James Lawless' poetry and prose have won many awards, including the Scintilla Welsh Open Poetry Competition, the WOW award, a Biscuit International Prize for short stories, the Cecil Day Lewis Award and a Hennessey award nomination for emerging fiction. Two of his stories were also shortlisted for the Willesden (2007) and Bridport prizes (2014). He is the author of six well-received novels Peeling Oranges, For Love of Anna, The Avenue, Finding Penelope, Knowing Women and American Doll, a poetic meditation Noise & Sound Reflections, a book of children's stories The Adventures of Jo Jo, 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. His books have been translated into several languages. Born in Dublin, he divides his time between County Kildare and West Cork. You can read more about the author at www.jameslawless.net
I was born in Dublin and divide my time between Leixlip, Co. Kildare and West Cork. Primary degree in Irish and Spanish from UCD and first class honours MA in Communications and Cultural Studies from Dublin City University (1995). My short story, The Halloween Party was included in the first Fish anthology The Fish Garden, 1995. First novel, Peeling Oranges published in 2007 (Killynon House, Mullingar), early extract of which appeared in Books Ireland and The Galway Advertiser. This novel, from which I read at the Windows Publications launch in Dublin, Belfast and Galway in 2007, is a personal story interwoven with the histories of the two emergent states of Spain and Ireland. My research involved accessing in the National Archive previously unpublished and indeed censored material about the Irish and Spanish civil wars, and to my knowledge it is the first time a novel dealt with early Irish diplomacy as a motif.
What some critics said about Peeling Oranges:
'This is a well written novel which manages not just to tell its own story but also
to weave together different strands of Spanish and Irish politics.'
'A book to lose oneself in. I highly recommend it.'
Gabriel Byrne, actor.
'Lawless has a way with language.'
'This is a wonderful, involving story of high-quality prose fiction.'
Hot Press magazine.
A play, The Fall, was performed in the Source Arts Centre, Thurles, the same year. I've had my work broadcast and published in various journals in Ireland and the UK including Cyphers, Boyne Berries, Boho Press, Ragged Raven Press and The New Writer, and in an anthology called Dog Days by Route-Online. My story Jolt was shortlisted for the Willesden Prize and appeared in New Short Stories 1, edited by Zadie Smith (London/ New York, Willesden Herald, 2007). Awards include the Scintilla Welsh Open Poetry competition in 2002 and the Cecil Day Lewis Play Award 2005 for What Are Neighbours For? Recent short stories: Brown Brick, in The Stinging Fly's anthology, Let's be alone together, and in Sunday's (04-01-09) Tribune New Writing Page with The Kiss, and Walking By Woods in Crannog 21 (summer 2009).
A meditation on modern poetry entitled Clearing The Tangled Wood: Poetry as a way of seeing the world, published by the prestigious Academica Press in the USA in 2009 (one of their titles, G. F. La Freniere's The Decline of Nature, was nominated for the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in history).
Extracts of this work can be read on the Academica website with an introduction by Declan Kiberd. I did my own verse translations from Irish and Spanish in this work for which I received the Kildare Arts council Cecil Day Lewis bursary award 2009.
What some poets and writers said of Clearing The Tangled Wood: Poetry as a Way of Seeing the World
"This is the work of an insatiable reader, a gifted scholar, a natural philosopher and a writer passionately convinced of the spiritual value of poetry.
Clearing The Tangled Wood is an appropriate title because James Lawless insists on a clarity and candour in an artistic area where criticism is often needlessly complicated and sometimes confusing. Lawless explores poetry for what it is a special world with a vitality, identity and mystery all its own. Clearing The Tangled Wood is a thrilling sequence of revelations, a beautifully written work of love, pleasure and insight."
"A linguistic ballet, learned and lively, on behalf of poetry."
"A book of great scholarship but also of great hope. To all practitioners of poetry it gives an important epistemological grounding to our work. It is like a safety net to a trapeze artist we can swing higher and leap farther, knowing that this work lies beneath us. This book has given me back my belief in poetry as not only a useful discipline but an essential manner of being in the world. What more can I say?"
Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill
"Impressive in its references among other works of criticism, and of opinions and general concepts."
"In this luminous and wide-ranging meditation, James Lawless considers the dynamics of creation. For him the poet is one who, in reconnecting us with our buried selves, also invents a new way of seeing the world."
