Leannán Sidhe: The Irish Muse

This book was the first I published and, in a way, it was a kind of test to see if I could actually write something other people might want to read. From my own experience at least, I’m convinced short stories are a critical step to developing your skill as an author and working up the tenacity to completing a longer, novel-length work.

Although I initially published it through a very small publishing house here in Wellington, I was blown away by the response. Despite the fact that few of the larger bookshops (or the smaller ones) wanted anything to do with an untried author who hadn’t come through the traditional/mainstream route, I ended up selling about 300 hardcopies in the first month – which for a collection of short stories in a country with a small population like New Zealand was pretty amazing. Since then, I’ve revised the original for the digital version but the book continues to sell steadily despite the fact that I’ve done absolutely nothing to market it. To be honest, I’m not really sure why it’s been so popular – people just seem to like the individual stories. In any case, the back cover blurb follows below, accompanied by some of the national reviews it received at the time.


This intriguing collection of stories by new Irish writer Brian O’Sullivan puts an original twist on foreign and familiar territory. Merging the passion and wit of Irish storytelling with the down-to-earth flavour of contemporary New Zealand, these stories will thrust you deep into the fascinating lives of:

  • a ringmaster’s daughter who is too implausible to be true — despite all the evidence to the contrary
  • an ageing nightclub gigolo in one last desperate bid to best a younger rival
  • a Wellington consultant whose uncomplicated affair with a public service colleague proves anything but
  • an Irish career woman in London stalked by a mysterious figure from her past
  • a sleep-deprived translator struggling to make sense of bizarre events in a French city.

‘Leannán Sidhe (pronounced Lan-awn Shee) is a fairy or otherworld creature in Irish folklore; a muse that accepts a lover’s affection in return for the ability to create a work of art of immense feeling.

(1) Arts on Sunday

The author was interviewed on National Radio’s Arts on Sunday program in March; a copy of the interview can be downloaded here (link removed).

((2) Wairarapa Times Age (March 2008)

In this writers’ first collection of short stories there’s a strong painterly way with words that takes you to the places and situations even if you’re occasionally left wondering with a feeling of “what am I doing here?”
Snatched moments of lust and surges of romantic pain and bereavements abound as do chilly nights, lonely wanderings, jaded machinations, tawdry affairs, Kafkaesque frustrations and grim humour, “tanks be to God”.
Settings are important (but some hard to locate) and range from Galway to Lille, Donegal, Paris, Sussex, Wellington and London – chilly winds, mist and post-coital cigarettes all over the show, to be sure.
I appreciated many of his descriptions, mist through a train window and the way foggy days and nights can transport you into another kind of reality. The last story, Morris Dancing, is a neat twist on our supposedly benign colonisation process (no Union Jacks on London bridge, pai kare!) and is a fine ending to the author’s fine beginning.

(3) The Wellingtonian (April 2007)

There’s nothing quite like a good short story. Something that pulls you in, churns your mind around and spits you out the other end … thinking about what you’ve just read.

Wellington author Brian O’Sullivan offers 13 yarns in his first book The Irish Muse and Other Stories. Overall he achieves that feeling. Most of his stories left me wondering about the characters, their lives and experiences. A couple were ordinary.

It’s fiction tinged with a bit of real life experience, set in Wellington, Ireland and France amongst other places. The stories range from chance romantic encounters in a small Irish town and haunting tales of tragic personal loss to bizarre encounters between a consultant and a career woman in Wellington and one man’s attempt to get to the bottom of his internet service woes. The finale was a thought-provoking tale that upended my perception of indigenous people’s land grievances, oddly entitled ‘Morris Dancing’. My favourite is Sleepwalking in English, a story about a
man’s attempts to come to grips with the death of his partner in a car crash – the ending was eerie.

It’s a simply written, easy to read book that you can devour in a night if the mood takes you. It’s said that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Au contraire, I liked the look of O’Sullivan’s book and the content proved to be good.

(3) Otago Daily Times (June 2007)

This is a delightful book of short stories by new author Brian O’Sullivan. The stories, which are set both in Ireland and New Zealand, are a mixture of tender whimsy and sharp irony, in a
collection that will delight. My favourites included the last one Morris Dancing which is a translation of the papers of the Maori rulers of New Aotearoa with the Parliament sitting in Westminster, London. In that same satirical vein I enjoyed The Morning After in which a couple wake up after a terribly debauched night unable to remember how they got to Paris or who they are. It has a fabulous punch line.

Less Ironic is the title story Leannán Sidhe, which is a sprawling tale about a composer with writer’s block and a flautist in a small Irish village. It has all the clichés of Ireland, but a modern tone that interweaves the magical and realistic in a wonderful, whimsical mix.

These stories were written by an Irish Kiwi and was sometimes difficult to see where stories were set until a place name was mentioned, as both countries seem to share wind, rain and rolling
green hills. This is but a tiny complaint, however, as I enjoyed the book greatly.