ciaran carson
Ciaran Carson

CIARAN CARSON was born in 1948 in Belfast. He is Professor of Poetry and Director of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen's University Belfast. His translation of the Old Irish epic TAIN BO CUAILNGE (THE TAIN) was published by Penguin Classics in 2007. He has published numerous novels and collections of poetry that have been shortlisted for both the Irish Book Award for Literature and the Whitbread Poetry Award, and won the Irish Times Irish Literature Prize for Poetry. Sadly Ciaran past away on 6th October 2019. His new collection of poetry STILL LIFE is out October 2019.

Exchange Place

A  bomb, a spy, a vanished friend. Multiple parallel worlds.

'Exchange Place is gloriously uncategorisable. Robbe-Grillet would have welcomed it, as would Queneau and Perec, but Hammett and Chandler too would have tipped the brims of their trilbys in salute. A wonderful intellectual romp.' John Banville

He took out his watch and looked at it. He rested for one minute as timed on his watch. He opened the briefcase and took out a passport and a pair of spectacles. He put the spectacles on and looked at the passport, and realised he was the man in the picture. A gunshot rang out.

Part thriller, part spy novel, Exchange Place is set between Belfast and Paris and tracks the individual movements of two men, John Kilfeather and John Kilpatrick, who are trying to solve a mystery concerning a lost friend, a missing notebook and a gun. But this is no ordinary mystery and the usual rules don’t apply. Appearances are deceptive; identities dissolve, become slippery; and it’s easy to lose track of who you are in the winding streets and passageways of the city. Ciaran Carson’s new novel is poetic, profound and gripping. It deals with identity and translation, with disappearing and reinventing yourself, with the effects of being continually observed – this is a mystery story that only Carson could have written.

'The phrase 'literary thriller' is at times too loosely applied, but Carson's book is a 'true' example of the form at the stage of saturation. It is exhilarating Times Literary Supplement

'Carson is a conjurer with language ... His eye lights on an astonishing miscellany of fact and fantasy, but remains sharply focused throughout.' The Times


Blackstaff Press UK & Ireland


Del Vecchio Editore Italy


Material: finished copies (192pp).

the pen friend
Pen Friend

More than twenty years after the end of their love affair, Gabriel receives an unexpected and cryptic postcard from his old flame. It is the first of thirteen cards from her, each one provoking a series of reveries about their relationship and prompting Gabriel to write a letter to his ex-lover in which he dwells in sensuous detail on perfumes, clothes, conversations as he tries to recapture the spirit of their romance in 1980s Belfast. The Pen Friend is, however, much more than a love story. As Gabriel teases out the significance of the cards, the layers of meaning in the images and messages, his reveries develop into richly textured meditations on writing, memory, spiritualism and surveillance. The result is an elaborate and intricate web of fact and fiction, a narrative that marries sharp historical insights with imaginative exuberance, a strange and wonderful novel confirming Ciaran Carson as one of Ireland's most exciting writers. The novel itself is a stunning object, with full-colour postcards throughout.

‘Triumphant. Twisted and playful. The story is relatively easy to follow, which is not to say that it is not also a fiendishly intricate puzzle machine. This novel is an original creation. Technically complex but oddly simple, arcanely informative, humorously puzzling, sensible, sensational, compassionate, it deserves to win whatever prizes are going. For the Man Booker jury, here’s a book and a man.’ Brian Lynch, Irish Independent

‘If Seamus Heaney is the voice of rural Ulster, Ciaran Carson is the laureate of the urban North.’ Terry Eagleton, New Statesman

‘A novel not solely about the Troubles but also about the uneasy peace that has emerged since the Good Friday agreement and remains overshadowed by history. Reaches a climax of ingenuity and considerable power.’ TLS


Blackstaff Press UK & Ireland


Del Vecchio Editore Italy


Material: finished copies (244pp).

Fishing for Amber
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Dazzlingly weaves Irish fairy tales, Ovid's Metamorphoses and the history of the Dutch golden age into the form of a magical alphabet. Carson triumphs over the distinction between fact and fiction in the pleasure of telling his stories.

