Category Archives: new writing

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

Pride and Petulance

dream

 

By Diana Friedman

A petulant writer confession: I almost didn’t make it to Dublin this trip. Many years ago, a good friend asked me: when is the last time you really let yourself feel desire for something you want? We weren’t talking designer shoes or beachfront holiday property but deep soul-wrenching desire, the kind that makes your heart swell and expand into your cavity when you finally give yourself permission to chase that long-elusive dream.

I answered that question by diving into my novel. With two young children and a demanding job, it was no small feat researching and writing a story partially set in another country. Never mind facing down all the fears that had kept me from attempting it up until then.

During the time spent writing the book, I’ve learned that the heart is a sensitive little creature. One of the consequences of reaching inside so you can hold this lovely little pulsating, squirming core of self in your hands is that when you hit a road block, as I did a few weeks ago, it truly can disintegrate, leaving you vulnerable to falling to pieces.

Back in October 2012 I submitted the first four chapters of my novel to the Novel Fair at the Irish Writers’ Centre. I knew it was a long shot—the first year of the competition, the Centre had over 500 entries. In general, odds are never good in contests like these.

lepglassesI wasn’t planning to submit, but a number of friends encouraged me to apply, as I’d already invested so much time researching the book and doing due diligence to make sure I captured Dublin as is, not just as a city rich in its past and pubs or, as portrayed through the typical Americanist-leprechauny-four-leaf-cloverly-Guiness-tinted glasses.

And, I was no longer a neophyte. I’d been at the book for six years, was working with a professional editor, and had just placed an excerpt for publication. Three pieces of my work had recently been shortlisted in competitions in the States.

So, what was to lose? For 40 euros—a lot of money for one contest, yes, but as a donation to a Writer’s Centre, particularly to the Irish Writers’ Centre and all it offers, not very much at all—authors were to submit the first 10,000 words of a novel, and two judges would pick the top ten entries. Those ten authors would then receive the privilege of one full day of pitching directly to agents and editors from Ireland and the UK. For the non-writers among us, this is the equivalent of being handed an all-you-can-eat card at ten five-star restaurants in France.

As the date approached, I grew more excited about the prospect of being selected. A year earlier, I had attended the Algonkian Pitch Conference in New York City. If I could survive pitching to New York editors, Dublin, I imagined, would be a breeze.

The format for the New York pitch conference was completely different than Dublin. After submitting a synopsis to the conference organizers, applicants were either accepted or denied. If accepted, for the price of trip to Europe, plus some, attendees registered to spend a day and a half learning how to hone their 30 second pitch, and were then given two and a half days to pitch directly to four editors from the New York City publishing world.

It was hard to delineate where the adrenaline bled into the anxiety at the New York conference, except to say that by day four, the hallways smelled like a slaughterhouse just before the cows went under the blade. I have relatives in New York, so I got off easy, financially speaking, but most attendees had spent thousands of dollars to get to and stay in the city. Furthering the tension, we were meeting at the Horace Greely studios in Midtown Manhattan, home to dance and theatre audition spaces. The two groups were easy to distinguish—the dancers cavorted in hot colored spandex with beautiful erect posture, while the writers slouched around in baggy pants, hunched over their manuscripts and laptops. The entire atmosphere was choose me, choose me, choose me, a cramped and antiquated New York City building jammed with dozens of people sharing the same fantasy—that all their years of hard work would finally be met with reward.

We were divided into four sections of 15 writers each, and lucky for me, I wound up with a remarkable group of supportive and encouraging women. We didn’t start menstruating together, but it was the kind of group that had we been there longer, I’m sure we would have. Under the guidance of our very able workshop leader, we were primed, edited, and then instructed in the basics—be polite, articulate, look the editor in the eye, keep the responses brief and focused. And dress nicely. It was a bit like finishing school for writers. By the end of the first day, excitement was running high.

And then the editors arrived.

The first one was from Penguin. She listened to our pitches, asked questions, told us what she liked and what she didn’t, and gave us suggestions for improvement. Over lunch she talked with our workshop leader and gave her the list of books she wanted to see. She selected three.

