Still under the spell of Harry Potter

There’s Umbridge, the simpering epitome of every nasty petty tyrant with a sugary demeanour. This delicious and knowing adherence to an old formula went over the heads of virtually all American critics of the books, but those of us who grew up on Malory Towers and the Chalet School knew how satisfying that story structure could be. His second book The Forever Court is out now Claire Hennessy I’m not hugely into fantasy, so when I first heard about these Harry Potter books – in the early days before there were midnight launches and strict embargos – I shrugged. A more interesting one than Harry Potter, too. And any author who can keep that need alive for 10 years and seven books has done something pretty magical. And there are Harry’s entertainingly awful relatives, the Dursleys. I reread the series at least once a year, marvelling at all the tiny clever details woven in there. Maybe it’s because the most lively thing about Rowling’s writing is her dialogue, and Harry’s thoughts are generally conveyed in her relatively flat prose, but he’s a pretty boring hero, especially when compared with the people around him (even when he does get emotional, in The Order of the Phoenix, he basically expresses it by yelling in all caps). He’s not a nice person, but he’s not a wicked one either. But not all of it. Photograph: Getty Images Rowling is particularly good at creating villains. There’s something very comforting about the Potterverse. She’d really liked it and thought I would too. The stretched-out stories highlighted the fact that Rowling’s prose, which had never had the sparkle of Wynne Jones or Philip Reeve, could be seriously clunky. Harry Potter on screen: a magic formula for the faithful Harry Potter turns 20: The boy who changed books forever Philip Pullman and the golden wave of children’s books As the books go on, we see the Hogwarts students grow up. More recently, I’ve been listening to the brilliant podcast Witch Please and it’s been interesting to revisit that world through a feminist academic lens. Any author who can keep that need alive for 10 years and seven books has done something pretty magical Four more books later, the world of children’s publishing had changed forever and I was slightly less bewitched by Harry and his world.   The plots I first encountered Harry Potter when I was …

The Harry Potter ‘Big Seven’ – Where are they now?

He lives in London, but remains devoted to Leeds rugby. His most significant non-Ron part came earlier this year when he played “the posh one” in a TV adaptation of Guy Ritchie’s Snatch. Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) Felton was already a busy young actor – a veteran of several commercials – before ending up at Hogwarts. She was excellent in Stephen Brown’s adaptation of John Banville’s The Sea and could also be seen opposite David Warner in the independent film Before I Sleep. Bonny Wright (Ginny Weasley) Bonny has not rested since hanging up her Quidditch togs. Soon to be seen opposite Dominic Cooper in the thriller Stratton. She has also campaigned for girls’ education and delivered a stirring address to the UN arguing the virtues of feminism. In 2012, her film Separate We Come, Separate We Go screened in the Short Film Corner section at Cannes. He had regular roles on the bomb disposal series Bluestone 42 and the gothic horror Ripper Street. Despite being the most talented of the main three, Grint has been the least visible since the series finished in 2011. A keen carp fisherman, apparently. Did good work for Amma Asante in both A United Kingdom and Belle. Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom) The Yorkshire man has made a few appearances on film over the past five years, but that thin, handsome face has been more frequently seen on television. But his greatest post-Harry triumphs have been on stage: Equus, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and opposite Pat Shortt in The Cripple of Inishmaan. He admitted to excessive drinking and gave up the booze in 2010 as Potter was winding down. Made the most of his awkward presence as Allen Ginsberg in Kill Your Darlings and a dead body in Swiss Army Man. Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) An intelligent woman with a commendable dedication to work, Watson found time to graduate from Brown University, a prestigious Ivy League college, with a degree in English literature. Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) There’s no justice in the world. Her acting career progressed in fits and starts – Noah for Darren Aronofsky; The Bling Ring for Sofia Coppola – before, earlier this year, she finally scored a hit with Beauty and the Beast. Harry Potter on screen: a magic formula for the faithful Harry Potter turns 20: The boy who changed books forever Still under the spell …

