I’ve just returned from a lovely evening in the company of one of Northern Ireland’s best loved and most accomplished novelists, David Park. Tonight, with a little help from the good folks at No Alibis, David launched his new novel, The Poets’ Wives at the Ulster Museum. I was initially disappointed to find I’d misread the punctuation on the front of the novel. There was not one poet, many wives and a rather racy plot as I’d initially misread but rather three poets, (two real and one fictional), and the three individual wives alluded to with a properly placed apostrophe. Grammar, it should be stated, is not my strongpoint. Neither is poetry and it was refreshing to hear David confess that after attempting a Pale Fire-esque inclusion of some self-penned poetry, he chose to remove it after a less than glowing critique from Sinead Morrissey.
I love David Park’s writing. The Truth Commissioner was the first Northern Irish novel I’d ever read which convinced me that our writers could produce prose which was not just good “for Northern Ireland” but rather good by international standards. The lady from Bloomsbury who introduced David tonight called him, “the quiet man of Irish prose” and in some senses he fits this description snugly. His work is unassuming in the truest sense. It’s honest and unaffected and shies away from gimmick and pretension. However, he is a devastatingly precise storyteller, a master of character development and incredibly gifted when it comes to shaping the setting of his stories; a gift which was very much apparent tonight as he read from a section of The Poet’s Wife featuring an incredibly visceral description of the poet Blake’s London.
I also very much respect David Parks as a person. He wins brownie points from the offset for his on-going devotion to Bob Dylan. More than Dylan worship however, I find Park’s humility incredibly inspiring. More than anyone else in the local literary scene, David knows how to get his ego out of the way so the focus is truly on his writing. Readings are often preceded by little nuggets of Parksian wit revealing David’s humour but a David Park’s reading is always a showcase for the writing, (be it his own, or someone else’s), rather than a charm offensive. Furthermore, his work ethic always strikes me as remarkable. As a writer who also works full time I remember the first occasion I heard David talk about his writing routine. Whilst teaching full time, he continued to produce excellent novels on an almost annual basis, committing to writing for a solid hour each evening and managing 1,000 words most nights. The idea that significant work could be created without compromising on family, work or other commitments has always been both an inspiration and an aspiration for me.
The Poets’ Wives has been chosen, (and announced tonight), as the One City, One Book for May 2014. At the Ulster Hall we love One City, One Book. It’s a great opportunity to encourage reading across the city and to highlight some of our best writers. I am really looking forward to working with David Park; if nothing else I’m hoping I’ll finally get him pinned down on his favourite Dylan song.