'His new book Fishing for Amber (Granta, pounds 12.99) had its genesis in a story told by his wife Deirdre Shannon, about how she was walking with her parents near Lough Neagh when they came upon a well called the Holy Pool. Deirdre overheard two elderly couples reminiscing about their youth nearby, and how they used to amuse themselves by tying a tin can to a stick and dredging up nuggets of amber out of this holy well.  Amber in Antrim? This can't be right, Carson thought. He promptly started leafing through the Irish Ordnance Survey Memoirs for 1835, where, to his surprise, found the story corroborated: "it is fine spring water and produces amber crystals". These crystals were soon embedded in his imagination, and wouldn't leave him alone until he constructed an entire edifice of them: a kind of literary equivalent of the famous Russian Amber Room which fell into Nazi hands during the Second World War and has never resurfaced.

Fishing for Amber is subtitled "A Long Story", though he calls it more of an extended essay - "but essays don't sell". It's an investigation into many aspects of amber with offshoots and digressions, but with several structural devices which hold the whole thing in equilibrium…  If it's a long story, it contains short stories, tall stories, factual stories, foot-off-the-ground stories, old stories, true stories, stories- within- stories. The more you try to classify it, the more you lose the thread. All you can do is read and admire it, and submit to its powerful playful logic and astringent charms.

Whatever his literary influences - Borges, W G Sebald and Flann O'Brien come to mind - Carson remains totally original and utterly absorbing. Whether he's prospecting for amber, or pursuing historical accuracy, he uncovers gold.' Independent


Tokyo Sogensha Japan


Previously Granta, rights reverted.

Material: English PDF

The Inferno Of Dante Alighieri
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Inferno, the first volume of Dante's Divine Comedy, is an imaginitive tour de force. Dante's hero, Virgil, guides him through hell, showing him the inhabitants of each of its nine circles and examples of the divine justice meted out to them. Ciaran Carson's translation of the text is suffused with wit, anger and irreverent vigour and attempts not to diminish the pathos of the original. This is a retelling of Dante's epic journey for the twenty-first-century reader.

'Quite simply the best version of Dante there is' Ali Smith, Scotsman Books of the Year

'Carson's the first I've ever read in which the English (because Irish really) ever seemed so kickingly alive' Paul Muldoon, Irish Times Books of the Year



Head of Zeus UK



Previously Granta Books UK

Material: English PDF


Shamrock Tea
shamrock tea


Shamrock tea is a magical substance that allows people to see things not given to ordinary mortals. They can sense colours and sounds more vividly; they can penetrate the surface of paintings; they can cross time. The narrator, his cousin and a strange Belgian friend know that their lives are ruled mysteriously by the great van Eyck painting, the Arnolfini portrait, and they have travelled in dream-like moments through the painting into other times. They discover that each moment is connected to every other. But in the strange world of Shamrock Tea, no story can be straightforward. With a cast of characters that includes the gardener Ludwig Wittgenstein, this book will intrigue and entrance.

'A heady brew, both as a book and as a drink. Carons writes like a poet, who can weave and bind his words together with such rhythm that his prose seems to slide off the page.' Spectator

‘Welcome to Carsonville. A literary labyrinth . . . Relax, let the writing’s slipstream lift and levitate you through a magical state of being, verbal alchemy and dream. Carson’s world is unique. That we, the readers, remain receptive, compliant, plunging even more willingly through the vortex of Carson’s narrative, is a measure of the marvel of his writing’ Scotsman

‘Composed of 101 short chapters, Carson’s new book is an eccentric disquisition on the world ranging from colour pigmentation in paintings, to flying, the Arnolfini Marriage, Wittgenstein and Sherlock Holmes. Shamrock Tea is a marvellous, entirely idiosyncratic book’ Marie Claire

‘Shamrock Tea is a fluid mosaic: each chapter is named after a particular colour; many are devoted to the lives of individual saints; all are connected together by a series of serendipitous affinities and associations . . . page by page, it is a book that puts no rein or limit on its generous imaginings’ Times Literary Supplement

‘Ciaran Carson sets himself an ambitious task, but the imagination and story juggling skills which characterised his previous novel, Fishing for Amber, have done him proud once again’ The Times

‘The writing is bright and pacey. The 101 chapters fly by, each one firmly written, none more than a few pages long. This is a novel devoted to play, serendipity, and inconsequentiality . . . a cerebral and sparkling performance’ Tablet

