Category Archives: Irish Writers Centre

Two courses, one writer, and a fantastic story

The Secret Son

By Jennifer Burke

I am so excited, I think I might spontaneously combust. My first novel – The Secret Son – is hitting Irish bookshelves this month. Yet this time two months ago, I hadn’t the smallest inclination of what was about to happen. On 4th July, Martin King of TV3’s The Morning Show burst into my office where I work with the Commission for Energy Regulation and announced that I was the winner of TV3’s “Write a Bestseller” competition. Life since then has been a whirlwind – of the best kind. I had spotted the competition, which was run in conjunction with Poolbeg Press, when I was happily procrastinating from writing my third novel. Clicking around Writing.ie I stumbled across it and my mind flew to the dusty old copy of The Secret Son sitting in my drawer.

lawI’ll go back a few years. In 2008-2009, I was training to be a solicitor. While studying Wills & Probate law I was genuinely amazed at the amount of cases that came before the courts involving families having fallen out with each other over the contents of a dead relative’s will. An idea began to form. What if I could write a story about a will that went one step further than the cases I had been studying. Instead of just dividing up the family fortune in an unexpected way, the will could reveal a dark secret that threatened the very stability of the family. And so the character of Andrew Shaw began to form in my head. A sick young man in need of a kidney transplant who is horrified to discover that a recently dead stranger is in fact his biological father. Unsure how to even begin constructing a full novel on this scrap of an idea, I attended Juliet Bressan’s one day ‘How to write a novel’ course in the Irish Writer’s Centre.

Meeting other aspiring writers was itself inspirational. I learnt the basics of creating a story arc, marking plot points and developing characters, all which enabled me to structure the novel in my mind. Though the story ultimately changed and matured over the months, I had a plan to work from and I finally got down to the serious business of writing a novel. I wrote whenever I could. I got up early before work, scribbled down sentences in the evenings and stole some hours at the weekends. Eventually, the words added uPictured Jennifer Burke, author. Picture Conor McCabe Photography.p and I had my book done. Sort of. It was mostly finished, but I knew it was lacking. I just couldn’t put my finger on the exact problem. So I returned to the Irish Writer’s Centre and took Conor Kostick’s Finish your Novel course over ten weeks. He gave me the tools to shape and polish the book – being true to your voice, how to write dialogue authentically and creating villians; writing love scenes, being certain of your theme and book endings. I left the course with the skills I needed to hone and perfect my story.

It took many edits, more reading around (I particularly recommend Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages), and ultimately taking time off work, but I eventually finished. A year later, I came across TV3’s competition and sent The Secret Son off to Poolbeg. I had no conception at the time how it would change my life. In the past two months, I got to see a whole new side of writing – the process of turning a manuscript into a book for sale. Normally this process takes months, but we had weeks, if we were to capitalise on the publicity I have been so fortunate to receive from TV3. The editing process was the best part. I was nervous – you hear horror stories of editors cutting characters and decimating storylines. But that wasn’t the case at all. All of the edits suggested were spot on and mostly centred around making the book readable and consistent. It was the final polish and ultimately professionalised the novel. Aside from editing the actual book, there has been plenty of other fun stuff to do – acknowledgments, dedication, front cover consultation, photo shoot, marketing and PR. I’m still not entirely convinced this isn’t all a dream. It’s just unbelieveable that all this has been made possible in such a short period of time. Right now, I’m busy organising the launch of The Secret Son and I have my minions (ie. my very dedicated family and friends) spreading the word to their friends, colleagues and book clubs. I hope The Secret Son does well and that I get the opportunity to keep writing. For the moment, I’m enjoying the crazy, crazy reality that I’m actually being published. To anyone who is mulling over a spark of an idea, I say go for it. Just look at what can happen!

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Filed under Beginning the Novel, Bestsellers, Competitions, Creative Writing, creative writing course, Fiction, How to Write A Novel, Irish Writers Centre, IWC, Juliet Bressan, literature, novels

Meet our intern!

kelly

Born and raised in Galesburg, IL., Kelly Ricketts graduated from Knox College with a degree in Secondary Education and English Literature in 2012. She is now a high school, English teacher in Knoxville, IL and is spending the summer working and studying in Dublin with the Gaelic Girl Program.

For the past 3 weeks, I have been working here at the Irish Writers’ Centre as a part of the Gaelic Girl Experience My job responsibilities have ranged from compiling databases of different literary magazine contacts to contacting past winners of the Novel Fair and updating the website with information. Though I’ve been told the summer can be quieter than autumn for the centre, I have thoroughly enjoyed my work so far.It has been a pleasure getting to see first-hand what it takes to be an actual, real, published writer. (Though, the writers might argue that I don’t actually know the extent of the sleepless nights and painstaking hours they put into their work!) Back home in small town Illinois, I was never around the writer/agent/publisher process and talk that I’ve had the chance to familiarise myself with this summer. I now know the difference between being longlisted and shortlisted, what a ghost writer actually does, and the possible frustrations of an editor/proof-reader. Besides all of the practical information, tools and viewpoints I’m gaining, it’s been a pleasure getting to know and work with the employees here at the Irish Writers’ Centre. Their kind and inviting demeanours have made my experience, and I’m sure the many experiences of writers who come into the centre, most gratifying.

