Books to read about Ireland

Recent news in the UK has brought Irish and Northern Irish politics to the forefront of British politics and front pages of our newspapers. For many people, the recent history of Irish politics will still be lived experience, but for those of us too young to recall, it may be something that school history hadn’t yet caught up with.

If, like me, you know little about the Troubles, IRA terrorism and how this has influenced the current political situations in Ireland and Northern Ireland then now is the perfect time to be reading up on this, in light of the Conservatives striking a deal with the DUP to establish their majority.

Here are a few fiction books that I will be looking at to get a better understanding of the history which is influencing the present:

Cal by Bernard Maclaverty

Cal is a young Irish Catholic, involved with the IRA, living in a Protestant area. He must come to terms with the acts he has committed in the political violence of the Troubles and his guilt, but he must also make decisions about how to, or whether to, move forwards with his life.

A Star Called Henry (The Last Round up Series) by Roddy Doyle

Set between the 1916 Easter Rising and the Truce of 1921, this story features Henry, as a member of the Irish Citizen Army, who meets several historical characters, and engages in the fight against the British. The full series spans most of the 20th Century, covering the reach of Irish politics in the Western world.

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney

A view into modern day Ireland and its underworld, this book dramatises the legacies of Ireland’s attitudes to sex and family and the effects they have. A Bailey’s Prize winner this book has been described both as darkly moving and funny.

Troubles by J G Farrell

Beginning at the end of the First World War this book is set against the context in which the violence of the Troubles begins, and the political upheaval of the Irish War of Independence. The book is focalised through a confused observer – a position many modern readers are likely to relate to as we see events unfold.

The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen

This novel from the ‘modernist’ period treats the changing situation as a signalling of ‘the end’ as British rule in southern Ireland and the end of an aristocratic era comes to a demise. In the midst of this Lois Farquar is attempting to break free from this very way of life, which her relatives are fiercely defending.

These books span the 20th Century, right up to the present day. They cover a range of perspectives, Catholic and Protestant, Unionist and Nationalist, and those on the outside and in between. They capture the complexity of Ireland’s politics and are a great starting point for those who love to explore history through fiction.


GE17: A victory for progressive politics

A lot has happened in 24 hours but, in all practicality, not that much will actually change. Theresa May has refuted calls to resign and it is likely that by the end of the day she will have made a deal with the DUP – whether as a minority government, or part of a coalition, we don’t know.

However, last night was an achievement for millions across the UK. An ‘unelectable’ leader did what no-one else has managed to do and has achieved what was considered impossible two moths ago. He delivered the Youth Vote, which turned out to be decisive in undermining the Conservatives. May called the election to increase her majority, with many commentators predicting a Tory landslide. To have run a campaign which engaged young voters, won back seats and ultimately broken the Tory majority is nothing to scoff at – Corbyn has achieved some momentous strides for progressive politics.

There will be dark days ahead. A Tory-DUP pact will likely deliver a hard Brexit, and will likely continue policies of austerity and cuts. Hopefully, a small majority will be blocked on bills such as Fox Hunting and a repeal of Human Rights. The important thing is that with an increased number of progressive seats, the MPs we have elected can challenge the Conservatives and better represent us. But we cannot grow apathetic again. We must stay engaged, keep campaigning and promoting a more positive, inclusive and hopeful politics. And whether the next vote comes in 5 months or 5 years, we have to make sure that we build on Corbyn’s success, making the Youth Vote a powerful force in politics.

This article was originally posted on Voice Mag


Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist

You may or may not have seen the Baileys Women’s Prize for fiction shortlist was released yesterday (if you haven’t where on earth have you been?). You can check out a recap of the six books that made it here – along with my personal take on the announcement.

giphy (7)

Stay With Me

I read this as an ARC back in Feb (check out my review) and loved  it. This made me immediately biased so it obviously went straight on to my fantasy shortlist. It is the only one of the six that I have already read – typical!

First Love

This one came out of nowhere for me – I hadn’t even looked at it as a contender because I had never heard of it. Yet this proves that ignorance is no excuse and I will definitely learn to pay more attention than the book at the end of my nose.

The Power

I’m so excited to read this as I have heard nothing but wonderful things. The premise is right up my street – what if women have the power? It feels timely, relevant and it got high praise from Margaret Atwood so really it better not disappoint now.

Sport of Kings

While it didn’t make my fantasy shortlist, I had a feeling that this type of book might have made it on to the shortlist – this and Barkskins both seem to be attempts at the Great American Novel. I’m really into American literature, particularly when influenced by rural life and it is such a male dominated genre that a woman’s take might be refreshing.

The Dark Circle

It doesn’t surprise me that this made the shortlist, with the author a previous winner it was always an contender. The story seems interesting but I didn’t have it down as a must-read. With a constantly growing TBR it might be an audiobook listen, but I’m keen to see what it is all about.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing 

This has been on my TBR since it was nominated for the Man Booker and thankfully the Baileys Prize is giving me the perfect excuse to read it. I’m keen to explore a novel that is set within such a different culture and it’s epic nature definitely makes it a formidable rival.

So all in all this was an interesting shortlist! Three of the books I has predicted/hoped for on my fantasy list: Stay With Me, The Power, and Do Not Say We Have Nothing while one was a total surprise. I was a little surprised that neither of the more commercial books from Perry or Flint made it, and I was disappointed that The Lesser Bohemians didn’t because I loved it. However, I’m quite glad the list is not exactly what I hoped for because I’m going to read those anyway and the prize is helping me to push my boundaries and discover new things. Time-permitting I’m hoping to get through a decent chunk of this list ready to do a more informed look at who I’d place my bets on before the announcement.

Happy reading!

