Monthly Archives: July 2012

Meet the Ink Slingers!

Every few weeks when my colleague Máire T. Robinson is away, I jump at the chance to facilitate the Ink Slingers’ creative writing class, which starts at 1.30pm (sharp!) and runs for about an hour/half. It’s free, is taught by volunteers and staff at the Centre and usually includes writing exercises and prompts to get ideas flowing. Open to everyone, it’s suitable for all levels of experience. They are a super bunch of people, very mixed, dedicated…I’m constantly amazed at what they can get done in such a short time. Last week we played around with writing in accents: using A Story About Little Rabbits as inspiration: ‘W’en old man Rabbit say ‘scoot,’ dey scooted, en w’en ole Miss Rabbit say ‘scat,’ dey scatted. Dey did dat. En dey kep’ der cloze clean, and day ain’t had no smut on der nose nudder,’ as well as looking at contemporary writers such as Irvine Welsh and Mia Gallagher, whose book Hell Fire is a really great example of how to write dialect well. The results were hilarious and inspiring. Some (in my opinion) were already on the way to being quirky short stories worthy of publication in any decent literary rag-mag.

 

I was the first into the Botanic Gardens that day and there she was, her legs wrapped around one of those strange mountainous plants from Borneo with a note around her neck that said:
‘All you that live inside the bin, beneath the lid that keeps you in, beware, the man is coming.’
I thought: ‘That’s odd, you don’t expect to find a dead girl, wrapped around plants in the Botanic Gardens every day. She must have seriously pissed somebody off, or maybe she’s a random killing by some twisted monster. God knows there’s enough twisted monsters about these days”
“I suppose I should report this to somebody” Then I remembered Ownie’s saying “It’s a wise man, who on finding a dead body, says nothing and goes on about his business”.
On the other hand she’s somebody’s rearing as the old Dublin saying goes, so here goes.
Who to report to? The gardeners are hardly the best equipped to deal with this and there’s never a Garda about when you need one. I am struck by a novel idea, ‘Why not call the fuzz on my mobile phone?’
Removing my all singing all dancing new iPhone from an inner pocket I realise the I haven’t turned the damn thing on. What’s even more ridiculous I don’t know how to turn it on.
I know, I’ll ask a passing child, they are good at this sort of stuff. On the other hand what if the kid is switching on my phone and the killer comes back? He or she might take it into their head to add the child, and me, to their macabre collection.
The more I think about this the wiser Ownie’s saying looks. As I look around the immediate area I notice that it is deserted except for me and the corpus delecti. Now feeling terribly exposed I retreat into a nearby green house. Then I notice that it has only one door. If the killer returns I’ll be trapped in here. Suddenly there’s the sound of something coming along the gravel path outside. Peering over the sill of the window, whilst attempting to keep undercover I see a figure approaching, pushing a wheelbarrow. This might be the killer returning to take the body and dispose of it in a safer location. The androgynous figure is wearing a voluminous, hooded rain coat and limping heavily.
Now seriously concerned I commence to stab all the buttons on the phone in a hopeless attempt to spark it into life.
Suddenly it breaks into a very loud rendition of Ravel’s bolero. I gaze at it in horror, only to find that by some miracle, comparable to the monkeys typing Shakespeare, the bloody thing is now awake.
Being kind of well struck in years I tremblingly type 999 into the phone. Nothing happens, is the blasted thing acting up or malfunctioning in some way. Oh yes I need to press send, I remember now.
The voice at the other end says: ”What service may I connect you to?” I reply “There’s a dead body in the Botanic Gardens”. The voice at the other end says, “You’ll have to speak up, I thought you said something about a dead body?”
“I can’t speak up he might hear me”.
“I thought you said he was dead?”
“Not him, her. I think he’s the killer”.
“Sir, I’m about to terminate this call. It’s a serious offence to make crank calls you know, and we have your number on our call recognition system”.
“No don’t do that, he or she is just outside the door and I might be next!”

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Emma Leavy on her love of lists

Emma Leavy is an Intern at the Irish Writers’ Centre this summer. She is a rising senior at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Washington, DC where she majors in Culture and Politics. Emma fell in love with Ireland as a study abroad student at UCD this past fall. She is delighted to be back for the summer as a part of the IWC team. In her free time, she dabbles in short stories and spends inordinate amounts of time poking around used book stores.