Bloomsday Festival: What’s happening on the big week for Joyceans

The Italian Institute of Culture hosts a free lunchtime concert, Joyce at the Opera, introduced by Prof John McCourt on Friday, June 16th, at 1pm. Ian McEwan will be flavour of the month this autumn, with a BBC TV adaptation of his troubling novel A Child in Time, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, set to air in September, followed in October by a film adaptation of The Children Act, starring Emma Thompson. No booking required. Admission free. Highlights include Geoff Dyer in conversation with Mark O’Connell on June 13th; Ruth Gilligan, Michael O’Loughlin and Dermot Bolger in conversation on June 15th; and a celebration of Bloomsday co-founder, the late Anthony Cronin, on June 16th. Bernard O’Donoghue, Emeritus Fellow, Wadham College, Oxford and one of Ireland’s leading poets, delivers the annual Joseph Hassett Yeats Lecture on the subject of Yeats the Political Mystic at the National Library of Ireland next Tuesday, June 13th, at 7pm. Monday, June 12th-Saturday, June 17th. To mark WB Yeats’s birthday and Bloomsday it will show newly acquired letters to Yeats from James Joyce. Irish Divorce/Joyce’s Ulysses extract: enhancing its truth to life Budding Bloom – An Irishman’s Diary about Altman the Saltman, plausible role model for Joyce’s most famous character Lesser spotted Bloomsday: Inner city community remembers The Monto The Third Annual Bloomsday at DeBarra’s celebration in Clonakilty will take place on Friday, June 16th. Everyone is invited to meet up at Clonakilty Post Office at noon to walk the not so long or winding route to DeBarra’s in a small re-enactment of the great voyage of Leopold Bloom across Dublin. The National Library of Ireland hosts a number of Joycean events. A new recording of the Anna Livia section of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake by celebrated Joycean performer David Norris has been launched in time for Bloomsday next Friday (June 16th). The illustrator is Londoner Fred Fordham who illustrated Philip Pullman’s debut graphic novel, The Adventures of John Blake: Mystery of the Ghost Ship. The CD is available from the James Joyce Centre Dublin and other outlets (jamesjoyce.ie). The letters span almost 24 years of correspondence and illuminate a deep literary friendship. Noramollyannalivialucia: The Muse & Mister Joyce, a one-woman play for voices featuring Nora Barnacle Joyce is staged on Wednesday, June 14th, at 7pm. Bloomsday is fast becoming Bloomsweek, with a plethora of events taking place under the banner of the Bloomsday Festival, which runs from …

Young adult fiction: the best of the current crop

In her final year of high school, Mara witnesses a girl spontaneously combust in front of her like “a balloon full of fleshy bits”. Her 13th novel, Once and for All (Penguin, £7.99), is familiar territory for her – over the course of a summer, a cautious girl learns to take chances – but it’s a solid and thoughtful novel. The dead boy, Simon, was best known for the school’s gossip app and revealing everyone’s darkest secrets – and as the investigation proceeds, it seems that he was about to share devastating secrets about all four of the students who were there when he died. This is a slick psychological thriller that makes excellent use of the role social media plays in modern life. The new protege, Omen Darkly, the disorganised younger brother of a much-feted “Chosen One”, feels slightly flat; the subversion of the “hero” ideal is always pleasing but has been handled more skilfully by other writers in recent years. The title of Karen M McManus’s One of Us Is Lying (Penguin, £7.99) brings Abba to mind, but her debut novel is nothing like a cheerful pop song. “Together,” one of the narrators writes, “we are a three-headed dog, facing an army of hundreds of staring eyes and leering, open mouths.” The romance – both straight and not, pleasingly – is tender and dreamy without veering towards cliche, and there’s an openness about female sexuality still rare in novels for teenagers. You Should Have Left review: welcome to a hall of mirrors Buzzing at the Sill review: marginal images of Trump’s America Joyride to Jupiter review: a collection of skilfully crafted fictions Moira Fowley-Doyle’s second novel, The Spellbook of the Lost and Found (Corgi, £7.99), offers up a whole range of characters to fall in love with (and indeed, some of them fall in love with each other). Only four walk out alive. While we know very well that this will change by the summer’s end, the journey – peopled with nuanced and vivid supporting characters – is very much an enjoyable one. The greatest strength of the novel is Mara’s unsentimental voice as she relates the events: “Here’s what happens when a guy blows up during your group therapy session that’s supposed to make you feel better about people blowing up. In a small rural community, the arrival of a police officer at the front door prompts …