But as the editors made their selections, and people realized they might not get chosen, the mood shifted. The conference organisers had clearly stated that if your book was not getting selected, it probably meant your pitch was too unfocused, which in turn, was a reflection on the state of your book. This was, not surprisingly, very hard for people to hear. In the hallways, people insisted they’d been put in the wrong group and hence were pitching to the wrong editor, or, blamed the editors for being too narrow-minded. The environment truly was a bit like Survivor for Writers—there were only so many people who were going to be selected—but our group supported and cheered one another on so that by the end most of us felt that the impromptu community we formed was probably the most valuable part of the conference.

Before the New York Pitch conference, my novel had received interest from a prominent agent, who later rejected it after I completed significant rewrites, suggesting I work with a different kind of agent to bring it to publication. I suspected that this meant that the book was good, but not quite good enough for the big leagues. And I knew that selling a book at this conference—despite what the web site promised—was going to be next to impossible, so I entered with somewhat low expectations, which made the landing somewhat easier for me. I wanted to test the market potential of my idea, learn how to pitch the book, and then, if I was lucky, get the manuscript into the hands of an editor who could tell me what precisely the book needed. I was very lucky; I managed all three. The editor who read my novel gave me very concrete feedback on what the novel needed to come to full strength. She offered to look at it following rewrites and point me to some agents. It was a rejection, but as far as rejections go, it was as good as they get.

The Dublin Novel Fair was completely different. The price was right, but only ten lucky writers were going to be selected. It was pretty clear that anyone who made that cut would have a very good chance of getting their book into the hands of agents and editors, since the vetting had already been done.

anxI waited, waited, waited, my mind spiraling with anticipation and anxiety. And layered below my excitement percolated a question that I really wanted answered: had any of the passion I experienced in writing the book come through in the story telling in a way that would resonate on the other side of the pond (this side, that is)? In November, a very kind relative bought me a plane ticket as a birthday present, under the assumption that I would go to Dublin either way, as I was once again tackling significant rewrites. I made a hotel reservation and I was all set.

When I learned I was not selected, though, all I could manage was to reach for the phone, from very deep underneath the covers, to turn in my ticket. For days, I could not bear the thought of being in Dublin knowing that there would be ten lucky bastards eating fillet while I would be sucking up crumbs across town.

And, so, such is the nature of desire; when we heed its call, it takes us to amazing new heights, but how much harder the fall when we don’t reach the destination.

And yet, forcing myself to take my book to completion has taught me a few things about surviving this business. In particular, I’ve had to learn that staying the course sometimes means surrendering to the immaturity of my artist self.  It is a child-like and vulnerable being. It has to be. How else to open myself up and get under and inside the skin of the characters and scenarios I’m creating?

But when it comes time to face the world—the rejections and cruelties and dismissals, that artist self needs quite a bit of help. Because it is also petulant. And irritable. It becomes a delicate balancing act, allowing the artist-self some tantrum time, and then knowing when it’s time for the adult self to step in—first with compassion, and then a gentle shove back into the world, the same way a parent helps a child along with a skinned knee or a failed exam. And, most importantly, making sure that no matter how bad things feel, that the adult self is the one who faces the world in those hard times—with professionalism and decorum.

Somehow, this time I missed that part about the adult self. It wasn’t until after watching me drown my head in my seventh batch of chocolate chip cookies, that my very same good friend poked me in the ribs and asked: what exactly would be the downside to going? 

And this is why she is such a good friend. Because once I put away the chocolate I knew she was right. In fact, I realized, all the contest had done was paralyse me. I had two directions to take the rewrites of the book, one focused for an Irish audience, and one for the American women’s fiction market. In the three months while waiting for the response, unable to decide which one I was going forward with, I worked on precisely neither of them.

So I stuffed my suitcase with rain gear and then, for reinforcement, made a quick pit stop at my neighborhood hippie haven. Hillary, local Goddess extraordinaire, smudged me with sage and cedar for creative inspiration and good luck. Holly, a massage therapist of zero balancing expertise, passed along visions of me grounded inside a huge pyramid while on the plane. It was an image, I have to confess, I had never considered, but rather liked. It made take-off and landing a bit less traumatic.

By the time I arrived to Dublin, I had mostly forgotten about the Novel Fair. June Caldwell welcomed me warmly and has been an enormous help with my project, as have so many others around the Centre, including random writers popping in and out to talk with me, and the Ink Splinters, a writer’s group that so kindly opened their circle to me one night.

