Caoilinn Hughes: 2019 National Book Festival

Caoilinn Hughes: 2019 National Book Festival


>>Beatriz Haspo: It is
also my privilege today to welcome Ambassador Daniel
Mulhall, to be the interviewer and make some remarks. Thank you very much.>>Ambassador Daniel
Mulhall: Thank you. [ Applause ] Well, thank you very much. It’s really a great
pleasure to be here. I’ve spoken at book festivals
at Edinburgh, at Newberry and Oxford, during my time
as ambassador in London. But all of them required people
to pay significant sums of money to come to a book event. So, 12, 15 pounds on average. It’s fantastic. I want to pay one tribute to
Library of Congress and all of its sponsors, for being
able to make this a free event. It’s a fantastic gesture. [Applause] and they
deserve great credit for it. So, it’s my pleasure
and privilege to introduce Caoilinn Hughes. Now, we were going to have
a long discussion about how to pronounce Caoilinn’s name. Like, you know, [inaudible]
the actress, she doesn’t– she went on Saturday Night
Live and she explained to people how to
say [inaudible]. I would have said Cleland, because that’s what my
dialect of Irish would say. But–>>Caoilinn Hughes:
When you come across a real Republican,
they say that anyway. You say, “It’s Caoilinn,” they
go, “Yes, Caoilinn”, [laughs].>>Ambassador Daniel Mulhall:
That’s right, Caoilinn. Anyway, we won’t
get into that, but–>>Caoilinn Hughes: No
accusations [laughs].>>Ambassador Daniel Mulhall:
But its Caoilinn Hughes. And, you know, I came across
Caoilinn’s work in a– in an unusual way, perhaps. I’ve been tweeting poetry
daily on my Twitter account. Every morning, I tweet
some Irish poetry. Been doing it now
for five years. And about a year ago,
I started to worry that my poetry tweets were
essentially a dead poets society, or at least a dead
or elderly poets society. So, I asked my colleague Lillian
Farrell [assumed spelling], our cultural officer, if she could find me
some young, Irish poets. And Caoilinn was one of the
points that I started tweeting. And then very kindly, Caoilinn
sent me a copy of her novel. This is actually the Irish,
British, European publication. The American version is
here, published last year. Now, I think when
I read her poetry, I thought, this is great. Because here I’m
hearing the voice of a younger generation
of Irish writer. And I thought that she had a
vigorous voice and it’s like, if you go on to my poetry–
to my Twitter account, this morning, I tweeted some
lines from Caoilinn’s book, Gathering Evidence, which
was published in 2014. And won some very
prestigious poetry prizes. Now, this novel has
been very well received. It had a positive
review in the New Yorker, which is no small achievement. Where it was described as, and I
quote, ” a winning debut novel.” And then the Irish Times
call it, “ambitious, full bodied, and fresh.” And they went on to say,
“Hughes trains her unique gaze, her artistic, analytical and
emotional intelligence on us, not just in Ireland, but
our capitalist world, and the personal, political
and social ramifications, implicit in our acquiescence
to R and D championing
of its values.” So Caoilinn is part of a new
generation of Irish writers, very different from
their predecessors. A hundred years ago,
when W. B. Yeats, the great Irish poet was
accepting his Nobel Prize, he talked about what he
called a stir of thoughts in the late 19th
century, which helped to create an independent Ireland and Ireland stellar
20th century literature. So, he said it was something
happened in the 1890s in Ireland, that caused an
upsurge of nationalist activity in Ireland and of literary
creativity, epitomized by Yates and James Joyce and Sean
O’Casey and so forth. So, the question I suppose,
I want to ask you Caoilinn, is what drives 21st
century, Irish writing? What is the equivalent for
you, of that stir of thought that Yates talked about? Is it the Celtic Tiger
and the adversities that we suffered economically,
10 years ago or so? What is the– what was the spur
for you to write this novel about contemporary Ireland?>>Caoilinn Hughes: Well, one of
the things that the gates says, is that the– your
quarrel should be with the self and not the world. So, I suppose that
is a timeless kind of ambition of any work of art. And but in terms of
writing in the 20th– 21st century specifically,
I suppose, the realities of Ireland and, you know,
all developed countries and in the last couple
of decades, have shifted quite a ways
from our parents’ generation. Just, you know, on basic–>>Ambassador Daniel
Mulhall: Like me.>>Caoilinn Hughes: [Laughs]
on, you know, basic levels of what you can kind of
expect from a government, what your civic duty is,
what the social contract is, you know, education and housing and healthcare are all
three times more expensive than they were for my parents. And my parents, when
they bought a house, it costs 18 months their salary. For me, it cost 11
times my salary. So, there’s, you know– there’s
just, you know, huge differences in your negotiation
with being a citizen. And then, I suppose if you’re
writing a novel that’s set in that era, it’s going
to be grappling with some of those issues of
what it is to exist in that time period, you know. So, yeah.>>Ambassador Daniel
Mulhall: So, I mean, just to explain to the audience. Ireland went through an
enormous, economic boom between 1995 and 2007, which
