Category Archives: Lunchtime Readings

Selina Guinness: the ordinary, everyday compromises of self and other…

crocodile_v2Selina Guinness is reading this week at our Lunchtime Readings series. She was born, and grew up, in Dublin and currently lectures in English literature in the Department of Humanities at the Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT), Dun Laoghaire. In 2002, she moved to Tibradden, her uncle’s house in the Dublin Mountains where she continues to live with her husband, children and a flock of sheep. Her memoir The Crocodile by the Door, her first novel novel, recounts the trials and tribulations of farming valuable land on the edge of Dublin at the height of the property boom. Published in 2012 by Penguin it has since received widespread critical acclaim and was shortlisted for both the 2012 Costa biography award and the Sunday Independent Newcomer of the Year. Selina has also edited an anthology of Irish poetry published by Bloodaxe, The New Irish Poets. She lectures in Irish literature at Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology.

Did you have any plans to write about Tibradden when you first moved back there with your family, or did that come later? I always thought I would write a book about Tibradden. By my late twenties, I’d sketched out a treatment for a book that was essentially a family saga contained in that handy, though quintessentially unstable vessel, the Irish Big House. The trouble was that structurally it resembled so many other books written in the genre. It was only after we’d been through our first season lambing that I realised the urgent narrative I had to tell was of the present, not the past, as property, with all its solid promises of home, inheritance, class and family, became something chimerical, something phantasmal. The ethical dilemmas I faced were ones that people assumed should fade away with prosperity.  I wanted to explore what happens when they don’t.

How long did the The Crocodile by the Door take to write? All in all, about three years but interspersed with other things. I started writing it in October 2007. I corrected the proofs in June 2012. There was a gap of eighteen months in the middle necessitated by the arrival of my second son, Ivor, and other periods when I had to finish off a scholarly edition of Yeats’s manuscripts for Cornell University Press.
How did you manage to juggle the numerous demands of family life, lecturing at IADT, working on Tibradden and writing The Crocodile by the Door? I married the right man. Without Colin’s active support and hard work there would be no farm, no book, and not much domestic order. There are many other debts of gratitude I hope the book records. More prosaically, I took a year’s unpaid career break from lecturing at IADT and also used the latter part of my maternity leave to resume writing Crocodile again. The Tyrone Guthrie Centre provided short spells of perfect productivity. For the last chapter and epilogue I checked myself into an airport hotel for four days. Otherwise you just get on with things: every parent I know has a busy life.
Where you surprised at the positive recognition (from award nominations and readers alike) that the book received? Yes, and immensely gratified.
Do you have plans for a follow-up book about Tibradden? There are many family stories and archives appropriate for the book I first envisaged as a family saga. I’m not sure that I’ve discovered their urgency yet. So perhaps this is a project for later in life, or just one that should be told another way. “…the memoir is the novel of the 21st century; it’s an amazing form that we haven’t even begun to tap… we’re just getting started figuring out what the rules are” Susan Cheever.
How far would you agree with this opinion? Any genre that hopes to supplant the novel is making far too large a claim for itself. That said, Karl Ove Knaussgaard’s A Death in the Family (vol. 1 of My Struggle) extends the memoir to its limits – it’s a real exhaustion of what intimacy means in the ordinary, everyday compromises of self and other  – while retaining a fragile reserve at the heart of its narrative.  I think it is a genre that comes alive in its shameful proximity to chat, rumour, gossip, all shades of unofficial talk, and yet above all, it takes reticence to write.
selinaguinness_1355061196Which writers have most influenced you? When teaching literature provides your bread and butter, day in day out, it’s quite difficult to pick texts that might be considered influential. Yeats’s poetry and Fergus Allen’s, Joseph Roth’s The Radetzky March, Sandor Marai Embers, Magda Szabo’s The Door: all these were texts I considered closely while writing the book.  I avoided, as best I could, Elizabeth Bowen, (I have yet to read Bowenscourt) although I teach The Last September every year.  The rhapsody of John McGahern’s That They May Face the Rising Sun probably left a mark. I’m interested in how the stories in Dubliners are just the impressions left by plots written and abandoned elsewhere. Yeats said the truest self was the concave of the mask.  I’m interested in that.
Any advice for emerging writers? Try to care less about housework.
What’s next for Tibradden? We’re just finishing off the restoration and extension of the gate lodge. The whole area around the drive has been re-landscaped and will be planted up over the next few years under the eye of Oliver Schurmann at Mount Venus Nursery.  Currently, we’re surrounded by mounds of bare earth. I’m typing this in a costume resembling Forty Coats. I think relining the chimneys so we can light fires again and perhaps putting up curtains in our bedroom, might be next.  I’d love not to be cold.  All the time.
What are you writing next? Apart from cheques (see above), I think it’ll be a novel. More of which anon.

1 Comment

Filed under Creative Writing, Lunchtime Readings

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.