"Clearing the Tangled Wood is a wonderfully compelling and elegantly written book which does, indeed, clarify and shine light on the evolution of poetry in a clear and rigorous way, seeking out and analysing the contributions of numerous poets in an insightful and affectionate way.
It is a valuable, well written and enjoyable work through which a reverence and love for poetry, words and form is at all times discernible."
Michael D Higgins, Poet and President of Ireland
"This is a sophisticated and engaging study of why poetry matters to us now. We are, in part, non-rational beings, argues Lawless, confined in a society that is dominated by the linear discourses of science and technology. Poetry speaks to us in a language close to the way we really operate, and we ignore it at our peril. From Pasternak to Patrick Kavanagh, he opens a treasure chest of metaphor and anecdote, illustrating the liberating effect of the poet's "interpretive act". The best of poetry has no agenda, and offers an avenue of resistance to society's push to conform. Reading poetry, Lawless admirably concludes, is a holistic act of self-preservation in a disjointed world."
Katie Donovan, Irish Times.
In 2009 I also received the Cultural Award (as part of their Civic awards) from Leixlip Town Council
A short story appeared in The French Literary Review (Oct. 2009) and I read at the West Cork Literary Festival the same year.
Second novel, For Love of Anna, published 2009. This was two and half years in the making. There are three main strands running through it. Firstly, it may be read as a poignant love story - Anna is a ballerina with whom the main protagonist, the university student, Guido van Thool, falls in love. But Anna is also an acronym for Anarchists of the New Age, which brings us to the second dimension of the novel as an ideological story positing ideas in the mind of the philosophy student Guido, in the wake of the collapse of Russian communism and the dilution of oppositional politics, on what alternatives there are to the all-devouring monolith of corporate capitalism. Anna wants to steer him away from this sort of 'dangerous' thinking, but his friend, the anarchist Philippe, keeps goading him. Paralleling the lives of the lovers is that of a corrupt judge, Jeremiah Delahyde (the third strand) who literally crashes into the world of Guido and Anna on a fatal New Year's Eve.
This book republished in 2013 with a new cover can be purchased through Amazon as paperback or on Kindle and in select bookshops
Some reviews of For Love of Anna
"For Love of Anna is a literary page-turner, full of suspense and beautifully written. An original, deep and thought-provoking novel. Its resonance lingered with me long after I had finished reading it."
"Apart from being a moving love story, For Love of Anna is a must-read book for the times we live in, with its deep questions about our capitalist norms and the ambiguous morality of some of our righteous leaders."
"For Love of Anna is a work of art for the twenty-first century, for a world that's almost used up. It is a book that had to be written and cries out to be read. It will jolt us out of our encrusted corporate value systems and, with its searing pathos, will change the way we perceive the universe."
In May, 2010 my third novel The Avenue was published by Wordsonthestreet
The Genesis of The Avenue
The Avenue represents my response to the myth of suburbia as a panacea for the ills of society. The story hangs essentially as a picture of suburban degeneration. My family like a lot of others moved from inner city to the suburbs for the 'open space and fresh air'(I had asthma as a child). However, in moving we unwittingly left behind a world with a strong community spirit for an anonymous sprawl where social interaction was at a minimum. The open spaces soon filled in as houses and the population increased, cars multiplied and the former inner-city congestion, from which people had previously fled, was now itself an intrinsic element of a suburban/city commuting lifestyle. But little heed was paid to the social changes that followed: the permanent traffic jams, the noise, the former city communities ripped apart to make highways to facilitate the suburban commuters, the two parent incomes, the latch-key children, the new landscape of industrial debris, used condoms, cider bottles, lager cans and of course the lethal drug culture. All the time the scream was bursting through the spreading graffiti on suburban walls. But the powers that be refused to hear.
The novel is not all gloom however. Although it may be read as I have said as a picture of suburban degeneration, it is paralleled, despite the calamities, by a story of human regeneration, particularly in the characters of Francis and Michael and even - almost contradictorily - Francis' father. My intention was to use the avenue as a trawling device to pierce the anonymity of a waste land. I perceive the avenue almost as one would a country village, small inward-looking with its hidden past and secrets, a crucible if you like in which the characters live entrapped lives and as a consequence (consciously or otherwise) are almost incestuously interlinked. Or to put it in the words of Francis' old cottage neighbour, Mrs Dempsey: 'The avenue cared for her own.'
