Sunday, 14 June 2009


Richard Ford said of the Davey Byrnes short stories.
Most of the stories seem to think that drama was to be found in unhappy circumstances – families that didn’t work, loves that didn’t flourish, age that wouldn’t stop for a breather, the approach of the grim reaper, him/herself. And most stories didn’t turn out altogether happily at their ends. I could’ve done with a few more laughs, to tell the truth. Maybe a few gay Irishmen. A few Irish of colour. If you’re writing about the actual world, well . . . they’re in there, too.

Ay, there's the rub. How do you throw in some characters of colour or gay or one-legged or retired Buddhist monks or whatever without appearing to be using tokenism or stereotypes?

At the Dublin Writers Festival, Colm Tobin read an extract from his new book, Brooklyn that mentioned the cruelty Men taking children away from mothers at court. He said he wouldn't have put that in if he were writing it now for fear of tokenism.

Catch 22.


Anonymous said...

Well he has a fair point about the stories having a rather narrow and unrepresentative focus. In daily life and on the streets of every town in Ireland there are many different races and yet in the stories you only get to see the Lone White Observer (apart from the "magical Chinaman" with his Healing Powahs in Claire Keegan's story about the troubled priest, that's the only example I can think of off the top of my head)

I think it's doable, as long as the result isn't a Song and Dance about Race.

I don't really get his reference to lack of humour. I've read a recent collection of Richard Ford's stories and found them every bit as amusing as a bowl of Ready Brek left to cool overnight, but that's just me.

Niamh B said...

Would it be fun to try and write a story with nothing but tokens?
:-) -probably not then

Ger said...

Excellent post on the topic by editor of Some Blind Alleys -

Eimear said...

Interesting thoughts. Yeah, it's tricky with the short story especially, because so many short story characters are shadowy figures. In a novel you have to delve into their background, ethnicity, sexual orientation etc, but in a short story you can just give a few details and let the reader infer the rest.

So I guess if you're gonna have a gay or black character, you need to have a story-based reason for it. You don't wanna come off looking like you just labelled them 'gay' just to give your character more colour or quirk.

Uiscebot said...

They're not tokens if they have to be in the story and it wont work without them. Sure if you end up with a sterotype who cares. It's only fiction. Nobody reads it anyway.

Emerging Writer said...


Apparently Stinging Fly wrote to the 30 shortlisted authors asking if they could publish that they were in the shortlist. They are still waiting to hear back from some of them. I think the list would be a really good thing to publish.