'Neill were left on buses, the Dart, playgrounds, park benches and libraries.
The O'Brien Press is the first publisher in Ireland to embrace the 'book crossing' craze to promote its titles.
The phenomenon began in the US in 2001 by people who wanted to share books they had enjoyed.
Bestsellers were left in public places for the public to read and then distributed again." - Irish Daily Mirror -

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Sunday, 4 November 2007

Just Reading...

There is a delicious escapade in featuring the old and I'm currently reading a secondhand edition of The Minerva Book of Short Stories edited by the late Giles Gordon and David Hughes.
I picked it up just yesterday at the quaint Winding Stair bookshop that faces the scenic Liffey River on Dublin's north-side.

The bookshop really is a treasure trove. It demonstrates enough character to prompt you to purchase the unexpected. A colourful, sudden, reckless buy, if I may put it mildly.

I've had a taste for short stories of late and this collection is carefully compiled by Hughes & Gordon. The latter who was a popular literary agent and also managed the novelist Vikram Seth, made a living with the Richard Curtis agency. This compilation contains shorter works by amongst others Hanif Kureishi, William Trevor, Nadine Gordimer and Salman Rushdie.

Kureishi is described here as a talented newcomer.

I remember that Gordon ran Curtis's branch in Edinburgh and when he died suddenly, the office was closed in his honour. No one was sent to replace him and I think that that was one of the biggest marks of respect any employee could have had.

I'm trying to mix reading the old with the new, although this lifetime will never be enough to accumulate even a fraction of all the delicious reads that abound.

Besides, I'm the kind of reader who must have a book ready before I've finished with a present one. Otherwise, I may have sadly stalled in what would otherwise have been an exciting journey of self-discovery. One of the many, that is.
I've read a few stories in this edition already. They're thoughtful, clever and offer slight twists at the end.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

On Meeting Dana

Captions: (l to r) The new hardback. Dana at 17 when she sang her winning song and as she looks today.

I went to meet the former Eurovision winner London-born Dana Rosemary Scallon whose song All Kinds of Everything had become universally popular in the 1970s, famously striking an inspirational chord with listeners everywhere.
Today, on a Saturday afternoon that still wore Dublin's mild winter weather, the Irish singer was in Eason Books on Lower O'Cornell Street to promote her autobiography. Selling at 22-99 euros, the handsome chunky hardback carries the song title and was just released yesterday.
Already, her political affiliations had bred a few juicy titbits in the papers. Dana had after all, run for the Irish presidential election in 1997.
Of course, I've not yet read it.
Dana still commanded more than her fair share of a throng of admirers. A crowd who had gathered curiously, quickly informed friends and family through their handy cell phones. Many women couldn't get over the lively photographs, splattered in the book. The crowd swelled.
As she signed our copies and offered small chat, sweet old ladies who were determined to ignore security with sly cunning, strode up promptly from nowhere and interjected conversations with relish, if only to tell Dana how much they loved her. She smiled broadly, thanked them profusely and took everything in her stride.
Throughout the session, her air would be one of continued serenity.
Men and women in their 30s, 40s & 50s, made up the bulk of the crowd. There was of course, the odd cranky baby, demanding a toy. Since I had known of this event and arrived early, for the first time ever, I was third in line and feeling pleased as punch.
Dana with her graceful beauty was extremely charming.
She was more than surprised to hear that her song had been played in Asia at all. She never knew, she said, never had the slightest idea. Now, startled, fascinated and pleased all at once, she asked me if it could really be true and prodded me with a few interesting questions. She was clearly pleased that hers had been a household name in countries like Malaysia and Singapore.
Recalling the wonderful memories only too well, I reassured her otherwise.
All of sudden, I was taken back in time to me and my best friends, tiny girls in our school pinafores, fighting over the beloved lyrics, memorizing them by heart instead of completing our homework We would later blare out the number with some passion at school concerts. We also fought over lyrics and made secret pacts with them. Somewhere in this happy cluttered memory, lay my father's old vinyl records.
Still, if I sketched out mischevious episodes it would take forever and may be better saved for later.
Today, in meeting Dana, I felt connected with a blissful childhood once more, facing a remembered past through a very kind mirror. Did I think as a little girl that I would ever meet one of my favourite singers? Isn't destiny the strangest thing?
As I left, I swung open the towering Eason bookstores with a quiet smile and a little of Dana's wistful serenity, having rubbed off on me.


Friday, 2 November 2007

Novelist Elizabth Jane Howard's enduring love

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A delightful corner shop treat yesterday and one more delicious than candy.
In the Irish Daily Mail - not available online - journalist Corinna Honan offered a long candid interview with novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, now 84 and second wife to the late poet and author, Kingsley Amis and stepmother to his famous son, Martin.
The writer of such lauded novels as The Beautiful Visit and Odd Girl Out, is described as queenly, tall and majestic and still adoring of the writing life. Howard who worked as an actress and model before she took up the pen, writes dutifully everyday and is said to be almost finished with her 14th novel.
Honan had written up a careful detailed study of Howard's memoirs in the past and also reflected on Kingsley's deep-rooted anger at his wife's sudden abandonment. Please see a much older interview in The Daily Telegraph
Now, Howard who is said to have shed off inhibitions, muses over her enduring love for Kingsley, famous among other things, for his revolutionary and highly comic novel Lucky Jim, that dealt with the British acadmic life after World War 2.
With careful introspection, she blames her former husband's sharp-tongued intolerance in public"his playful rudeness could be offensive," on the tragic effects of alcoholism and still wonders after 27 years if she did the right thing in quietly walking out of the family home, her suitcases in tow. She could no longer face his excessive drinking.
Amis would stay unforgiving of Howard, his companion for 18 years - he reportedly became vile and nasty in his rantings - and Howard regretful that she would see her husband only twice for the next 15 years.
The Irish Daily Mail offers beautiful quotes:
"I would have liked to have comforted Kingsley at the end. I would have known he looked awful and was..... but that would have made no difference to me," she tells Honan.
"I have always hoped Kingsley would forgive me for leaving him," she adds at the end. "Always. The second parting when he died was more painful than the first because there could never be a resolution."