As a lover of words, I am fascinated by lists. I find them inexplicably comforting: lists of the top ten liveliest pubs in Dublin, lists of books that will change my life, lists of the most gruesome serial killers to roam the streets of Edinburgh. I take a sick delight in to-do lists, scribbled on loose leaf with little boxes I can check off. The anticipation of checking off one of those tiny boxes is enough to get me through a first draft or a sinkful of dishes. Some of my very favourite writing exercises involve lists. For example, I find it helpful to list the contents of my characters’ nightstand drawer or CDs which line their shelves. Lists like these help me grasp onto the shadowy details of the characters lurking in the crevices of my brain, transforming them into a living and breathing imaginary friends. This bizarre interest of mine bubbled to the surface whilst looking for online resources for writers. The internet is chock full of lists. So my fellow neurotic writers, I present to you a LIST of the top lists for writers on the internet:

12 Essential TED Talks for Writers

I have a confession: I love trashy television. I find the antics of reality television stars incredibly therapeutic. My life seems instantly normal and organized in comparison. TED Talks are the perfect antidote to the delights of reality TV. It’s a non-for-profit organization which holds conferences where people from all walks of life give fantastic talks on their passions. These informative and moving talks are then uploaded on their free website. Here’s a list of the best TED talks for writers.

1000 novels everyone must read: the definitive list

This list of 1000 novels both terrifies and delights me. The folks at The Guardian really know their stuff and the list contains both well-known literary classics and a few mysterious gems. I intend to post this on my desk and tick off my reads one by one.

The 18 Most Popular Articles on Writing of 2011

A direct channel into some great and varied advice for writers. There’s a bit of business sense and some solid words of wisdom on the nuts and bolts of writing. Your writing will thank you for poking around this website.

Best Creative Writing Exercises

An entertaining and useful list of writing exercises. Some of them are silly, but all will make you smile. Some might even make you write. My favourite? “Open the dictionary to a random page. Find a word that you do not know how to define. Write an imaginary definition for it. Repeat.”

Top Tens

This is a list lover’s wet dream: over 400 “Top Ten” Lists of Books. Searching for the top ten bedtime stories, the best tales of Americans in Europe, or the ten best deranged characters? Look no further! Some author has contemplate the same bizarre theme and made a list for The Guardian.

Thirty-Three Twitter Feeds to Follow

Twitter is a virtual treasure mine of literary advice, suggestions and ideas. If you’re having trouble sorting through the endless amount of feeds, this list will give you a sold starting point.

The Joy of Lists

A wonderful mediation on lists in literature and why we enjoy them. I would love to have lunch with the author, Arthur Krystal. I have a feeling we would have a lot to talk about. Favourite line: ‘Isn’t every list in reality a ceremonial flourish against amnesia and chaos?’

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Just. Keep. Going.

The sun poured through the Georgian windows of the Irish Writers’ Centre for the duration of the Publishing Day event last Saturday. The room was buzzing with anticipation as people chatted with their neighbours. Jack Gilligan, the recently appointed Chairman of the Centre, kicked off proceedings with fire safety announcements. He apologised that unfortunately perfectly formed novels wouldn’t be dropped from the roof in the event of an emergency. I think there were one or two sighs of disappointment.  Do it because you love it and because you have to do it

Ciara Doorley, Editorial Director of Hacette Ireland, was the first speaker. She dove right into the nuts and bolts of the industry. Giving us guidelines for putting together a gleaming shiny submission, sure to catch someone’s attention. She really stressed the importance of being concise and professional in both the cover letter and the synopsis and for the writing itself to be as fine-tuned as possible before submission. Once you’ve submitted, she said, the key thing is to keep writing. Do it because you love it and because you have to do it. However, it could take months to hear back and it’s important to take the pressure off both yourself and the book while you wait. So learn the art of patience.

Ciara was the first but not the last to mention Stephen King’s book On Writing as a great book to check out for writers at all stages. And of course do I even need to name the other book that got more than a few mentions? Yes it’s a current trend, which of course publishers are aware of, but no she’s not an over-night success. Erika Leonard (E.L. James) had previously e-published other work. Another shining example of the ten year over-night success.

