Holiday Reads – Summer 2015

Did this last year and people seemed to be interested so, just in case you’re heading off on holliers over the next while here are a few books you might want to consider bringing with you for the ride. All ones I’ve read in the last 6 months or so, all hugely worth your time.

Click on the quotes for my full reviews.

The Life And Loves Of A He Devil by Graham Norton

…an easy, very funny and genuinely laugh out loud in places read with more than its fair share of honesty about his personal life…

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I Am Radar by Reif Larsen

…long, bogglingly ambitious and takes a little while to ignite but it’s one of the most involving, bonkers, batshit crazy and best books I’ve read this year.

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The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney

It fizzes, it crackles, it kicks you in the balls on a fairly regular basis, peels away the layers of what could have been dull stereotypes and it stuffs you to the gills with the most edible prose of the “read it again and again just to savour it” variety…

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Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

It’s not just YA, it’s top-grade speculative fiction and social commentary on 21st century media and how it pressures teenage girls. Top of the class.

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The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

He tells a swift, brutal, real story in a wonderfully plausible universe that will leave you scared for your own future and left me with actual shivers down my spine at times.

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Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume

It’s been a long, long time since I read something that made me, no, demanded that I re-read whole paragraphs because the imagery and words within them were so beautiful.

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The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl On The Train isn’t the sort of thing I would have picked up myself. I’m hugely glad I did. It’s a great debut.

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Touch by Claire North

…fast, smart, cinematic and with a cracking central idea. This is absolutely destined to be one of the biggest thrillers of 2015.

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Us by David Nicholls

The story of the fractured relationship between Douglas and his teenage son is genuinely real too. It moved me to tears more than once. You should read it.

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Craft Beer Schtuff For July…

Another month, another set of new beverages I’ve had and places I’ve been to over the last while. Some things you should try:

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As well as that the guys at Franciscan Well were kind enough to send me this before it even has a name or a label! Lovely…

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I went back again to the brilliant Harbour Bar in Bray. Great beers on tap, food is super, nice atmosphere (everything from bikers to families to hipsters to just locals and it has rainbow flags flying outside!)

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And thanks to the lads at the Next Door Group for adopting Cormac and meself and sending a few growlers our way…

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All the old craft beer posts are HERE.

The Festival Of Curiosity 2015

Finally I can tell!

I am suitably thrilled to be hosting this night at his year’s Festival of Curiosity. The night is called The Curiosity Box and has the top curious minds in the world hacking the future of fashion, genetics, design and technology.

Guests include Jack Horner (World Leading Palaeontologist & Jurassic Park Advisor), Alex Rothera (Artist, Designer & Inventor, previous Disney Imagineer and Founder of Humane Engineering), Miranda Wang & Jeanny Yao (TED Speakers at 19, founders of BioCellection Inc.), Amy Congdon (Designer, Future Fashion & Bio-Engineer), Aoife McLysaght (Professor of Genetics, TCD) and Alok Jha (ITV, The Guardian and author of The Water Book).

Mansion House, Dublin, Friday July 24, 7.30.

Tickets at http://festivalofcuriosity.ie/index.php/curiosity-box/

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Book Review – The Life And Loves Of A He Devil by Graham Norton

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I have to be honest and tell you that this had been sitting on the “to be read” shelf for ages and thankfully forced its way to the front in the research I did for interviewing Graham recently at Listowel Writers Week.

I’ll keep this simple for you.

Like Graham Norton on d’telly? Great.

Like to read a book divided up into unconventional sections of his life without, as he said to me himself at the interview, “all the dull bits about your childhood that no-one cares about?” Bingo.

Fancy an easy, very funny and genuinely laugh out loud in places read with more than its fair share of honesty about his personal life? This is the one.

Off you toddle, go buy it. I can recommend it unreservedly. Bring it in the suitcase on holidays…

Book Review – A Curious Career by Lynn Barber

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This one not strictly mine but nicked from my wife after she finished it recently and glad I did.

It’s a memoir of sorts from legendary journalist and interviewer Lynn Barber (she wrote An Education, adapted into the Carey Mulligan film a few years ago) and trails and trawls meanderingly through her history as a professional interrogator of the famous and powerful while setting out her stall on life, work and how to do them both. It’s a long-hackneyed phrase but she really does seem to take no prisoners in either.

Staring, of all places, in her early days writing for Penthouse magazine this book focuses on a handful of ones she wants to revisit from affectionate portraits of Tracy Emin to long, very entertaining (for the reader) lost weekends with Salvador Dali and Shane McGowan and power battles with Marianne Faithfull through Jimmy Stewart’s toupee and just what a complete bastard Martin Clunes can be.

