Monday, 19 May 2014

Author Interview #4: Billy Ramsell

Posted By Daisy

THE LAST TIME I met Billy Ramsell, he was searching for a waistcoat. Having been invited to appear at Cuirt International Festival of Literature in Galway, he had decided that an event of this calibre warranted a three piece suit.
‘While my girlfriend was living in Galway, we used to drink in Naughton's pub on Quay Street. There are many fine posters on the wall there, including posters of previous Cuirt festivals and some of them are signed by the authors who had participated in the festival that year. I was thinking that I’d love someday to read at the festival and never really thought it would happen. This year I got the call and it was really exciting,’ says Ramsell.
‘Cúirt was a whirlwind of literature and sociability. The readings and discussions were varied, exhilarating and  uniformly well-attended; it’s great to see the affection with which the city embraces the festival,’ says the poet, who also recently spoke at the Over the Edge Writers gathering in Charlie Byrne’s bookshop, probably ‘one of the best places to browse in all of Ireland’.

Since he started writing poetry almost by accident nearly 15 years ago (he was bored in Barcelona and gave it a whirl), Ramsell has been widely published in literary journals, held the Chair of Ireland Bursary for 2013, taught poetry in Sierra Nevada College on the shores of Lake Tahoe, continued co-running an educational publishing company (Forum Publications), and recently published his second poetry collection 'The Architect’s Dream of Winter.'

From 'Breath' in 'Complicated Pleasures'
And while women, love and romance feature heavily in his first collection 'Complicated Pleasures', Ramsell focuses in some part on technology and its infiltration of our lives in his new book.

Available from

'The first book, and if this sounds pretentious now you can just smack me if you like, was very much a lovers book- a young romantic fool trying to understand women and the world and failing. And the second book is a much more philosophical effort, a self-conscious effort to understand human nature and the human condition. So there's perhaps a little less direct romance in it,' he says.

In his new collection, he writes about waitresses and rock festivals, Coronation Street (he compares himself to Ken Barlow), the gentle lament of unconceived children who don't exist because of a 'caught train' or 'a hesitation', and one of my favourite poems 'Half Time', about a group of bored Greek Gods watching a hurling match in a shabby sitting room.

But it's 'The Silence Bar' that I'm still thinking about (and creating more entries in my mind for) long after I close the book.

A taster to whet the appetite from 'The Silence Bar'

'I got the idea in a hotel while looking at the wine list there. There were all these high falutin descriptions of the different vintages on offer and I started thinking about the different flavours of silence. Even in the most silent places, you can still hear a heart beating and the nervous system going,’ says Ramsell.

He often lets poems ferment for a while before polishing and publishing them, and usually spends about three months writing each poem.

'I tend to have ideas in a queue for a while before I get around to them. I used to be able to work on three or four ideas at a time but I can't do it anymore.'

From 'Half Time'

And while many poets look backwards to their families for inspiration, Ramsell is adamant that he has no interest in this trend.

'I'm lucky that my parents are alive thank god. And I think that most people tend to write about family when their parents pass away, and also when they have kids themselves. My family is of average f****d-uppedness for an Irish family, so it's relatively normal. There's no perfect family out there and it's not something I'm really interested in exploring,' he says.

'A lot of Irish poetry is saturated with family poems. So you find younger male poets avoiding that stuff and saying I'm never going to be that sentimental fool who writes about his dad and grandad or whatever- and then all of a sudden they find themselves changing their tune in later years. So perhaps I'm one of them, although it might be more important later in life.'

Ramsell's native city of Cork also serves as an important backdrop to many of his poems.

'Jazz Weekend' has 5 verses - 'Friday, The Long Valley', 'Saturday, The Metropole Hotel', 'Sunday, The Ivory Tower', 'Monday, the Triskel Arts Centre', and 'Tuesday, River Lane'.

And while he is not afraid to show the unattractive side of the city (in 'Hanover Street' from his first collection, there is 'vodka sobbing' and 'girls squatting and vomiting in the alleys behind the night club'), Ramsell is inspired by, admires and contributes to the city's vibrant literary scene.

‘I do by and large find Cork an inspirational city. Our provinciality is a reality, but that said I would argue that Cork punches above its weight culturally,' says the poet, who organises the O Bheal weekly open mike poetry sessions, as well as holding the annual Winter Warmer weekend of poetry festival.

As I walk back through the city streets, I spy Ramsell's photo printed on a North Main Street hoarding, and a man in Waterstones quotes poetry at me as I buy 'The Architect's Dream of Winter' - and spend a week thinking about the nature of the early morning tube silence.

'A silence that's punctuated only by coughs and the click of thumbs furiously cranking up iPhone volumes as yet more commuters board and the atmosphere shrinks a little more, and strangers forced into standing back to back gently transfer sweat to one another in the airless heat.'