Filed under Beginning the Novel, Bestsellers, Creative Writing, Irish Writers, Irish Writers Centre, Lunchtime Readings

That storytelling instinct

We’re chuffed to have Keith Ridgway read at the Centre on Friday 9th November at 1.05pm, as part of the Lunchtime Readings series. His most recent novel, Hawthorn & Child, published by Granta has been met with huge acclaim. His novella, Horses, was published by Faber & Faber in 1997, and was followed in 1998 by the novel The Long Falling (which was awarded both the Prix femina étranger and Prix du premier roman étranger in France). He won the Rooney Prize for Irish literature in 2001 for his short story collection Standard Time. His novel The Parts followed in 2005, and Animals in 2007. His stories have appeared in various anthologies and periodicals in Ireland, Britain and the United States, including The New YorkerDublin ReviewZoetrope, and Granta. Here, IWC intern Ferdia Lennon interviews Keith about storytelling, subversion, and preposterous thrillers.

The protagonists of Hawthorne and Child are detectives, yet it is far from being a traditional crime novel. Was subverting readers’ expectations part of what attracted you to these characters? Well, it was more the other way around. I was attracted to detectives because they are involved in a formal way in what I wanted to write about – our desire and our instinct to shape random events and experiences into narratives that make sense. That’s what policemen do. It’s what we all do, to some extent. I didn’t set out to subvert a traditional crime novel. But you become aware in the writing that having policemen on the page sets the reader up in a certain way. And I played with that, a little.

A chapter from Hawthorne and Child appeared as a stand-alone story entitled ‘Goo Book’ in the New Yorker, and you have described the novel as having a deliberately fragmented structure. Was Hawthorne and Child initially planned as a novel, or did you first envisage it as a short story collection? It was always a novel. But it was always, in my mind, very fragmented. In fact originally it was far more fragmented than it is now. I wanted dozens of tiny bits and pieces. As it is that instinct that I spoke about – that annoying story-telling instinct – came on pretty strong, and there was this tension between coherence and fragmentation in the writing of it. But it’s very much a novel. In the sense that there is no other name for it. It’s certainly not a short story collection.

Previously, you have cited Roberto Bolaño as a major influence. What other writers have been important, both in terms of inspiring you to write, and, then later, in your development? As a reader, I love Bolaño. As a writer, I’m very wary of him. I hope in many ways that he is not an influence, though our thoughts sometimes align. He is of course a sort of inspiration in terms of his ambition for his writing and his fearlessness. There are a lot of writers who I think of in a similar way – from Beckett to Gombrowicz, to Dennis Cooper, Gary Indiana, Flannery O’Connor, Dermot Healy, Cesare Pavese, José Saramago, Muriel Spark. I mean, there are dozens.

You have published novels, short stories and one novella. Do you have a preference for any particular form? No, not really. I just write, and things tend to find their own length. I am increasingly ambivalent about the divisions between these forms. I dislike a short story that is very like a short story, or a novel that it very much a novel. I say dislike, I mean I suppose that it gets boring, now.

You teach Creative Writing, do you find teaching writing has affected the way you approach your own work? I don’t teach creative writing. I don’t know what that is. I teach fiction writing. And no, it hasn’t affected the way I approach my own work.

Your short story The Spectacular looks at the plight of a struggling literary writer who attempts to write a commercial novel about a terrorist attack on the Olympics. Have you ever, in darker moments, been tempted to do the same? For example Sixty Shades of Grey? Well, not the Fifty Shades stuff. But I like preposterous thrillers and well crafted crime-books. It takes a huge amount of skill to do that sort of thing well, and is embarrassing in the extreme when done badly – especially by writers who think they can do it as a sideline. The writer in The Spectacular is one such – he’s lowering himself to writing a thriller. And you see that attitude in quite a few “literary” writers. It’s not one I share. I try to learn what I can from genre writers, and I try to apply it. And in most of my books there have been elements of genre. The Long Falling is a murder story. Horses is a small-town whodunnit. The Parts involves prostitution and kidnap and conspiracy theories. Animals bumps up against terrorism. So I’ve been writing half-genre novels my entire career. It’s just that nobody really noticed until I wrote one involving a couple of detectives.

What are you currently reading? Denis Johnson’s Tree Of Smoke, very slowly; Anthony Burgess’s Napoleon Symphony; and some science stuff from Lawrence Krauss and Douglas Hofstadter.

Are you working on anything at the moment? Yes.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers? Read more. Write more. But mostly, live more. Live an interesting life. Never settle. And always be ready to kill, and get out of town.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Beginning the Novel, Fiction, IWC, Lunchtime Readings, Readings, writing

Denise Blake: work, read, sprint through poetry

Denise Blake will read this Friday at the Irish Writers’ Centre (1pm) as part of the Lunctime Readings. She was born in Lakewood Ohio in 1958 and returned to Ireland with her parents and family to live in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal in 1969. Her first collection of poetry, Take a Deep Breath, was published by Summer Palace Press. Her second collection, How to Spin Without Getting Dizzy, was published in Spring 2010. She is a regular contributor to RTÉ’s Sunday Miscellany and her work is in five Sunday Miscellany anthologies. She read as part of Poetry Ireland Introductions series, Out to Lunch readings and took part in the Clé Author and Publisher library tour. Her work has been published in The SHOp, Poetry Ireland Review, The Stinging Fly and West 47. She is a founder of the Errigal Writers’ Group and received an MA in poetry from Lancaster University through the Poets’ House. She has wide experience of giving creative writing workshops in national and secondary schools in Donegal as well as working with adult groups.