was called the Celtic Tiger. We didn’t invent that name, but
that’s what was described to us. And then we have this economic
setback, this economic crash. Which of course you had
here in America as well, it wasn’t just an
Irish phenomenon. But it does seem to have
had an impact on Ireland and your characters are
very definitely shaped by those experiences. You know, the whole story is
really wrapped up in that period between 2008 and 2011. When things, sort of,
fell apart to us again. A few words from Yates. Although I have to say
as ambassador, of course, it’s my duty to say that the
last five years you had the fastest growing economy
in Europe, but that’s only [inaudible]. Literature, that’s
our subject today. But so, do you think you could
write a historical novel?>>Caoilinn Hughes: I don’t
know that I would want to. I mean, I say that and
I might change my mind, but one of my favorite novels
is E. L. Doctorow’s, Ragtime. So, I say that, you know,
not disparaging the genre. But I’m– I don’t
feel any kind of urge to spend time doing research and partly that’s I’m a
horrendous procrastinator. So, if I give myself any
excuse not to just write. And but there are so many–
there are so many things– this is such a complex
and rapidly changing age, that I’m more interested
in writing about the last, you
know, 20 years. Not just because it’s
my own, you know, well more than 20 years,
unfortunately, my own life time but because it seems
so vital to try and understand what’s going on. I mean, so shall I may be
mention the– explain the title?>>Ambassador Daniel
Mulhall: Yes, yes. Please do.>>Caoilinn Hughes: So, this
book is called Orchid & the Wasp and it’s just an access point
into describing the novel, to talk about the title. There’s a type of orchid
in Western Australia, that resembles a wasp. It has the structure of a wasp and it emits a female
wasp pheromone. So, when male wasps
fly by the flower, they try and mate with it. And in the process, they get the
pollen latch to their foreheads and these kind of
long orange shoots. And you can see the
videos, the wasps are trying to get rid of something. There’s little some
things on them both. Eventually they give up and
frustration and fly off. And then they’re lured
by another orchid, and when they try and mate with
that, they pollinate the orchid. So that’s quite an
unusual dynamic in nature. It’s called commensalism. Normally a mutualistic system; you’ll have a little
deer that’s– a bird that sits on a deer’s
back, eating tick from the deer. There’s something
kind of mutualistic. So, this example of the
orchid that mimics the wasp, is an anomaly or you know, it’s
much rarer in nature than it is in society to have an
exploitative system. So, there aren’t any flowers
or insects in the novel, but it’s a– kind of a
bit of an anchor for the– looking at an exploitative
dynamic. And there’s an underlying
question with the title; is it really lost, if
the loser isn’t aware of what they’re losing? So, one of the things
that were in my head, one of the little points on the
constellation that, you know, goes into writing a novel,
was the Libor scandal, and it was unfolding
in 2011 in the UK, and the London interbank
offered rate. It was a manipulation of the
interest rates between banks, in order to make banks
look credit worthy, or to benefit from the trades. On this, several people who have
been incarcerated as a result of the Libor scandal,
which was outed. And billions of Euro
have been paid in fines. So, but people on the whole– you know, it affected
such vast sums of money. And but people on the streets
couldn’t really tell you what Libor is and what
this Libor scandal was or which banks were involved,
or, more importantly, to what extent their own
money had been affected. And you know, whereas
in contrast, with the housing crisis of
2008, which was a large part of the economic struggles
in Ireland. We had also this subprime
mortgage extravaganza. People kind of understood
or seemed to understand vaguely,
what had gone on. Even if it was at
such a simple level of bankers being
bankers, you know. And, or even in Ireland, like, do you think people were
contending with this, that they had some
responsibility themselves. You know, the taxi driver
who had 13-million-euro worth in mortgages, because the
bank kept telling him, just remortgage the properties
that you have, they’re going up, you know, 20% year on year. You’d be a daft not to. And so, there was such an
obsession with the very reality, that capital breeds capital. And that you know, the
percentage return on capital at the moment, is higher than
the percentage return on income. Which means that if you own
capital, you’re destined to be more– to be
richer, than if you work. And so that, you know, this is
a heinous and important aspect of the moment that we’re in. And so it was interesting to me,
how– why people chose to try and understand the subprime
mortgage crisis and the bailout and all of that,
but they didn’t– it didn’t really seem to be
so important to understand, you know, an equally
enormous, you know, reprehensible act,
that was going on. And so, I was interested
in that. You know, to what extent
is this less of a crime, if we don’t know that
it’s really happened? Or we can’t tell you and
what’s been done specifically. So that– it’s essentially, you