Coming to Ireland a James Joyce fan, I was extremely excited to delve into whatever hauntings of Joyce and other Irish writers Dublin had to offer; so many hauntings, I have found. The first time I realised what living, working and studying in Dublin for eight weeks would do for my literary fanatic side, I was standing in the Oscar Wilde House. Here, during a class with American College Dublin, I was lead through a summary of the Wilde family lives and told the story of Joyce meeting the love of his life, Nora Barnacle, just outside the building I was standing in. Being a bit of a literary “geek”, my enthusiasm soars sitting in a room in the middle of America reading about these literary masterminds. Seeing where and how they lived their lives makes their life stories and works that much more magical for me.

The thing that is so incredible about Irish literature is that, for the country’s size, it has produced so many great writers. From Joyce to Wilde, Yeats to Beckett, Swift to Shaw, the island is certainly not lacking in talent or worldwide respect. While I did recognise this before coming to Ireland, one thing I didn’t appreciate enough was that the people of Ireland’s capacity to produce quality literature didn’t stop in the twentieth century. Writers such as Colum McCann and Emma Donoghue have recently earned international attention. (I read Emma Donoghue for the first time while here this summer. Room is an extremely captivating and unique novel.) And seeing the work that is done here in the Irish Writers Centre every day instils me with a confidence that Irish literary success is nowhere near an end.

Though the end of today will mark the halfway point in my work here at the centre, I’m sure there is much more to experience and learn before my time is up.

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Filed under Creative Writing, Fiction, Irish Writers, Irish Writers Centre, Irish Writers' Centre intern, James Joyce, Ulysses

Spotty memories seen in reverse

Greg

Writer & poet Greg Kirkorian, member of the Irish Writers’ Centre

At the lonely start, I wobbled into the Irish Writers’ Centre in search of heat, feeling like the run off of a stream and hoping someone had some answers for me. The answers remained elusive, but a cup of tea was welcome and I remember thinking the tall girl who welcomed me had a cut of wit hidden behind her kindness. I decided to stay a while and paid my pittance for a seat in the warmth and the chance to pester the centre’s beleaguered staff.I had no idea I would spend my whole time in Dublin there: haunting the rooms and insinuating myself in conversations, meeting my best friends, glowering at fellow Americans. I was the worst kind of houseguest. Reeking of fish for eight months, I still had a place to warm my cockles and scandalise the locals. I played the boor every chance given, berating Irish ears with unwelcome words of late night scandals and dreams of Arcadia.

I spent the first month living in a hostel leaning over the Liffey. The environment was dizzying with a high paced flow of guests, so I leaned on the front house staff for a bit of stability. Typical of Dublin, I had no problem finding the comfort of a friendly ear.

Also typical of Dublin, I had no problem finding junkies. Downing vending machine brews and too many bags of Tayto salt and vinegar chips, I enjoyed many dawns walking along the brown of the river in a half-drunk cloud taking it all in. It seemed surreal that you could buy a ticket on a whim and find yourself in a different life. Eventually some weekend hooligan high as a kite off an MDMA/cocaine cocktail would wake me with a shriek, shake my bunk like a gorilla in heat, and accidentally kick me in the stomach while clambering up to the bed above me. I figured it was time to leave.

thebeardnardshaw_gallery2The rest of the time I spent in a swirl: boozing at the Bernard Shaw, Ear Inn and by the canal; bantering through half hour drives to eight-hour gay hikes; hobnobbing with the judiciary at a judge’s soiree; biking with my best friend to Howth for the day. Working a job at Ulster Bank call centre, listening to the cancer, the rancor, the madness and mindless jabber until my insides curdled. Watching so many open mics and so many concerts, which featured overwhelming highs and disastrous lows.

Fondness washes against my insides when I think back. My friends feel too far away and I miss the warped curve around Trinity. I miss Dame street, her clusters of teens, tourists and addicts mixing under the Central Bank, and Georges’ Street, salacious as it was perpendicularly fused to Dame at the crotch. I miss days in Stephen’s Green playing young again with delirium dreams of poetic grandeur floating freely with the pollen. I even miss Grafton Street’s fire spinner guy… complaining about how ridiculous and terrible he was made me feel like a true Irishman.

Wandering back through my memory, I land again and again in the Irish Writers’ Centre. There my experience started and there’s where I made those friends. There when the sun was up (never) or when things were gloomy (always). There where my most potent memory of Dublin resides with muted light filtering through windows overlooking the Garden of Remembrance, where the people turn into geese and fly.

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Filed under Creative Writing, Irish Writers Centre, Membership of Irish Writers' Centre, writing, writing groups

Telmetale Bloomnibus, the e-book, streaming live around the world!`

ulyssesTo celebrate Bloomsday we asked 18 writers to bring Ulysses into the 21st Century. As Joyce once took inspiration from the texts of Homer, the writers have taken the 18 episodes or chapters from Ulysses and transported them to modern Dublin. They have each written a story inspired by a title from Ulysses and will perform them in the Irish Writers’ Centre on the 14th of June. Stories will be told through prose, poetry and song. The only rule we gave the writers is that the stories cannot mention Ulysses, The Odyssey or Joyce (though inspiration from the texts is allowed).  The stories are all original pieces of work set in contemporary Dublin. Guided by love, lust, alcohol, drugs and ever present moons, our heros and heroines battle scangie-gangies in Adidas, hooded drug pushers, administrators, chauvinist school principles, tourists, junkies, priests, giant cannibals and catholic computers. Pissheads riding the storm. We wake up handcuffed to beds, sanitary towels on the kitchen table; we encounter a Dublin where stealing laptops is the new stealing bread. A Telmetale Bloomnibus embraces both the beautiful and the obscene.