When did you start writing poetry? Firstly, I know the moment when I started to love poetry, it was when I read Seamus Heaney’s poem, Docker. We were studying the poem as part of the English segment in a foundation course in Magee College and I loved the imagery in the line; He sits, strong and blunt as a Celtic cross. It was the first time that I could see into a poem for myself. The course was to be my return to education but instead it was my awakening to poetry. I was in my thirties and I had young children. I would never have considered writing a poem before that time. I started reading poetry and writing my own pieces. I was so thrilled with myself when I started producing work. The excitement of seeing new words appear has never left me. There were two strong forces in Co. Donegal at the time – The Killybegs Writers Group and Letterkenny Writers Group – so there were people who were supportive and showed great encouragement. Eventually a group of us evolved into Errigal Writers and we still meet twice a month.

What’s been the greatest obstacle to becoming (and remaining) a poet? The “who do you think you are?” chorus sitting on my shoulder. But the question could be; what has helped you stay writing? This is a great country for writing and I have had so much support, starting with my local community. There isn’t a week goes by that I am not asked “are you still writing?” by someone who is willing you on. When we first started Errigal Writers we organized Gerard Byrne to give us workshops and the Irish Writers Centre helped us out. We continued to bring other established writers to Donegal over the years and they have all treated us with a professional respect. I was lucky to be chosen for the Writers Workshop in UCG ( as it was then) with Paula Meehan as our facilitator. You can’t get a more professional, and yet compassionate, person to work with. I was fortunate also to be able to do the MA course in the Poets’ House in Falcaragh. There are so many established writers who are generous with their time and energy. I’m on the directory for Poetry Ireland’s Writers in the Schools and that experience is wonderful.

What gets you started on a poem—idea, image, personal experience? The greatest motivation I have is being a member of the Errigal Writers. When I know we are due to meet things start moving in the back of my mind for a while. I become more aware of my surroundings and more susceptible to imagery around me. I will read more poetry in those days and watch performances on you tube. And then I try to find a silence that lets creativity come into the room. I have found my favourite type of moleskine notebooks and I always write the first drafts in longhand. I just love that moment when the first draft is finished.

How did you go about getting your poetry published? You have to get work published in magazines; Poetry Ireland Review, the Stinging Fly, The SHOp were the magazines who first accepted my work. I also had pieces on Sunday Miscellany and I love recording for radio. Again I’m fortunate in that Joan and Kate Newmann of Summer Palace Press have a home in Donegal. They used to hold wonderful workshops and readings in their home in Kilcar. Eventually they accepted my manuscript and published Take a Deep Breath in 2004. They put so much work into the editing process that it is a gift when the book is published. My second book , How to Spin Without Getting Dizzy came out in 2010.

You are very involved in community-based projects, how did this happen and why is it important to you? I’m not as involved as I should be but I live in Co. Donegal, we don’t have organisations running readings and workshops on an ongoing basis so the Arts Scene kind of works from the earth upwards. Our Arts Officer, Traolach O’Fionnain is very approachable and he encourages us to create events. There were times in the group energy where we needed to perform, or meet other writers, or work with established writers or publish work, so the only thing for it was to organise it ourselves. North West Words is a group who now hold readings with featured writers and open-mic on the last Thursday of every month. I do think there is a hunger for poetry readings here.

Are festivals a good outlet for poets? Festivals have the funding for organising events and advertising. Anything that gets poets and writers performing in an area is good.

Do female poets face particular challenges? Do young male poets seem to have a higher profile? Yes. But whether that means that female poets face more challenges I’m not sure. It is a very long road.

What are you writing next? I’m writing poems for now. That is what is coming when I put the pen to paper and I’m grateful for them. Hopefully it will shape into a third manuscript.

Any advice for emerging writers? Love what you are doing. Work at the craft. Read. Be prepared for the long distance not a sprint. Don’t be crucified by rejections. Look carefully at the word emerging, it carries hope and a future. It isn’t: never-going-to-happen writers, but emerging. I love the feeling that anything can happen once you are writing and sending out work.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Irish Writers, Irish Writers Centre, IWC, Lunchtime Readings, poetry

Mary Costello & The Short Story

As a reader I like the contained feel of a short story. The voice must reach me. I like to be disarmed, taken into a character’s head, to experience some small almost imperceptible shift in their being. The best short stories have a purity – like poetry – that reduces the reader. But of course, there must be a story worth telling, too – the reader expects this to be delivered. My own stories are fairly conventional in the sense that they tell a story in a mostly linear way. I’ve been writing for years and had some early stories published in New Irish Writing, and was shortlisted for a HennessyAward  in the 1990s.