know, trying to engage your own and complicity, if you are
not trying to educate yourself about the realities, of how
we wound up in a moment where, you know, you can work at
nine until nine every day. And the guy who was born
into a bit of land and or any other form of capital,
is going to be better off.>>Ambassador Daniel Mulhall: Of
course, that experience is one that has effect on
a lot of countries. And it’s had, I would say,
seismic political effects. But your course, in this
book, you’re really looking at its effects on one
family essentially. And their [inaudible], and
in particular, your heroine, if I can call her
that, Gael Floss. Gael Foess, so, were
you trying to– by looking at this extraordinary
character you’ve created, were you trying to
understand the broader issues that have been occupying
the headlines of newspapers and radio stations and TV?>>Caoilinn Hughes: Yeah.>>Ambassador Daniel Mulhall: —
talk shows all over the world. For the last 10 years
and we’ve seen, you know, Brexit in Europe, we’ve seen
things happening in this country that wouldn’t have been,
maybe happened before. And it all seems to be a product
of this period in history that you have looked
into, through the person or through the people
that you focus on in your novel;
the Foess family.>>Caoilinn Hughes: Yeah. So, I think still people
don’t necessarily– there’s still so
much to be done, in terms of your everyday
person’s understanding of the situation that we’re in.>>Ambassador Daniel
Mulhall: Yeah.>>Caoilinn Hughes: I mean,
six people in America, the areas of the Walmart
empire, own more wealth than the lowest 30%
of American society. And, you know, does every
person in the room know how that happened or
how that’s possible? does every person in the room, know that last year the Trump
administration introduced a tax cost. Whereby, if you buy a private
jet, it’s write-offable? Which is a threefold,
you know, crime. But in terms of oil on the
environment and, you know– so there’s still kind of a– just because there’s more
coverage and more kind of engagements and more
specific action in the public, doesn’t necessarily mean
that we’re anywhere close to where we need to be,
in order to really– to contend with us and to
not be manipulated still, by bankers and–>>Ambassador Daniel
Mulhall: And do you think that this situation that has
captured so much attention over the last 10 years– I mean
the number of books written about the– you know the crash
and its implications and so on, I mean both– mainly I
suppose nonfiction, political, economic, sociological studies. But you think that
that particular period, that particular crisis, could
provide you with material for a number of novels? I mean, I– is this
going to be your– you know your special subject? Like, you know–>>Caoilinn Hughes:
I mean well– so, I have I have another
novel coming out next year. There’s so many things already that I haven’t addressed
from your questions. My brain’s a little
bit firing off.>>Ambassador Daniel Mulhall:
Sorry for my questions [laughs].>>Caoilinn Hughes:
No, what I think– I’m always interested in
your engagement as a citizen, with the place that you
live in and what kind of a– you know, a reconciliation
you have made, to be okay with that
system and if not, what kind of resistance
have you taken? So, the– you know, but the next
novel is extremely different, for a number of reasons. But I should say that,
with this book, I start– you know, I start I– did mention that I started out
with this idea of exploitation but at the same time,
I didn’t want to know– I don’t like to know what
my what my books are going to be about. So, I like to write
into the dark. Otherwise, I will have almost
no interest in writing. It would feel like coloring in. And so that’s just
not how I write. So, I had to– I didn’t
want to 350 pages later to be asking the same question. So, I put this really
early on in the book, and the book becomes
about something else. And essentially, I–
it was a female leads because I’d written
several practice novels and they were all men, and
they all had protagonists. So, I felt that I
had readied myself to write a female protagonist. And I wanted to write a
kind of picaresque novel. Which you know, is just an– a novel about a character
out in the world. You know, you might say like
Ila Caesar or Voltaire’s Candide or you know, or even you
know, Frankenstein and books like that, where it’s about
a character doing stuff. Essentially, about their
career, or what their– what’s driving them,
where the drive for the– the engine of the
narrative doesn’t come from a relationship. So, it’s not a love story. And it’s not a coming
of age engine. And all of the books I loved
growing up, were about men out in the world doing stuff. You know, maybe novels
have ideas, or, you know, just all of the novels. They don’t even really
have labels. They’re not coming
of ages primarily, and they’re not love stories. And so, when I started
to think about– realized that I was doing
this, and it occurred to me that the only picaresque novels
with female leads, are heroines. And they’re heart
of gold heroines, and the arc of those
novels are always about the character discovering
their inner strengths and their inner integrity. And that’s the ark. That’s where the ark of
the novel comes from. And so, I was writing
a character who I didn’t want