World’s first bicycle ride took place 200 years ago

Long before other local sons such as Gottlieb Daimler, Carl Benz and Wilhelm Maybach invented the internal combustion engine and the car, Drais had dreamt up an early typewriter and a precursor to the player piano roll for recording music. Not bad for a country with a population of 82 million. “His contemporaries took little notice of him. Some in Mannheim point to an 1815 volcano eruption in Indonesia, which spread ash around the world and caused the notorious 1816 “summer without sun”. Though his father wanted him to be a forester, Drais found his way into the inventing world in what, then as now, was the most innovative corner of Germany. Not even the post-war decades of car-friendly cities have killed off the bike. We have just one portrait but aren’t sure it’s him,” says Thomas Kosche of Mannheim’s Technoseum, which is hosting an anniversary exhibition. Topping the ADFC list is Münster in Westphalia, population 300,000, thanks to its “continuous, generous and easy to understand bike network through the entire city”. ADFC director Burkhard Stork says cycling is undergoing a “boom in people’s minds”. Quite the opposite: from Ireland’s successful city bikes to the ebikes that have taken Tel Aviv by storm, the bike revolution continues. Neither of these entered serial production, unlike his early bicycle. Not to be outdone, Mannheim has put together a programme of exhibitions and events to mark the anniversary, from bike dressage shows to a mobile bike cinema (with electricity provided by bicycles). Mannheim in southwestern Germany, and local aristocrat Baron Karl von Drais – then 32 – appeared in public, sitting on a wooden frame, with two wheels and an upholstered arm rest. A horse that eats nothing and isn’t a horse,” exclaims an alarmed housemaid onstage Mannheim’s Capitol Theater in a new musical reimagining that maiden trip in 1817. In the two centuries since, an estimated one billion bicycles have been produced: British penny-farthings, Dutch gazelles, Chinese flying pigeons. Bikes are now accepted as the key component of modern mobility strategies in Germany’s car- and diesel-choked cities. In the ADFC bike-friendly city ranking, Berlin was horrified to land in 36th place and now plans to spend €50 million annually to improve its biking infrastructure. Using his home-made “laufmaschine” (running machine), later dubbed a “dandyhorse” or “draisine” after its inventor, the baron managed a 14km trip in less than hour. But from where …

Ray D’Arcy and Dave Fanning’s masterclasses in inane chatter

A photograph of South African-born Alberta resident Theunis Wessels mowing his lawn as a twister looms behind him is a viral hit, so D’Arcy speaks to him, presumably in the expectation that a picture is worth a thousand words, on air at least. “Well, that’s debatable,” says the host. “Would you sit down in front of the fire, pour a glass of wine, then open the letter and spend 15 minutes reading it? Monahan tells Cooper it is “perfectly fine” to eat slices of pan every day. D’Arcy’s autodidactic curiosity complements his guest’s expertise to produce a wide-ranging (and unexpectedly upbeat) discussion on the future that may await us all. Just say yes,” Fanning says, a hint of desperation in his voice. (Skehan dutifully affirms that he did indeed spot one of the celebrity sisters.) This question is deemed such a gem that the station later runs it as a promotional ad. It may only have been an animated sitcom – albeit one that now enjoys full oracular status due to its prediction of a Trump presidency – but if the Ray D’Arcy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) is anything to go by, this particular Simpsons scenario is no longer a satirical fantasy. Pass the mash, maybe? “You need lots of carbs,” she concludes, but adds that potatoes can provide those. In fairness, most of the dull terminology comes from Sheena Horgan, marketing consultant with Mediawise, a project that aims to teach primary schoolchildren how to have “an active and critical relationship with the media”.  The initiative, run by semi-State body Safefood, sounds timely. Fanning outdoes himself during his discussion on the art of letter-writing with celebrity hotelier Francis Brennan. A potentially quirky item turns out largely to be an extended advertorial of Brennan’s new brand of stationery, along with the obligatory moans about social media killing epistolary habits among the young.  When he’s not referring to Rory Gallagher and Bob Dylan, Fanning takes his singular inquisitive style to its logical conclusion, as he inquires how Brennan reacts to the arrival of mail. He uses his trademark tactic of posing questions so long-winded that answers seem superfluous. When Wessels mentions he has worked with Irish people, D’Arcy is reduced to asking, “Whereabouts in Ireland are they from?” If he keeps up like this, D’Arcy will be lucky to last 20 years before he’s bumped by a computer programme. A few …