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Click on pic to buy the book!

When Joyce first started writing Ulysses 99 years ago the landscape of the city was very different from today. Globalisation, technology, independence, women’s rights, church scandals, Starbucks, Ryanair, Google and other such things have, in many ways, created a new city. But with all of these changes one thing has remained constant, high quality writers are constantly emerging. Writers that burst boundaries, challenge our perception. A Telmetale Bloomnibus celebrates Joyce by showcasing some of these writers and captures the modern landscape.

A Dublin of: HIV, Hep C, KFC, Twitter, Facebook, The Late Late, Dr Quirkey’s Good Time Emporium, the Pantibar, the millennium spire, Madigans, The Gathering and Viking Splash Tours.

You can buy the e-book by clicking on the pic, and you can watch the event streamed ‘live’ thanks to our partners at Breac via this link from 7pm tonight.

Line-up in order of appearance:

Pat Boran, Colm Keegan, Jane Clarke, Niamh Boyce, June Caldwell, Steven Clifford, Christodoulos Makris, Jude Shiels, Jack Harte, Maire T Robinson, Emer Martin, Niamh Parkinson, Deirdre Sullivan, Graham Tugwell, Alan Jude Moore, Oran Ryan, Doodle Kennelly, Nuala Ní Chonchuir.

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Filed under Benefit Reading, Bestsellers, Creative Writing, Dublin Event, Irish Writers Centre, IWC, James Joyce, literature, Ulysses

Cinnamon toast on the move

cinnamonFor the next three weeks Novel Fair winner Janet Cameron is taking her newly-published (and fab) book home on tour around Canada. The story is set there, so Janet is a little more nervous than usual and we just can’t seem to convince her they’ll love the story as much as we did! So…we’ve decided to publish some of her blog-thoughts during this three week stunt in blightey. The book is a fantastic read, the characters are well-rounded and believeable, the story is about a multitude of funny and serious things, from house parties to pick-up trucks, cherry-vanilla ice-cream, sexuality and unrequited love. A la blurb: ’Welcome to the spring of 1987 and the world of Stephen Shulevitz who, with three months of high school to go in the small town of Riverside, Nova Scotia, has just realised he’s fallen in love – with exactly the wrong person. Welcome to the end of the world. As Stephen navigates his last few months before college dealing with his overly dependent mother, his distant, pot-smoking father, and his dysfunctional best friends Lana and Mark, he must decide between love and childhood friendship; between the person he is and the person he can be. But sometimes leaving the past behind is harder than it seems…Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World is a bittersweet story of growing up and of one young man finding happiness on his own terms.’

It’s a coming-of-age, coming-out, come-tither-and-look-closely-at-my-world-if-you-dare story that isn’t afraid to tackle hard topics such homophobia, bullying and parental abuse.

We are *big* fans of Janet’s at the Centre, and not just because she got drunk with us after the inaugural Fair (!), but because she’s sparky, bright, fun, positive and simply good to be around. She also happens to be a very good writer. The book is published by Hachette Ireland in March 2013, and is available in Canada now! We wish her all the luck in the world with her book. Here’s a snippet from Blog Post One. Expect more over the coming weeks (and yes, we have asked her permission!).

I raced through it, found it hard to put it down when I had to and wanted more when I was finished….Her prose gets more elegant the further you get in and, the further and further Stephen gets into what he sees as the end of his own personal world, the more you genuinely care for him and the screwed up kids and adults that populate his world….It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if someone were to option this for a film….page-turning, top drawer stuff in the genre it lives in….More please. – broadcaster Rick O’Shea, for the Bord Gais Energy Book Club, April 8, 2013

May 7, Dublin, Ireland, 8:00 a.m.

Okay, today’s the big day. Of horrible travelling. Dublin to London, London to Toronto, Toronto to Emonton, with two hours in Heathrow and five in Pearson. But it’s all worth it, dammit!

Boredom may drive me to report on the wonders of international airports on two continents. Will boredom drive anyone to read it? If your name is Nettie Morine, perhaps. Hi, Mom!

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May 8, Edmonton, Alberta, 11:00 a.m.

Well, over a full day later, I can report that two hours really isn’t that long of a time to spend in an airport, especially one with such thorough, and…um…disturbingly intimate security procedures as Heathrow. Getting onto that connecting flight was a bit of a stressful rush, but nothing terrible happened and no one was injured, by me anyway. On the long and uneventful journey to Toronto, the teeny speakers fell out of my in-flight headphones and I couldn’t be arsed asking for a replacement – however, I did have fun reading the capsule descriptions of the films involved, and now think that “As Bella awakens transformed into mother and vampire” is probably one of the most delightful dependent clauses I’ve ever encountered. I read Brian Finnegan’s new book Knowing Me, Knowing You, about a group of Abba fans reuniting after 30 years, and found it to be an excellent travelling companion and a very engaging and emotional read.

toastIn Toronto’s Pearson airport the sun set behind us in a deep haze of orange as I watched a fellow passenger loudly berating the employees of an A&W outlet for not providing enough ketchup to suit his needs. Parachute Club was on the sound system, Tim Hortons was very much in evidence, and I was surprised to see that our currency is now threaded with transparent plastic and that the latest incarnation of Elizabeth II bears a faint resemblance to Chico Marx. Also the internet access in Pearson is kind of poo. Otherwise it was a Jim-dandy five hours, and another four flying off to my destination. I started Mary Grehan’s Love is the Easy Bit – very impressed so far.