her to be a heroine. I just wanted her to– actually
I didn’t know what she would be. But I wanted to allow her to
be whatever she needed to be and whatever the novel
wanted her to be. And it turns out that she’s– you know, doesn’t
behave admirably. And what she’s actually
driven by, is cynicism. And she’s become extremely
cynical, that in order to succeed in late
capitalism, what you need first and foremost, is privilege. That’s the biggest blocking– you know, building
block to success. And after privilege,
you need a willingness to be morally adaptable. And this is the– this is her–
this is her kind of thesis, which her father, a
banker for Barclays, kind of instills in her. And he saw her as great
material, a great, great success story material. Except that for her, that
willingness to be duplicitous, and, and having to have
privilege meant that, if you are to achieve success,
that’s a pretty compromised and grim and uninspiring
form of success. And you know, is a good life
even possible in such a– within such an equation? Or is trying to live a good
life some form of self-delusion? So, it’s really about you know, somebody contending
with cynicism. I don’t know about how many
people in the room there are, I see a lot of millennials and
there was, certainly a feeling in the last 15 years of
cynicism– an unspoken cynicism, that people were trying to work
out and that there was no– there were no films about and
there were no books about. And it’s not a very
flattering thing to write about or to read about. But it’s how we got
where we are. By people not contending
with the ugliness of the social structure
enough and not accepting that if you protect your
privilege, it’s very unlikely that your ethics are,
you know, very admirable.>>Ambassador Daniel
Mulhall: You know, I was at the Annual Conference of the American Political
Science Association there, today at the Washington Hilton. This morning, I was at a
panel discussion on Ireland. And I was– I had the book with
me and someone asked me– – one of the biggest donors
asked me, you know, for– asked me what was it about? And I said– I told him, it was
about, you know, Ireland of the, you know, the crash
and all that. They said, “I can’t
bear the idea. It’s so grim. I know, it’s important,
but it’s so grim.” I said, “No, no, this
book is not grim. Because it’s not grim.” I mean, it’s– I mean its–>>Caoilinn Hughes: No, I mean,
I don’t think it’s a grim thing, if you’re having an honest–>>Ambassador Daniel Mulhall:
I mean, it’s not grim at all. I mean, it’s not– I had
to practice [inaudible]. It actually comes
across somehow, as nearly an optimistic book.>>Caoilinn Hughes: Yeah. Because I mean– yeah,
because, well, so the book–>>Ambassador Daniel Mulhall:
Because Gael is not downtrodden. She’s not beaten
into pug by life.>>Caoilinn Hughes: No, she’s–>>Ambassador Daniel
Mulhall: She’s actually up there fighting
to the last stages.>>Caoilinn Hughes: She’s
an active character. So, she’s got agency
which is a privilege. But she is an actively
proving things to herself. And by doing that, she is not
living in an apathetic, passive and submissive, reticent way. You know, she is
trying to find– to prove something to herself
and where that leaves her– you know, she’s young
when the novel finishes. So, there– you know,
she does in a sense–>>Ambassador Daniel Mulhall: Does this mean there’s another
novel about Gael coming– ?>>Caoilinn Hughes:
No, I’m not–>>Ambassador Daniel
Mulhall: Coming our way?>>Caoilinn Hughes: No, but I
think it’s important because, for example– I hope it’s
not too much of a spoiler but there– she has a
relationship with a woman. She’s bisexual, in the book
and because she’s not– because I allowed her to not be
like, a likable, easy heroine and more an admirable,
kind of character. She– you know, you
can tell that she knows that if she chooses
to be with a woman, she will be relinquishing a
certain amount of her privilege. Things will be harder; opportunities will
be lost to her. And there’s a choice to be made. And there are very few novels
that kind of, reveal those types of compromises that
people can make. Because it’s an aspect
of life, you know. We do all have– and
we are all compromised. And I think– I’m so
wary of middle class, white women’s desire
to flatter themselves. And I think, you know, that
there’s a reason why, you know, apart from the race
issue in America, the– you know, the other reason
why Hillary wasn’t electable in my view, is because
there’s no precedent for such a character. She was– you know, a
ruthlessly ambitious woman, who doesn’t have any trauma. You know, there was a trauma, but it didn’t really
traumatize her, its traumatized Monica Lewinsky. And if it had traumatized
Hillary more, it might have rendered
her electable. Because that’s the type of
thing we can get behind. We can get behind
a wounded woman, we can get behind a
heroine, heart of gold woman. And we cannot get behind
a comparable politician. She– you know, is– the– clearly the qualified
candidate, the better candidate. It’s not my politics by the way. Hers aren’t but in
that scenario, she was the person
you’d vote for, right? And you know, we’re in an age
where we’re trying to figure out why she wasn’t elected. Well, where’s the precedent? Where’s the book about
characters like that? Not heroines, capable
of the job and you know, there’s such a double
