Mar '20 6
Thank you, all of you, who came to one of my five Adelaide Fringe solo shows, 'Grace Notes: Grace O’Malley, Irish rebel, pirate queen', at the Gilbert Street Hotel. My sold-out season has now finished. I am particularly grateful to those who came from quite a distance specially to see the show: Sydney, Hobart, and Kadina, among others.

I have had fabulous feedback from the audience (on the feedback forms) – thank you so much! And thank you to the reviewers who came (from the Advertiser, Tulpa magazine, and the AU Review) and who wrote really great reviews (you can read the complete reviews in earlier posts here). Thank you also Emily Sutherland for interviewing me on your program 'Kaleidoscope' on 5MBS.

To those who didn’t manage to get tickets before they sold out, I’m really sorry. There’s a good chance we’ll put on a couple of more shows in regional South Australia, and who knows, maybe even further afield!

Thank you Robert Rath, my main man, my technologist, production manager, lighting and sound director, and general creative critic. You helped shape the show and brought it to another level with your eye for detail and your ‘no compromise’ attitude. Thank you, Geoff Perkins, for giving us your precious time and valuable advice when we weren’t sure what we were doing. And thank you, Brian Gilbertson. It was your idea, and you helped me believe I could.

Many thanks too, to Madeleine Seys for your invaluable wardrobe advice and to Michelle Wheare for hair care; to Cathryn Charnock; to Alexandra Roberts, for bump-in, bump-out, and front-of-house duties; and to Sam and Steph at the Gilbert Street Hotel for being so lovely and helpful.

I've had an absolute blast. It’s been a privilege to have the opportunity to bring Gráinne to life through my original poems and songs, and to share them in the Adelaide Fringe.

Thank you all again for your support; I’m ever so grateful.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Feb '20 27


Thank you so very much to Kayla Gaskell of Tulpa magazine for coming along to my show and for giving it such a positive and thoughtful review. I'm glad you're still hearing the echoes of the chorus of 'It's a Brehon law, it's the Brehon way' tune!

Click here to read the review in Tulpa magazine.

Here's the text of the review:

In a captivating feat of storytelling, Jennifer Liston entrances her audience with a combination of spoken word and song. Liston’s talent for drawing in her audience is impressive as she tells the tale of a distant ancestor, the legendary Irish rebel and pirate queen Grace O’Malley (Grainne Mhaol).

Born in the 16th century, O’Malley’s life was different to that of the typical female archetype of the time. A born leader and a wily adversary, O’Malley’s life was ruled by her love for the sea. Having devotedly learned the art of sailing and clan rule from her father, O’Malley returned to her clan after the death of her husband, taking on the role of clan chief and maintaining their reputed strength on both land and sea. With her education steeped in Brehon law, O’Malley’s character is presented as being a highly moral individual both for the good of her family and her clan.

One of the highlights of this show is perhaps the explanation of Brehon law, a cultural norm of the time which bleeds into modernity. Together with explaining the concept and telling us of O’Malley’s afront at this law being ignored, she also graces us with a haunting tune that will stay with her audience for some time yet. Even now I can still hear the echoes of that chorus.

Liston transforms the atmosphere of the Grande Room in Gilbert Street hotel into something almost mystical. With the help of white and red lighting, subtle costume ‘changes’, and the skill of switching between song, narration, and poetry the audience is quickly drawn into this entirely captivating performance.

Born from scraps of history, legend, and a touch of innate intuition, this performance is telling in the way stories can inspire new works of art. If Liston hadn’t heard O’Malley’s story from Sister Peter back in school and if she hadn’t talked with her mother about it after, who knows if Liston would have come so far as to perform this particular show at this particular Fringe Festival far from the wilds of her Irish homelands.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Feb '20 27


Thank you, Katie Spain, from the Adelaide Advertiser, for coming to the show and writing up such a positive review. It's so encouraging to read: "...let's hope she takes this little masterpiece global"!

Click here to read the review in The Advertiser.

Here's the text of the review:

It’s the year 1530 and Grace O’Malley (Gráinne Mhaol as she is known in Irish folklore) takes her first breath in what is to be a life of adventure.

Nearly five centuries later, Adelaide-based, Irish-born performer Jennifer Liston brings the ‘Pirate Queen of Mayo’s’ life story to the stage.

Gráinne whispers tales of yore in Liston’s dreams, resulting in an ode to the fiery-haired warrior.

Her hour-long history lesson is interwoven with animated storytelling, poetry, and traditional Irish songs.

We meet Gráinne’s past lovers, join her fleet of ships as she sails from island to island along the west coast, endure bloody battles, childbirth on the open waters, and an encounter with Queen Elizabeth I.

Liston (an engineer by trade) is a captivating storyteller with a beguiling voice. This is the world premiere of her one-woman show and once the nerves settle and Gráinne’s courageous spirit engulfs the intimate venue, it is a moving tribute. Let’s hope Liston takes the little masterpiece global.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Feb '20 26



Thank you so much to John Goodridge of the AU Review for coming along to one of my Adelaide Fringe 2020 shows and reviewing it so thoughtfully. I really appreciate it.