I arrived in Edmonton at around 6 a.m. Irish time, roughly twenty-one hours after I set off from the apartment waving goodbye to husband and cat. Dazed, drooling, and barely coherent, I awakened the next morning transformed into mother and vampire. No, actually. I just awakened, ate some strawberries, got reaquainted with my 16-month-old niece and wrote this update. Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World is in stores in Canada now, which is still difficult for me to get my head around. If you see the book, please tell it I said hello.

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Filed under Beginning the Novel, competition winner, Irish Writers Centre, Novel Fair

Angela’s Cash is…

pocket-homo-sapiens…back in Ireland. Well, some of it, anyway. A few weeks before my trip to Dublin, I received word that I was slated to receive a grant from the German Science Foundation to study the impact of Homo sapiens on the decline of the Neanderthals in Spain’s Basque Country.

I have to say, disbursement of public German funds to an American for this type of work seemed quite illogical, given the sorry financial condition of so many European countries. Recent advances in DNA testing have proved that Homo sapiens and Neanderthals interbred far more than we civilised humans might care to acknowledge, but lavish government spending on this type of useless research is precisely the kind of waste Germany seems intent on rooting out elsewhere in Europe. Why on earth would they pay me for this? I’ve cohabitated with a Basque Neanderthal man for 25 years and I would have been happy to tell Angie everything she wanted to know. For free.

neanderthalFirst off, if there’s anywhere Home Sapiens were hula hooping with the Neanderthals late in the game, it’s the Basque Country. Just look at the Basques: They lift boulders for sport. They brag about their direct lineage to Cro-Magnon man. And on our first date, my husband grabbed me by the hair and dragged me behind a stone wall. Our interspecies relationship has been a challenge over the years, but we at least had the benefit of marriage counseling. Way back when, disputes were resolved with a clubbing to the head. Which pretty much sums up why the mixed relationships, and hence, the Neanderthals, were doomed.

Alas, German disbursement was too efficient and once that cash was in my pocket—even if it did arrive via our small rental flat in Spain via a German archeology PhD student—I decided it had to be redistributed back to the country most in need. It was a close call among the various contenders, but according to the New York Times: Ireland is still grappling with high unemployment. Domestic consumer spending has been slow to pick up. And the government remains burdened with the staggering debt that it took on to recapitalize the country’s banks.

So, my friends, that is why Angela’s cash is coming back to Ireland.

Here’s a little breakdown of where her eiremarks went. I think she would be pleased.

A lovely housing estate in Sligo. I bought it sight-unseen at a fabulous price and boy, are my friends in America going to be jealous when I tell them I have an officially haunted Irish mansion. Although I’m not sure why there are no windows. Or doors. Or walls. I’m assuming that the construction equipment is there to finish it up. Like the developer promised me.

Twenty gorgeous photographs from an industrious flea market photographer who assured me that he would report the cash and the income to the government so as to not receive any more dodgy unemployment benefits, and, to contribute his share of the tax levy. Now, just as soon as I get those walls up in my estate, I’ll have something to hang on them.

A gluten-free, dairy-free, horsemeat-free dinner for a couple with infant twins. Making babies in Ireland, as evidenced by the country’s historically low birth rate, is obviously very hard work. So why not support the endeavors of these lovely people who had managed to make two, all in one go, without any help from the state. As I said, Angie would be pleased. See how very hard working the Irish have become? No wonder she was so eager to help Ireland exit the bailout. (Nota bene to the Irish: the Germans took 92 years to pay off their global debt so please, stop fretting about your 30 year term. Your mistake wasn’t nearly as bad as theirs).

Museum1

The Irish Jewish museum. Surprise! My family is invited to The Gathering. July, 2013. I doubt we’d be tracing our direct DNA here but hey—guess what: You really can be Jewish and Irish. In fact, over the years I’ve noticed the Irish and the Jews actually have a few things in common, and I’m not just talking about the monopoly on guilt or the occasionally near-debilitating inferiority and persecution complexes. Both groups also lay claim to having invented the phrase “beyond the pale” and to one Mr. J.C. from Nazareth, since the records show he lived at home with his mother until he was 30.  Near where I live is a deli/pub called The Star and the Shamrock—and go on—I dare you to come up with a better way to celebrate these two besieged cultures than with Jewish food and Irish drink. German reparations officially ended in 2010, but I couldn’t resist feeding a wee bit more German cash into this institution. It really is a lovely little place; evocative black and white immigration photos, a beautifully preserved 19th century synagogue on the top floor, and, my favorite, favorite newspaper headline ever:

Nazi group quits Ireland as it’s not quite fascist enough!

Unlike the rest of this post, that’s the only thing I’m not embellishing.

Honestly, how can you not admire a country that simply can’t be arsed to be viciously mean?

airport busOnce, when I was waiting for the airport bus—despite the fact that it had stopped at this very spot every other morning­—the monitor indicated no airport buses were arriving in the next 45 minutes. And I had a flight to catch. When I asked the driver of another line if he knew where the #16 bus might be, he told me to hop on so he could run me into town so I could grab another bus. We then had the obligatory where are you from where have you been here’s where I’ve been in the States conversation, all while he greeted each embarking and disembarking passenger with a remarkable display of good cheer and familiarity. All in the frigid 6:30 morning darkness.