standard and still existent. And I believe the biggest force
of change for that will come from women and white
women specifically. Because it was– for
54% of white women that didn’t vote for Hillary. So that’s something– like
you know, it’s probably– like, the novel like sold
abysmally in America. And it’s probably,
partly because of that. Because people– that’s
not an easy sell [laughs]. But I still think
it’s important to do–>>Ambassador Daniel Mulhall: When I was when I was
reading it, I was thinking of how different
it is from the– shall we say, the
kind of standard, Irish novel of the last century. I mean, if you think about
Edinall [assumed spelling] Brian for example, and country
girls and written 50 years ago or John [inaudible] and his
novel’s about rural Ireland and the repressive,
enclosed, confined society. I mean, Gael doesn’t live in
that kind of society, at all. In fact, she’s quite a
privileged background, although troubled. I mean, her father’s a banker, her mother is an
orchestra conductor. By the way, you’re very
good on classical music. You managed to describe, you
know, the classical music scene. Is that because you have some
background, or did you have to do research in that? For that part of the book?>>Caoilinn Hughes: We like–
there’s five kids in my family and we had a violin that was
passed around from each kid. So, we squeaked our
way, you know, and we– and in Ireland is a very much
a culture of the party piece. So, you know, you have quite
lots of family gatherings, and everyone has to
have a party piece. So, the violin was handed round. But I was also–
I’ve been in like, in a lot of amateur orchestras. I find, like, I haven’t
in years, but I live in New
Zealand for seven years. And I was part of some
really bad orchestras there. Which were like the
sources of such joy. Like, people spending their
evenings, like, you know, looking forward to the
biscuit break, you know? And like, just the humor that– of like, people engaging in
like something for fun for– Yeah, like, so I find that but– especially in the amateur
side of things, it just–>>Ambassador Daniel Mulhall:
There’s another thing I wanted to ask you about; I mean, you live in New Zealand
for seven years. And you were an executive
with Google.>>Caoilinn Hughes: Not
an executive [laughs].>>Ambassador Daniel
Mulhall: Well, you were–>>Caoilinn Hughes:
It was entry level.>>Ambassador Daniel Mulhall: I
mean, but you could have stayed in Google and you could have– maybe share options
would have come your way. And by now, you’d probably
be working in Silicon Valley in Google headquarters. You know–>>Caoilinn Hughes: I have
five Google shares actually, since then. I didn’t– I would have
gotten five every year. I don’t know if I’m
supposed to reveal this? Oh, well [laughs].>>Ambassador Daniel
Mulhall: Oh, well, you’ve done it anyway,
now so there you are. What can we say?>>Caoilinn Hughes: But anyway,
but I didn’t last long enough to get any more of them. I just– I couldn’t you know–>>Ambassador Daniel
Mulhall: What made you– I mean, you could have stayed
in that corporate world and gone up to the ranks and probably
had a very successful career. What prompted you to
sort of, take the plunge and decide to become a writer? I think you told me, when we
spoke earlier in the week, that you’re earning less
now, than you earned in your first year of Google.>>Caoilinn Hughes: Because I
did it Authors at Google Talk. And they don’t actually really
like to have a fiction authors in there because you know, the
employees like to learn things. But I wangled my way in any way, into the Dublin thing
and I gave a talk. But I did want to– I didn’t
want to you know, be belittling so I did, you know,
tell everyone to read David Graeber’s,
Bullshit Jobs. And you know, the
fact of the matter is that I wasn’t paid to be there. You know, so– and then when
I revealed that, you know, when I’d had worked at
Google, something like 12 or whatever years ago, I earned
twice as much as I do now. There– you know, everyone was
kind of looking at each other, awkwardly, thinking about their
health insurance, you know. But that’s a– you know,
it’s important to bring it up because, you know,
we only get one life. And you know, who knows how
short or long it’s going to be? It always is too short. And so, for me, it’s just, I
couldn’t be doing something that isn’t the most
important thing to be doing. Even when it comes
to writing, you know, I could be a far more
successful writer. Like, you know, really, and
at the– but those are– for me would be compromises
because, you know, I think about it, like if
you were to be hit by a bus, what’s the thing that you
would want to be working on? That has to be the thing and so, it’s not necessarily what’s
going to sell or what’s going to make your publicist happy. But, yeah [laughs]. So, I’m a bit contrary.>>Ambassador Daniel Mulhall:
No, as I mentioned earlier in my introduction of you, I
came across you first as a poet, which you’re not– which are
collection, gathering evidence. And when I read that I thought,
“Oh, this is really lively, vigorous, contemporary.” When you write a
novel, does it come from a different
part of your being? How does it– how does the–
because I can imagine– I reads poetry every day, but I have never written
a single line of poetry. I have to say, sadly, I have
