Having already garnered positive reviews in the US with his play ‘Dancing at Lunacy’, New York-based Galwegian playwright Seamus Scanlon has expanded his portfolio by releasing his debut collection of short stories
Book launches can be pretentious affairs, with petrol station plonk and stale crackers masquerading as claret and canapés, so when Mervue native Seamus Scanlon launched his first book ‘As Close As You’ll Ever Be’ in New York last week he decided to puncture some of the snobbery and took a more grounded approach to refreshments by providing crisps and whiskey for guests.
“The Tayto and Powers were big hits – they disappeared before the wine, the cheese and crackers,” recalls Seamus, who has lived in New York for seven years.
It is this stripped-back approach that he carries through his writing. The stories in ‘As Close As You’ll Ever Be’ are lean, dark and often violent affairs. And yet, a West of Ireland sense of black humour permeates his work such that, while sadness, death or violence are never far away, nor is a wry smile or a chuckle for the reader.
“The Irish are noted for black humour so I think we use humour to deliver the bleakness in a more palatable way. Sarcasm is in the Irish DNA – slagging someone in America is impossible, for instance. They are very literal and will take offense or get flustered easily, whereas in Ireland it is part of everyday life,” says Seamus.
The dark humour in ‘As Close As You’ll Ever Be’ provides some welcome relief as Seamus takes on subjects such as bullying, dysfunctional parent-child relationships and ‘The Troubles’. The Northern Ireland conflict is a particular area of interest for him and also forms the backdrop to his recent play, ‘Dancing at Lunacy’.
Time spent living in The Holy Land in South Belfast has given Seamus an insight into the effect violence has had on that society. “Ireland has very ambiguous attitude to violence so I’m trying to highlight that,” he says.
Another notable aspect of the writer’s stark, uncluttered narratives is that many of his tales are told from the point of view of children or adolescents. He explains that the point of view of a child fascinates him, as this is the stage at which the adult psyche is formed.
“It always astonishes me how children survive extreme mental and physical abuse, are often so resilient, overcome such massive hurdles and still make it through the other end with dignity and integrity and humanity intact – a wondrous process.”
Despite living in New York for the past seven years, Seamus says that Galway City has influenced his writing “a huge amount”. “The rain, the dark clouds, the grey town, the Atlantic, the docks, the Corrib, the Claddagh, Bowling Green, Mervue, Cemetery Cross, University College Galway, the Poor Clares are all there as a backdrop, indelible really.”
Seamus returned home for the Galway Arts Festival this summer and says he would love to bring his play ‘Dancing at Lunacy’, which received positive reviews from the Huffington Post amongst others, back to home audiences.
“Lunacy got good reviews in America so I was happy with that. Playing in your locaI town though is the real test,” he said. A move home is not on the cards any time soon, though. “I would like to move back to Galway but difficult now with the economy. I will be sending letters of intercession to the Poor Clares probably!”
A novel based on Seamus’ experiences collecting rubbish at Ballybrit racecourse is also now in the pipeline but he does not know when ‘The Galway Races Score’, a tale about a robbery, will appear and he admits that he prefers the immediacy of short story writing.
“I will do anything to avoid writing a novel I suppose – stories are over quickly whether good or bad so [they’re] not as daunting.”
For now, Seamus will continue working as a librarian at City College in New York, where he studied for his postgraduate degree. He professes to be more of a librarian than a writer and says, “Almost no writer can write full time and I have no desire for that anyway. I like writing but I am not a fanatic!”
With ‘As Close As You’ll Ever Be’ already receiving plaudits from other writers and a residency at the prestigious McDowell artists’ colony under his belt, Seamus may yet find himself with less time to devote to the library.
‘As Close As You’ll Ever Be’, published by Cairn Press, is available from Amazon.com.