Synopsis OF THE AVENUE
The story begins with a scantily-dressed girl dancing in a lighted window across from Francis Copeland's house. Francis, now middleaged, whose life and marriage are in a rut, fantasises about the girl and finds it hard to accept, as he discovers later, that she is just plain Judy, a dancer in the local pub.
Francis was brought up in a cottage on a big estate where his father worked as a gardener. He spent his early years surrounded by fields. And then the houses started mushrooming. His own secure world was shattered at the age of twelve when his mother was killed by a motor car which was recklessly driven by a neighbour whose identity was concealed from Francis.
Francis' wife, Myrtle, is older and more worldly-wise than Francis. She spent most of her youth gallivanting on the avenue or going with boys and her friend, Ida, to the blackberry field. Francis, on the other hand, is rather innocent of street-ways, having spent most of his youth looking after his widowed father as he grew senile.
With no offspring of his own, Francis befriends the children of the avenue, especially Freddy, the supposed son of George and Noreen Browne. Freddy is a denizen of the streets, neglected by his father and his invalid mother, but a likeable rogue nonetheless. Freddy and his dog, Melancholy, suffer tragically at the hands of the ciderdrinkers.
The hidden world of the avenue unfolds to Francis as he emerges from behind the covers of books (he works as the local librarian) - the haven where he had ensconced himself since his mother's death. Who is Myrtle, his wife? (Does she genuinely go to bingo every Tuesday night?). He does not know her. Who are the real parents of Freddy? Who was the neighbour whose car killed Francis' mother? Raw suburban truths are exposed as Francis, with the help of the local children, slowly unravels the secrets of the avenue.
Commendations for The Avenue
'James Lawless has a mighty thoughtful and penetrating capacity to make you gasp and rage and then burst out laughing: wheels within wheels, circles within circles, this book is very good.'
'A work of passion and truth, which captures a moment of painful transition in the national story. If a multicultural England has drawn a map of itself in Brick Lane, so has a postmodern Ireland traced its past and present in The Avenue. James Lawless has revealed with indignation and art, yet another Hidden Ireland beyond the imaginings of our ancestors.'
My debut poetry collection Rus in Urbe was published by Doghouse in 2012 www.doghousebooks.ie
'In this poetry collection, Rus in Urbe, James Lawless explores the world about him
in its ruralscape and its cityscape. Sometimes his vivid glimpses are presented in English and other times in Irish. This ease with both languages enriches the collection. In The Other Half / An Leath Eile
- I hear you adding /in the old language
... Éistim leat ag comhaireamh / sa tsean teanga ..
the words lead the reader to the magic of the line
- the soft light,
...'le gile séimh trathnóna.
The poems offer a welcome access into the many layers of meaning, music and magic. This duality gives the immediacy and sparseness of English on one page and the melody and rhythm of Irish on the opposite page. There is a wealth of imagery in the poems. In Parisian Vignettes
- ageing lines on his face,/ charting the route of his life.
contrasts with ...
-The young on skateboards parry the wind/ surfing the city's waves.
There are echoes of Yeats here. James Lawless presents brief and immediate looks at everyday life and transforms them into a vivid memory, with undercurrents of tension so aptly captured in - How can I say/ I will stay /or I will go?
The frequent presence of birds is a symbol of the movements between the rural and urban settings.
Rus in Urbe is a poetry collection that is strong in craftsmanship, sparse in words and rich in layers of meanings.' Ann Egan
..."full of lyric grace and persuasive music" Pat Boran
My fourth novel Finding Penelope was published in September 2012 by Indigo Dreams. Penelope Eames, a thirty three year old romance novelist moves to Spain to avoid her oppressive father and drug-addicted brother, Dermot. When she meets Ramón, a young Spanish school teacher, she is immediately attracted to him and feels the happiness that eluded her all her life may at last be hers. However, she receives a distress call from Dermot saying he is at the mercy of Charlie Eliot, a pimp and drug dealer on the Costa. Ramón, whose mother was killed by a drug addict, tells her to have nothing to do with Charlie Eliot. Penelope must decide: is she prepared to compromise herself with Charlie Eliot and jeopardise her chance of happiness with Ramón for the sake of her drug addicted brother?