Irish Divorce/Joyce’s Ulysses extract: enhancing its truth to life

All he has at present is a glimpse of “a strip of torn envelope” when he was bringing up Molly’s breakfast tray that morning (4.308). The 38-year-old canvasser in James Joyce’s Ulysses suspects that his wife of 16 years, Molly, has arranged to meet Hugh Boylan, a wealthy man about town at 7 Eccles Street, the family home, ostensibly to practise music. But seeking redress through the English court, given the rapacity of the newspapers for reporting divorce proceedings, is equally hazardous because, as Bloom rightly explains to Stephen, illicit intimacy is gleefully amplified into scandal. As he explains to Stephen, “An awful lot of make-believe went on about that sort of thing with the usual splash of gutterpress about the same old matrimonial triangle alleging misconduct with professional golfer or the newest stage favourite” (16.1480-83). As Jackson v. You Should Have Left review: welcome to a hall of mirrors Buzzing at the Sill review: marginal images of Trump’s America The Captain Class review: What drives great sports teams? What follows is a brief account of hearings in the divorce division of the King’s Bench that is eloquent of Bloom’s knowledge of case history and procedure. What Bloom next confides to Stephen reveals his understanding of the psychological state of the lovers and his awareness that adultery in English law is a misdemeanour rather than a crime: “But as for that the two misdemeanants, wrapped up as they were largely in one another, could safely afford to ignore it as they very largely did till the matter was put in the hands of a solicitor who filed a petition for the party wronged in due course” (16.1493-96). As numerous court minutes show,… That Bloom then represents the King’s Proctor challenging the decree nisi, however, points to his own anxieties, because, until 1920, the King’s Proctor only investigated those cases where collusion had “necessarily” been brought to his notice. The wife who sought to escape from the domination of a cruel and adulterous husband would be left under his yoke, if it turned out that she had had sex with someone else.” But for Bloom, as he confides to Stephen, it is the publicity given to illicit love affairs that he finds most offensive. Evidence for intimacy, as Bloom explains to Stephen, was often submitted to the “court with letters containing the habitual mushy and compromising expressions leaving no loophole to …