Probably not a silence anyone would want to relive at leisure though.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

A Book to Read over Breakfast in Bed

Posted By Daisy

We Enjoy Slumbering -

LAST FRIDAY I set off on my holidays. To Ealing. Four tube stops away. As I stuffed  a toothbrush and some underwear into my tiny overnight bag, closed the peeling bedroom sash window, flicked a goodbye sign  to the closed door of the TV room where one of my flatmates sits nightly watching Danish thrillers on her laptop, this message whooshed into my phone...

Happy days.

And for the next two mornings ( we were going to the countryside for the day), my aunt delivered a breakfast tray to my bedside locker. There's nothing like drinking strong tea from a silver teapot and nibbling on a bit of buttered toast while flicking through pages of old 'House and Home' magazines, or reading a few short stories from the Maeve Binchy book I found in the guest room bookcase, before settling in for that important second sleep.

It reminded me of having a boyfriend. When we were 21, S used to deliver chocolate biscuits and tea on a beanbag tray to the spare room at his parents house where I used to stay.

During a summer on a Greek Island, where we camped for a month, he'd slap fried eggs (cooked on a tiny stove) into soft bread rolls with ketchup, and I'd feed the camp cat with stolen milk sachets. Afterwards, we'd lie with our heads sticking out of the tent door, laughing and singing and learning the words to 'Two Little Boys'.
I've only had one Bad Boyfriend Breakfast. A few years ago, I walked downstairs to the sight of a blond golf-addict fling clattering his knife and fork together on an empty plate, the smells of a full Irish lingering in the kitchen air.

'I didn't have enough for you,' he said, and was promptly dumped after which he resumed his all-weekend golf sessions with gusto. (He used to call his sitting room 'The Players Lounge'. Enough said.)

My two years with W (a wolfishly handsome guy with neither job nor ambition) were defined by food- especially breakfast in bed.

I'd make homemade chocolate croissants in the kitchen in my bare feet, cutting the ready-made pastry into little triangles and rolling shards of dark chocolate up inside it. I'd melt squares of chocolate in warm milk in a pan for hot chocolate, and wobble back upstairs, balancing everything on a tray complete with a flower in a glass.

Weekend mornings were spent dripping crumbs onto the newspapers in bed before falling asleep and waking up already kissing.

When W moved to the country, to a cottage on a bend in the road near the sea, we'd eat slices of toasted brown bread with butter and Ballymaloe relish and smoked Clonakilty rashers, or soft goats cheese, litres of tea and an egg cup of chocolate buttons for dessert.

We'd bring the dog to Baltimore for some moonlight kayaking, and spend a few hours stirring up the phosphorescence with the tips of our oars, paddling further away from the group to be on our own, the water lapping the sides of the kayaks. And later, after a hot shower, we'd drink chilled cava and share a cigarette on the porch of the old hotel near the sea. For breakfast the next morning, there would be scrambled egg and smoked salmon, and homemade raspberry yoghurt, as the dog waited patiently on the flag stoned floor.

At the farmers market near my house, we used to eat breakfast burritos sitting on the sea wall, legs dangling as we watched the cranes  lifting the huge shipping containers across the bay.

I want more breakfasts in bed, brunches and farmers markets. I think it's time to bite the bullet and start dating in London in earnest.

Elevator Pitch: A girl grows up in a not-deprived background with parents who adore each other, and becomes anorexic. She moves to London, becomes a successful writer and editor, rubs shoulders with many celebrities, gets married and buys a BMW coupe. But she still isn't happy.

It's Bridget Jones without the redemptive self deprecation or humour. Jones laments her grandfather getting killed in a bicycle accident, simply because it scuppered her chances of dating a boy she fancied. And in the saddest sentence I've ever read, she writes

'I wish I could rub out my life, twiddling knobs as on an Etch an Sketch, and start again........I think, if I had the chance, I would do every single thing differently.'
However, it's a great read, and Jones' description of her mother is poignant and  brilliant:

'The tradition in our house, if we children were working our way through the Quality Street tin at Christmas, was that she wouldn't take her own sweet but would wait, like a well-trained Labrador, until one of us spat ours out with disgust.....She would eat that one for us, to avoid waste.'

Elevator Pitch: A collection of short stories and features which Maeve Binchy wrote for the Irish Times. Full of observations about life, (both stories under the titled of 'Women are Fools' are definitely worth reading for anyone who has a tendency to choose the wrong man. Also, Binchy was single until her late thirties and it's lovely to see how independent she was and how much gusto she applied to life), it's a lovely book to dip in and out of.

Comparing Maeve and Liz, I am reminded of this:

'Two men look through the same prison bars, one sees dust and the other sees stars'.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Lovely London Things #6 The Old Cinema

I LOVE walking to Chiswick High Road and popping into The Old Cinema vintage and antiques shop. Although expensive, it's lovely to simply walk around and pop into a café nearby that serves pancakes filled with Nutella and the satisfying crunch of smarties.

These brass portholes cost £285 a pair.

Old French café window - but where would you put it?
I covet the cocktail trolley.