" I thought 'Finding Penelope' was brilliant. I loved the heroine, Penelope
Eames, a modestly successful romantic writer who is a sort of everywoman
of our times and a wonderful mix of insight, diffidence and foolishness. I
also relished the milieu in which Finding Penelope is set, the expatriate
Anglophone world of the Spanish Mediterranean, where lonely English
widows and gangsters and Irish novelists and aspiring starlets all get
jumbled up together and make a fine old mess of their lives in the process.
This is a really, really fine piece of sharp, precise and accurate work.
A novel that will give deep, literary pleasure."
Carlo Gébler, author
My fifth novel is Knowing Women (2013).
Laurence J Benbo is a thirty seven year old graphic artist and Dublin bachelor, awkward with women and lonely after the breakup with his girlfriend Deborah. He meets Jadwiga, a lapdancer and, after winning a lottery, he bestows gifts on her. But his upwardly mobile brother Maoilíosa and his scheming wife Ena, on hearing of his win, try to blackmail the innocent Laurence into handing his money over to them by alleging that he interfered with their daughter Lydia. Laurence seeks out Jadwiga for advice in her lapdancing club. To his dismay, he sees her going into a room with Maoilíosa. He spends the night awake listening to the rain pattering at his window, thinking of Deborah and he imagines little Lydia coming to seek out her uncle Lar to finish the story he had started reading to her. As the rain gets heavier he knows there is going to be a storm.
Review by Anita Kearney in Goodreads.
'James Lawless has created a character that could be any middle-aged lonely man or woman in any city in any country. The loneliness of Benbo is almost palatable. His voyeuristic view of life is both amusing and disturbing. This is the story of a man who is desperate for a connection with someone, anyone but also afraid to allow that connection to be made. The book is a testament to the idea of being alone even though you are surround by and are interacting with others.
The story is one that is old as time but with a new twist that keeps you turning the page to find out when it will all go wrong and when it does how will Benbo react. You are not disappointed as the story moves along at a good clip to reach a climax that is not quite what you would expect. All in all it is a fine read, I highly recommend it for a rainy day.'
From Author's Preface
'The central concern of Knowing Women is the nature of sexuality in modern Ireland, what sex does to people, how it is exploited, sold and bartered, the natural human propensity, how it's twisted and warped by society, how it is used to conceal inadequacies in ourselves, how we categorise and slam the slightest peccadillo in a new Puritanism, propelled along as we are by the steady flow of paedophile cases. But are we losing something along the way? This is perhaps the fundamental question the novel asks. Are we flushing out the innocent baby with the dirty bath water? Look at the rise in male suicide; has it something to do with what society has done to gender roles? Males are afraid to embrace or touch one another any more for fear of the gay tag, the slightest thing untoward provokes unease; mockery and condemnation are the safest response (funny that word 'untoward' crops up a lot in the novel); it becomes a branding, a person becomes tainted once rumour takes hold (damned anyway innocent or guilty, as the solicitor informs Benbo). The consequences of such behaviour prevents the emotional unfolding of people to each other, isolates the sexes from each other (consider how Miss U Ryan and her coterie square up to Benbo), all to the jeopardy of society, lengthening the tunnel of individual loneliness. The only safe way to live is as a stone; we are the victims of our own judgmental natures; we are afraid of our own vulnerability. That's what I wanted to do with Benbo, to show his vulnerability. How easy it is to taint someone. What is the new man's role? We need to get back, not necessarily to the demonstrative openness of Elizabethan ways, but to a stage at least where we can cast off the shackles of pseudo-convention, to be able to embrace and touch one another without being branded or nametagged, which is really only a form of exercising our own fear in the guise of cutting and superficial gender-based retorts. We're the losers, all of us, male and female, in the long run...'
My six novels are available in paperback and in Kindle editions:
For Love of Anna
James Lawless: Amazon.com: and Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.fr and Amazon.de and Amazon.es and Amazon.it
You can contact James via Facebook, Twitter, or through the Contact page at his website www.jameslawless.net. You can also find out more about James on LinkedIn, Irish Writers Online and James Lawless at The National Library of Ireland and James Lawless - Wikipedia and Kildare Artists websites. He is available for readings and book clubs, book reviews and workshops and can also be contacted at email@example.com