Sarah Gilmartin is an arts journalist who reviews debut fiction for the Irish Times as well as a prize-winning writer of short stories. Now she's about to publish her debut novel, Dinner Party: A Tragedy (Pushkin Press), described as 'a heartrending literary novel about family, and all the ways we try – and fail – to escape them'.

Sarah is co-editor of the anthology Stinging Fly Stories (2018) and her short stories have been listed for the Sean O'Faolain Short Story Award, the RTÉ Francis MacManus Short Story Award and Hennessy New Irish Writing. Her story The Wife won the 2020 Mairtin Crawford Award at the Belfast Book Festival - read it here.

We asked Sarah for her choice cultural picks...

FILM

I recently went to the cinema for the first time in 18 months to see The Father, a brilliant portrait of an aging man losing his mind (and his freedom) to dementia. Anthony Hopkins is superb in the title role, by turns charming, cantankerous and frightening. Olivia Coleman shows her range once again as his beleaguered daughter. The film is cleverly edited, with scene and story shifts that let the audience feel the jolting realities of the illness.

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MUSIC

I rewatched Shane Meadows' This is England, the movie and the three series, earlier this year and I’ve been listening obsessively to the This is England piano playlist on Spotify ever since. It suited the mood of a locked down world, surreal and sad and sometimes uplifting. I’m looking forward to hearing Chvrches new album Screen Violence. I love Lauren Mayberry’s voice and thought her collaboration with The Cure’s Robert Smith for the single How Not to Drown was interesting.

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BOOK

Meg Mason’s Sorrow and Bliss was my book of the summer, a sharp, moving and funny account of mental illness. Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These, out in October, is a powerful and surprising story about an ordinary man who takes on church and community in 1980s New Ross. I read it a few weeks ago and it has really stayed with me.

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PLAY

I’m so excited to see theatre back with the Dublin Fringe Festival and Dublin Theatre Festival both on this month. It’s been such a tough time for the performing arts. Mark O’Halloran and THISISPOPBABY is always a winning combination, so my top pick is their play at the Project Arts Centre, Conversations After Sex, directed by Tom Creed. A few years in the making, it sounds like an antidote to the disconnect and loneliness of recent times. Good luck getting tickets for anything though – all venues are currently operating at limited capacity.

Kate Stanley Brennan in Conversations After Sex

TV

The best TV series I’ve seen this year are It’s A Sin, Mare of Easttown, and the short but searing BBC series Time. Set in a prison, it stars Stephen Graham and Sean Bean, in what is arguably a career best for both actors, which is saying something considering the quality of their back catalogues. I absolutely loved it.

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GIG

Like most people, it’s a long time since my last gig – New Order in July 2019, as part of the Trinity College summer series. It was great, a relatively small crowd, nostalgia, a few drinks, the Sunday evening date kept things tidy. I’ve booked nothing yet this year, but I’d like to go to Caribou in Vicar St in January, and Damon Albarn is at the National Concert Hall in February, which seems like a good fit.

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ART

When I’m down in Limerick next I want to see The Loneliness of Being German: Thomas Brezing & Vera Klute, an exhibition that’s been open to the public since July in LCGA (Limerick City Gallery of Art). Brezing and Klute were both born in Germany but are long-time residents in Ireland. I studied German in college and have always been interested in the history of the country, in the art and literature that looks at the legacy of the Holocaust on the psyche of second generation Germans. The exhibition explores issues of identity and the influence of the past on the present.

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RADIO/PODCAST

A friend put me on to My Therapist Ghosted Me, a newish podcast with Joanne McNally and Vogue Williams. It’s light, funny, and totally shameless. The episode An Unprecedented Act of Chivalry had me in stitches in a queue in Tesco. For something more serious, but equally entertaining, I like the fiction podcast from The Dublin Review, hosted by Aingeala Flannery. Or Inside Books does a neat author Q&A, if you only have time for a short one.

TECH

The Sea is a great one-stop shop for sea swimmers around the country. The Irish psychotherapist Padraig O’Moráin’s website has free mindfulness audios for the amateur meditator. Once I buy a subscription to a meditation app, I seem to forget all about it.

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THE NEXT BIG THING...

The poet Nidhi Zak / Aria Eipe has been making a name for herself in Irish literary circles since moving to Dublin in 2018. Her debut collection, Auguries of a Minor God (Faber), published in July, should mean that her unique, captivating voice finds a wider audience.

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Dinner Party: A Tragedy by Sarah Gilmartin is published by Pushkin Press on September 16th