As he speaks to The Galway Independent, former Barna National School principal James Martyn Joyce is on his way to Dublin for the Irish Writers’ Centre’s world record attempt for the most consecutive authors’ readings.
Still new to public readings of his work, James has, out of modesty, asked for a slot during the graveyard shift, but has been pushed forward to 6.30am. Nonetheless, it is quite a platform to be on, reading at the same event as Seamus Heaney, amongst others.
“I’m aware of Seamus, but I don’t think it works the other way. When he hears he’s reading with James Joyce, he has to be impressed,” jokes James.
James’ debut collection of poetry, ‘Shedding Skin’, was published in 2010 under the name James Martyn. His middle name is Martin, so he adapted the spelling to that of one of the tribes of Galway, and used it as a nom de plume, to avoid confusion with his namesake, “‘Jesus, another book by your man! I thought he was dead!’”
After bowing to gentle pressure from his publisher, Alan Hayes of Arlen House, the cover of his new collection of short stories, ‘What’s Not Said’, now bears his full name, albeit with his slightly-altered middle name retained.
James has always written, and was “on a good run” before being made principal in Barna in 1995, a time-consuming post which resulted in writing taking a back seat before he had “a stroke of luck” in 2002 when poet Gerry Hanberry invited him to join the Talking Stick writers’ workshop.
“It was the best thing that ever happened to me because you can sit in front of a story and say that this is saying exactly what it should be saying until somebody looks at it and says, ‘No it’s not’. You don’t see it yourself,” he explains.
“They’re a wonderful group. We meet once every two weeks and there’s never any blood on the floor. There’s blood in the stories but not on the floor!”
Over the years, James has been nominated for a number of short story awards, and had work featured on BBC Radio Four. “I think everyone does it. It’s kind of a barometer of whether you’re not just talking to yourself or whether you’re talking to somebody else,” he says.
His work clearly spoke to Alan Hayes, who published James’ debut poetry collection in 2010. Arlen House is now publishing his first short-story collection, ‘What’s Not Said’, a collection of 17 stories revolving around four families, spread across over the course of 80 years.
The collection was originally a series of standalone stories, but James was tempted to weave them around the same families having read collections by US writers Donald Ray Pollock and Sherwood Anderson.
The short stories contain their fair share of violence and were, in fact, originally titled ‘The Bloody Stories’.
“Now, we’re not talking gushers!” he explains. “There are stains and hints, and the odd scrap naturally. There are one or two murders in it. Actually, the nearer it gets to the present day, the more murders there are, which is kind of like how the country is gone as well.”
The stories are all set in Galway City, although the geography is intentionally not correct, and only one story, the final one, set in 1927, has any factual basis, although the characters’ names have been changed. Just as he does not want to be confused with the other James Joyce, James Martyn Joyce hopes that these ‘bloody’ stories will set him apart from other exponents of the art in Ireland today.
“There are some super short story collections in Ireland. I wanted to plough a little shallow furrow somewhere else rather than the suffering farmer or the lonely country man, so they’re based in the city, and they’re nasty! At least I hope they’re nasty!”
Name: James Martyn Joyce
Newsworthiness: Arlen House has just published James’ second book, and his first collection of short stories, ‘What’s Not Said’.