I could go on in a cheesy way about the infectious kindness of people here, the friendliness of the Irish, the willingness to step out to help a stranger, but you all know all of that. That goodwill is generally valued over efficiency. That a one hour meet will stretch out into seven if the situation calls for it. That people here focus more on enriching souls than their own pocketbooks, in a multitude of ways.

So Angie don’t you weep, you’ll have your balanced balance sheet.

Ireland may never be the economic powerhouse that Germany is, but the good people of Ireland are working.

Just not the way the Germans do.

And for that, we can be grateful.

Diana FriedmanHUGE THANKS to Diana Friedman who took the time to write four fantastic blogs for us in recent weeks after landing at the Centre last summer! It was a delight to meet and get to know her. We’re also delighted to learn that she has just been selected as Artist-in Residence for the Spring Catoctin Mountain Artist-in-Residence program and will be giving a free writing workshop at the Urbana Library in Frederick, MD as part a fabulous afternoon  of art making if you’re in the US of A neighbourhood! Diana’s work has received several awards, including being selected as a finalist for the Howard Frank Mosher Fiction Prize, a top 25 pick for Glimmer Train’s Family Matters Contest, third place in Bethesda Magazine’s Annual Short Story Competition, and as a finalist in Sport Literate’s essay contest. Her fiction and non-fiction have appeared in various publications, including Sport Literate, Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment, Whole Earth Review, the Baltimore Sun, Newsweek, Bethesda Magazine, Stone Highway Review and the Legendary, among others. An excerpt of her novel will be published in a forthcoming anthology of Washington, D.C. writers, Defying Gravity, available from Paycock Press in 2013.  www.dianafriedmanwriter.com and to keep up with her newest writings or hang out with her in cyberspace, you can *like* her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/DianaFriedmanwriter or follow her on Twitter @Dfriedmanwriter

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Filed under Creative Writing, Feature Writing, Guest Blogger, Irish Writers Centre, new writing, writing

On Never Having Been Struck By Lightning

coloured lightning

I have been waiting almost 50 years now to be struck by lightning. It hasn’t happened yet. And I don’t expect it will anytime soon. So in the meantime I have simply been reading and writing. Waiting. For? Something. The tap on the shoulder. That moment of self-recognition. The moment when I become a true writer: someone inspired.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m misinterpreting the signs, missing the signals. Writers are inspired, of course – all the time. They are kissed by the gods. Beloved by their muses. Seduced by characters. Overwhelmed by plots. Overcome with ideas. To be honest, I’ve not had an idea since … I don’t know when. And the closest I’ve come to inspiration is a slight physical discomfort.

So, in the absence of all else, I have had to rely on my own resources – a little common-sense, some self-discipline, a few books. I have also sought out the example of other writers who seem as utterly uninspired as me. I have turned often, for example, to the work of the Oulipo group of writers – Raymond Queneau, Jacques Roubaud, the truly inspiration-deficient. (Oulipo stands for Ouvroir de la littérature potentielle, the ‘Workshop for potential literature’.) ‘The goal of potential literature’, according to the Oulipo writers, ‘is to furnish future writers with new techniques which can dismiss inspiration from their affectivity.’ To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what this means. But it makes sense.

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iansansomIan Sansom will be teaching a Writing Fiction workshop on 23rd & 24th March: Sat & Sun 10.30am-4.30pm. €150/135 members. The course will seek to debunk some common myths about creative writing and will provide some simple methods and techniques that can be used by writers at any stage of their writing careers. Using class exercises, examples and reading, the course will explore some of the different ways in which writers appropriate, recycle and steal ideas. There will be no discussion of inspiration or story arcs, nor any profound insights into the meaning of life or the human condition.

Ian is a novelist, journalist and broadcaster who currently teaches creative writing at Warwick University. He has been a columnist for The Guardian and has written also for The Irish Times, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, The London Review of Books, The Spectator, and The New Statesman. His essays and reviews have appeared in numerous international magazines and journals, including The New York Times. He is a regular broadcaster on BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4. Books include The Truth About Babies (Granta, 2002), Ring Road (4th Estate/Harper Collins, 2004), and the Mobile Library series of novels including The Case of the Missing Books (2007), Mr. Dixon Disappears (2007), The Delegates’ Choice (2008) The Book Stops Here (2008), The Bad Book Affair (2010). A cultural history of paper, Paper: An Elegy (4th Estate/Harper Collins), is due for publication in October 2012. The first in a new series of novels, The County Guides: Norfolk (4th Estate/Harper Collins) is due for publication in June 2013.

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Filed under Beginning the Novel, Bestsellers, courses, Creative Writing, creative writing course, Irish Writers, Irish Writers Centre, literature, new writing, novels