never been able to do it. But I know a good
line when I see one. And I could imagine that a line
or an idea comes into your head, and you go away and you put it down on the page,
or you type it out. And that’s your poem. And you work on, you
revise it, but eventually– essentially it comes from a
sort of, moment of inspiration. is writing a novel, the–
essentially the same experience, or is it– does it come from a
different part of your being?>>Caoilinn Hughes:
They’re so different. Like novels are so–
they’re so hard. It’s so hard to write a novel. It’s so hard. You need to have such an
amount of self-belief and– so that building that
off is– takes time. You know, it took me kind
of a year or something after finishing Orchid, to be
able to really write anything. Because I was kind of so–
you know, it’s so draining. It takes everything
that you have. And so then– because
I don’t tend to, you know describe a novel
before I start writing and I don’t design it– which by
the way, you know, if you think about it this way,
I’ve never heard of anybody designing a
poem before they write it. But it’s very common to hear of
someone just designing a novel.>>Ambassador Daniel Mulhall:
But did you design your novel when you were writing it?>>Caoilinn Hughes: No, no, like
I literally– I mean, even– so there’s– it goes from
Dublin to London to New York, and there’s a section in the
Occupy Wall Street movement, and I didn’t know that
that was going to happen. It happened just because– I mean, I didn’t even
know the page before. It happened because it was
like, she was going to New York and it was October 2011. And I googled Wikipedia, October
2011; What’s going on just in case there’s some
public holiday or whatever, and it’s the occupy– and I
think I ran down the streets, you know shouting with
joy because it was found like such serendipity. It was completely
connected to the– But no, I really
don’t know at all. What the– but what– the
project is with the novel, is to try and push into
an– you know the– and interrogate yourself–
the questions, the most subtle and nuanced and deep questions
that you’re capable of asking of the world and of yourself. So that’s what you
were trying to do. And I believe in a gestation
period between writing. I could never go from
wising one thing to another. Because, you know, you just need
time to rediscover, you know, for the kind of center of
gravity of your interest in the world and your
thought processes to move. And so that the next novel
isn’t some weird lame of the previous book, you know?>>Ambassador Daniel
Mulhall: Now, the Irish Times in its review, which I mentioned
earlier, said that you were part of a new guard of young
writers, as they put it, marching over the
hill of Irish fiction. Do you see yourself in that way? As part of a generation
shaking up the old– shaking off the cobwebs of
the kind of, established, literary order in Ireland and
somehow turning it on its head and creating a new literary
tradition for the 21st century?>>Caoilinn Hughes:
I don’t know. I don’t really– when I
look back at Irish writing, I don’t really see any gap
in there being, you know, writers that were doing
interesting things. So, I mean, maybe
there are more voices because of capitalism, you know? Because products, products,
products, more products, products, but– and they happen
to be of quite a high quality, I would say largely
because of investment, because of culture Ireland
and the Arts Council, and that’s why I’m here. And so, the– and the embassy. But so, this is, you
know, systemic support. Which is privilege, right? So that’s why I’m very– I’m always very wary
of the you know, the self-congratulation
about Irish rising. And because so much
of that is just kind of the statistics
of systemic support. You know, even if you
compare Northern Ireland to the Republic, there’s– it’s, it’s far fewer dollars
per capita is spent on the arts, and so– in Northern Ireland.>>Ambassador Daniel
Mulhall: Right.>>Caoilinn Hughes: So, you
know, and that shows, you know, in the kind of quantity of books
from the north, in comparison to the ones from the Republic. So that’s just– I always
feel it’s important–>>Ambassador Daniel
Mulhall: We do– but we do seem to have a
kind of a fairly rich vein of younger writers
at the moment. Do we not?>>Caoilinn Hughes:
Yeah, there are. There are some really
great writers and maybe the social
media age and all of that, is helping some more voices
that might be kind of– that might fall between
the cracks. I’m not sure. And it does seem you
know, there’s as– it’s a small island and there
is– everyone’s very friendly, like their– to read the
friendliness is real. I noticed that because I
haven’t lived in Ireland in the Republic since I was 16. I studied in Belfast
for five years. And then I moved to
New Zealand and now, I live in the Netherlands. And I was very wary when
I started publishing, that I wouldn’t be let in or
that, I’d never quite belong. I’ve never felt–>>Ambassador Daniel
Mulhall: You don’t listen to my Twitter account
anyways, so–>>Caoilinn Hughes: Well, I think I probably left
myself in you know [laughs]. I probably came knocking
on the door. But, yeah, so I mean
that community of writers is very
strong, and very open and increasingly open–
increasingly open to, you know, second and third generation and
immigrants as well in Ireland. The more that the better, because it’s always
