How I Wrote ‘Gone’ – James Lawless discusses his short story, ‘Gone’, featured in Issue Seven of The Lonely Crowd.

How I Wrote ‘Gone’ – James Lawless
James Lawless discusses his short story, ‘Gone’, featured in Issue Seven of The Lonely Crowd.

My story ‘Gone’ is about transience, about an old world and a new world, the monochrome and homogenous town of my mother’s generation and the multiethnic, modern metropolis of the present day as captured in the microcosm of a city Green. It’s about generational change, about life performing its full circle: the little boy being pushed by his mother in a pram, and now the debt has to be repaid with him as an adult steering her aged and debilitated self in a wheelchair as she reverts to a childlike state. It is the turn of the son now to point out the wonders of the world to her just as she had done for him when he was a child. But in hindsight one is tempted to enquire if the wonders she had pointed out were contained and proscribed to fit into her own agenda.

The story is also a reflection on parental possessiveness, on the powerful, emotional bind that a mother can hold over her child. If, as Roland Barthes claimed, writing is playing with the body of the mother, then there is great scope here for a creative artist. What are the responsibilities of a parent towards a child? What is your responsibility towards something you helped to create? We, as writers, all have different ways of dealing with this umbilical bond which can be a spur for inspiration but can also carry the potentiality for destructiveness in the shackling of a developing life. This story is about the inner dialogue of love and selfishness as integral and intricate patterns deep inside a person as exemplified in the perhaps unwitting egocentricity of a mother in never wanting her child to fly away from the nest. And this is achieved, not through an abundance of love, but in a form of suffocation. It is a mother’s way of investing to protect herself in old age, regardless that such action can block the autonomous growth of her own offspring. And so is it any wonder, on the part of the son, that feelings of filial love and duty torment him and ultimately give way to resentment?

With his mother’s death, he reflects on the missed opportunities of his life: the new world which he only sees now opening up before him, the chances for love as he beholds the pubescent girls on the lawns and the blossoming shrubs and the kicked ball, which he cannot reach out to because age has caught up with him now. How brief the time, how fleeting it all was, and a panic seizes him as he sees the sun setting and he heads away trapped in his childhood past. What has he to show for his life? The chains that bound him are released now. But it is too late. It is all gone now like the little immigrant girl Zoe as she disappears with her mother over the humpbacked bridge of the Green of his youth.

James Lawless’ poetry and prose have won many awards, including the Scintilla Welsh Open Poetry Competition, the WOW award, the Cecil Day Lewis Award and a Hennessey award nomination for emerging fiction. His work has been broadcast on radio and appeared in the Fish and The Stinging Fly’s anthologies, and two of his stories were shortlisted for the Willesden (2007) and Bridport prizes (2014). He is the author of six well-received novels, a book of children’s stories, a poetry collection Rus in Urbe, and a study of modern poetry Clearing the Tangled Wood: Poetry as a Way of Seeing the World for which he received an arts bursary.

© James Lawless, 2017. Image © Jo Mazelis, 2017.


American Doll in Spanish

I’m delighted to announce the wonderful translation into Spanish by Emmanuel Castro Hernández
of my highly commended novel American Doll about an Irish-American family and a poignant love story set to the tragic backdrop of 9/11.
‘A sweeping story of how 9/11 opened a Pandora’s Box on an Irish/American family.’
When Laura Calane of New York comes to Ireland to further her studies and to live in what her father considers a safer environment after 9/11, she discovers that the land of her ancestors is not the haven she had believed it to be. When she meets social worker Danny Faraday, she is torn between her attraction towards him and the emotional blackmail of her uncle Thady who is domiciled in Ireland and who never lets her forget that he saved her father’s life in a terrorist attack in New York.
‘An excellent novel by an award-winning writer, highly praised by the likes of Jennifer Johnston. James Lawless deserves to be more widely read than he is.’ Sunday Independent.
In paperback or on kindle for only €2.99


American Doll in Italian

I’m delighted to announce the wonderful translation into Italian by Roberta Torrisi of my highly commended novel American Doll about 9/11 and an Irish-American family.
In paperback or on kindle for only €2.99


The exciting anthologyThe Lonely Crowd is now published

blis-4hj_400x400Retweeted The Lonely Crowd (@thelonelypress):
‘There are no vegetables in Saint Stephen’s Green. It is a place for the aesthetic, for the gladness of days.’ Read @vanThool in Issue 7


