Writing in Ireland comes in the shapes and colours of two very different languages, English and Irish. As a bilingual Dubliner, becoming a novelist meant choosing which language I most wanted to play with, as well as learning to grapple with the structures and demands of crime fiction, children's mysteries and a quirky love story, the three genres in which I've written to date. Six of my seven published novels are in my first language, Irish; and that in turn means swimming in a deep and very lively pool rather than hoping to stay afloat in a hugely busy ocean of English-language books, where the occasional shark is prone to lurk but the promise of worldly reward is alluring.
In this platform's 50 Irish Books project, the ratio of 45 to five books in English and in Irish represents these contrasts of size and status, as well as the scars of a long history in which minority became majority. At the same time, the project's approach demonstrates the opportunity today to own and to celebrate our writing in both languages. Indeed, Ireland's linguistic landscape is taking on some new shapes as immigrant communities become established; and in selections of Irish writing to be made in the years ahead, we may also find the cadences of Polish, Chinese, Yoruba or other languages in the midst of those of English and Irish.
The platform's five chosen books provide tantalising pointers to the vitality of writing in Irish, and for readers interested in a wider selection, there's a great resource at www.clubleabhar.com. Set up in late 2009, it's an online book club that has featured over 50 books to date as 'Leabhar na Míosa' or 'Book of the Month', including novels, short stories, travel writing, poetry and literary classics. A brief account of each book is provided in Irish and in English, as well as video interviews in Irish with many authors and editors, and since April 2014, a 15 – 20 minute podcast of a critical discussion of each month's book. There's an interview with Máire Mhac an tSaoi about Scéal Ghearóid Iarla, one of the five books in Irish on this platform; and the first podcast was on Alex Hijmans' novel Aiséirí, another of the five. In a podcast last June on his stunning collection of photo-essays on life in Brazil, Splancanna ó Shaol Eile, one of the reviewers was Natália Danzmann, a young Irish-speaking Brazilian who works as a translator.
Among my own favourite Clubleabhar choices are Alan Titley's novella Gluaiseacht, a moving and lucid story of two young Africans fleeing across the Mediterranean in search of asylum in Europe; Frank Reidy's incisive depiction of his travels in Africa in Ó Chósta go Cósta; Éilís Ní Anluain's atmospheric and very contemporary novel of love and longing, Filleann Seoirse; Liam Mac Cóil's literary adventure trilogy set in 1612, in which student Lúcás Ó Briain evades enemy pursuit as he journeys from Galway to Rome to deliver a secret missive to chieftain Hugh O'Neill; Biddy Jenkinson's pithy and hilarious tales of crime detection in early 20th century Dublin by real-life lexicographer and imagined friend of Sherlock Holmes, An tAthair Pádraig Ó Duinnín - Bleachtaire; a Sherlock classic engagingly translated as Cú na mBaskerville; and Filíocht Ghrá na Gaeilge, a treasure trove of the most lyrical, passionate and heartbroken love poetry composed in Irish over the past thousand years, with translations to English and sensuous illustrations by Anna Nielsen.
There are so many more books I could highlight, such as the famous legendary cycle An Táin in graphic novel form; Niall Tóibín's audiobook reading of Seán Mac Mathúna's short stories; novellas aimed at adult learners of Irish; and poet and lifelong TB sufferer Seán Ó Ríordáin's diaries and drawings in Anamlón Bliana. As a writer, I also have a personal interest to declare: Cúpla Focal, my tale of a love tangle set in an Irish language conversation class, was featured in 2010; and my crime novel set on the Beara peninsula, Buille Marfach, in 2011. As a quick aside for readers who are not fluent in Irish, I've translated that same novel to English as Deadly Intent, published under a pen name, Anna Sweeney.
Clubleabhar.com has over 1,600 members who visit an average 10,000 times a month: 80% are in Ireland, 8% in Britain, 6.5% in the United States and the rest spread around Europe and elsewhere. Registration is quick and free; monthly emails on the latest book include links to a PDF excerpt plus a glossary of the more difficult Irish words and phrases in English; there's an online discussion forum as well as Facebook and Twitter links; and the chosen books along with many others can be purchased from www.siopa.ie. The selection aims to be accessible and non-academic, but college students use Clubleabhar as a resource too, as mentioned in this month's podcast by Radvan Markus, lecturer in Irish language and literature at Prague's Charles University, who translated the book being discussed, Eoghan Ó Tuairisc's historical novel set in 1798, L'Attaque, from Irish to Czech.
Freagra is ea Clubleabhar.com ar olagón na ndaoine a deir gur bhreá leo a bheith ag léamh i nGaeilge dá mbeadh eolas acu ar na leabhair a thaitneodh leo. Cinnte, níl ach dornán siopaí ar shráideanna na tíre ina mbíonn leabhair Ghaeilge ar taispeáint, ach sa lá inniu, is leor gliogáil ghasta ar an idirlíon le teacht ar an soláthar. Tá rogha maith ag Siopa.ie; tá siopaí leabhar eile ar líne freisin, mar shampla, www.cnagsiopa.com agus www.litriocht.com ; agus cuireann formhór na bhfoilsitheoirí Gaeilge eolas bríomhar agus áis díolacháin ar fáil ar líne, ina measc www.cic.ie, www.coislife.ie, agus www.leabharbreac.com.
Tá méadú seasta ar líon na n-úsáideoirí a nascann le Clubleabhar.com ar an bhfón póca, agus forbairt leanúnach ar an suíomh ag an eagras Gaelchultúr, a bhunaigh an club. Ar ndóigh, is féidir éisteacht leis na podchraoltaí gan leathanach a chasadh in aon chor! Bíonn cáineadh chomh maith le moladh ar siúl ag na léirmheastóirí, agus marc as deich á bhronnadh ag deireadh na cainte. Ní beirt chriticeoirí seanbhunaithe a chloistear gach mí ach oiread – bíonn mic léinn páirteach sa phlé chomh maith le scoláirí, craoltóirí agus scríbhneoirí, agus tuairimí á roinnt acu go bríomhar leis an láithreoir.
Mar scríbhneoir, tuigim go rímhaith na dúshláin shíoraí a ghabhann le saol na leabhar: foilsitheoirí móra an domhain sa tóir ar an táirge a dhíolfas na milliúin agus lagmheas acu ar an 99% eile; titim díolacháin de bharr brú airgid agus athrú nósanna; pobail mhóra ag scimeáil ar an iPad istoíche seachas a bheith gafa, sáite in úrscéal, pé acu ar an ngléas céanna sin nó sa riocht fíoráisiúil ar a dtugaimid leabhar clóite. Ag an am céanna, tuigim freisin mar léitheoir is mar scríbhneoir gur seomra teolaí é an t-idirlíon ina bhfuil spreagadh agus acmhainní ar fáil a stiúróidh mise agus na sluaite eile chun roghanna léitheoireachta den scoth a dhéanamh.
Anna Heussaff's crime novels are Bás Tobann (2004) and Buille Marfach (2010); her mysteries for young readers are Vortex (2006) and Hóng (2012), which won the CBI Special Judges Award; and Cúpla Focal (2008) is her novella for adult learners of Irish. Her new crime novel Scáil an Phríosúin will be published by Cló Iar-Chonnacht this November. Deadly Intent is her own translation of Buille Marfach and was published by Severn House under her pen name Anna Sweeney.