Click here to read the review in the AU Review.

I love that people who've never heard of Gráinne Mhaol/Grace O'Malley are intrigued by her! She is particularly fascinating!

Here's the text of the review:


Grace O’Malley (Gráinne Mhaol), was a powerful seafaring chieftain in 16th-century Ireland who commanded 200 men at sea, and met with Queen Elizabeth I. Curiously, she is not readily found in history books, so Jennifer Liston has brought her story to life, using original poems, songs and music.

The upstairs room in the Gilbert Street Hotel has an almost nautical feel about it, perfect for the intimate gathering to listen to the narrative. Irish born Liston has a sprinkling of Grace O’Malley’s blood in her. Dressed in a simple white bodice with green trousers and a grey shawl, she leads us seamlessly between story and song, interspersed with Gaelic poems and tales of hospitality and pirates.

Grace O’Malley’s family motto was “Powerful by land and by sea” and the stories reflected the true power of this remarkable woman. Liston is a captivating storyteller and she relishes in the opportunity to tell the chronicles of this extraordinary woman.

O’Malley was a seafarer from a young age and held tightly to the concept of hospitality. During a trip to Dublin, O’Malley was refused entry to Howth Castle. After abducting the grandson in retaliation, an agreement was made that all visitors would have a welcome. To this day, a place is set for her.

She gave birth to a son at sea, yet within the hour was capturing another pirate ship. During the clan wars of Ireland, she requested a meeting with Queen Elizabeth and sailed through the English Channel and up the River Thames. Meeting her equal, she managed to broker a truce (conducted in Latin) which benefited both parties. It is said that she died at a ripe old age in 1603, the same year as Elizabeth.

This performance was a fascinating insight into a remarkable pirate queen, that could easily be expanded upon with the many fascinating tales to be told.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Feb '20 20





5MBS is one of Adelaide's coolest community radio stations that's been going since 1993, and run completely by volunteers.

I was delighted when Emily Sutherland invited me in to chat about my Grace O'Malley/Gráinne Mhaol Adelaide Fringe show for her Kaleidoscope program.

Click here to listen to the interview - I start at about the 45-minute mark on the 16 Feb 2020 podcast.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Jan '20 29


I’m super-excited to be participating in this year’s Adelaide Fringe with my solo show, Grace Notes: Grace O’Malley, Irish rebel, pirate queen. I had planned to do just three shows (on 21, 22 and 28 February), but to my surprise and gratitude, they sold out a few weeks ago.

So I’ve just added another show, on Wednesday 26 February. It’s upstairs in the Grande Room at the Gilbert Street Hotel. The room is lovely and quite small – it holds 30 people. I wanted an intimate, cabaret-style setting that would suit story-telling and a cappella singing.

Click here to visit the Adelaide Fringe website in case you’d like to join me.

It’s an absolute privilege for me to have the opportunity to bring this amazing woman to life through my original poems and songs, and to share it in the Fringe. The Adelaide Fringe is such an exciting festival – it’s the world’s second-largest annual arts festival (after the Edinburgh Festival Fringe), and this year, it celebrates its 60th birthday. So Adelaide will be jumping!

I developed the show from the content of my PhD poetry collection, which gives a voice to Gráinne Mhaol. The poems express fragments of her life, and are interspersed with original and traditional Irish songs.

And who was this woman? Gráinne was a powerful sea-faring chieftain who lived in the west of Ireland from 1530 to 1603. During this time – one of the most turbulent political eras in Ireland’s history – she and her crew traded by sea with Scotland, Spain and Portugal from her base in Mayo.

Irish contemporary historical literature has mostly overlooked Gráinne in spite of her prominent role in politics. She pops up quite frequently in various English political papers and communications, however, because of how irritating she was to the English regime which was busy trying to colonise Ireland at the time. In various dispatches she was called ‘the nurse to all rebellions for forty years’ and ‘a director of thieves and murderers at sea’. It was through subsequent retelling of her seafaring exploits that she came to be known in Ireland as the ‘pirate queen’. In the deeply researched biography Granuaile, Grace O’Malley – Ireland’s Pirate Queen, Irish author Anne Chambers fleshes out Gráinne’s life.

According to a letter written in the 1950s by my great-Aunt Angela Russell (née Coyne), sometime in the mid-1800s my great-great-grandfather James Coyne married an O’Malley woman who was related to Gráinne. Of course, Gráinne’s direct descendants are more likely to be O’Flaherty or Bourke – Gráinne’s husbands’ surnames – but that doesn’t rule out the possibility that we have a few globs of O’Malley blood running through us!

I hope to see some of you at the show! Thank you to everyone who has already bought tickets. It really means a lot to me.

Again, here's the link to the Adelaide Fringe website in case you’d like to join me.

Posted by Jennifer Liston

Oct '17 10

Rear Admiral Kevin John Scarce AC, CSC, RANR, 16th Chancellor of the University of Adelaide, presents me with me parchment on 2 May 2017. As he shook hands with me, he whispered: "That sounds like a really interesting thesis". But I bet he says that to all the doctors.