Waking The Feminists report gets the measure of Irish theatre

While Cartmell acknowledges that this poses particular problems for the Gate, she believes there are more creative ways to approach it. As it happens, the Arts Council is also a significant player in Gender Counts: An Analysis of Gender in Irish Theatre 2006-2015, the report published this week by #WakingTheFeminists. Calling for a continuation of the work they started, the authors also recommend a comparative analysis of the thorny issue of payscales, along with research on the career paths, including the role of third level education. This fact should be borne in mind when interpreting some of the global results, as the somewhat better figures for less high-profile companies might lead some to underestimate the scale of the challenge. The results will probably not surprise many people, but it is still startling to see empirical evidence of systematic inequality laid out so starkly and so comprehensively. The recent controversy over proposed changes to the cnuas paid to Aosdána members, for example, hinged on what was seen as a hamfisted attempt by the Arts Council to impose clumsy metrics of productivity on writers, musicians and visual artists. “Women are poorly represented in the majority of key roles in the top-funded theatre organisations in Ireland. One remarkably striking correlation stands out. ” I Am a Bird review: A bruising encounter in which bodies are torn asunder Minding Frankie: Maeve Binchy’s bittersweet novel comes to the stage Which Irish theatre companies have the worst record regarding women? Female representation Highlighting the continuing primary position of the role of the author in Irish theatre, the report notes overall female representation among authors was 28 per cent, but the Gate and Abbey again had the lowest proportion of female authors at 6 per cent and 17 per cent respectively. Waking The Feminists forms part of a broader movement to demand greater transparency and action on entrenched privilege and lack of diversity in Irish culture; its impact has already been seen beyond theatre in adjustments in policy changes announced by the Irish Film Board. To be fair, there are definite signs of change. That’s why activities such as collecting data, calculating productivity and setting output targets are often seen as incompatible with artistic expression and cultural activity. Despite these disputes, many things can and should be meaningfully measured. Artists are not widget-makers; the creative process differs fundamentally from tractor production. For this reason, State funding agencies …

Harry Potter on screen: a magic formula for the faithful

You can’t fail, really,” Lynch, who grew up in Termonfeckin, told The Irish Times recently. Nobody seemed to mind. As with all contemporary problems, we must blame the bleeding internet. Bond brigade It’s worth comparing the Potter people’s approach with those of the Bond brigade. Chris Columbus’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was expected to conquer worlds and generate sequels for a decade. Potter ushered in an era when readers of books – and comics – became increasingly convinced that faithfulness to the text was a virtue in itself. Meanwhile, younger actors such as Robert Pattinson, Domhnall Gleeson and Evanna Lynch cut new teeth on the franchise. “Harry Potter spoils you a bit. Clocking up $8.5 billion, the nine films of “JK Rowling’s wizarding world” – that includes last year’s prequel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – counts as the second highest-grossing franchise of all time. The effect on the British film industry can scarcely be overestimated. Arriving just as computer-generated effects were achieving the status of magic, the films created universes within which a whole generation would grow up. You’re working on something that everyone wants to be good. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint made each of the three main characters his or her own. Back in 1999, David Hayman, a young producer then working on Antonia Bird’s arthouse cannibal flick Ravenous, swallowed hard and persuaded Warner Brothers to fork out £1 million for the rights to the first four Harry Potter books. Only Alfonso Cuarón’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third episode, revealed unmistakable fingerprints of its creator. These were, however, fiercely conservative films that gave directors little opportunity for individual expression. By the time Roger Moore arrived in 1973, the 007 films bore little meaningful similarity to Ian Fleming’s novels. The novels were already enormously popular, but they were not quite the zeitgeist-defining phenomenon they would soon become. By any objective measure it is the best of the films, but it is also the lowest-grossing (not that $797 million is chump change). Once, film-makers could put distance between themselves and the fans. Stupid internet. Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Fiona Shaw, John Hurt, Brendan Gleeson: we could fill this entire article with nothing else but the names of actors who did well out of Potter. What few things worked on screen remained. The result was films that were hugely satisfying …

