Monday, June 25, 2012


In these times of tumbling readership figures, publications ceasing and bookshops closing it's great to see success. 

Congrats to Dublin Review of Books, the iconic free online literary journal that has been going for five years. The Review celebrated the occasion with its 22nd edition. According to its website,, it has published over 230 essays and been visited one or more by 120,000 readers from 190 countries. While more than a third of those visits are from Ireland, almost 27% are from the US and another 13% from the UK, a readership reflecting the journal's international flavour.


The novel took off in the late 17th century and thrived, more or less, up to a few years ago. Recent figures show that UK print sales dropped 26% in the opening weeks of this year. While such figure are not readily available for the Irish market, we are all aware that book shops are closing, vanishing from streets and shopping centres with depressing frequency.

In Ireland we consider ourselves to be a literary nation, but a recent report from Nielsen show that book sales are declining faster here than in any other country surveyed. And it not all the fault of e-books, either. More research shows that about 20% of Americans failed to read a book in any format over the past year - the lowest since polling began in 1978.

At some point over the past decades reading ceased to be something one automatically did - like washing teeth - and it became a hobby, as listed by "celebrities". Sad but true.

Monday, June 4, 2012

PARIS - Eileen Gray's apartment

 I'm staying at #CentreCulturalIrlandais in Paris for a few days to run a final research check on my latest book. It is the story of the meeting that took place between #EileenGray and #BruceChatwin in November 1972. She was the Irish designer and architect who after years of being forgotten and living reclusively became darling of international media, due to sale of her screen, #LeDestin to Yves Saint Laurent for a record-breaking price for a "modern" antique. He was the golden boy of British journalism, newly appointed to the Sunday Times magazine. His brief was to interview Eileen Gray.

I love writing fact-led fiction or novelization, as I've seen it recently described.

Before leaving Dublin with a series of maps I plotted Bruce's likely route to Eileen Gray's apartment. I wanted to be sure of the most minute detail - cobblestones or asphalt, street width, buildings and above all atmosphere.

I retraced his footsteps from the Louvre, crossing the Seine by Pont des Arts, imagining the way he looked through the slats of wood at the cold green river beneath his highly polished shoes - according to his wife, Elizabeth, he had a thing about polished shoes, with the domed elegance of the Institute de France facing him. He'd have turned right onto Quai Conti and into Quai Malaquaise where'd he'd have crossed the street to rue Bonaparte, walking up along the left footpath to no 21, the impressive hotel particuler, where #EileenGray lived for more than 70 years.

The high green gates leading to No 21 are opened, trucks are pulled up outside, workmen moving backwards and forwards, carrying various plastic-wrapped packages through the canopied entrance to the right, where I believe Eileen had her 4-roomed apartment. It looks as though the tiny entrance hall and that apartment is undergoing a giant renovation. I ask for permission to go into the apartment. The men look at me incomprehensibly - I go in anyway. It's quite wonderful - her ghost still lingers - I'm sure of it, but I can't stay as the 'boss', a sturdy, no-nonsense man is thumbing me out of the door and down the stairs.....