Adam O'Riordan Meet the Author


Adam O'Riordan

Jim Naughtie talks with Adam O'Riordan about his first collection of short stories, set in California, The Burning Ground.


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The American West Coast has always seemed, for many people,

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a Shangri-La over the horizon, all sunshine and freedom,

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the last frontier that's bound to be a happy journey's end.

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The poet Adam O'Riordan sets his collection of short

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stories, The Burning Ground, on that golden coast,

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where lives collide in Los Angeles, a city that sometimes seems the most

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artificial in the world, but always casts its own mysterious spell.

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You describe, in these stories, something of

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I think to me it's always been a place that's had that potential,

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that distance, that sense of it sort of being on the very

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edge the known world, or certainly the Anglophone world.

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You have a quote at the beginning of the book from Christopher Isherwood,

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which is very striking, and he uses the word

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On the one hand it's the home of Silicon Valley,

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its high tech, it's got Hollywood, it's everything, it's

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the most advanced place on earth in many ways.

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Yet there is this elemental feeling about it.

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I think it's the way in which those things

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So you can be at the very centre of the city, you can be downtown,

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but in an hour's drive, you can be in the desert or you can

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drive up to Malibu by the ocean, and you're constantly reminded,

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as Isherwood mentions in that quote, you're constantly reminded

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of the elemental, the vast, you feel the pull of those primal

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I remember very clearly the first night I'd spent

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I had terrible jet lag and I remember walking down

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to the beach and standing there as the sun, as the mist

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was burning off and the sun was coming up and looking around

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and seeing two or three drifters there beside me.

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I suppose it was sort of the opening up of the space

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The sense that once I was there, I could think

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I could go from writing poems to writing stories,

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It felt like there was so much space there.

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As you mention, you're a poet by background,

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Goodness me, you spent a year as Poet In Residence

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In the Lake District, which is about as poetic

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You've turned, in this volume, to the short story form.

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What do you think it allows you to do?

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I think it was the place, again, that dictated the form.

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So when I was in the Lake District at the Wordsworth Trust,

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I wrote a lot of sonnets, which were strangely in themselves

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Then when I got to Los Angeles and started spending more time

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there, I felt like the short story was the form in which I

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I was thinking about this earlier on the way here,

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I think one of the things that really drew me to it was this idea

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that you can, the idea of invention, the idea of making this counterfeit,

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There is a wonderful freedom to that.

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When you're sort of tethered to the lyric eye of being a poet,

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when you get that freedom to invent, that freedom to find the details

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I suppose if you're writing a sonnet of 14 lines,

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a short story seems as if you've got the whole world?

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Yeah, but interestingly the sonnet and this short story

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have the same thing in common, which is you can change something

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and get a complete overview, whereas if you're writing a novel,

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you can't really see the change that makes until right the way through.

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So you can fix both things in a day, as it were.

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The other device I suppose, that's very obvious in this

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collection is one of is the short story writer's favourite ones,

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where lives collide almost unexpectedly.

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There's always a sense of discovery, and you can have that

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moment of collision that's really very dramatic.

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I guess in the same way you are in a filmic mode,

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you're thinking about the most intense moments in these

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You can think, how do you can condense a whole life to five or six

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key moments or regrets, or things they didn't do,

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places they didn't go, and then how do those things,

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what are the ramifications of those things, through

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In the very first story a man goes to California to meet his, I suppose

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I think that journey itself, that sense of returning to meet a lover,

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that sense of going to another place but there being, finding

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that person has to leave and being alone there...

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I think it's a city that lends itself to that kind

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of melancholy as well, in a strange sort of way.

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It's this sense of a place where you can be easily lost,

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because it's so big and sprawling and unformed, well untamed,

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But at the same time, it can be terribly intimate.

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It's in some ways, which is a very strange word to append

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to Los Angeles, but in some ways it's provincial.

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It's not at the centre of power, aside from Hollywood power,

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it's not at the centre, and because of that you get all

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You get different moods, you get different reactions,

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As a young man from Manchester, as I am, was, that felt sort

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It couldn't be further from Manchester, but in a way,

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there were these strange sort of similarities.

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It's also a place where you're allowed, in fact you're almost

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You can do anything, you can dress how you like,

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you can say anything, you can pursue some mad scheme.

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Absolutely, and I was always very interested, in this book,

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to think about lives that had somehow been subjected

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The Second World War, for instance, and how they then fit themselves

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How you live in a place like that, once you've experienced

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It's a natural subject for somebody who has got

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You are teaching poetry Manchester and obviously still writing poetry.

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A lot of people say that poetry is going through a pretty good

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What evidence is there for that, that people

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I think, again, it's maybe a digital thing,

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this idea that people can share their poetry now,

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people can think about it more, they can write about it,

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they can find communal interest, they can express themselves.

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I think also it strikes me, the first decade or so,

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the very strict sense of genre or place, whether its performance

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poetry or page poetry or poetry that is somehow linked to the visual

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arts, all of those things seem to have collapsed into each other,

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which makes for a very fertile, and fecund landscape

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A lot of the barriers have been broken down, I think.

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If you're talking about a contemporary world

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where there is a sense of drift, where people don't quite

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know where we're headed, after the economic crash,

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after 9/11 and so on, poetry, historically,

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has been the classic vehicle for distilling those senses,

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That's right, I think that's absolutely right.

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I think it has the political application, if you will,

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that sense that you can use it to protest, in a way, or at least

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to make your voice heard, to share your experience,

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You spent a year in the Lake District, which is a great place

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just to walk and to think and to write poetry.

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Do you find it easy to make time to let your mind wander,

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and to give time to that blank page or that blank screen?

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I think, yeah, the answer is you have to, with the poems

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you have to sort of let them amass quietly in the background, you have

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to let them pile up over time, and then sort of recognise

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when the collection is ready to be sort of tested,

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But as long as you have something else to focus on,

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whether it's a book of stories, or a novel or teaching an MA course,

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Annd you're confident that in the end they'll come good?

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Good evening. The main theme of the weather so far this week has been

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temperature driven and the story, as we move

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