The sad, secret life of Whitney Houston

In preparation for the pre-Grammy Awards shindig thrown annually by the music impresario Clive Davis, her mentor, Houston’s assistant Mary Jones laid out a dress on the bed and left the hotel to pick up alternative attire at Neiman Marcus. What exactly killed Houston? And you can see that she’s struggling. It was a crazy gamble. The police who arrived on the scene found an opened bottle of Champagne and a spoon containing a “white crystal-like substance”. She was so, so funny. The director has previously door-stepped various parties to create the conspiratorial music docs, Kurt & Courtney (1998) and Biggie & Tupac (2002). “I’m playing behind her,” recalls drummer Michael Baker. In an early episode of Channel 4’s The Word, when presenter Terry Christian asks her a cheeky question about a rumoured romance with Eddie Murphy, Houston beams and parrots his words back in a perfect Mancunian accent: “Rung me up?” Later, on the European leg of her 1999 tour, she lightly teases her husband, Bobby Brown, with a backstage rendition of his 1998 hit, My Prerogative. But you couldn’t help but fall for Whitney. Which is pretty much how I’ve always worked. “Not at all.” Robyn provided a safe place for her. She was so, so funny. Houston with Robyn Crawford. On February 11th, 2012, as musical royalty descended on Los Angeles for the Grammys, Whitney Houston checked in to the Beverly Hilton hotel with an entourage of family and friends. And you can see that she’s struggling” The new film will finally allow diehard fans to see extensive archive material shot by German director Rudi Dolezal for an unfinished documentary about the singer’s 1999 My Love is Your Love tour. Five years later and a new documentary – Whitney: Can I Be Me – sifts through the details of Houston’s sad, secret life. She was like a doggone bodybuilder. Weeks later, an autopsy report would contribute Houston’s death to accidental drowning, heart disease and cocaine use. And then everyone wants you to do what you did last. “She just spoke too much, disrespectful sometimes, like she had something over Nippy (Houston’s nickname), and I didn’t like that at all. It’s complicated, as documentarian Nick Broomfield discovered. Last year, Brown told Us Weekly magazine that Houston was bisexual and that she once had an affair with Tupac Shakur. “You wouldn’t have condoned it?” continued an incredulous Oprah. These …

Behind the scenes at the National Gallery of Ireland’s stunning renovation

National Gallery of Ireland: the renovated Merrion Square entrance. Rising to the full height of the building, it incorporates reinforced-concrete lift shafts at either end, a wall of white ceramic tiles that reflect light, the Dargan Wing’s stone cornice and even part of its drainpipe, as a little memory. When one considers that we are investing €550m in a motorway in Co Galway, €30m is a remarkably small sum for such an extensive and complex renovation When one considers that we are investing €550 million in a motorway between Gort and Tuam, in Co Galway, it’s a remarkably small sum for such an extensive and complex renovation. And although the wing has provided much-needed facilities, such as a cafe and bookshop, this needs to be addressed, as does the dirty-looking facade around the corner from Merrion Square, on Clare Street. Granite setts ramp up to the entrance, so the old steps are gone. Its glazed roof was designed by the Irish-born engineer Tom Gray, who’s based in Paris. “Then the crash came, in 2008, and the Office of Public Works decided to proceed with fabric-related issues to bring the historic wings up to scratch – basic things, like reroofing.” The approach we took was not to homogenise it all by forcing a symmetrical perfection but to allow the different elements to be read Complicating Heneghan Peng’s task was the fact that each of the three older buildings – the Dargan and Milltown wings and, from 1968, the Beit Wing – inevitably reflected the eras in which they were built. So the elaborate oak door frames of the Milltown Wing’s enfilade – its memorable succession of galleries, all now painted blue – have been made even more prominent by stripping back to the original walls. “We adopted a system of redirected louvres – aluminium grilles between panes of glass in the roof lights that are passive rather than mechanical. Anyone familiar with the once deep-yellow Shaw Room will be amazed by how much it has changed when the historic building reopens to the public, on Thursday, June 15th. This meant trees had to be felled, although new ones have been planted. Paul Byrne, the architect who is the clerk of works on the project for the OPW, says that John Paul Construction, the contractor, put in a tender of €25.6 million but that the final fee has yet to be agreed. …

Michael Longley: ‘Being 77 and three-quarters is the best time of my life’

