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PAUL O’REILLY’S DE­BUT COL­LEC­TION OF NINE SHORT STO­RIES IS AN OUT­STAND­ING READ

Enniscorthy Guardian - - NEWS - ‘The Girl Miss­ing From The Win­dow’ is be­ing launched at the Pre­sen­ta­tion Cen­tre, En­nis­cor­thy, this Fri­day, June 27, as part of the Fo­cal Literary Fes­ti­val. By DAR­RAGH CLIFFORD

THE Ir­ish have a long and cel­e­brated re­la­tion­ship with the short story. We love a good story, and we cher­ish a good sto­ry­teller. It has been in­stilled in us for gen­er­a­tions; we have ro­man­tic im­agery of the vil­lage sto­ry­teller, go­ing from cot­tage to cot­tage, telling tales by the night’s fire.

The craft of a good yarn is in our DNA. We love sto­ries that chal­lenge us, that make us think, sto­ries that are both of its time and time­less. The great sto­ry­tellers, in­ad­ver­tently or oth­er­wise, can sense which way the wind is blow­ing in so­ci­ety, and can re­act ac­cord­ingly. They are in step with the zeit­geist.

Which brings us to En­nis­cor­thy au­thor Paul O’Reilly’s latest body of work, a col­lec­tion of nine short sto­ries en­ti­tled ‘The Girl Miss­ing From The Win­dow’. At times achingly beau­ti­ful, at times thought pro­vok­ing in its blunt­ness, Paul has de­liv­ered nine sto­ries that tap in to many of the mod­ern day is­sues that hang over Ir­ish so­ci­ety.

Immigration, lone­li­ness, teenage sui­cide, sex­ual guilt, old age are all dealt with great au­thor­ity and sen­si­tiv­ity. A com­mon thread run­ning through­out the nine sto­ries is the par­ent-child re­la­tion­ship, ei­ther front and cen­tre like in ‘I Wish MacGowan Hadn’t Writ­ten That Song’ or in­di­rectly in the ti­tle story ‘The Girl Miss­ing From The Win­dow’. But, as Paul ad­mits, this par­ent-child theme is not some­thing he de­lib­er­ately set out to do.

‘When the pub­lish­ers took it on, we were very much con­cen­trat­ing on fin­ish­ing the nine sto­ries, and once we got those done and edited, then it was like, how are we go­ing to mar­ket this, what’s the an­gle? And so it was only around then I started think­ing what have they all got in com­mon, and I think it is very much fam­ily-cen­tric sto­ries. They kind of al­ter­nate be­tween fa­ther and child, mother and child, or that tri­an­gle,’ said Paul.

The open­ing story, ‘What Rose Did’ is a pow­er­ful story that deals with teenage bul­ly­ing and sui­cide, told not through the eyes of the vic­tim, but through the eyes of the mother of a teenage girl who is ac­cused of bul­ly­ing a girl who has killed her­self.

The story is ex­tremely un­com­fort­able in parts – it gets un­der your skin as it reaches its chill­ing cli­max. Paul ad­mits that it was the real-life teen sui­cides of Ciara Puglsey and the Gal­lagher sis­ters Erin and Shan­non in 2013 that inspired the story.

‘It’s a hor­ri­ble sit­u­a­tion to be in, be­cause she (the mother) is re­ally in con­flict. Ob­vi­ously she’s dis­gusted by it, but it’s also her daugh­ter. I work in soft­ware, and I’m al­ways keep­ing an eye on Face­book and Twit­ter. And it’s just scary,’ said Paul

‘It was the Pugs­ley and Gal­lagher sui­cides that inspired that story. They were the sparks. It was around that time then that a sec­ond Gal­lagher sis­ter com­mit­ted sui­cide, and that com­pletely gal­vanised the coun­try. It made ev­ery­one aware and that was such a strong im­pact on ev­ery­one. But the easy thing would be to tell the story from the vic­tim’s point of view whereas I think, we def­i­nitely need to try and un­der­stand the other side of it. Why are the bul­lies the bul­lies?’

Like many in Wex­ford, Paul has been di­rectly touched by sui­cide, and openly ad­mits that this was at the fore­front of his mind dur­ing the writ­ing process.

‘There was a sui­cide in the town when I was in my teens,’ said Paul. ‘He was a fine chap, a good boxer, and he just killed him­self, and it was ab­so­lutely dev­as­tat­ing. He lived three doors up from me. So that’s al­ways been in my mind. And my own cousin, Mark O’Reilly, com­mit­ted sui­cide in the Slaney around 1998 and he was only 21 or 22 or some­thing. And he had lost his fa­ther so it was kind of a domino ef­fect. ‘

The town of En­nis­cor­thy fea­tures heav­ily in ‘I Wish MacGowan Hadn’t Writ­ten That Song’, one of the ear­li­est sto­ries Paul ever com­pleted. It deals with a young lo­cal man on his last night in town be­fore he im­mi­grates to Amer­ica – again a sit­u­a­tion all too fa­mil­iar with fam­i­lies to­day. What makes the story so touch­ing is rather than the young pro­tag­o­nist en­joy­ing a few pints on his last night, he sneaks out of the pub (Toss Ka­vanagh’s, ac­cord­ing to Paul) and en­joys a ten­der mo­ment with his mother in the kitchen,

drink­ing tea and eat­ing doorstep brown bread sand­wiches.

The scene is achingly beau­ti­ful in how it is writ­ten – the mother’s im­pend­ing sense of lone­li­ness rings clear. ‘ Why are you leav­ing

be­fore Christ­mas,’ she asks? Paul’s own story, from a cre­ative point of view, be­gan in the early 1990s, when he be­gan writ­ing songs inspired by the likes of Christy Moore and Jimmy McCarthy. An ac­com­plished lil­ter like his late fa­ther, Paul com­peted with some suc­cess at All-Ire­land Fleadhs.

About 13 years ago at an En­nis­cor­thy Drama Fes­ti­val, the stag­ing of plays by Billy Roche (The Bel­fry), Martin McDon­agh (The Lone­some West) and En­nis­cor­thy’s Andy Doyle (There’s Some­thing About Roses) lit the fuse for Paul to get writ­ing, and sub­se­quently wrote three plays.

From there, and through his in­volve­ment with the ‘Scalta Media’ ini­tia­tive with Ea­monn and Niall Wall, Paul honed his craft, and af­ter five years of flirt­ing with a novel – which he made con­sid­er­able progress with – he turned his at­ten­tion to the short story for­mat in 2010.

The re­sult is a col­lec­tion of short sto­ries that deal with or­di­nary life, but are in no way told in an or­di­nary way and will in­evitably strike a chord with the reader in some shape or form.

‘I’m an only child…’ re­flects Paul. ‘So I think per­haps many of the chil­dren (in the book), they don’t talk that much to sib­lings, or they might be only chil­dren. So it’s only in hind­sight that you re­alise that some of my own life and ex­pe­ri­ences end up in the sto­ries.

‘I would have been very close to my own fa­ther and mother. My mother is still alive but she is quite ill. And there would have been a lot of be­reave­ments in our fam­ily, on my mother’s side. And that all feeds into the com­post.’

En­nis­cor­thy au­thor Paul O’Reilly; INSET: his new col­lec­tion of short sto­ries, ‘The Girl Miss­ing From The Win­dow’.

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