a little bit– I was saying somebody earlier, that the Irish never
do those DNA tests because it would
just be horrifying. You’d be your own cousin,
like the [laughs]–>>Ambassador Daniel Mulhall:
Yeah, I did mine recently and I was in Salt Lake
City with ancestry. And they said it was very rare. I was 100% Irish, there you are. I was a bit worried that
I might be less than 50%. It might be sort of, a
career ending experience. But anyway– so, I
was going to ask, did you bring any
of your poetry?>>Caoilinn Hughes: I did. I brought it from–>>Ambassador Daniel Mulhall:
Because I think it will be nice for the audience to hear your
own voice, hear your poetry. Obviously, it’s hard to read
from the novel because it’s– you know– but I think if
you read one of your poems or a couple of your poems, I
think that’d be very interesting to hear, you know your language. Because the language
of your poetry is– comes through in the
language of the novel. At least I think that any way. It seems to me to be coming from the same linguistic
source, you know. You don’t have a
different voice in prose and the one you have in poetry. I think the voices
are kindred voices.>>Caoilinn Hughes: Yeah, I write equally slowly
with both [laughs].>>Ambassador Daniel
Mulhall: Okay. Actually, the novel. It’s got a very– it’s got–
I mean, it’s very pacey. But you’re saying it maybe
pacey in the way it reads but it wasn’t pacing in
the way you wrote it?>>Caoilinn Hughes:
Wrote it, no– [laughs].>>Ambassador Daniel
Mulhall: Okay, okay. Anyway, give us a poem.>>Caoilinn Hughes:
I’ll read one and called preventive measures,
and it’s a little bit of a– it’s kind of a sci fi
poem, which is an odd idea. But it imagines a character
who has had a preventive– preventative heart transplant, just in a slightly
futuristic scenario. And she’s brought her old heart
in a jar to her father who is– got heart disease, and you
know, is of the generation that they are– that the new
technologies, a new world, isn’t available to them. There’s another parallel
conversation going on between the father and
daughter, about legacy and about the type of new
reality that you might have to be comfortable living within. And you’ll hear in the
poem, it’s quite short. There’s a heartbeat and
as the poem progresses, it kind of starts
to trip on itself. Preventive measures; Today, I
wanted to show you my heart. You asked, “You’d open
your ribs like a book?” Blood vessels broke on
your cheeks and you shook. I wanted to help you to see,
to label the troublesome parts. I regret the faults I passed on but that’s the Lord’s
unknowable way. I’ve more stents
now than prayers and they serve me just fine. Father, I wanted to show you
the organ I ordered online. It’s the color of cider apple. It’s complex as your ear. Tender as stingray. You glanced at the
jars stuck between us. The muscle it held
was lightened. The preservant was
bloodstains like Reisling poured on the dregs of Syrah. You can wear my old heart
on your sleeve, I laughed. You said, “A stigma?” You sat there, heart
bleating until apples in some orchards had ripened. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Ambassador Daniel
Mulhall: So, we have– and we have time for
a couple of questions. Hands up and somebody
will appear before you, with a microphone. And if we could have a question. Oh, sorry. Yes, yes.>>Thank you, Ms. Hughes, for coming to the festival
and reading the poem. You talked about your
writings being influenced by what happened to between
2007 and the period after that. Ireland has been going
through some seismic changes in the last 10 years. You had the referendum
on abortion, you have a gay Prime Minister. What’s the title? I mean, it’s an unusual title. He’s not called– [ Inaudible Comment ] I will read up on that. Is that reflective of– I
mean, are your writings going to be influenced
by those events? And also, are you influenced by
the fact that you’ve been part of the European Economic
Community for so many years? And of course, the inevitable
question about Brexit; I mean, how is that going to–
[laughter] and it just wanted to add, I haven’t read Irish
literature extensively, but one of my favorite poems in
school was William Butler Yeats, Lake Isle of Innisfree.>>Ambassador Daniel
Mulhall: I will arise and go down, go to Innisfree.>>Yes, yes.>>Ambassador Daniel
Mulhall: Go ahead.>>I loved it. I’ve read Oscar Wilde. I don’t think I have it in me
to digest James Joyce’s Ulysses.>>Caoilinn Hughes: He’s
got a great blog on it.>>Ambassador Daniel
Mulhall: Yeah, yeah.>>But anyway, I wanted to
talk to you about these events and you know, how they
influence writers. And it’s good that you
mentioned that there’s a lot of literature coming
out of Northern Ireland. One doesn’t hear much about it. You hear only about Allister and
all the blow ups that happened, but it’s nice that
you mention it.>>Caoilinn Hughes: Yeah, there’s a very good Northern
Irish novel that came out recently called, The
Fire Starters by Jan Carson. And it centers around
the 12th of July, the Orange Order marches in
Northern Ireland, that are– you know, whether you’ve– maybe see the news of those
huge fires, but it’s written from a loyalist perspective. And I think now is a very
interesting time, to allow space for loyalists in
Northern Ireland, who are being really
delivered the worst outcome, for having engaged in a peaceful