Dear Mr Corbyn, Let’s talk about ‘women’s issues’

Dear Mr Corbyn,
Let’s talk about ‘women’s issues’

I want to put politics aside and address an important issue which no party is doing enough to deal with. This issue is culturally embedded sexism. As a male politician you have done more than most and showed your willing to help and protect women, but unfortunately your new pledge and these ideas to prevent assault in public places is actually part of the problem.

Putting forward ideas to ‘help’ and ‘protect’ women contributes even more to their victimisation. Especially when that help and protection includes segregation. This is exactly what creating separate train carriages for women does. It suggests that ‘men will be men’ and that we should just stay out of their way. It suggests women are always victims and never perpetrators. It also doesn’t practically solve the issue: if women are being assaulted on trains where is it happening?

Without wanting to make assumptions it will be most likely happening on late night and weekend trains where there are fewer passengers. It is probably happening in toilet stalls and corridors rather than in the carriages themselves. Or on the other side of the coin it may be happening on overcrowded trains where you have little choice who you sit or stand next to and an inability to move through the carriages.

I also believe that this solution is very niche. How does it stop street harassment; women being catcalled, verbally abused and groped? How does it stop assaults in bars and clubs, at university or in the workplace? How does it address assaults in the home? Perhaps I am being harsh in expecting measures to address to much but I would be interested to see how much sexual violence and assault on trains contributes to the total figure.

These problems can no longer be sidelined as ‘women’s issues’. These issues affect everyone is society and so society needs to deal with them.

I do also appreciate that this is only an idea which you have put forward for further discussion, but I want to to point out that it is symptomatic of a wider issue in society. Rather than keeping women out of the way of potential harassers can we please nip the issue in the bud, so to speak? By this I mean we should address those who do, or potentially will, harass and assault. Seeing as we still live in a country where rape is under reported and under prosecuted I feel new measures such as the ones proposed will fall short of making any meaningful difference. Instead we need a widespread initiative to address attitudes in society.

These initiatives should address the men who still believe they are entitled to something from women. It should address the catcallers and the husbands and boyfriends who still see it as their right. It should address the men and women who are guilty of slut-shaming, yet another form of victim blaming. It should address the attitudes of women and girls that they need to be modest and appropriate otherwise they will be judged. It should change the attitudes of children now, so that they grow up thinking differently to their parents.

I understand that this is far easier said than done. It will take effort, planning, motivation. It will need to come from top down as well as grassroots projects. It will need to be featured in different areas of societies, through schools, workplaces, TV and social media. But I believe that if any politician can do this it will be Jeremy Corbyn. And that is the kind of thinking I want to see from politicians.

I hope these ideas, coming from a number of writers and bloggers will make politicians and people in general realise that these problems can no longer be sidelined as ‘women’s issues’. These issues affect everyone is society and so society needs to deal with them.

Obama’s wise words for the west

Obama’s comments on Saturday at the National Prayer Breakfast are words we should be paying very close attention to rather than criticising. While there is no doubt about the seriousness of terrorism on the world stage and the threat posed by Islamic State, Obama instead addressed the attitudes contributing to drastic increases in Islamophobia in recent years. By telling the western world, and specifically its Christian population, not to get on a high horse over extremism Obama bravely confronted the issue from a perspective that had gone on to be criticised and even be labeled ‘offensive’.

President Obama, photography by Wikimedia Commons
President Obama, photography by Wikimedia Commons

Yet nothing Obama said was offensive.  Furthermore, his examples were completely true. Regardless of anyone’s opinions on the issue it is undeniable that many people have suffered as a result of Christian endeavors or at the hands of the white western world. While it would be wrong to condone extremist actions due to an unsavoury history of them in the western world, Obama wisely acknowledged that a white western population with roots on Christianity cannot take a moral high ground over extremism. More specifically he noted that extremism is not a phenomenon exclusive to Islam. On this side of the pond at least many seem to forget that once up on a time, not so very long ago, terrorism was a thing of the Cold War or linked to the IRA. Moreover, it becomes ever more apparent extremist actions are not attributable to any group as a whole.

Those eager for confrontation, retribution and revenge have to remember that in taking such action, we must ensure we are not encompassing the millions of Muslims who condemn IS and extremist groups. These people have far more right to take a moral high ground as their religion and identity has been affected by both those groups and the western world which refuses to differentiate. To put current events into a wider context, we must remember that different religions have been opposed, in conflict and exploiting others for hundreds of years, we can go back to the crusades and the inquisition, like Obama, or even recall the extent of anti-semitism perpetuated by Christianity, right up to the holocaust. It would be wrong not only to believe ‘we’ are morally better, but especially to feel justified in launching any violent retaliation. While there may be limited options of how to deal with the increasing activity of ISIS, we must remember that any action will have wider repercussions, and as military action always does, affect a number of completely innocent lives.

Obama has done something rare in politics, namely leading the way…

Furthermore, returning to the President’s address, Obama’s comments on free speech in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks were perfectly poised between a defence of the right to free speech and a condemnation of using it to offend or insult a religion. He took a stand of solidarity with the targets of such verbal attacks claiming ‘we’re equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults — and stand shoulder to shoulder with religious communities.’ While many are criticising the presidents words claiming them as offensive, I would like to suggest that it is refreshing to hear a world leader express such a sentiment. No longer needing to appeal to his audiences for votes, Obama has done something rare in politics, namely leading the way rather than attempting to pander to his voters. This shows that if we really want to take the moral high ground and not, as Obama warned against, the ‘high horse’ (a subtle but significant difference) we must approach the issue in a way that condemns both extremism and racial prejudices. Unfortunately I do not know what that is. However, as shown in his incredibly wise address, if anyone can start is down that road, it is President Obama.