Echoland by Joe Joyce


Joe Joyce
New Island

German-speaking army First Lieutenant Paul Duggan is promoted to G2 Intelligence to investigate the activities of a German spy in 1940’s Dublin. Paralleling this is his uncle’s request for him to trace his missing daughter. The uncle, Timmy Monaghan, is a nationalist TD who believes his daughter may have been kidnapped.
This mystery story is low on tension and is not fast-paced or noir enough to be deemed a thriller. Nevertheless, the fears and tribulations engendered by the Emergency in Ireland are captured very well. The country at the time was divided into pro- and anti-German feelings. The Germans had steamrolled their way through France, forcing the British evacuation from Dunkirk. Many believed at this stage that Hitler would win the war. So the country was replete with spies and rumours that the IRA would join with the Germans to drive the British off the island.
Joe Joyce knows his history well and his knowledge of Dublin locations of the period is spot on, and an unscrupulous politician such as Monaghan, slipping into a church to receive Benediction before meeting Duggan to carry on with his machinations, is typically hypocritical and redolent of the times. But the author goes into far too much detail to the detriment of the narrative. And too much is made of cigarette smoking at the expense of more meaningful familial exchanges between Duggan and Monaghan, which are treated rather cursorily.
The writing is authentic and very visual as when Duggan, in his quest for his missing cousin, follows her friend Stella up the stairs to Nuala’s flat: ‘A strip of yellow linoleum ran up the centre of the steps, the black paint of either side greyed by ingrained dust.’
Some tension does arise but it is not till halfway through the novel when Duggan, following a lead to the whereabouts of the missing girl, is confronted by a man pointing a Webley 45 at him. The man is apparently looking for the ransom money offered by Nuala’s father. When Duggan mentions that the missing girl is his cousin, his captors, who are the IRA, appear not to know her, something which causes mystification to both the lieutenant and his abductors. Duggan is rescued by his accomplice Gifford from Special Branch. One feels that this is the moment where the novel could really have taken off but instead it sinks into vagueness with Duggan’s captors fleeing and the police platitudinously shouting: ‘Come out with your hands up.’
Duggan tried to think the conundrum through: ‘Nuala was supposedly kidnapped. Timmy paid a supposed ransom. Then sent some of his old IRA friends or contacts to get it back. Nuala gave back the money. Then her boyfriend was supposedly kidnapped by the IRA as a spy. Was that why she gave back the money? Someone had paid her back in kind. Timmy. Would have to have been him.’ There was a chance, Duggan concluded, that it was all a hoax, a nationalistic guise by Monaghan to score points against the old enemy England. Or in addition it could equally have been a warped revenge plan against his recalcitrant daughter because of a family feud as he told the IRA that her boyfriend was an English spy.
Another problem for the reader regarding the kidnapped girl, is that is very hard to feel sympathy for her when we hardly know her. Also Duggan himself comes across as rather flat with few compelling traits. An interesting romantic subplot could have been developed for example between the ebullient Gifford and Duggan in their competition for the attentions of the office girl Sinéad, but nothing comes of it.
Well into the novel, while in their pursuit of the German spy, Duggan, at Greene’s bookshop, runs after Gifford and declares: ‘I think we’re being followed.’ ‘Thanks be to God,’ Gifford says, ‘some excitement at last.’
James Lawless’ latest novel is American Doll;

Published in the Irish Examiner 01/07/2017


New work in The Lonely Crowd

Delighted to have a story in Issue Seven of The Lonely Crowd.
The Lonely Crowd
Jun 07
New work from Fred Johnston @jessbonder @SeanMTanner @vanThool @briankirkwriter @alisonwells & more. Pre-order here


Book Review: Trespass by Anthony J. Quinn

Book review: Trespasstrspassbook_large

Irish Examiner, Saturday, May 13, 2017 Review: James Lawless
IN the light of Brexit and the talk of soft and hard borders, this is a topical novel as it is set on the blackthorn-hedged borders of Northern Ireland and the Republic.

It is a deeply atmospheric and poetically written Emerald noir which examines crimes with roots dating back to the dark days of the Troubles.

Anthony J Quinn confesses to being ‘a thwarted poet’ who undertook to write crime novels to add plot to his themes.