I didn’t have much luck publishing anything then and I stopped sending work out. I did continue to write – I wrote a novel or two – but I was teaching full-time too so the writing waned. I taught in primary schools in Tallaght and more recently in Harold’s Cross. About two years ago I sent two stories to The Stinging Fly literary magazine. Sean O’Reilly was guest editing the summer issue and he liked a story I sent in and published it. Declan Meade liked them too and asked to see more. Luckily I had a bunch of stories written over the years. From that he wanted to do the collection. It was kind of a dream come true – I thought these stories and characters were destined to spend their lives gathering dust in the corner of a dark wardrobe! Getting a book published is something that stops me short when I think of it these days, approaching the publication. Putting it together for The Stinging Fly Press has seemed amazingly easy – Declan’s way of working with writers, I think, makes it feel that way.

It can be difficult to keep on writing if you’re not getting published. You lose heart and stop sending stuff out. That’s why literary magazines and online sites for the short story are so important. You need to feel part of some kind of writing community too. Some of the stories were written fifteen years ago, some are more recent. They are quite varied, both in setting and in characters; they deal with ordinary people – men and women of all ages – in both rural and urban or suburban settings. I am interested in the seemingly small events that can suddenly turn a life, and how the characters not only cope with these, externally, but more especially how they mediate them internally, how they strive for interior coherence. Fate and chance play have a presence in many of the stories. I always start off with a character, a voice. If that comes right early on, then you have greater faith in the story. If not, it can be quite disheartening.

Mary will read a story entitled And Who Will Pay Charon from her forthcoming collection The China Factory at the IWC tomorrow at 1pm.  


Filed under Irish Writers, Irish Writers Centre, IWC, literature, Lunchtime Readings, new writing, short fiction, Short Story, writing

Poetry as a performative act

Paul Perry is the author and editor of a number of critically acclaimed books including The Drowning of the Saints, Goldsmith’s Ghost, 108 Moons and The Orchid Keeper. A recipient of the Hennessy New Irish Writer of the Year Award for his short story The Judge, which was later collected in The New Hennessy Book of Irish Fiction, Perry’s first book of poetry The Drowning of the Saints was published in 2003 to critical acclaim and was short-listed for the Rupert and Eithne Strong Award for Best First Collection at the Poetry Now Festival in Dun Laoghaire, Dublin. It was subsequently awarded The Listowel Prize for Poetry. He is also the editor of Heartland, an anthology of contemporary writing from Co. Longford, and Goldsmith’s Ghost, a collaborative novel which he devised and to which he also contributed, published by Heartland Press. Paul teaches creative writing for Kingston University, London, and University College Dublin and is Course Director in Poetry for the Faber Academy in Dublin. He will take part in the Irish Writers’ Centre Lunctime Reading series this Friday, 16th March. All welcome!

Each poem bristles with life and longing, intelligence and wit. These are lines and stanzas and peoms that signal wisdom beyond his youth. In this sense he is a prodigiously gifted poet.

When did the writing start!? I started writing when I was a child. I had to take extra English classes at school as a 7 year old. I remember the teacher helping me with the spelling of the word ‘breakfast.’  ’Look it’s really two words: break and fast. Anglo saxon. To break your fast.’ That and the German language all around me – it was a German school – was enough to get me hooked on language.

What’s been the greatest obstacle to becoming (and remaining) a poet? Earning a living.

How did you go about getting your poetry published? Sent it out, was rejected, wrote, rewrote, discarded, reimagined it, rewrote it, sent it out again …

How important is it to read your work aloud to an audience? Poetry for me is not the declarative exclamation of social realism – read, read out loud, filmed, whatever, it’s all a performative act, one which acknowledges the human voice, and intimately reveals our humanity to each other. So, yes, it’s important.

Should poets, as Shelley argued, act as ‘unofficial legislators’? No, as Larkin said, this describes better the secret police.

Have you ever published poems which now you wish you hadn’t had published? Yes, but you move on.

You’ve written a fair bit about Longford (i.e. the Irish midlands) – an area that is often neglected in modern Irish literature – was this deliberate or is the rural landscape a more challenging topic than cityscape? Not deliberate no. I found myself after a decade of living in the US – Houston, Chicago, Providence, Miami – returned to Ireland. My first job was Writer in Residence in Longford. I was responding to the two years I lived there over the Camlin river.

You’ve written a collaborative novel: Goldsmith’s Ghost, was this a particularly challenging project, clashing styles, varied tastes, etc? I relish the opportunity to work with others on collaborative projects. I recently edited two collaborative teenage novels for dlr libraries and like Maureen Seaton, I’m interested in the frisson which can result from writing with others. Goldsmiths Ghost was great fun. I can still remember the drives I took with the arts officer to meet and discuss the next chapter with the next writer. It’s a funny novel and I still have a soft spot for it.

