Maybe you should quit and start making memes instead?

As a writer, Christmas is a time to look at what you’ve done over the last twelve months and despair. Look at how little you’ve written and, yet, how much content there is out there! Maybe you should quit and start making memes instead? This year for me was no different, but a couple of things I wrote were actually published over Christmas, adding another layer of anxiety to the festive period. Would post-referendum BTL truth-seekers detect the hidden messages in my work and gleefully tell me to ‘go home’ to wherever I’m from? The answer, for my Guardian Cities piece on Sunderland photographer Andy Martin is: probably, as I don’t think I’ll ever wade through the 2,600-odd comment storm it generated.

An excerpt:

The walls of Martin’s studio are lined with ghostly monochrome portraits of Sunderland’s present-day inhabitants – members of bands, artists, his friends: a collection of photos he calls his “census” of the city. These portraits contrast with his urban photos which are usually unpeopled, but share a similarly haunting atmosphere, as if he knows he is capturing something that will soon be gone. (continue reading)

A day later, my review of Mark Greif’s Against Everything was published, also in the Guardian:

The unflinching intelligence of his writing can be exhilarating, but intimidating. Yet there are many moments of levity: a doctor is described as “a mechanic who wears the white robe of an angel and is as arrogant as a boss”. Of the hipster movement he writes: “It did not yield a great literature, but made good use of fonts”.

As the book progresses, the style becomes looser and more expansive. The cool, stern tone of the earlier essays gives way to a more playful approach, typified by the essay “Learning to Rap”, in which, yes, Greif decides to teach himself how to rap along to hip-hop records. His rationale is that, as a music fan in the early 90s, he chose to devote himself to American post-punk, such as Sonic Youth and Fugazi, rather than hip-hop. This was a mistake, he now thinks, as hip-hop was the birth of a “new world-historical form” while rock “had been basically exhausted by 1972”. (continue reading)

Happy new year!

Tony Schwartz and the sounds of New York

Tony Schwartz

My piece on Tony Schwartz has just been published on the JSTOR Daily site.

Tony Schwartz was an ad man and urban folklorist. He compiled an audio archive of sounds from the streets around his house in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan. He recorded almost everything that interested him, and he nearly always toted a tape recorder. For convenience, he had his commercial reel-to-reel modified—attached a shoulder strap, added a portable power source, adjusted the levels meter—so that he could carry it with him.

Here’s a Spotify playlist of a selection of his recordings to accompany the article:

Events in September and October


  1. I’ll be in Dublin on Monday 14th September to take part in the Young Hearts Run Free event, ‘Life Has Surface Noise #3’ at the Dublin Fringe. The event takes place from 8pm at the Peacock Theatre, and includes contributions from Annie Atkins, Siobhan Kane, Stevie Grainger, Peter Toomey and a variety of surprise guests. Tickets are €15 and proceeds go to the Simon Community.
  2. On Saturday 19th September I’ll be in Sunderland, leading a short tour around the city from the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, beginning at 1pm.  The tour will be a response to the gallery’s Jeffrey Dennis exhibition ‘Ringbinder’, using Dennis’s paintings as a portal through which visions of Sunderland past, present and future can be accessed, taking participants on a unique journey along the city’s streets. To book onto the free tour please email
  3. At 7pm on Monday 12th October I’ll be at Ballyroan Library in Dublin to take part in a panel discussion about ‘Exploring Dublin’ with historian Pat Liddy and travel writer Julianne Mooney. Further details here.
  4. I’ll be taking part in ‘This Future That Never Happened’, the second in the Standard Lives series of talks, run by 2ha magazine, celebrating the ignored and overlooked side of Irish architecture and design, at the Project Arts Centre, Dublin at 7pm on Wednesday 28th October at 7pm. I’ll be talking about buses, transport and utopia. Tickets are €5, or €3 concession. More details here.

Last days of the Travel 90

Last month Dublin Bus announced that the Travel 90, a ten journey ticket that allows journeys on multiple buses for a single fare, would be discontinued. It looks like stocks will run out this month.

Travel 90aIn one chapter of my book, Hidden City: Adventures and Explorations in Dublin, I wondered how many times I could use the ticket in a ninety minute period, and if there was a way I could structure my journey so that I might end up somewhere in Dublin at random – perhaps somewhere I had never been before. Every ten minutes I changed buses and then flipped a coin to determine which direction I’d continue in – stay at the same bus stop or cross to the opposite side. I called it the bus game.

The Travel 90 ticket was introduced by Dublin Bus in 2003 as a replacement for existing two-journey tickets. The fact that it accommodated a potentially infinite number of bus journeys (‘unlimited travel’!) in that 90 minute period meant that it wasn’t long for this world. Buy one of these bus tickets to infinity and get bus hopping before they’re all gone!

About my book.

Hidden City: paperback

Hidden City: Adventures and Explorations in Dublin will be published in paperback by Penguin in the UK and Ireland on 2nd April.

Colm Tóibín, in his review for the Guardian, called the book ‘ingenious and affectionate’.

It was called ‘marvellous’ by the Daily Telegraph, ‘brilliant’ by the Sunday Business Post and ‘captivating’ by the Sunday Times. The Irish Independent said ‘the capital has cried out for a book like this’. It was chosen as the Guardian Review‘s book of the week (27/9/14).

Click here to read more reviews and for further information about the book.