He is good at juxtaposing the outer landscape of the border counties with the inner landscape of his characters.

Detective Celcius Daly, a divorced 44-year-old, wonders not only about his life in the police force but about life itself as he tries to avoid the ‘downward pull of the past’.

Quinn is good on silence and Daly’s struggle with his Catholic faith as he follows the solicitor Rebecca Hewson to a church.

There he resists the imploring face of Jesus on the cross where the detective’s ‘heart did not move… and the quietness of the church deepened’.

Daly has been relegated to court duty because he is under internal investigation for his possible involvement in the disappearance of a spy.

Daly’s own mother was murdered during those turbulent times, but the horrible impact of this on the son could have been brought out more and is only cursorily referenced throughout the novel.

The same applies to his scant reflections on his divorce and one wonders if maybe a new love interest could have enhanced the non-professional roundedness of his character.

When Hewson’s son goes missing from the court house Daly is tasked with the investigation. Suspicion lies with a group of Travellers and Quinn, a former social worker, shows great insight into the world of these marginalised people.

Daly himself, as one side-lined in the force and inhabiting his father’s old rundown cottage on the shore of Lough of Neagh, identifies with them: ‘His fear of uprootedness and not belonging; his inability to shake off the notion that deep down he was a stranger too’ in the wake of the long Troubles and his own involvement in them.

Despite his contemporaries buying new houses, contemptuously deemed ‘trophy properties’ by Daly and which Quinn indulges three pages in describing, the cottage was the only place in which Daly could feel at home.

It is interesting that the wealthy Traveller Thomas O’Sullivan, head of a trading empire, shared a similar feeling with Daly. O’Sullivan bought a lavish mansion in Duncannon but, unable to change his nomadic way of life, could not bring himself live in it. Quinn portrays O’Sullivan as a person of high ideals who may speak too well to be utterly convincing but shows a disdain for capitalism, putting family honour to the fore.

Daly lives a lonely life with no children for miles around and old farmers and their wives ‘floating along in their solitary routines like weeds trailing in a stagnant pond’.

His probing gets murkier as suspicion hovers over politicians and sectarian powers including the Strong Ulster Foundation who are intent on buying up border farms left vacant after the recession to ensure that no Catholics will come into ownership of them.

Matters become even more complicated when it is learned that the missing boy apparently went willingly with the Travellers.

While the prose is of a high quality generally, there are some unnecessary words such as ‘dark’ with shadows and ‘shoulders’ with shrugged and maybe one too many crows ‘hovered out of the leaden air’.

Also, sometimes there are author intrusions in the dialogue and circumlocutory passages slowing down the pace, but the plot speeds up as the sense of menace increases and there are exquisite moments of high tension as Daly makes his way through the night forest to locate the missing boy.

James Lawless’ latest novel is American Doll;


Anthony J Quinn

Head of Zeus, €21 hb/€9.50 pb;

€1.49 ebook


Staccato Reading on 10th May

Looking forward to reading in good company at the Staccato readings next Wednesday 10th May in Toner’s pub on Baggot Street, Dublin at 7.30 pm.
Those reading with me will be Niamh Boyce, Peter Sirr, Enda Wyley, Triona Walsh and Michael Farry. The featured musician will be Sarah Buckley.
STACCATO is Dublin’s newest Spoken Word event founded by writer Tanya Farrelly and co-hosted by David Butler. ‘Our aim is to showcase the best of poetry and prose by both new and established writers. There will also be a featured musician on the night. The last half an hour is an open mic session where audience members are invited to read flash fiction or poetry! Event takes place in the basement of Toner’s Pub (Baggot Street) on the last Wednesday of every month! Come along and join the fun. We’d love to see you there.’


Book Review: His Name is David


Jan Vantoortelboom

World Editions, £10.99

Saturday, March 11, 2017Review: James Lawless Irish Examiner

In Flanders during the First World War, David Verbocht, a young Belgian schoolteacher, stands before a firing squad, sentenced to death as a deserter. He lyrically prophesies: “I’ll be as cold as the earth, as the frost on the branches on the beech. As the air.”

In his last moments David reflects on his life and the circumstances that led to where he is now. How did he end up here? Is he the victim of circumstances or did he bring this on himself?

Jan Vantoortelboom’s beautifully written novel His Name Is David shows how guilt can ruin a life.