What are you writing next? I’ve just finished editing Beyond the Workshop, published by Kingston University press. It’s a book on the evolution and future of the creative writing workshop. More details on my blog.I’m also working on new poems and translations and an experimental prose project.

Any advice for emerging writers? Keep things up in the air.


Filed under Irish Writers Centre, IWC, Lunchtime Readings, new writing, poetry

Poet Geraldine Mitchell at IWC

Geraldine Mitchell is reading this Friday as part of the Lunchtime Reading series at the Irish Writers’ Centre on Friday, March 2nd at 1.05pm. The Lunchtime Readings run (on Fridays) throughout February and March in the Irish Writers’ Centre and are organised in association with Poetry Ireland. The readings will be alternating between prose and poetry, offering audiences the chance to experience a wide-range of literary talent. Here’s an interview printed in the Mayo News with Geraldine (written by Áine Ryan).


THE difference between the view from the rock of Gibraltar and from the remote, windswept landscape of Devlin, near Louisburgh is patently dramatic. The Mediterranean and the Atlantic create very distinctive colours and moods with the elemental power of their seasonal and whimsical brushstrokes. Poet, Geraldine Mitchell has an intimate knowledge of these natural tableaux. Her poetic interpretations and musings in her recently launched book, ‘World Without Maps’, are more nuanced. They microscopically unfurl ‘the layered scents’ of her sensitive observations.


Geraldine Mitchell was born in affluent Dublin 2 to a Presbyterian father and a Methodist mother. While she attended Primary school in Dublin, her parents packed her off to a boarding school in Scotland when she was just 12 years old ‘because they felt there wasn’t a good enough Protestant school in Ireland’. “I think temperamentally boarding school didn’t suit me. I was very independent and for example refused to go to church. I’m not sure now if I totally challenged the poor principal, at the time it didn’t feel like that. Eventually, I got a room in the attic – my own little garret – and had a special regime.”


For over a decade, Geraldine has lived on the edge of the ocean near Killeen. In an earlier life she reported on the killing of the Gibraltar Three – Mairéad Farrell, Sean Savage and Daniel McCann. These IRA activists were shot by British SAS soldiers on March 6, 1988, accused of plotting to bomb a military ceremony. At the time, Mitchell had tentatively launched her brief career as a freelance journalist. “The Irish Times sent over their journalist Andy Pollak but he didn’t have Spanish, so I did all the interviews. I remember skipping past all the police at Malaga police headquarters and going up to the top of the old building to talk to the police officer who had leaked the story to the Press. He was no longer in charge of the case”.


“Andy Pollak taught me a lot about the complexities of the Republican movement. I had left Ireland when I was 20. Andy helped me get behind the facile interpretations of what was happening in the north.” Geraldine, who had worked as an English teacher in France for some years, moved to Spain with her two children, then aged eleven and eight, in 1982. Her marriage to a French man subsequently ended in 1984. “I had always loved writing and then I discovered the Spanish language, and it opened up a whole new world for me. I began to find teaching a little predictable, so I started freelancing, doing a bit for the Sunday Tribune and The Irish Times. It wasn’t easy.” It was sometime during 1985 or 1986 that Spanish teaching colleagues suggested that Geraldine organise a holiday in Ireland, somewhere in the west and – ‘in pure serendipity’ – she rented a house owned by well-known authors Michael and Ethna Viney, right across from her present home in Devlin.


“I totally fell in love with the place, and because my marriage had ended, I felt I needed a fixed point in my life and that I needed to reconnect with Ireland.” So, Geraldine let it be known to locals that she was on the look-out to purchase a house. “The following winter the house I now own came up for sale. I bought it, sight-unseen. It was a great adventure for the kids and myself and for the ensuing years we came every August for the entire month.” Finding the home of her dreams was not the only serendipitous twist in her life. While living in London for a time, Geraldine met her second husband, Neil Middleton – a publisher and later a writer for NGOs through connections with the (resourceful!) Vineys. In 1992 the couple moved to her native Dublin for a time where she wrote her two Children’s books, and a biography of Muriel Gahan, founder of The Country Shop and champion of rural Irish women. Some years later, shocking news of a breast cancer diagnosis ‘catapulted’ the decision to move full-time to the west, Geraldine explains. Resilient as always, when she recovered, she was soon involved with the Louisburgh Community Project as a volunteer and when a job came up later she worked as a Development Worker from 2001 until 2007.


“While working for the project, we set up a writing group and invited Jean Tuomey to facilitate the group. She has a great gift of bringing the best out in people. I wasn’t at all convinced about writing groups, but I decided to sit in on it. Jean puts you in touch with your subconscious, because that’s where poetry comes from.” The first poem Mitchell had published was in the Cork journal, The SHOp, in 2006. Two years later – having made her application while on a Mayo County Council bursary at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig – she won the prestigious Patrick Kavanagh Award. She couldn’t believe it! “People think I write poetry because I live in a beautiful place. But I don’t write about the beauty of the place; but because of its beauty I can find the space to listen to myself. It also affords me the space and time to read a lot.”
“In a funny way, poetry is a way of thinking and seeing. When you look at a landscape the normal way, you look at it is horizontally; poetry makes you look at it vertically, to go down into yourself … “In poetry you want to touch people in a way that they come away from the poem with a new feeling. It is such a shame people are put off by the word poetry, just like they are by classical music. Poetry is a way of understanding, a way of life.” World Without Maps by Geraldine Mitchell is published by Arlen House.