I've been asked several times what I've been working on in the creative space for the past while.

So this is what I've been up to: I was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Adelaide in March this year, and I graduated in May. What a wonderful day that was, made all the more special by the presence of my darling sister Susan and her husband Daragh, who came all the way from Ireland for the event!

I gather it's not often that 'fun' and 'PhD' are in the same sentence, but for me it was exactly that: fun, and a real privilege. From the beginning I treated it as a major project, turning up every day to 'work' in my (shared) office at the university (hurray for room 624!). I was fortunate to have two excellent supervisors: Jill Jones, senior lecturer at the university and herself an internationally recognised prize-winning poet; and Professor Dorothy Driver, a distinguished English literature scholar and academic.

I wrote a collection of poetry—87 poems all up—and an exegesis, which is a 20,000-word critical explanation of the context and themes associated with the creative work. The collection incorporates poems in the voice of Grace O'Malley (Gráinne Mhaol—pronounced Graw-nya Wail) interspersed with what I call 'rescued' poems. (My other website rescuedpoetry.com lists the steps of this process I developed, and features several examples.)

Gráinne was a powerful sea-faring chieftain who lived in the west of Ireland from 1530 to 1603. She was 'some woman for one woman'; during this time—one of the most turbulent political eras in Ireland's history—she and her crew traded by sea with Scotland, Spain and Portugal from her base in Mayo.

Irish contemporary historical literature has mostly overlooked Gráinne in spite of her prominent role in politics. She pops up quite frequently in various English political papers and communications, however, because of how irritating she was to the English regime which was busy trying to colonise Ireland at the time. In various dispatches she was called 'the nurse to all rebellions for forty years' and 'a director of thieves and murderers at sea'. It was through subsequent retelling of her seafaring exploits that she came to be known in Ireland as the 'pirate queen'. In the deeply researched biography Granuaile, Grace O'Malley—Ireland's Pirate Queen, Irish author Anne Chambers fleshes out in great detail Gráinne's personal and political life.

According to a letter written in the 1950s by my great-Aunt Angela Russell (née Coyne), sometime in the mid-1800s my great-great-grandfather James Coyne married an O'Malley woman who was related to Gráinne. Of course, Gráinne's direct descendants are more likely to be O'Flaherty or Bourke—Gráinne's husbands' surnames—but that doesn't rule out the possibility that we have a few globs of O'Malley blood running through us! The Brownes, who are the direct descendants of Gráinne's youngest son Tibbott, owned and lived in Westport House until earlier this year.

So, back to my collection of 87 poems: these consisted of 37 Gráinne compositions and 50 'rescued' poems. In the Gráinne compositions I placed Gráinne at different points in her life but also, in a sort of subversion of the idea of straight biography, I situated her in the mediaeval past and in the future via her dreams. I viewed the re-worked and re-created stories from her past and future as a way of honouring her for having been written out of history. I drew on the stories about her that I'd heard as a girl in Ireland, or that were discussed in her biography by Anne Chambers, or mentioned in passing elsewhere.

I rescued the 50 poems from combinations of 17 texts connected to Gráinne—a selection of factual or fictional biographies of her and a small number of contemporary historical texts. The idea behind this was that the rescued voices would echo and complement Gráinne's voice, even if in a removed way.

After three-and-a-half years of researching, writing and editing, I submitted the collection and exegesis in August 2016*. My examiners' reports finally came back in February this year. I agonised and imagined all kinds of (negative) reasons for such a long assessment period. Imagine my amazement and relief when both examiners (one from Ireland and one from Australia) returned overwhelmingly complimentary feedback and remarks.

One of the examiners referred to the manuscript as a 'strong and thrilling poetry collection' and an 'inventive and impressive volume of poetry', and called the poems 'enthralling' and 'strong in voice and polished in their craft'. The second examiner observed that the poems presented 'richly realised moments' in a collection that was 'evocative and technically adept'. I was really delighted to see that both examiners 'got' what I was trying to do with this unusual approach to biographical poetry (and my risky creative approach to the academic exegesis—but that's another story). I was even lucky enough to be awarded the Dean's Commendation for Excellence!

I would love if an Irish publisher published the collection, so at the moment I'm working my way through a list: it's a patient and courageous publisher indeed who agrees to publish the work. The poems combine in a unique way so for example, it's difficult to select a few poems that 'represent' the collection, and submit only those to publishers.

I was rather upset initially by the most recent, particularly detailed rejection letter. Then I decided to be grateful that he took the time to (hand)write his thoughts to me.

So, my optimistic self has decided that I'm another rejection closer to being published!



*Full thesis titles.

Vol 1 Creative Work
Grace Notes
Giving Voice to Gráinne Mhaol, Ireland's Pirate Queen


Vol 2 Exegesis
Saving Grace: Re-Imagining, Re-Placing, and Rescuing Gráinne Mhaol, a Sixteenth-Century Irish Pirate Queen



Posted by Jennifer Liston