‘The pleasures of this utterly original work lie in the small narratives with which the larger narrative is spiced . . . an eccentric treat’ Daily Telegraph


Del Vecchio Editore Italy



Previously Granta Books UK


Previously published (rights reverted) in the following languages:


Actes Sud France

Stowarzyszenie A KuKu Sztuka Poland


Rosman Publishing Russia


Alexandria Publications Greece


Tokyo Sogensha Japan



Material: English PDF and various translations

The Star Factory
star factory new cover


The Star Factory of the title was an abandoned mill, full of Piranesian galleries and rusting machinery, which haunted the author as a child; roads converge on Belfast to form a stellar patter, in an ironic benediction of the city's sectarian divisions. But the Star factory is also a place of the imagination, where history and decaying architecture are turned into stories. And this is a book about growing up in a city that is full of stories, waeving in and out of each other as Carson explores myriad cities of his native town, diving down "the wormhole of memory" into parallel worlds where religion, politics and the sad magic of the dying shipyards and linen factories take manifold forms.

'In The Star Factory he has written a maze-like autobiography of sorts. It is not so much the tale of a young man growing to maturity along the Falls Road with an Irish-speaking, storytelling postman for a father, as an extended demonstration of the way in which language can raise up and consecrate the ongoing, fractious epic which constitutes that much blasted city, Belfast.' Independent

‘The playful, enchanting contiguities of Irish poet Carson's memoir (which is as much a portrait of the city of Belfast as it is of one of its denizens) are just as skilled as those in Nabokov's standard, Speak, Memory, and are even somewhat bolder... Unlike Nabokov, who had a revolution and exile to write about, Carson is trapped in a city he's unable to turn away from, its dark, smoking decline reflected in his eyes and extraordinary prose. Among the flood of Irish memoirs these days, none are as dazzlingly written as this, and none remain so solidly entrenched in the sovereign space of the imagination.’Publisher’s Weekly

‘A whimsical, witty romp through the streets of Belfast... The book is interspersed with legends and folklore, some of which are wonderfully amusing, most of which Carson translated himself from the Irish. He also, quite naturally, manages to parlay some facts; our Titanic-crazed culture should thrill to read the chapter on the ship’s construction in the docks of Belfast. While the tone of most of the book is lighthearted (as when Carson reveals to us the titles of the books he keeps in his privy), there are also more serious undertones of violence and the IRA - mentioned only occasionally and always in passing when referring to some local landmark. Violence for Carson is just one part of the Belfast landscape - not to be dwelt upon, but not to be ignored. Carson’s imaginary ’star factory, - a place - where words were melted down and like tallow cast into new molds, - is freshly realized here. Beautifully written, with deep humor and a strong evocation of a very personal Belfast.’ Kirkus



Head of Zeus UK

Previously Granta Books UK

Material: English PDF


Last Night's Fun
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A Book About Irish Traditional Music

This is a book in the shape of a night's music. Each chapter is given the title of a tune, and like a session played by brilliant improvising musicians each tune leads into another, melodies and variations weaving in and out in a haze of talk and memory. Here is evocation of music of a ruthlessly unsentimental kind, but also polemic, autobiography and poetry. The reader is drawn into the atmosphere of the world in which the music is made - a player's music that is never the same twice, and which lives in performance and spontaneity. Listening to traditional music is an unrepeatable experience, so this book about the poignancy of lost airs, about music as 'a way of renegotiating lost time' and
knowing that we will die, as well as instruments, styles and songs. Ciaran Carson's memories hold his extraordinary performance together - remembering how he learned to play, evoking the beauty of fugitive nights in pubs, honouring the memory dead players.

'After only a few pages it became clear to me that the Devil has not got the best tunes - this man writes like an angel, a recording angel, unreeling from his memory such a sweetly rumbustious beguilement of Irish music, food, drink, nights, days and portable metaphysics that this book is simply not to be done without' - Russell Hoban

'Quixotic and visionary' - Iain Sinclair

'Carson spins out his variations on a theme with pyrotechnical brilliance.' - John Banville, Observer

'One of the most stunningly original books ever written about music, musicians and the love of the gig.' - Brian Case, Time Out


Random House

Material: English PDF