Hidden City events in Dublin

I’ll be back in Dublin for two events in April, to coincide with the publication of Hidden City in paperback.

Thursday 16th April at 7pm, dlr LexIcon, The Studio, Dún Laoghaire.

As part of this year’s ‘Dublin: One City One Book’ events I’ll be doing a talk called ‘Hidden Dublin’, discussing the influences on Hidden City, and the form of contemporary Dublin. Admission free. Booking not necessary. (link)

Saturday 18th April, 4pm-8pm.

YoungHeartsRunFree are organising ‘Dublin: Hidden City’, a walking tour and more with me, Eleanor Tiernan, Barry McCormack, Dónal Lunny and Clare Barrett – with other surprise guests, surprise venues, and generally…the element of surprise, as we explore the role of psychogeography in Dublin town, and the kinds of memories that have built this haunted city, through readings, song, chat and more! In aid of the Simon Community. Very limited spaces, so do book early. €14 including booking fee. (link)



Following planes on St Patrick’s Day

On St Patrick’s Day in 2011 I set out to walk from Clongriffin, a half-built new town on Dublin’s northside, to the airport, with the vague idea that it would tell me something about how I perceived the city. An account of this walk can be found in the eleventh chapter of my book, Hidden City: Adventures and Explorations in Dublin, which is out in paperback on 2nd April.

Accompanying me was my friend Jonathan, who had bought an apartment in a block overlooking a vast swathe of waste ground that was shielded from the main street by wooden hoardings. One night, I had looked from the window of the apartment and, behind the hoardings, saw a fox nosing around in the pools of light thrown onto the waste ground by the streetlights. For a moment I felt like this street in Clongriffin was right on the edge of the city, where urban met rural.

Jonathan at the Red Arches, Clongriffin
Jonathan at the Red Arches, Clongriffin

I had also watched the blinking lights of aeroplanes on their final descent towards the airport – the flight path brought aircraft over the fields just a couple of hundred metres from the apartment blocks. I suggested a walk from the apartments to the airport, following as closely as we could the path taken by the planes.

St Patrick’s Day is an intensely boring day to be Irish, because it feels like you’re forced to participate in a global theme park version of the auld sod; I feel this especially when I’m wandering the streets of Dublin on that most Irish of days. Your accent and your physical presence make it feel like you’ve been captured and, against your will, glued into a Mickey Mouse suit, then tossed to the crowds in Disneyland on the Fourth of July.

Something about that experience, in 2011, rang more hollow than usual. Unemployment was at 14.3% and I was a small fraction of that percentage, as were a sizeable number of people I knew. Jonathan had a job, but his apartment had been bought for a substantial sum just before the collapse of the Irish economy; his situation caused him considerable despair.

So we walked, ducking under railway bridges, yomping through the overgrown foundations of developments-to-be and across agricultural fields, past holy shrines, pausing only to consume coffee while sitting on a plastic cow in a petrol station’s forecourt. We followed the endless stream of aircraft towards the airport, and arrived at the pristine new Terminal 2 building exhausted.

Cow, Malahide Road

Following the flight path made me think about visits to the airport when I was a child – meeting family members who had left the country and were arriving home for visits. When I thought about the journey Jonathan and I were making, I began to consider that implicit in this walk was our own departure from the country. Four years on and neither of us live in Dublin – Jonathan recently sold his apartment and moved to Austria, while I’ve been in the north east of England for eighteen months.

I’m not a sentimental person, and as you can probably tell I’m no fan of St Patrick’s Day, but on the 17th March this year I may well raise a glass of some local beverage to that day four years ago, to remember it fondly – and to wish it good riddance.

More about the book.

The bus game

When I was researching my book, Hidden City: Adventures and Explorations in Dublin, I wanted to find a way of playing a game with the city. I also wanted to write about the history of transportation in Dublin.

Travel 90aI decided that the Travel 90 Dublin Bus ticket would be my portal into this game. The ticket offers 90 minutes unlimited bus travel per journey – the final bus must be boarded within 90 minutes of validating the ticket for the first time. I wondered how many times I could use the ticket in a ninety minute period, and if there was a way I could structure my journey so that I might end up somewhere in Dublin at random – perhaps somewhere I had never been before.

Travel 90bI took a narrow sheet of paper and outlined a set of rules for using the ticket. First, I would choose a bus stop, then I would get the first bus that turned up. I’d board the bus and validate my ticket, then start my stopwatch. After ten minutes on the bus I’d ring the bell and get off at the next stop. (Through all this I’d let my stopwatch tick away.) Then I’d flip a coin. If the coin came up heads then I’d stay at the bus stop and get the next bus that came along. If it was tails then I’d cross the road to the stop opposite and wait for the next bus. I’d sit on this second bus for ten minutes, then repeat the process I’ve just outlined until the stopwatch reached 90 minutes, at which point I’d ring the bell (if I was on a bus) or walk away from the bus stop (if I was waiting for a bus).

InstructionsYou can read more about the bus game in chapter 7 of my book Hidden City: Adventures and Explorations in Dublin (Penguin)

Hidden City 26.06.14

Back to the beach

I’ve been writing and editing for World Cup 2014 blog Straight off the Beach. So far I’ve written about banter, Steven Gerrard and Ross Barkley.

Today we’ve begun to put up team previews in alphabetical order, and will do so at a rate of three a day until we’ve previewed the bejeezus out of the tournament. Joe Kennedy’s introduction to the previews is here.