Ken Bruen at the Irish Writers’ Centre

Ken BruenGalway-based author Ken Bruen is an enormously prolific, and celebrated author of crime-noir fiction. His many works include the Jack Taylor series which began with the Shamus Award -winning The Guards. As the series grew, it garnered many more awards. More recently, a selection of novels from the series have been adapted for a series of TV movies (one which was screened in 2012 and two more to follow in 2013). Ken’s novel Blitz was also adapted for the screen in 2011 starring Jason Statham, Aiden Gillen and Paddy Considine. In 2010, London Boulevard was turned into a film starring Colin Farrell and Keira Nightly. Other works include Dispatching Baudelaire, The Killing of the TinkersThe Magdalen MartyrsThe Dramatist and Priest (nominated for the 2008 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel), all part of his Jack Taylor series, which began with The Guards. Bruen is also the recipient of the first David Loeb Goodis Award (2008) for his dedication to his art. Ken will be reading at the Irish Writers’ Centre on Friday 22nd February at 1.05pm as part of the celebrated Lunchtime Readings series.
When (and why) did you start writing? I found it was a great way to off load rage, guilt, frustration. I was in my teens when I began to jot down notes, and see the value of words on the page, they seemed to dance, lilt and run riot on the very pages, fascinated me then, and even more now.
Do you plan more dark tales for Galway? Yes, C33, is out in September and is yet another jagged slant on Galway.
How does the ‘capital’ of Connaught view your portrayals of the city? Do you ever think they will make you a freeman of Galway? Will they put up a blue plaque? Galwegians  like Jack Taylor a lot as there have been five films shot in the city and as well as money for the city, many of the people appear in the movies. Channel 5 showed the the first of the Taylor movies last night.
Reading your work, is it true to say you adhere to Thomas Hobbes’ warning about the state of nature being nasty, poor, brutish and short? Indeed but always, vitally shot through with humour, and truly, if there is laughter, there is some light.
There has been an explosion in Irish crime fiction of late, at least in the Republic of Ireland. Do you have any thoughts on why that is so? Conversely, there seems to be a dearth of crime novels (Stuart Neville might be one exception) emanating from the north…any thoughts as to why this is the case? The Celtic Tiger and its demise made crime writing almost inevitable, chick lit isn’t quite the genre for deep recession and despair. I disagree about the North as there are a whole range of fine writers: Eoin Mc Namee, Gerard Brennan, Adrian Mc Ginty, Colin Bateman, Sam Millar.
magmartyrsDo you think that in the world of Irish letters, there is a snooty attitude towards crime literature? Some might even baulk at putting crime and literature in the same sentence! Yes, absolutely, it’s the poor relation you hide in the attic, and literary writers who do stoop to write a crime novel, describe it as………..slumming. A literary novel can bore you to a coma but a crime novel needs to be always…………always……….entertaining, entertainment in literary circles is regarded as sacrilege.
Is there any area of crime fiction yet to be explored in Ireland, geographically or topically? We haven’t yet seen canine sleuths but it can only be a matter of time. And probably canines with dope habit.
Do you think Ireland is finally coming to terms with the dark side of the Catholic Church and its abuse scandals? You wrote hard, disturbing, gritty books on those subjects….is the truth that leaked out about institutional abuse worse than you could have imagined fictionally? Every day, I read horrors that I didn’t dare put in my own works and on the news daily, the most abominable child abusers walk free because of age or some other supposed excuse.
What was it like growing up when the Church was such all pervasive political and social force? Did you experience the lash of the Christian Brothers’ strap? Yes, it was a long reed, fine honed for max swing and it cut into the side of your hand with precision, it had a sound I can still summon up. It was the sound of savages.
Edinburgh has its Rebus-Rankin tours, London’s Baker Street still attracts if fair share of Sherlock Holmes’ fans just as the east end draws in the Jack the Ripper devotees. How would you feel if Tourism Ireland started Ken Bruen tours around Galway? Unlikely as I’m on the Tourist Board Hit list, yet a bus of Japanese show up, asking for the Taylor tour.
Do you sleep well at night? I cycle a few hours daily so that kind of takes care of the sleep. My best and I hope darkest themes come when I’m walking past churches, in daylight.

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What Good is Poetry?

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“Poetry isn’t a branch of art, but something much more. If that which distinguishes us from other species is the use of words and language – then poetry, the supreme linguistic operation, constitutes our anthropological and, de facto, genetic goal. So anyone who thinks of poetry as a mere pastime, a common reading, commits an anthropological crime, which is, first of all, against himself”Joseph Brodsky

Before we answer the question, let’s look at some things we know about poets and poetry.

Poets, through necessity, often find themselves stranded in what is commonly termed ‘The Real World’. Poets, generally, tend to spend a good deal of their time either alone or in the company of other poets; so it sometimes comes as a shock when they discover that most of the general population pay as much attention to our collective endeavour as they would to new developments in Norwegian embroidery. Maybe less – there are embroidery magazines on the shelves in newsagents and supermarkets but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a poetry magazine nestled between the jazz mags and TV guides. In general then, people might actually care less about the activities of poets than Scandinavian crochet. Bear with me.

While it is astonishingly easy for any poet without a Nobel Prize, and who is not Paul Durcan, to move about Dublin without fear of being accosted by hordes of admirers, every now and then someone finds out what you’ve been doing scratching away in your Moleskins and hammering on your laptop for the last decade. I say ‘finds out’ because it is mostly regarded as surreptitious. It can seem at times as if people think you are writing poetry against your own volition and that, god willing, you’ll be free of it soon enough.

A few years ago a colleague where I was working came over to my desk and, in hushed tones, noted he had read a review in the paper of record of a book of mine.

‘I never knew you wrote poetry’ he said.

‘Well, you’re not alone in that but, by the way, there’s no need to whisper’

‘Okay’, he whispered.

So, although your work might be published and might have been reviewed here and there, it is assumed that really you hope to keep it a secret and people will go out of their way to help you in this matter. We all know, however, that keeping poetry books secret is not very difficult. In fact, shortly after being published most poetry books become very secret indeed.