“I myself wouldn’t want the amount of attention Seamus got when his life stopped being his own. “The bastards,” Longley says firmly. “Perhaps because the rewards are so slim, we are all squabbling over the same spoils,” he says. He’s fully aware that it’s not the done thing to be seen to be so eager for praise. I feel vulnerable now with this book on the slipway, about to be launched into a sea of indifference.” Seamus Heaney and ‘the N Thing’ We’ve moved from the sunny front room with its wall of poetry books by other poets – “I haven’t opened some of those for years” – to the cosy back kitchen for lunch. That concentration is like a drug … But I have had to be very judicious answering questions about Seamus since he’s been turned into a kind of saint.” I wait. “I want to be accurate about it,” Longley says. In what way?” “You know, like a queen,” is all he says by way of explanation, and then he’s done with the statement. “You’re concentrating, and all of you is gathered up, deeply attentive, and that concentration is like a drug, and you realise you’ve been at a sheet of paper for four hours. One wouldn’t dream of saying the only Impressionist was Claude Monet. “The books are behind me. ‘Did he really say that? I love that. Green waistcoat. The egos of poets Longley’s 11th collection of poems, Angel Hill, has just been published. “This is what happens when you have bureaucrats running things that have never tried to produce anything. Angel Hill, by Michael Longley, is published by Cape Poetry. I’m asking Longley what fiction he likes to read. “One’s foes. It’s such excitement. “The Nobel prize used up all the oxygen in the room and it made Seamus a celebrity,” Longley says eventually. Out of nowhere, he announces: “Eavan Boland has become very queenly. So did Paul Muldoon. “The treatment of Patrick Pye seems to me crass, unforgivably crass,” he says. “In other words, it’s a bit like the Impressionists. Tan slippers. In Bookshops, Longley writes about the first collections written by himself and his peers – Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon, James Simmonds – vying for the readers’ attention in Belfast bookshops. Did he?!’” He munches on a biscuit, and reflects. I don’t see very much of her any more.” “Queenly? But the …

‘Wire’ creator David Simon: ‘Our systems are under siege’

“One thing I had contempt for in journalism was, ‘We’ll write it this way and then we’ll get a new law passed [or they’ll] hang this guy’s pelt on the wall’, and in trying to do that they would often shave the story to make it a perfect little arrow of outrage… “I’ve never seen a more astonishingly ill-equipped human being to lead a nation. It’s also good for his writing, “because if you write straw men then the drama gets weaker”. “My goal is to tell the truth and not cheat, so that later on whether they fixed the problem or they didn’t, they can’t say they didn’t know.” David Simon, Richard Ford and Fintan O’Toole discuss “Potus 45” at the Step House Hotel at 5pm on Saturday as part of the Borris Festival of Writing and Ideas But that whole thing – come on! I think our systems are under siege and I think our civil liberties are at considerable risk and I think basic facts are no longer the currency of our civic debate.” Are the cutbacks in journalism coming home to roost? Trump Many of his projects focused on the type of post-industrial class and race issues that have come to the fore in the era of Trump. We don’t sell you a bottle of beer without wrapping it in some sex at this point.” Common thread What’s the common thread running through his work? He defends globalisation but adds: “It would be nice if someone had given an honest assessment of what was going to happen to the manufacturing classes once manufacturing disappeared.” Trump is not the solution to these problems, he says. “[The Pogues are] somewhere beyond the realm of ordinary music.” Then, in August, his mini-series The Deuce will air on HBO. I don’t even know Banville. There’s a real subtext of racism and anti-Semitism in this country that didn’t go away with Obama. He laments “the triumph of capital over labour”. “Listen, I didn’t mean to go after him. Yeah, some of them would. File photograph: Frank Miller He’s continuously busy. They maintained the allegiance of the black and Latino working class because they didn’t walk away from civil rights or an honest immigration policy, but the white working class had less and less reason to feel allegiance.” Simon often sounds more like a socialist activist than a television screenwriter. “We’re always …

The Times We Lived In: Who’s that up in the Gods?