Deep in the pockets of my memory
are coins rubbed smooth from fingering,
stories I have hoarded, guarded
from the corruption of sharing.
The night we spent in the one-room house
in Kabylia, after broad beans and buttermilk
from a single dish.
You in the big bed with him.
The honour.
Me and his wife on the floor.
How in the night she wrapped her arms around me,
and from behind the fortress of her belly
her child tapped messages on my back.
– Geraldine Mitchell

Leave a Comment

Filed under Lunchtime Readings, poetry

Paint in words, paint in images

Shane Connaughton will be reading as part of the Lunchtime Reading series at the Irish Writers’ Centre today Friday, 24th February at 1.05pm. The Lunchtime Readings will run on Fridays throughout February and March in the Irish Writers’ Centre and are organised in association with Poetry Ireland. The readings will be alternating between prose and poetry, offering audiences the chance to experience a wide-range of literary talent.

How and why did you begin writing? The how and the why are identical twins. A mixture of aloneness and wanting to express that so I could fill my head with friends. Also an urge to tell the world about the people I met.

You have written screen plays (of the most famous being ‘My Left Foot”) and novels. If you have completed a script and your next project happens to be a novel how do you make the mental/intellectual switch between the two genres? Is there one side of the brain for screen writing and one for the novel? It’s like a cobbler going from a clog to a shoe. Or a boot to a high heel. It’s just part of the job. It’s Grub Street out there. So you have to do what pays. One can illuminate the other. You paint in words, you paint in images. You write about a mirror or you look into it.

On screen writing you have suggested elsewhere that a treatment for a film-movie script should shorter rather than longer. How long? What would be the maximum words in terms of the “sell” for a treatment? Two or three pages are enough for starters. If it grabs the attention they’ll ask you for more. One good page is better than ten dud pages.

When it comes to screen writing what makes the best balance between scene description and directions, and the dialogue? Some Producers want everything explained. Others want the minimum. Tell it simply so a child can get it. Never underestimate the stupidity of a Producer. He understands the market maybe. Not the art. He can sell your beast at the Mart. He can’t feed it beforehand. Dialogue is “ear”. Listen to people at the bus stop. In the street. They talk crooked, not in straight lines.

You are a Cavan man! In terms of films and books do the “Border Counties” get enough attention in Irish culture given that they seem to be a hinterland between the burgeoning conurbations of Greater Dublin even up along the eastern coast and life in Northern Ireland? Is hinterland a rich seam to mine stories from? Probably don’t get enough attention. The capital always comes first in every country. Except Australia. (Canberra?) You had Brendan Behan and Patrick Kavanagh. Who was the best? The Border does have a great edge. But no matter where you come from, edge is the thing you need. A good edge – you can cut with it. The Border country is my territory. I love juggling two realities instead of one. Two languages, two religions, two sets of politics…But then London is my country too. So is Stoke-On-Trent. So is anywhere I’ve ever lived.

You have “crossed the line” from actor to director, and possibly back again. Did you find it easier to script and direct having treaded the boards? Yes. Acting is a great way to learn how to write. You see how it works. It’s all about an audience. Never forget your audience. Even if it’s only your Auntie Mary. (Or your Uncle Mary)

Corrie fans will be delighted to hear that you acted in Coronation Street! This brings up the apparent divide between ‘popular’ and so-called ‘high culture’. Do you think budding screen writers should be eclectic? Should they be prepared to script for a soap as much as to the art house cinema project they have been obsessed with since they were teenagers? Just remember “ART” hasn’t got a capital “A”. Especially in theatre. A writer should be prepared for anything. If he/she/it wants to make a living from it. There aren’t any rules. If you see yourself as an art house person – go for it. Beckett did. If he needed the money though, I’m sure he’d have turned out scripts for Coronation Street. Shakespeare did it for both. The Court as well as the Groundlings. Obsession is a good word.

What is your next project and what does it entail? My next project is the filming of A Border Station. Hopefully this year in Cavan. But I’m also acting in my own play – The Pitch. That’s a Cavan play but it’s based on Philoctetes. I’m also writing the follow-up to A Border Station.

What advice do you have for budding screen writers? There are, as I said before, no rules. If it works – anything goes. If it doesn’t – you’ve broken the rules. Be true to yourself. If you have a story, write it, get your friends to act in it, get, borrow, steal a digital camera, it’s so much cheaper nowadays and getting cheaper. If you have a play, put it on over a pub or in the street, or…anywhere. You CAN send it to theatres. But most of those places are run by educated morons. Don’t give up. Be wary of ex-teachers. And Cert X Producers.