Gareth Cuddy, CEO of ePub Direct, gave an over view of the, blink and you miss it, ever-changing epublising industry. On average people with e-readers read at least a third more books than their 3D book counterparts simply due to ease of access. He ran through a couple of requirements for epublishing yourself. The technical things like formatting and where you can get it done. Who the major players are in the industry at the moment; Koby, Kindle, Direct Publishing and he spoke briefly about the constant battles (for battles read: hard-core litigation) between the traditional publishing work and the e-publishing world.

He showed a video, much to the amusement of the group, of a toddler playing with an iPad. The child successfully navigated her way around it; passwords, opening and closing of files, zooming into pictures, etc. Then the iPad was taken away and replaced with a magazine. The child repeatedly tried to expand the pictures in print without success. She got frustrated and tested her finger on her little chubby leg just to make sure it was working properly. Once she realised her finger, was in fact, working properly she gave up on the magazine. Gareth said that the child would forever more think that the magazine is an iPad that doesn’t work. Can evolution even keep up with that?

Then it was a quick breather for lunch and a chance to soak up some of the sun. Sitting across the road in Garden of Remembrance I thought about the little girl in the video and what would be lost if that was to become the reality for the children to come. What if browsing through an actual library or book shop was lost forever? What if we didn’t know what books smelled like? Or how it felt to flip over the feather thin pages of a dictionary? How can the ‘consumption of ebooks’ ever equal that?

Cliona Lewis opened the second half of the day. As Publicity Director for Penguin Ireland she knows a thing or two about what it takes to get out there and get noticed. Of course social media now plays a crucial role but traditional media, especially radio, inIrelandis still the winner. We are after all the biggest consumers of radio in Europe. She spoke about how important it was to be able to sell yourself and how gruelling a book tour can be. She said it was hotel to hotel, flight to flight. But even with that dampener put on our fire I don’t think any dreams were crushed in the room with that realisation. For the unpublished this still has a silver lining.

Emma Walsh took the podium next and spoke about the difference between the “art of writing and the business of publishing” and how important it was to not only to be able to tell them apart but to be well versed in the later. Browse your local bookstore to see what people are buying, keep an eye on blogs and websites, the Guardian in particular, so that you’re up to date with trends and industry gossip. And network, network, network. Along with Ciara she highlighted the importance of a professional, well edited and spell-checked submission. And more importantly not to lose heart, ‘if something doesn’t work try something else.’

There was no denying that most of the speakers did at some point express their dismay at the current upheaval in the publishing world. But any qualms were quietened with a belief that in the long run it’ll be positive for the industry and good work always gets through.

After yet another caffeine jolt and the aforementioned networking Arlene Hunt couldn’t have been a better end to the day. Herself and her husband took the proverbial bull by the horns and set up their own publishing house, Portnoy Publishing. Alongside this she also happens to be a best-selling author with no less than seven novels to her name.  And with the rights of one just sold in Germany she is on the up and ever up.

Determination, determination and some more determination along with never giving up and a drop of luck were her wise words. She too had been rejected at the beginning but she just kept going. Writing every day is crucial. And always with an eye to finishing the first draft and not getting bogged down in edits of early chapters before the thing is even finished. How can you know what is wrong with it when it’s not even finished? And then you must edit to the point where you don’t care about the characters anymore. That means there is nothing else to change and you’re ready to put it out there.

At the end of the day my head was fried, yes, but, I left with a renewed sense of conviction. Just. Keep. Going. Was the message that was received load and clear over the day. If the journey was easy it wouldn’t be worth it.

BIG THANKS to Niamh MacAlister who attended the Publishing Day & reviewed it for us! Niamh completed a Masters Degree in Creative Writing at the University of St Andrews, Scotland with the assistance of The Arts Council of Ireland, An Chomhairle Ealaíon.  She was selected as a ‘New and Emerging Poet’ for the 2010 Poetry Ireland Introductions Series and also for the Lonely Voice Short Story Series. She has had prose published in 3009 and poetry in The Stinging Fly, Raft, The Moth and Washington Square Review. She will complete a residency in Cill Rialaig in 2012. 

