Within voluminous iconography of fairytale and lore, Niamh Boyce deftly unpicks the seams of traditional mores of motherhood and its assumptions about nurturing and custodianship.

Fairytales, monsters and myths tell tall starched, sombre tales which, for most of us over a certain age threshold, encapsulated the psychological playing fields of childhood, for both boys and girls. Whatever societally-engendered roles they subtly and not so subtly, espoused of the time in which they were written, as children; for that was our main sense of identity – being children, these fantastical tales told to us, as implicit disciplinary warnings, more perhaps than intended entertainment, were handed down through generations as modes of Christian obedience and punishment proffered. Morality tale after morality tale, in which the template of children were ‘whipped into shape by sharp tongues, hauled off or even eaten. It would be hardly surprising that from this wetland of incarnate fury, stealth and blunt bereavement, naturally attuned curiosity likely killed off more, than the proverbial cat. And this is where Boyce herself plays tantalising devil’s advocate, by imaginatively revisiting some of these older ‘hunting grounds’, upon which, many a rampant and vivid imagination might have been culled, in sheer childhood terror.

In WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT, we are privy to what might have been the aftermath; an Aftermath, in many a boy or girl’s personal world that went wholly unnoticed and unattended. The maid from Sing A Song of Sixpence – itself a possible reference from the original rhyme book of Tom Thumb of 1744, back to Twelfth Night ( 1602), finally gets to mourn her missing nose, described with some wickedness in the retelling of it, by Boyce herself – about the blackbird’s predilection for such dark pleasure. She leads the reader into deeper subversive tonal revelations about Bo Peep, a Queen and Repunzel: And if pretty miniature floral hemlock will not do the trick, razor sharp wit might slay them all; and in this vein of acerbic Irish wit, Boyce unapologetically cuts to the divine, not so metaphoric chase: “We” – ‘the kids’, now all grown, will have our voice, and to hell with the Kings, Queens, Fathers and Mothers, who might not like it.

Here is where this ‘sleeping beauty’ comes into her own:


Sleeping Beauty’s Take

They say I pricked my finger Pricked indeed. The king hid all the pricks from me. Over vigilant.

He should’ve just invited a prick in. Feel the fear, that kind of thing. Yes, I went up and bad fairy followed

But hello? What do you think two consenting adults were doing all that time? Casting spells on each other?

‘So, Beauty, ‘ she whispered ‘I can’t believe you’ve never seen one of these.’ What a night.

And afterwards, such solace. Those years were the best the ones I slept and slept

while brambles cracked thorns knit and every tongue in the palace took a kip

Thread by thread, Niamh Boyce entwines the reader into the soft belly of our common sea – the one of familial heritage and legacy. From the bishop to the viper, from babyhood to the journey of Oisin, this is not just ancient Irish turf; it is the soil of upbringing that bewitches as much as it taunts.

It might take cinnamon dust and entangled roots, to the night feeds of the wolf, to Red Riding Hood losing more than just her red cloak, for the expansive celebration of intertwined lives, whether knotted, gnarled, or mystically elusive, to forever teach that each of us, no matter the sacristy, or scalding, are all culturally born of mothers and grandmothers; each of whom strove and still strive, to save us from life inside this wolf, we call Life.

Truthfully, I’ve never been one for overly themed collections, yet when treated with such verve and wit, thematic metaphor, as cleverly deployed by Boyce, as in this collection, is a joyful, even if, a treacherous romp into the woods of our childhood. I may be converted yet. A delightful and oftentimes, poignant read.


Publisher RED RESS PRESS 2018

ISBN 9781987751116


Niamh Boyce writes poetry, novels and short fiction and was the recipient of the Henessey Award for New Irish Writer of The Year in 2012. Her best-selling debut novel THE HERBALIST won Debut the Year at the Irish Book Awards and long listed for IMPAC, as well as garnering top spot at the inaugural Irish Writers Novel Fair. Her poetry was highly commended in the 2013 Patrick Kavanagh Award. HER KIND, a novel based on the Kilkenny Witchcraft Trial was nominated for the EU Prize for Literature.

She is represented by Nicola Barr of THE BENT AGENCY

Find out more about her work at NIAMH BOYCE


Renée Sigel


Still a seasoned writer and editor, of forty plus years experience in media and the arts, with a deep love of originality and artistic fearlessness.


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