After working on farms, in factories and city offices, Shane Connaughton trained as an actor at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. He has played leading parts in rep at Perth, Scarborough, Victoria Theatre Stoke-On-Trent, The Half National Theatre London, toured with 7:84 Theatre Company, Pirate Jenny, The Tricycle Theatre. His numerous television credits include Coronation Street. He has acted in films for Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, Gillies McKinnon, Jon Avnet and Peter Yates. He has written plays for the National Theatre (Sir is Winning), the Victoria Theatre (Western Coyney Cowboy), Half Moon Theatre (George Davis is Innocent OK), 7:84 (Relegated), Dublin Theatre Festival (Divisions). His film work includes the scripts for Every Picture Tells A Story, My Left Foot, The Playboys, The Run Of The Country, O Mary This London, Dollar Bottom, Tara Road.  For My Left Foot he was nominated for an Academy Award. Dollar Bottom won the Academy Award for best “Live Action Short”. He has won the George Devine Award, The Hennessy Literary Award, The London Irish Post Award. He has been the subject of two television documentaries A Border Childhood (BBC TV)and From Redhills to Beverly Hills (RTE).  A Border Station, his highly praised first novel, was shortlisted for The Guinness Peat Literary Award with the Irish Independent commenting  “Comparisons with the work of John McGahern and Patrick Kavanagh is inevitable…It is a tribute to Connaughton that his child’s view of life holds its own with those two giants.” He has recently starred in his own play The Pitch at The New Theatre, Dublin and on tour around Ireland.

1 Comment

Filed under Irish Writers, Irish Writers Centre, Lunchtime Readings, new writing

Lee Dunne: crying out your nose


Lee Dunne is a [prolific] novelist, short story writer, playwright and radio scriptwriter. He lives in Dublin with his wife Maura and has spent almost all his adult life scribbling stories. He leapt to fame in the mid-sixties with his novel, Goodbye To The Hill, followed by A Bed In The Sticks. He’s written twenty novels in total! Dancers of Fortune is his latest book. A few months ago he signed a contract with Northern Ireland Film for his screenplay of Sent By An Angel, adapted from the book of the same name by Kevin Skelton and Yvonne Kinsella. Next week at the Irish Writers’ Centre (20th – 22nd) he performs a week-long lunchtime run of his delightful one-man-show, No Time For Innocence. After going down a storm at the Peregrine Readings last November, he’ll dramatise his warm and funny material from Goodbye To The Hill and other works, meshing it all with musical memories. A natural performer, Lee’s show promises to amuse and delight (and possibly make you cry out your nose, so bring tissues). Thanks to the fabulous Bibliofemme website for this insightful interview where Lee talks about being labelled a ‘nutcase’, abseiling through the Manhattan years, bibles, blues, writing through the night and how not to pop your clogs.

Did you always want to be a writer – or did you fall into it? Yes. From the time I was seven-years-old I knew I wanted to be a writer. Originally it was screen writing that captured my interest. Being part of the Picture Generation (I was seven yrs old in 1941 – just after the Ark sank!) I got to the movies even when I had to steal (literally, the four pence required to get you in without having to climb through the lavatory window which happened more than once) I fell in love with Movies and noticed that what someone had written was what took place on screen – it didn’t just happen, like! I really was into reading the credits as a young boy – and of course, being gabby little me, I told one and all “I’m going to be a writer” which got me the label ‘nutcase’ as far as the family were concerned. Didn’t stop me – I knew what I wanted and whatever I did from then on, it was with a view to finding a way to make a crust out of scribbling.

What made you to decide to write this book? I didn’t decide to write Dancers of Fortune. God bless it, this lovely book just happened to me and I am thrilled skinny to have been part of whatever process produced it, for I certainly didn’t write it after saying “I’m going to write a historical type story” or whatever. I suppose I should explain a bit more – Dancers – the germ of it, first happened to me in the 80s. I was living in Manhattan and Harper & Rowe gave me an advance on an outline to write a book that I was calling Ethics of the Fathers. I wrote this bodice ripper that they didn’t like (thank God I didn’t have to return the bread) and I put the MS away and forgot all about it. Not because I’m blasé or anything like that – I just get so many ideas that I rarely get bogged down if something doesn’t work. In 2003 I got this urge to write Dancers. It was a sprouting of something that had been in Ethics but I’ve no idea how much it owes to that first draft. Because it was 23 years since I’d looked at that MS and I never bothered to go back to it. Not difficult because Dancers was soon writing itself and anyway, I had no idea where the original MS had gone to. Dancers was like a gift to me from some loving scribbler gone before who decided to give me a break, a chance to make some pension money and get some good reviews, before I pop my clogs. I’ve read it since it was published and I have to say I found it wonderful, a terrific story well told with lots of interesting characters and many good story lines with all the ingredients to make some kind of bestseller. Now you couldn’t say something like that about a book you thought you’d written – it was a gift and I cherish it and that’s the total truth about Dancers.