 

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Writing away from the agonies

In a week where we saw yet another person die on the streets of Dublin from random violence, do you think that contemporary novels are covering contemporary themes enough? I don’t know that we should look to novels to remedy the problem of violence on the streets – novels can do many things, but I think it’s a matter of some doubt whether they are capable of ameliorating severe social problems. But to answer your question more usefully, I think there is – at last – a gradual movement in Irish writing away from the agonies of the 1950s and towards an engagement with various kinds of contemporary experience. You can see it in Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies and you’ll see it in Claire Kilroy’s wonderful new novel, The Devil I Know, which comes out in August. It was bound to happen eventually – sooner or later, all the people who can’t seem to get over the 1950s will be dead, and all the young turks will be complaining that older Irish novelists won’t shut up about the Celtic Tiger.

What was the very first piece of fiction you wrote? When I was about seven I wrote a story about a boy who travelled into the future with his Professor friend and had a lovely day out. It was about a page and a half long and I still have no idea what obscure impulse moved me to write it. But that was it, from then on I was, for better or worse, a writer. The next thing I remember writing is a ghost story called “The Thirteenth Floor.” I suppose I was eleven or twelve by then. It dealt with a bed-and-breakfast with a haunted thirteenth floor. Must have been one hell of a bed-and-breakfast.

Bad Day in Blackrock was set in an era of ‘easy credit, two-car families and cheap cocaine’…what kind of ‘recession themes’ are we likely to see in books over the next few years? The four year period we now mean when we use the word “recession” is already the most written-about period in the whole of Irish history, and the flood of nonfiction coverage isn’t going to stop any time soon. I suspect this will discourage novelists from tackling it directly, in the short term. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: novels work best when they don’t have an axe to grind. I won’t make predictions, except to say that in certain quarters, the response to the crisis will be to write about farms and priests, just like always.  As long as there are Americans to think of Ireland as a priest-ridden potato field full of shivering orphans, there will be Irish writers to tell them they’re right.

How long did it take? About six months, all told.

What has changed for you since it was first published? I’ve become a full-time writer, which I never thought was possible. I’ve also learned that “being a writer” is pretty much just a job, as opposed to a permanent state of adolescent daydreaming. It’s a good job, though. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

Do you have themes that you explore in all of your work? It’s too soon to tell.

What’s something that might surprise your readers about your writing life? I write at night, from midnight to four a.m. Plays havoc with my social life.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Laziness.

What is the trait you most deplore in others? Humourlessness.

Who’s your favourite writer? Martin Amis.

Inspiration? I have a three-by-five card pinned above my desk that says in big letters, “IT’S FINE.” That’s usually enough to keep me going, whenever I start to worry about the work.

Give us a writing tip. The trick to a good novel is to tell a secret and keep a secret all at once. Not my quote but a good one! Obey the Ancient Mariner principle: your narrator simply has to tell this story – he/she has no choice. Tell every story as if your life depended on it.

Can people be taught how to write!? They can be taught how to write better – but only if they’re already passionate about writing.

Have you ever seen a ghost? No, and I never will.

What’s the first record you bought? Oasis, Definitely Maybe. It was the Nineties and everyone was doing it.

Kevin Power is an Irish writer and academic. His novel Bad Day in Blackrock was published by The Lilliput Press, Dublin, in 2008. In April 2009 he received the 2008 Hennessy XO Emerging Fiction Award for his short story The American Girl. He is the winner of the 2009 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. He is teaching a one-day writing workshop on The Novel at the Irish Writers’ Centre on Saturday 14th July, 10.30am – 4.30pm. It’s aimed at people who have already done some work on the first draft of a novel and are interested in completing a full draft. Accordingly, we will be looking at techniques for structuring a novel-length story (how the story might best be told), and examining point of view and voice(who’s telling this story?), as well as emphasizing page-by-page issues, such as tone, style, sentence structure, paragraphing, and characterisation. Close readings of participants’ work will be combined with discussion of general narrative strategies. Participants are asked to submit NO MORE than 15 pages of their work – ideally, a brief section from the beginning of their manuscript. Typescripts should be double-spaced. Due to the nature of the course, spaces are limited to ten people. Book a place on the course here.

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