As a rule, when someone asks about / compliments / derides your latest volume, they will ask you where they can get a copy. Having fielded this question for close to 10 years, I’ve decided it is because a) they find the idea that bookshops might stock poetry books, particularly your poetry book, outrageous and they need to check with you what sort of retailer would actually clog up the shelves with them or b) they’re fishing for a free copy.

If someone you hardly know happens to compliment you on your book just thank them sincerely and be on your way. To avoid the embarrassment of awkward silences, do not ask them what their favourite poem was or whether they liked this book as much as your last one. They may have only read the blurb on the back at the launch which they went to because a man or a woman they are infatuated with told them they were going and that there would be wine and when they have wine they lose all their inhibitions.

In The. Real. World. (especially in offices and at suburban dinner parties) you will often encounter the ‘know-it-all’, someone who tells you that knowledge is king but what they really mean is their knowledge is king and everyone else is wrong. They will use phrases like ‘grow some balls’, ‘bust their ass / fire their ass / something something asses’ and, of course, ‘keep it simple stupid’, because in the playground, if you call someone else stupid how can you possibly be? They dislike poets because poets are constantly finding things out but still claim not to know much at all.

Furthermore, you might be lucky enough to learn, as I once did, that you shouldn’t bother because ‘all poetry is shite’. The logic behind this statement, made in all seriousness (I checked), by someone with an MBA or something like it, was that it was inefficient, a waste of resources, to read something you don’t immediately understand. (Ipso facto much bad poetry is not necessarily shite. Now you know). Aside from the fact that it shows people can gain a post-grad qualification in Ireland and still remain wilfully ignorant, it inadvertently answers the question: What good is poetry?

I can’t recall ever encountering someone who has even a slight appreciation of literature, art or music who would reduce the world and all its complications to something as simplistic as whether or not it is efficient. Poetry is room to think, to consider things and to maybe – if we’re lucky – understand our condition a little more than we did before.

blackstatecarsWhy do we do it? It’s not for financial reward or celebrity. It surely doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone that you won’t live off the proceeds of publishing 40-50 poems every few years. And the longer you do it, the older you get and the more people and places you know, you will, perversely, find yourself relatively less well known than when you started out. But like understudies in Waiting for Godot, we carry on.

We need it to locate – emotionally and intellectually – where we have been and we need it to help us find out where we are going, without having someone proscribe it to us. We need to know that there is a cohort out there scraping away in the margins, arriving at new ways of looking at things using the same language and the same words as everyone else. At its best, poetry can be a manifest of the possible available to everyone.

While a stint in the Writers’ Centre might not give you a qualification, you will definitely learn something. Back when I was studying political science, when Post-Soviet Studies was a relatively new discipline, our lecturer was asked a question about the usefulness of the subject by a student who had to take the course as an elective. His answer was simple and brilliant: ‘We don’t train you to do anything, we train you to think. Then you can do what you want’. I mention it here because it reminds me of the function poetry can have: it both trains us to think about things and is also the product of that thought. Reaching the end of poems is sometimes like finding answers to questions we didn’t know anyone had asked.

In these days of panic and hyperbole, waves of information from a media often wielded like bludgeons to see how much we’ll take, poetry – literature as a whole I suppose – can allow us to better communicate with ourselves, know more about ourselves and just as importantly, more about the person next to us. Poetry, while it can be collective, is never groupthink; while it can be a comfort it is not a therapy; and while often born out of one form or other of isolation, at its best it is liberating and inclusive.

alanjudemooreAlan’s course runs at the Centre from 28th January: Mondays 6.30pm-8.30pm: it is an eight-week course that focuses on the workshop; it will concentrate on writing, editing and reading poetry. During the course, participants’ will be given constructive advice on their poetry. They will also focus on creating new work, applying what they learn each week to their writing.

Alan is the author of three collections of poetry, Black State Cars (Salmon Poetry, 2004), Lost Republics (Salmon Poetry, 2008) and Strasbourg (Salmon Poetry, 2010). His work is widely published in journals and magazines including: Poetry Ireland Review, Cyphers, The Stinging Fly, Poetry Salzburg Review, Iota (UK), and Kestrel (USA). His poetry has also been published in Italian and Russian. He has been short-listed twice for the Hennessy Literary Award for New Irish Writing for his short stories. Black State Cars was the recipient of a Salmon Poetry Publication Prize for a first collection. He holds a degree in political science from Trinity College Dublin and his first publication was in the TCD literary magazine Icarus. He has since been published across Europe and North America and has given readings in Ireland, Italy, Russia, and the USA. In 2007 he was a featured poet at the Riflessidiversi cultural festival in Umbria.

 

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Janet E. Cameron on bagel-hating ghosts, novel writing and cinnamon toast

Writers are often said to have something ‘missing’ from the sane storehouse of life, but paradoxically have also something ‘added’ in terms of perception – the ability to scrutinise human behaviour and the connections between people and events. Where are you on the scale? What persuaded you to write? It’s true that a lot of writers have something socially weird about them, and I’m no exception. I was extremely shy as a teenager – still find other people a bit mystifying. As for what persuaded me to write…well, from the time I could read I thought stories were the best thing on earth, and the idea that they actually came out of a person’s head seemed like a miracle. So I’d find myself trying to imitate my favourite authors, with mixed results. 

What makes your heart fly? The cliff walk at Howth, and the woods on the North Mountain in Nova Scotia. I’m happy when the writing’s going well, grouchy when it isn’t.