coexistence with, you know, with Republicans and Catholics over the last 20,
you know, 15 years. So, yeah, how to
tackle your questions? Because there was a few there. Well, one aspect of
contemporary Irish culture that I’m very nervous about, is this might not be an
ideal selling point for my– for the ambassador here but is that the Irish economy
now has got– relies a lot on US corporates. So, we have a 12 and a half
percent corporate tax rate. To give you a comparison,
Germany’s is 30% at the moment. So, and the infrastructure
in Germany reflects that. That money that’s
available to the government. And so, now are– you know,
in this crucial moment, when Ireland is becoming
all the more appealing for international companies,
as to have as a base, especially as a tax base. It’s a very dangerous time because it makes the
country susceptible to corporate control
of government. And that’s something that
I think is terrifying. Because it’s very, very– you know, while the people
are still lovely on in the pub and the culture is still rich. And as soon as the
government shifts into that, sort of neoliberal, you know,
corporatocracy area, you know, you’re losing out on all sorts
of social welfare and, you know, generally a rich
society in my belief. And also, at the moment,
you know, the biggest– the agenda for every
single country in the world should
be the climate. And you know, that’s
not going to be the– on the top of the agenda
for any kind of centrist or corporately inclined
government. So, that’s what I’m very nervous
about and I wanted to write– this novel, I think,
is starting to engage with that a bit, you know? Because Ireland’s been
changing so quickly. So, in the 80s, there was
a lot of EU investment that created the
infrastructure that we have now. And when I lived in Northern
Ireland going back and forth, you know, on the odd weekend, it was a completely
different economy. Northern Ireland is
still very working class. And during the boom years in
the south, I remember kind of being discombobulated
by you know, how a person spent their day
just kind of shopping, you know? And/or like a building
a panic room, you know? Like, they felt like a cognitive
dissonance was a real thing. So, in a way the crash was– recalibrated Irish
cultural, kind of sensibility. But yeah, so there
are positive things. There are really progressive
and exciting things. But also, if I can– if there’s
time to say it, like, you know, at the moment, the
US has got an– its Irish Americans
have got their ears open to what’s happening with Brexit. Partly you know, for
identity reasons, but also because there’s this
conversation that’s happening about potentially
United Ireland. Now I lived in Northern Ireland. And I can tell you
that the best scenario for Northern Ireland
is the status quo; which is in every other
aspect of life, is status quo. Is the worst scenario at the
moment, because of the climate. But in Northern Ireland,
it’s a stable state. And also, really importantly,
it’s a symbol for coexistence and tolerance and
peace among people with very different backgrounds and aspirations and
sensibilities. And I think that’s
really hopeful thing. And so, it’s a disaster
Brexit because it– already it has and ruined the
possibility of that status quo in Northern Ireland remaining. So, it’s a tragedy. I can keep talking
about this, but maybe–>>Ambassador Daniel Mulhall: I’ve been given the
one-minute warning. So, as a good ambassador,
I always take instruction from the stage manager. And as a good moderator too, I
will bring things to a close. But I just wanted to thank
you Caoilinn, for coming over. The Embassy is delighted to
be associated with this event; with the National Book Festival,
with the Library of Congress. My first week in
Washington two years ago, one of the first things I
did was to visit the Library of Congress and it’s
a wonderful place. If you haven’t been there,
you definitely need to go. But my most exciting moment
of that tour, of the library of Congress, was not the great
building, but rather getting into the shelves, to see
all the sort of shelves and books going on forever. Anyway, thank you for
giving us your views on– well, thank you for for
talking about your novel, for reading your poetry and
also for giving us your take on contemporary Ireland and our
place in the contemporary world.>>Caoilinn Hughes:
Thank you, thank you. In case I don’t get
in, thank you and to the Embassy
and culture Ireland. Because, you know, I wrote
to Ambassador Mulhall, and I explained that the first– my first encounter with an Irish
politician was president Michael D. Higgins, who was a poet and I
met him in Galway City Library. And we were reading at the
same event [laughs] bizarrely, when I was 16. And but– so my initial
encounter with Irish politics was that
it cared about the arts, that are participated in the
arts and that it turned up. So, thank you for–>>Ambassador Daniel Mulhall:
Now, you and I could talk about this book for a long time,
and the issues that it raises with regard to the contemporary
art and that I’m privileged to represent here in the
United States as ambassador. But thank you for coming and thank you all
for being here today. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Caoilinn Hughes: Thanks.

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