The light, poetic prose, disguising a heavy theme, consists of a series of vignettes hopping from past to present as it captures significant freeze frames in the protagonist’s life, from childhood, to school teacher and ultimately to soldier.

The telling is in the detail, as, for example, when the author describes farmer Verschoppen’s clothes as the same colour as the cobbles he was walking on, and his wife Godaleva, with whom David falls in love and who is the mother of the tragic Marcus, he observes as she pours coffee, “the gentle slope from her knuckles down to the wrists, the slightly tanned skin”.

The narrative treats of an angst-ridden young man grappling with the loss of his religious faith.

David teaches in a tightly controlled religious environment but does not believe in a life after death, and he thinks of his father, who taught him that faith was a weakness.

The visceral world witnessed by the sensitive David leaves its mark. As a boy he beheld the axe used by his father to chop the chickens’ heads off, and hearing the local butcher chopping through bone “went through me like a knife”.

And later as a teacher he finds himself admonishing a pupil to set a butterfly free.

Vantoortelboom, although he studied in Dublin, was possibly unacquainted with the writing of Patrick Pearse, but he shows a remarkable affinity with the patriot in their mutual poetic sentience of the world.

The sadness that lies in the beauty of the world which Pearse wrote about has echoes running as a motif throughout the Belgian’s novel.

David, an imaginative, impressionable child who the world treated to nightmares, understands the deepest recess of forests “where you could feel the wood itself take a deep breath”.

Whether he is friending a hedgehog which he delineates with Darwinian accuracy or detailing the effects of a wasp’s sting, the protagonist shows himself as an acute observer of the sensory.

Nature is setup in the novel as a parallel universe to the manmade world of violence and war. Not that David doesn’t recognise that nature can also be red in tooth and claw.

The difference is, while nature follows its inevitable universal and timeless laws, man imposes and interferes with the natural design of things.

Vantoortelboom recounts the tragedies that befall David: the suicide of his younger brother with the rather cold nickname of Ratface, his sensitive pupil Marcus whose death by drowning David blames himself for because he refused his embrace.

For a relatively young writer, Vantoortelboom strikes a powerfully emotive chord: the desperation some individual souls carry inside themselves.

The atmosphere of the First World War in Flanders is well conjured, down to the trains with “the click-clacking of rails and the whistling steam”.

The former sensitive boy shows courage as a soldier and is not afraid to use a bayonet. He wins the respect of his comrades in the trenches and even teaches some how to write so they can send letters to their loved ones.

Ultimately beset by too many chimeras and the memory of Marcus, David wanders away homewards, heading for the elusive finish line staring at whatever lies “hidden behind the clouds”.

James Lawless’ latest novel is American Doll;

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Another five star review of For Love of Anna


Review by Archit Goodreads 4/3/17
Excellently written – well versed – witty – promising – amorous – passionate – picturesque!

After my encounter with James Lawless’ “Knowing Women”, “The Avenue”, “Peeling Oranges”, “The Adventures of Jo Jo”, I was vowed to read his other books.

It is beyond happiness to get to read his books. There is not a thing that I don’t like about his books.

Passionate – is the word my mind recalls when I think of James Lawless’ writing.

Just as his other works, For Love of Anna presents a vivid story of a student Guido van Thool who is deeply in love with a ballerina Anna Zweig. His passion for the female character had grown leaps and bounds when suddenly he hears about her accident. This accidental event urges him to go beyond his boundaries and do the unimaginable.

How his journey takes him to one place from another, is an adventurous ride you can’t refuse.

Everything feels meteoric and at the same instant, steady and gentle while reading For Love of Anna. It functions like a soothing drug for you. You want to go on and on wherever the author beckons you. Your reasons surrender because the author has mesmerized you too much with his charming and delightful writing.

His writing style is nothing but poetic. He binds you with his charismatic words and powerful events. I could observe right through the characters that to write them the author has to follow them day and night. He had to think about them, for them every single time. And that he did!

His style is deep and profound. It pierces your heart and that’s why you keep going on with the book. The more I praise James Lawless’ books, the more I feel that it is still less. All I can say is that one should certainly read his books.

Verdict : Before you come to a state when you have to say that why didn’t you read James Lawless’ books before and regret, you should just get your hands on his books!

Highly recommended!