Witnessing a new Ireland: Youth by Kevin Curran

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By Kevin Curran

Writing and books mean everything to me. But I’m a teacher first, reader and writer second. I know having a new book out makes me incredibly lucky and privileged in today’s competitive writing world. But I can’t deny I’m a teacher first – one who happens to write.

I am a teacher who happens to write; who happens to have previously published two novels (Citizens and Beatsploitation); who happens to write and work in my home town, Balbriggan, in the school that I went to when I was younger.

Balbriggan has one of the country’s youngest populations and a hometown that is widely regarded as having one of the (or if not the) most diverse populations in Ireland. It is a town that has seen its Mainstreet devastated by the economic crash in 2008 and never recover; it has seen estates mushroom on the once outskirts of its limits to such an extent the Mainstreet is now empty and boarded up (but happily waiting for the bulldozers to come in and start again with recently required reinvestment funds from the government).

The students I teach attended the same DEIS primary school as I did and they also attend the same DEIS secondary school as I did. What is DEIS? DEIS (Delivering Equality of opportunity In Schools) is a status given to schools with a high proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. My classes over the past ten years have had a similar make-up to the two senior English classes I am teaching this year: about fifty percent are second-generation Irish.

I understand the kids I teach every day. I listen to their stories, hear their challenges, marvel at their ingenuity, smile at their outlook on life, their approach to the technology that is swamping them, deal with a world that has spent the last few years terrifying them, and will for as long as they live, more than likely scare them.

I have written about the younger generation in short stories published in The Stinging Fly, The Tangerine, Young Irelanders and other anthologies. But six years ago, I decided to bring these characters together and have them walk the streets of Ireland’s most diverse town, and have them pass each other on these streets as strangers and see where the story would take me.

Their stories took unexpected turns. Their stories took a long time to actually see the light of day in publishing. But their stories became so important to me, I had no choice but to battle to try and get them published. My school, my classroom, my students live diversity, live in what it means to be in a truly modern, multicultural world, and they live it with joy and with great grace despite the socio-economic challenges put in their way.

As a teacher first, writer second, if I’m going to write about this exceptional new space that is coming to life on the streets of Balbriggan, I have a responsibility and duty to write about the truth of what I see in my classroom every day, the stories I hear from all the students in my classroom every day. They deserve the space on the pages I can provide.

Youth is now also available as an audiobook, voiced by five amazing young actors: Gabriel Adewusi as Angel, Florence Adebambo as Princess, Conall Keating as Dean, Jordanne Jones as Tanya and Kate Gilmore as Narrator. Gabriel performed a live reading as Angel for the Dublin city centre launch. This was his first book launch reading and by bringing his acting expertise to the voice of Angel he provided an incredible performance. It wasn’t lost on me at the time that a number of past pupils of mine where in the audience. Their first book launch saw an inspired reading from an actor from their background, reading a character from their background too. Their stories were being seen and heard.

And this is why I invited spoken word poets and rappers to perform at the Balbriggan launch of Youth a week later. If I was willing to create space on the page for characters from the town, I thought it only right I bring the inspiration for these characters up on stage with me. The buzz and energy from the different artists performing at the Balbriggan launch was special. The support so enthusiastically shown by the public, politicians, past pupils and volunteers at the launch really hit home for me how the appetite for every sort of character and voice from the streets of Balbriggan is there, waiting to embrace the stories.

Youth is a book that needed to be written – these are lives and stories that needed to be seen and told. These are times and circumstances and opportunities that need to be witnessed.

(c) Kevin Curran

Author Photograph (c) Elaine McGrath

Youth is available in paperback from all good bookshops and from Lilliput Press.
The audiobook is available from Lilliput and from Audible.

About Youth by Kevin Curran:

Youth by Kevin Curran dives into the lives of four teenagers in Ireland’s most diverse town, Balbriggan. Angel is about to finish school and discover if Drill music and his YouTube fame can deliver on their promises. Princess is battling to escape her claustrophobic surroundings and go to university. Dean is ready to come out from under his famous father’s shadow. Tanya, struggling with the spotlight of internet infamy, is still posting her dream life for all of her faithful followers.

Isolated and disorientated by the white noise and insurmountable expectations of adolescence, our protagonists are desperate to find anything that helps them belong. Oblivious to each other’s presence, potential and struggles, they pass on the street as strangers. But when they do intersect, the connections they make will change the course of their lives.

Twenty-first century life – hyper-sexualized, social media saturated, anxiety-plagued – is here. Living inside its characters’ heads, and negotiating their interior landscapes, this book is a love song to the possibilities of youth.

Curran’s evocative writing yields the authenticity this novel demands. An instinctive affection and admiration for the characters portrayed in Youth takes the reader on a journey through streets less travelled.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Kevin Curran is from Balbriggan and has been a secondary-school teacher in his hometown for over a decade. His fiction largely concentrates on working class life in the Dublin suburbs. His first novel, Beatsploitation, was published in 2013 and brought him national attention due to his depiction of Ireland’s new multicultural landscape. His second novel, Citizens, was published to critical acclaim in 2016, and he has published numerous short stories in major anthologies and literary journals such as The Stinging Fly. He has also written non-fiction for The Guardian and The Observer.

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