An evening with Séan Ó Tuathaigh

On the 27 June, author Séan Ó Tuathaigh will be here in the Comhlámh offices for an evening of questions and answers about his new book “Outlanders: Stories of the displaced”.

Beforehand we caught up with him to ask him a few questions about his book.

Can you tell us what the book is about and what inspired you to write it?

‘Ignorance leads to fear, fear leads to hate and hate leads to violence. This is the equation.’

The words of Ibn Rushd, known better in the west as Averroes, a philosopher of medieval Andalusia, are as relevant today as they were all those centuries ago. I stumbled across this quote in the beginnings of a project, which, after over two years in the making, is finally being released this June as Outlanders: Stories of the Displaced.

Ibn Rushd sums up the mission of the book with an almost mathematical precision. Outlanders is a collection of ten refugee and asylum seekers stories, based on people I met and interviewed— some while working in refugee resettlement in the US, others when I returned to Ireland. These men and women are both young and old, newly arrived or long settled, and are from all over the world, from Laos to Bosnia, and from South Africa to Afghanistan. They have travelled far and seen much. Now, finally, they wish to share their stories.

Why is it important for people to read about and hear about these stories?

There is a palpable fatigue throughout the western world when it comes to the global migrant crisis, at least as it is presented to us on our television screens and newsfeeds. Reams of journalism have covered the issue, ranging from brilliant, to courageous and from tepid to outright toxic. Outlanders is not a journalistic book however. The stories are written in a novelistic style, where the reader can see and smell what the migrant does, view as a fly on a wall or a passerby, listening, hearing, empathising, until you find yourself trudging alongside the protagonist, sharing in their privations, their tragedies and, ultimately, their triumphs. If ignorance leads to violence, then knowledge leads to compassion.

Many of us, I suspect, feel this by our very instinct. Recent studies on mirror neurons would appear to support such feelings. If you are not simply told what has happened to someone, in a series of facts or timelines, but rather witness their experience, imagine and examine the physical realities of their lives, you are more likely to empathise. I have built up the structure of these stories with facts, based on countless interviews and exhaustive research. This framework is then filled out with creative flourishes. In this sense, the methodology is not far removed from that of historical fiction. I’ve aimed, unashamedly, for a compelling narrative. My hope is that a gripping storyline, told well, can act as a Trojan Horse, containing within it information on the issues, a catalyst for further research, and, of course, empathy.

What can we expect on the Questions and Answers evening on 27 June in the Comhlámh offices?

The Question and Answers evening, on 25 June at Comhlámh, promises to be a fascinating discussion— I look forward to expanding on the themes above, delving into some of the individual stories as well as the process of writing them. Mostly, I look forward to meeting you there, hearing your thoughts and how the topics and themes of Outlanders interplay with your own experience

What roles do literature and art in general have in the fight against inequality?

Art is our attempt to find meaning. I’m with Camus when he says that in an absurd universe, the only meaning to be found is in standing alongside the downtrodden. Or as Orwell put it: the idea that art should not be political is in itself a political opinion. A true artist choses the difficult path, always, it is the price of the privilege of producing art. One must plunge into the abyss and return with some sort of new light.

Is Ireland doing enough in its response to the so called “refugee crisis?”

Unfortunately, Ireland is not doing enough.

But now is not a time for us to rely on our government or wait around for some saviour to show up. There are already many dedicated groups out there, who need your help. Find them! Do your bit, whatever that might be. There are multiple ways to address the worldwide displacement crises, whether internally, campaigning against direct provision or racism for instance, or joining the anti-war movement, or consuming less meat, plastic and fossil fuels: climate change and environmental breakdown are major contributors to the migrant crisis. Read, watch, be curious, be furious even, but channel that into something positive and practical. Take that little risk and wade out of your comfort zone. That is the only cure for the despair and impotence of the age. Chat with people. Really chat. Go into those difficult divisive subjects, not on a high horse, but with an open mind. Chats might be our only way out.

Outlanders will be available at all good bookstores from 12 June and online at Mercier Press and Amazon. Book Depository offers free delivery worldwide.

The Dublin launch will take place at The Gutter Bookshop, Cows Lane, Dublin 8 on 18 June at 18.30.

Like and share on Facebook at: Outlanders: Stories of the Displaced

Séan Ó Tuathaigh, will be in the Comhlámh offices on Thursday 27 June from 6.30pm – 8.00pm , we hope you can make it along.Our Facebook event is here.