Author Archives: Paraic O'Donnell

About Paraic O'Donnell

Lives in a very small way.

Then the Night

The tweets collected below form an occasional if loosely structured series. They are generally composed late at night and it is difficult, in any given case, to rule out some degree of impairment on the part of the author. The attentive reader will also discern certain formal and thematic recurrences.

[These are drunk tweets. They’re basically all the same. — Ed.]

We Are Scattering the Crows

Be it therefore enacted by the Oireachtas as follows:

Article 41 of the Constitution is hereby amended as follows:

Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.

— Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015, ratified by constitutional referendum on 22 May, 2015.

What the Spellchecker Saw

In Which a Young Novelist of Feeling Makes Certain Confessions

Earlier this week, I was preparing to send a near-final draft of my novel, The Maker of Swans, to my editor. Before doing so, I performed a series of checks designed to ensure that the manuscript was free of errors. I’m fastidious about this sort of thing at the best of times, but at this stage of the process my rituals of textual hygiene occupy that shadowy region between rigorous professional habits and extravagant coping mechanisms.

In any case, one of the rituals I perform before sending out the manuscript is something I call a ‘flushed spellcheck’. That is, before running the spellcheck, I disable the custom dictionary to which I have added all the words that the spellchecker has–legitimately or otherwise–failed to recognise.

I use Microsoft Word, and its British English dictionary, while perfectly adequate for most purposes, doesn’t appear to have any grand ambitions in the matter of comprehensiveness. It’s pocked with missing entries–lacunae that are sometimes defensible (the OED also favours tranquillity, though tranquility, as is evident to all but the most depraved of sensibilities, is infinitely more graceful), but more often merely scandalising (the use of stockinged may attract certain criticisms, but whimsical novelty isn’t one of them).

To suppress the false positives that the spellchecker would otherwise report (I can think of almost nothing so nakedly inflammatory as a wavy red line under a refined but blameless lexical item), it becomes necessary to add these exotic word choices to a custom dictionary as they arise. The decision to click on Add to dictionary is usually arrived at with a certain brisk confidence (oh, come on, Word–what are you like?), but over the course of a hundred thousand words or so, there are going to be some marginal calls. There are going to be occasions when one acts not out of rectitude, but out of simple expediency (oh, just fuck off, Word).

In this way, a corpus of exceptions is accumulated that the spellchecker dutifully refers to each time it is invoked. This is a generally satisfactory state of affairs, but as one approaches the completion of a longish piece of work, a certain waning of confidence is perhaps inevitable. What if there were times when my judgement wavered? What if there were times when I told Word to fuck off not because I was filled with righteous rage at its latest assault on the sanctity of the language, but because I really needed a wee?

It is in such circumstances that the need for the flushed spellcheck arises. While disabling my custom dictionary the other evening, I took a few moments to scroll through it. At one level (the important and sane level), it’s just ephemeral metadata, of no conceivable interest to anyone but me. At another level, though–and this is the level I actually inhabit–it’s a fascinating artefact, like an ice core drilled from my own accreted language. It’s a sample that has been excised by means of more or less arbitrary criteria, yet one which manages to be oddly revealing about the novel from which it was extracted; about its diction (that starchy proprietress; that pleasureless, with its effortful suggestion of languor), about its aspirations (Poussin and Fauré–well, excuse me) and about its author’s weakness for certain stylistic tics (that excruciating concordance of un- words).

Still, I present it here in the spirit of philological candour, and in the hope that this kind of mortification may lead to some infinitesimal self-improvement. Make of it what you will.




































































For Seamus Heaney, August 2013

When Seamus Heaney died, I wrote the lines below on Twitter in improvised tribute. I didn’t think they amounted to much, formally, so I was all the more flattered when Liz Nugent chose them for this piece in The Irish Times.

You did this. You showed us we were right to think it our own, the language we found gleaming in ditches, the leavings of queens.

You paced out the avenue, took your ease in the drawing room. And this the home of the statesman, the trembling mage, the fairy-fancier.

When you opened the cabinets, certain items stilled you. A thick hilt, crumbed in fast blood. You passed over opera glasses, posied plates.

You went over old ground, down two spits. Past the sweet tilth to the cold, sharded glut. To hoe blades, dim chalices, back teeth.

You were garlanded, and yet the least bedecked. You scored the rich hems of cardinals. Listened for the flit and thud, the dagger drop.

You smoothed out the unwritten leaf. Felt it chaste as sick day sheets. Of one weave with summer dresses, with the tatters after bombs.

W&N Acquires The Maker of Swans

The trade announcement below originally appeared in The Bookseller.

Weidenfeld & Nicolson has acquired a gothic literary novel by Irish writer Paraic O’Donnell.

Deputy publishing director Arzu Tahsin bought UK and Commonwealth rights to The Maker of Swans, O’Donnell’s debut, from Lucy Luck at Aitken Alexander Associates.

Described as “both a dark, lyrical thriller and an allegory of the power and limits of art”, The Maker of Swans follows Eustace, the faithful but disillusioned servant to the gifted Mr Crowe, a man who was once the toast of the finest salons.

Now, the pair live amid the fading splendor of the Estate, where Mr Crowe’s great library gathers dust and his magnificent gardens grow wild.

With them lives Clara, a young girl who doesn’t speak, but who possesses gifts of her own, the extent of which are hidden even from herself.

Tahsin described The Maker of Swans as “an absolutely enchanting and magical novel and so beautifully written”.

“Paraic O’Donnell’s extraordinary imagination inhabits every page. I was mesmerised from the first to the last page,” she added.

The Maker of Swans will be published in April 2016.


It’s nothing really, just

a way of treasuring
things, a feasting

on the bright
world that borders

on the pathological,
on the unseemly

maw of wet nerves,
the gape that swallows

every spine, tingles even
in the absence

of signal, lusts for
every fluke of noise

covets wave
and particle alike

collapsing always,
coming home drunk

or high and falling
asleep in that deep

where all our seemings cross

where the overspill
was the light under

overpasses, was the solace
of amethysts
and deep kissing

where the numbers
of your birthday

were—write this down—
magnesium almost
and chlorophyll

and something like honey.



The other lives are closest
in the heat. When we unshutter
the house, when sleep comes

and goes in the skin warmth
of the garden, even barefoot
and in its lightest shift.

There is a passing between.
Somewhere in the close fugue
of musk and clockwork.

Somehow, the spored dark
is punctured—a tiny syncope,
the merest finch-heart lull.

The knowing bursts in us.
A seed-split, then a tender
vining of lobes, the fibres

tonguing upwards, shudder
to completeness, unsealing us,
in surges, from elsewhere.

How else do I know,
like the nape and milk-breath
of my dreaming child

what it was to bear peonies
for all those last miles?
In the silvering dead

of the waded spate, to hold
still and nurture a goblet
of unexploded softness

to weaken almost enough,
but at her father’s door,
even with unraised eyes

to see, at last, her unseen white

to taste her rust

her deep and vanished red.