She also talks about how the art of the interview she used to do in decades past is dying due to overzealous press people and dull interviewees far too aware of their public image. This is the bit that really stuck me as something to examine and live by as an interviewer. We live in an ocean of “celeb” puff pieces put together by willing and compliant journos just glad to get 8 minutes with a third-rate star from a fairly big new movie (and yes, I’m aware of my complicity with this in times past). Oh to have the ability and the heft to do interviews like these…

Yes. she’s probably an acquired taste as a reader but if you’re young and thinking of getting into the interviewing business you could do a lot worse than take guidance and warning here. If you’re not in the biz it’s still a cracking look behind the curtain of how these things works, power games and what really goes into creating 1500 words on a Sunday.

I liked it very much.

Book Review – Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer

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For most of David Shafer’s Whiskey Tango Foxtrot I was sold. He creates a global conspiracy driven by high capital and tech giants to privatise the information. All of it. And then sell it back to us at a premium thus, in essence, controlling the world in that Corporatocracy way most of us believe has been happening for decades.

We fall into the story through Leila, an NGO worker who comes across something she’s not supposed to see in the jungles of Myanmar, Mark, a globally famous self-empowerment guru who’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown and Leo, the token conspiracy theory nut who seems to have inadvertently stumbled onto a bizarre, impossible truth.

First the positives – he writes cracking, flawed characters really well. The whole overarching story is worryingly just one step ahead of plausible and I was eating it up for most of the duration of the book (aside from my thoughts the book was feted as one of the best of 2014 by newspapers, publications and reviewers from all over the world right from beginning to end).

And sadly, for me, therein lies the real problem – the ending. The book, after spending so long setting up such great characters and weaving them into a breakneck middle-third act just… wanders off into the sunset. Some reviewers have had no problem with this but call me old-fashioned – when I’ve invested this much time in a narrative I like to think it has a beginning, middle and ending.

Don’t get me wrong, if I hadn’t liked so much of what had gone before I probably wouldn’t have cared so much about the unresolved narrative and where the characters ended up. As it was, I was genuinely angry…

Top stuff, right up until the (lack of) end.

Book Review – I Am Radar by Reif Larsen

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Where on earth do I begin with this?

I’m not going to try and explain the storyline of Reif Larsen’s second novel I Am Radar because that would take half the fun out of it. Imagine a story (mostly) centred around a young man with black skin born in the 70s in New Jersey to white parents and who later has unnatural abilities with radio and electricity via a collection of scientists cum performance artists working from a hidden base in the Arctic they used to hide from the Nazis, an unnaturally talented puppeteer in Bosnia in the 90s, a remote rubber plantation in Cambodia as the Khmer Rouge take over and a professor amassing the world’s largest library deep in the heart of the Congo River through an obscure history/particle physics book in Danish… see what I meant about it being quite unexplainable from the outside? The subject matter does give you an idea of whether this might be your sort of thing though.

I know that all might sound a bit childish, frivolous, even stupid, bit it’s not. It’s as if Haruki Murakami and Wes Anderson had a love child via Werner Herzog with a bit of David Mitchell thrown in. In my life this is a very, very good thing. Yes, it does digress from the “main” story for huge tracts of time (but those stories in themselves are almost whole novellas) but don’t hold that against it.

It’s long, bogglingly ambitious and takes a little while to ignite but it’s one of the most involving, bonkers, batshit crazy and best books I’ve read this year.

What is Graham Norton Like?

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So. What is Graham Norton like?

I spent the weekend at Listowel Writers’ Week​ recording this coming Saturday’s RTÉ Poetry Programme​ and conducting the public interview with Graham Norton in the local community centre in front of 750 very excited people both locals and from far afield.

The thing everyone wants to know is “so what’s he like in real life?” Of course, he’s pretty much as you find him on the telly. Lovely, chatty, warm and a total professional. We met about a half hour before the interview and ended up getting on wonderfully (I thought!)

All 75 minutes of the interview itself flew (including the surreal Q&A where my two favourite questions were “Who looks after your dogs?” and “Can I give you a squeeze?”) and, judging from the number of people who told me it was the highlight of the festival for them, I think I did a decent job of it.

Ended up in the hotel bar, talked to half of Listowel, same again when we ended up down in John B. Keane’s Pub​ to be greeted at the door by Billy Keane himself. Lovely, lovely guy, great pub, jammed and they had McGargles​ on tap…

Met the incredibly talented Sara Baume, the now award winning Victoria Kennefick, the ladies of Tramp Press​ and so many others…

I have rarely fallen so in love with a festival and a place as I did last weekend.

I’ll be back.

What Ten Years Will Do To You…

The wonderful Ruth Scott and I have known each other on and off for the last 14 years.

At one stage we even (briefly) presented a show together.

A couple of days ago we had a shot taken to promote both of us reading at this year’s Words On The Street event tonight on Dublin (you should go – here’s the LINK) and I commented that the last time that happened was probably when we were doing that show.

So, us on 2005 and us in 2015. I don’t really have any words shy of wanting to thank my deal with the devil and ensuring both of our portraits in the attic remain locked away…

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