A book that made you cry? After I read Skippy Dies I walked around feeling like I’d been punched in the chest for about a week. Also the scene in The Brothers Karamazov where Alyosha has a dream about Zossima in heaven. That always gets me for some reason.

Your working day, bring us through it? If I don’t have to teach, I’ll get up around seven or eight, spend some time getting coherent, and then go to my desk in the study/laundry room and work for three or four hours. The afternoon’s mostly a write-off because my brain’s fried by then, so I’ll do errands and housework, and then I’ll fall asleep for an hour around four or five o’clock. Then if it’s not my turn to cook, I’ll get in a few more hours before supper and a few hours after. I’m the most boring person on earth, in other words. And I get very antsy if anyone messes with that nap.

Strange avoidance strategies that pull you away from writing? For a while it was baking: bread, pies, cakes, muffins, bagels, pizza dough, pasta, gingerbread…when I finally got serious about the writing I lost a lot of weight.

Originally you wrote plays, how did you make the switch to fiction? The switch actually happened because I couldn’t find any night classes in writing drama after I moved to Dublin, and at that point I was still dependent on taking courses for motivation. So I decided to try stories like everyone else, and I found it was a lot less constraining. Sometimes I still write in dialogue and stage directions when I’m taking down ideas quickly, and I think the bits that work best in Cinnamon Toast were first written almost as play scenes and then I filled in the blanks with descriptive loveliness.

Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World is your first novel which will be published by Hachette Ireland, what is it about? It’s about a bright, restless kid named Stephen who lives in a small town in rural Nova Scotia in 1987 and is counting down the last three months of high school so he can escape. But he realises he can’t leave until he’s dealt with certain problems – the most serious being that he’s secretly in love with his best friend Mark. For a lot of the book he deals with this by not dealing with it, but events keep pushing him towards the climax anyway. Sort of like Hamlet but with more 80′s song references.

Growing up in Nova Scotia sounds positively exotic! Living in a cabin in Nova Scotia, moving to Vancouver, working as a teacher in Montreal, etc. Tell us more! Bwa-ha-ha-ha! Exotic! The town where I went to high school had less than a thousand people. Until I was fifteen there were only two TV channels and most of us ordered our clothes off the same pages of the Sears catalogue. The cabin was a geodesic dome built by draft dodgers in the late sixties, no electricity or running water. My best friend and I were going through a back-to-the-land hippy phase around 1991, so we just had to try living there. I’d wake up every morning, chop wood, make a fire in the stove to heat up some coffee, and walk in the woods for hours. We spent the fall there, September to December, and then the next year I went back on my own. After that I moved around a lot. The teaching degree in ESL made that possible. Seven cities in fifteen years. I just couldn’t seem to stay put. Maybe it was because I wasn’t doing what I really wanted to do.

You were chosen as one of the 20 ‘winners’ of last year’s Novel Fair (this year there will only be ten!), what was the process like, what was the day itself like? I was very impressed with the organisation and planning that went into the day. All the writers had tables where we stayed with our sample chapters and every fifteen minutes someone new would sit opposite and chat, a good mix of publishers and agents. I’d expected it to be nerve-wracking, but to my surprise I found I loved it. Going back to real life afterwards was such a let-down!

How long afterwards did it take to get a book deal? The Fair was in March and I was contacted by Hachette in May with a request to see the rest of the novel. The offer for the book came through a couple of months later. But it didn’t feel like a done deal until August.

What are you writing now? I’m working on a second novel and have a very, very rough draft finished. It’s about a family dealing with the aftermath of a suicide, based on a play I wrote in 1996, and set in the same town as Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World.

Have you ever talked to a ghost? In college in Montreal someone brought out a Ouija board at a party, and we contacted a spirit named Zola who had nine kids. Nobody could think of any decent questions about the afterlife – so we asked him if he liked bagels. Zola told us it was a stupid question, which I still find difficult to dispute.

What do you hate most in life? Currently I’m a bit sickened by this whole culture of self-promotion: collecting people on Twitter so you can bribe them into being mouthpieces for your product, making yourself into a ‘brand’, building an ‘author platform’…barf. But, that said, I’m having fun messing around with my website lately.

If not writing, what else would you do/be? It’s taken me most of my life to commit to writing, so…no. This is it. It might be nice to be Robert Smith or somebody, but only for a few days.

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Janet E. Cameron was one of the winners of the Irish Writers’ Centre inaugural Novel Fair in 2012 which gave writers the opportunity to meet with and present their work to publishers and agents. Her forthcoming book Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World is set in a small town in rural Nova Scotia, Canada during the spring of 1987. The protagonist, Stephen Shulevitz, is a socially awkward seventeen-year-old who has less than three months before he leaves for college. As Stephen prepares for the rest of his life, he finds himself in falling in love with the wrong person and, just like that, everything changes. It is a quirky, subtly humorous exploration of burgeoning sexuality, growing up in the confines of a small town community in the 80s while trying to come to terms with who you are. Born in Nova Scotia, Janet moved to Ireland in 2002 after she met her husband, an Irish journalist, while travelling in Japan. In November 2011, she completed a Master’s of Philosophy in Creative Writing from Trinity College Dublin. She has been short-listed for the Fish Short Story Prize (2008) and the Fish Short Memoir Prize (2012) and has published an adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for younger ESL learners (2010, Black Cat Publishing, Genoa).  She now teaches part-time at Dublin Business School and is working on her second novel.

 

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