My life has been littered with unconnected events. It’s only now – when I have the time to watch butterflies and think that life can be as short as the unfolding of a painted wing, or as long as the slow and certain flow of continuous life from big bang to final apocalypse – that I begin to tease out the links. Crying for Worms, Bloodlines and other stories
It may be a far-fetched notion, worthy of Joyce herself, but I think that it is all down to the electricity, or, more correctly, lack thereof.
Joyce Russell – Southern Star readers will recognise the name as that of the papers’ gardening columnist – is to have her first book of short stories, Bloodlines and other stories, published by the Mercier Press. The collection will be launched at 14.30 on Wednesday 19 September with a free reading in Cork City Library on Grand Parade as part of the Cork International Short Story Festival.
In the 1940s, the Electricity Supply Board prepared, at the request of Mr Sean Lemass, Minister for Industry and Commerce, a report on the provision of electricity to rural areas. On 2 September 1944, the Southern Star quoted from this report the intention to extend ‘on a national scale the electricity network in Éire with the object of making electricity supply available to the farming and rural community’. Coincidentally, 1944 was the year that Captain Sean Feehan launched the Mercier Press.
However, by the late 1970s, when Joyce, a native Yorkshire woman, visited Ireland on holiday with her husband and decided to stay, the ‘rural electrification scheme’ had still not reached the house in the remote valley where they lived for their first three years in Ireland.
The fertile imagination which has given rise to the stories in this collection was surely sparked by those long dark evenings in the foothills near Ballingeary.
Many of Joyce’s characters have lived with her for many years, writing necessarily taking a backseat while she raised her family of three and worked as co-founder and office manager for Friends of the Earth, Bantry.
The ESB itself ran a short story competition in 1996 to commemorate the golden jubilee of electricity and its effects on rural life. Joyce was not an entrant to that competition, but since first appearing on the radar in 2002, when her story This Little Piggy was third-prize winner in the RTÉ Francis McManus Award, hers has been a steady progression of consistency and resilience, culminating in winning that same competition in 2010 with Fishing For Dreams.
You will not hear Joyce theorising about writing, but you might well see an electric light burning brightly at 5.30 on a winter morning if you drive through the pass of Keimaneigh. Hard work brings its own rewards. Bloodlines is the first chapter of what I think will be a glittering writing career.
The above piece is one that I wrote (and the Southern Star published) this week. Its goal was to help create a bit of ‘noise’ for the launch of a book of short stories by a good friend, Joyce Russell. I have been privileged to know Joyce, Ben and their three children from when I first came to West Cork in 1989. Friendship apart, the stories are great. It is appropriate that a Cork publisher has had the insight to realise it. I think they have unearthed a gem.