A brave – or risky – choice, given Allen’s reputation: the infamous sketch from his BBC television series a few years earlier, in which he portrayed the Pope doing a striptease on the steps of the Vatican, had resulted in him being persona non grata on the Irish airwaves. Keep an eye on it – because that’s where the thunderbolt will come from, if you use the wrong sort of material around here.” No prizes for recognising the chap on the right of today’s photo. A book, The Times We Lived In, with more than 100 photographs and commentary by Arminta Wallace, published by Irish Times Books, is available from irishtimes.com and from bookshops, priced at €19.99. It’s the wrong sort of material in anybody’s theatrical language, and its overblown-aspidistra blowsiness adds a delightfully daft note to the shot in a manner reminiscent of Allen’s own comic delivery. The prominence of Mr Smith’s left forefinger also reminds the viewer that the comedian was, famously, missing the top of his – and enjoyed giving ever-more-outlandish on-stage explanations for the absent digit. As to whether the pair are really talking about heaven, well, if there is a heaven, Dave Allen has been there since 2005, making God – and everyone else – smile. The theatre festival, however, found Allen keeping some exalted showbusiness company. Arminta Wallace These and other Irish Times images can be purchased from: irishtimes.com/photosales. Speaking of flowers, how about that wallpaper in the background of our photo? Also on the programme that year was Maeve Binchy’s play The Half Promised Land, set on a kibbutz in the Negev desert in Israel; Hugh Leonard’s A Life, which went on to create a stir on Broadway; and a rare live appearance by Princess Grace of Monaco, who joined the English actor John Westbrook on stage at Trinity College, Dublin, for Birds, Beasts and Flowers, a salubrious selection of prose and poetry from William Blake, Walt Whitman and James Stephens. “Now that up there, young man, is heaven. It is, of course, David Tynan O’Mahony from Firhouse – better known as the comedian Dave Allen – shaping up to go on stage at the Gaiety Theatre. The man with the apocalyptic finger is Brendan Smith, director of the Dublin Theatre Festival 1979, of which The Dave Allen Show was the opening gig.

Harry Potter turns 20: The boy who changed books forever

A writer who only writes is an oddity these days. There have been phenomena before, and will be again; books so popular they lead to a goldrush of similar titles, cashing in before the tide goes out on their genre and some other craze washes up in its place. After which they continued to pick up. Whatever about Rowling’s famous early path – a single mother writing in a cafe while her daughter slept; the subsequent rejection letters – it took a couple of books into the series, and solid publicity graft, before things picked up. Rowling keeps creating, the plans for five Fantastic Beasts films expanding the Potterverse even if the last Harry Potter novel is now a decade old. The preference for printed books made it a hold-out against digital, while the thickness of novels for young readers more than doubled in an age when attention spans were supposed to be shrinking. And the likelihood is the bookseller will be a child of Harry Potter. We can only be sure there is no going back. No one could ever have imagined this at the turn of the century. Illustration: Jim Kay  ‘Star Wars’ And yet, Harry Potter’s effect is not entirely in isolation. Surely. From Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997 up to 2007’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, that idea went out the window. The play recently won a record number of Olivier awards. But let’s start with the booksellers. Dividing line There is a before and an after with children’s books. She co-authored 2016’s bestselling book in the UK and US (the play script for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child). Yet, you’ll find Sherlock Holmes enduring and thriving in novels, movies, TV dramas 130 years after his first appearance. There was Fifty Shades of Grey, which itself was originally Twilight fan fiction. Illustration: Jim Kay  So, Harry Potter is a big part of a broader trend in which children’s culture became valued and valuable. Both Star Wars and Harry Potter are popular enough that even people who have never seen a frame or read a word know their characters and lexicon. The extraordinarily successful David Walliams, to take just one, is a post-Roald Dahl writer, and you don’t need to stand at children’s bookshelves long to see how Dahl still looms large among those writer’s ideas and styles. In some ways, Harry …

The Saturday Poem: Elegy for the Arctic

Even an hour sets us apart, is a fragment lost and drifting from our hands, like the sun clearing away the mists above you, and the pools where you quarry, and the birds waking close to you in your own music. I hope this leaving is as kind to you as for any elder, any great animal going the same way. I fear those too are disappearing. We knew you as brightness anchored in shadow, the body of a perfect wilderness listening across the tundra. Keep safe for us the trails that lead back to level ground, back to the beginning. What do you hear now, as you move out toward the shore where the whistling terns pass overhead and into the darkness? Now that we believe in the stories of your vanishing, you who had been there all along, outside of time, you upon whom the light of day is now burning, our sorrow is such small economy. Leanne O’Sullivan’s most recent collection is The Mining Road (Bloodaxe)