This book is based in Dublin in the early 1900s. What level of research did you have to do before writing it? I read a lot anyway, and when I find something of interest that I didn’t already know, I make a note, cut out a clipping, whatever – in this way I was compiling stuff without even thinking about where it is going. So it was basically reading research and my wife Maura made time to find things I needed but couldn’t be bothered to look for. I talked to some men who had lived back then, remembering stories my mother and grandmother told, and that was about it.

Is the character Sam Sweet based on anyone? (great name by the way!) Sam Sweet is based on myself, I suppose. All the characters get some bit of you – the good guy gets your good guy, the bad guy gets your bad guy. Even the women get a bit of me out of my feminine side which I have never been afraid of – and even less so now that I am an OAP though personally I think 70 is the new 50. The name Sam Sweet fell into my lap while I was working (illegally) for a legal firm in Manhattan. This older lawyer, 85 and still dapper each morning as he came to work like a man in his late 50s. I came to love the guy and we were pals and I used his name in honour of his memory and I just know he’s delighted up there in some Jewish heaven that Sam has such a good and active and healthy sex life in the book!

Did you know how this book was going to end before you started writing it? I didn’t know how the book was going to end at any time during the writing. Eight pages from the end I could not have said how it was going to close. I would swear to this on a stack of Bibles – the revelation at the end was such a surprise I felt sure it would satisfy even the most demanding reader. It seems I’ve turned out to be right, nice change! I’m only messing! When I write for the screen I have a good idea of how it will end – not necessarily details, but a good broad understanding of where it’s going – with books, never, not even in a thriller.

You have written so much, fiction, non-fiction, plays, television series – what do you enjoy writing the most? Most of all I enjoy the book writing process. I love to have the time a novel demands to watch it simmer and cook away and be there with a new aroma in the morning. I write questions of the characters most days at work’s end. “Hey Sam, where are you in relation to this latest bombshell?” – this kind of thing. Yes, I love book writing most of all.

How long does it take you to write a book? I’ve written quickie books in the past in as little as seven days – they were funny sexy books about London cab drivers. I would just sit down and go and trust that the story would happen. It did. Five of those were published in the UK and I never had to rewrite a line. They were fun to do but I began to get worried when the 5th novel took 13 days. Barleycorn Blues and Dancers really happened to me at the same time. I was into BBs early in 2003 and the next thing I know Dancers is knocking on the door. I tried to ignore it but it wouldn’t quit so I began tapping that out so many days a week, before going back to BBs. As it turned out the two books wrote themselves in that same year and I gave both of them to Poolbeg in October 2003. It was a great and happy creative time but I will say I did punch in the hours, day after day for seven or eight months, the stories waking me at 4am and such. Several nights my wife Maura, who is a late night lady, found me getting up and she was getting into bed. That’s exciting when a story wakes you up – it might be just a note you need to make one night – but mostly in 2003 the need to get back to the development of the books was the sweetest alarm clock a guy ever heard.

What was the last good book you’ve read? John McGahern’s Amongst Women. What a writer! Wow!

If I banished you to a desert Island for a month, what five books would you bring with you? Dancers of Fortune, The novels of James Lee Burke, Prizzi’s Honour – Richard Condon, Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy and Look Homeward Angel – Thomas Wolfe.

What advice would you give to someone who is trying to write? Make a comfortable space (even a corner in your bedroom) that is all yours. Sit down and start writing. Aim for three pages a day. Don’t analyse, don’t criticise, just write. It doesn’t matter what it is – just write and write until you develop the start of a writing habit. Write down, right now, that Lee Dunne is talking hay here. Like I have something to write about. You don’t. Just start. Use me or anybody to get words on paper. When you have done this for a month, and have lost the urge to produce a bestseller or a great work of art (you should live so long) – then start to write a story based on the things you know about. Write everything, the caveat being that nobody but you sees it. If you write in fear of what your mother or critics or Gang Busters will think of it, you are not writing but you are becoming a tailor and will no doubt make good suits. Write it all out, even the things you wouldn’t want anybody to know. When you have a good section of your story written – like, say, a couple of hundred pages – then you can go back and edit. But only you get to do this at this stage. I’ll bet you won’t edit half as much as you thought you would when you were writing. So go for it and don’t listen to anybody that you couldn’t possibly write. Get some pages down – doesn’t matter what is it, then stop and look at it, and good or bad, it is writing. If it must be bestseller writing, forget about it.

What’s next for you? Are you currently working on the next novel? Right now I’m writing the sequel to Dancers – working title is Seasons of Destiny – which Poolbeg want to publish next spring. It covers the years 1920 to 1939 (I believe there are four books in the overall saga) and it’s going well at the minute. I do lots of other things too. I review books for the Sunday Independent, am now a columnist of Local News and sometimes sing with a real orchestra, doing all the standards of Gershwin, Kern, Porter, Arlen, Berlin. Songs I have loved all my life.


Leave a Comment

Filed under Fiction, Irish Writers Centre, IWC, Lee Dunne, Lunchtime Readings