The interview proved a genuine treat for me, the blessed fan. I had read Howard and Kingsley intensely the same time as I had devoured Doris Lessing, Margaret Drabble, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes all those years ago. The whirlpool passions of such intense reads one after another, felt like a triumph over a roller-coaster. My life and ambitions would never be the same again.


Thursday, 1 November 2007

My Open Mic Readings at Seven Towers & Naked Lunch, Dublin

Last night, I went to two open mic readings in downtown Dublin. I was ready to read my poetry out to a crowd. I'm working on my poems together with a wonderful Irish friend - who's teaching me the finer points..rough drafts and then edited versions - so as to compile them into a series for a little collection. He currently acts as my editor.
It does involve a long and careful study; an art that may prove a struggle to the soul even as the poet accepts this ordeal lovingly.

Poetry was a craft I had abandoned in earlier years to work as a fashion journalist but recently, such a lovelorn passion has once again sought me out. I first remember the excitement of being published in small press magazines in England while I was still in Malaysia and receiving those publications unexpectedly by post. My bylines looked glorious to my wistful amateur eye. At Christmas, the editors would send me presents. We had struck up a good camaraderie. What a thrill it all was! Unfortunately, I cut short those early successes to pursue other ambitions.

Now years later, poetry returns to my life to haunt and catch up on an unspoken promise.

At first, when I read my words aloud, I couldn't believe that I had written them. I was stunned at the intonation my own verses produced and the unusual air that appeared to preside over the room. While practising with my friend beforehand, I was strangely aware of the surreal atmosphere I had created. It was almost as if I was a fly-on-the-wall to a romantic scene from a film. I read my poems aloud repeatedly. "Not so fast," he would venture. Or otherwise, something like "carry on...don't stop even if people are talking or heckling you."

We went first of all to a monthly event held by Seven Towers Publications. Can't quite
remember the street. We opened the door to a pretty little room bordered by dim lights, pictures on the wall and buntings. A small crowd of friendly poets and academics - about 16 in all - sat around the room in a semi-circle as each poet was introduced and then read about 3 pieces of their work. Some of these proved to be lyrical prose. Everyone listened intently, reminding me of classical music recitals I had attended in the past. Each poet struck beauty with his/her work. There were just 3 women in all, including me Many were published poets. I sipped my wine from the bar downstairs and felt strangely relaxed.

When it was my turn, there were no nerves.

There were no nerves as I was finally ready for this moment after many years and the group proved lovely in its welcome. I went to stand right upfront and immediately began to read. My words connected to my spirit instantly. I forgot everyone. Now, this is an old habit and here I may have cheated a little.

Years ago, when I sent those poems to England, I also wrote children's radio plays for Radio Malaysia and would sometimes be called to act in other peoples' plays. The producer at the time was the very talented Paul 'de Souza. I also acted in a couple of plays for the Liberal Arts Society in Kuala Lumpur. Our performances were staged at the British Council.

I have always said that when you first embrace something with love and passion, it will never leave you no matter how long the hour in your life. So these forgotten abilities like old friends now returned to save my moment.

I so enjoyed the reading and the congenial conversations that came afterwards. This was my planned event; the next was simply spontanous when a small group of us adjourned to the popular Naked Lunch in Carnival Bar at the Dublin City Centre.

I never thought I would dare read my work here. It was filled with young party revelers, loud music, lots of flowing drinks and laughter. But the Carnival Bar is also known for its entertainment where there would be a sudden interlude and folk singers, comedy acts or poets would have submitted their names to take the mike on stage.

I watched my professional poet friends read and I couldn't resist the opportunity. However, I wasn't in my early 20s anymore and felt a bit shy about it. Would the rest think me somewhat old-fashioned if you know what I mean.
At the end, this was my real moment of oneness with my poetry. I received a friendly welcome, lots of smiles and a rousing applause. Whatever I did to deserve it, I shall never know.
The lights were so dim - think a disco - but an Irish lad held candles for me to peer closely at my work. Everyone gathered. Those who were present really listened as if they had waited for the moment. Of course, I had observed the same interest for my friends earlier, so felt naturally encouraged.

I was more at home here. I read as if I were performing my work like a skit. All who read had been men - I think I was the solitary lady. It was thrilling. I felt that my poetry had turned into stories taking me into another world. Once more, I forgot everyone in the disco/lounge. I think the applause afterwards had to be my best response. The lad said it was worth him holding the candle when I apologised...just in case I had taken too long. A few of the listening girls embraced me with big hugs and smiles. Ahh...the solidarity of womanhood! :-)

And so now, the morning after, I think I've just reached the dawn and musn't stop here, not while it hasn't yet turned to dusk, must I...