As the Novel Fair date approached and I watched the staff move chairs and tables around the Centre in preparation, I admit to some curiosity, but it was more fly-on-the-wall type.

Happily clicking away on my laptop on this blog and my book, what I mostly felt was relief that I wasn’t going through it again. Eventually I will be pushing the novel at US conferences when it’s ready, but for now, how much more fun it was to be in Dublin,  and, rather than suffer the anguish of selling, bask in the pleasure of writing.

The publishing industry may be fickle and arbitrary, but such is the nature of art;  no voice will ever speak to everyone. Expecting any work of art to resonate across the board is simply setting yourself up for disappointment. As artists, when we become dependent on others to validate our voices, it’s easy to freeze and lose ourselves.

I’ll close out with another confession: Halfway through writing this blog I still have no idea what it means to be an American writer in Dublin, as June dubbed me, but it’s a label I’ve happily worn and enjoyed. Because while the blog format will most likely never attain the same status as the short story or essay, it’s a powerful tool for a writer—pure voice, unadulterated and luminous and radiant as voice comes.

windowIndeed, gazing out from the Centre’s top floor classroom window over the rooftops and chimneys and historic buildings of Dublin, my heart once again thumping safely and softly, the words and stories erupting non-stop in an almost mystical energetic flow, I re-discovered one critically important thing: losing one’s voice may be misery-inducing, indeed, but in the whole entire world, for this writer anyway, there is absolutely and truly nothing better than getting it back.

 

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diana

Diana Friedman’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 Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/DianaFriedmanwriter or follow her on Twitter @Dfriedmanwriter

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Filed under Beginning the Novel, Creative Writing, Dublin Event, new writing, Novel Fair, novels, publishing, writing groups

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

A year in self publishing

Maura Byrne

BY MAURA BYRNE

I didn’t plan to self-publish when I started writing but after a few years of rejections, a couple of half-offers and finally the offer of a book contract which my lawyer instructed me not to sign, I felt I couldn’t wait any longer. I’d worked with two story editors and children were telling me they loved the book – I knew it was time to release Bridget in Werewolf Rehab.

hamptonsThe first thing I had to do was find a printer. I chose Original Writing because they had relationships in the Irish retail network. The cover came next. I’d heard Easons say that an attractive cover was paramount. Since ‘Bridget’ is a werewolf and the story is comic fantasy, Matt Ryder’s quirky animal illustrations were perfect. I published on Amazon and Smashwords (it’s inexpensive) and ordered the book ‘Self-Printed.’ I took delivery of ‘Bridget’ two days before Christmas, immediately dropping copies into my local bookshop Hampton Books.

But how was I going to successfully reach 9-12 year olds with no track record and no contacts? I needed to network so I started by phoning a self-published author. He advised me to have a book launch where all my family and friends would come and buy ‘Bridget.’ I wasn’t convinced. It would cost a few thousand euros and I’d be lucky to land one photo in the paper. Besides, I needed to reach a far wider audience. I had to discover more about the retail, school and library network.

Over the next two weeks, I met with an independent book seller, the principal at my local primary school, a dog’s charity, the Independent Theatre Group, Pet Expo and an ad agency strategist. I also phoned Children’s Book Ireland and concluded that I wouldn’t have a launch but divert the money into hiring a PR agent. Once I’d found an agent, (Red Communications), we quickly agreed on a press release and a three month media plan.

What happens to werewolves who aren’t savage beasts and vampires who don’t like blood? They get sent to rehab, of course! Welcome to Bridget’s crazy world.

Building a web presence came next and Vanessa O’Loughlin of www.writing.ie suggested a web designer. Within three weeks, we had created www.maura-byrne.com. Suddenly, I had a Facebook page, a twitter account, I was blogging about Bridget’s life, and was listed on Author Central and Good Reads. I was a social-media pro! Children from The Independent Theatre Group came to my house to film a home-made ad and in return I presented a young writers workshop to them. Meanwhile, I continued to email retailers urging them to order my fabulous book but all I got back was silence.

WerewolfA couple of weeks later, we struck gold. RTE’s children’s programme Elev8 (with an audience of up to 200,000) invited me to give live howling lessons to the presenters Diana and Ivan. I notified Easons and five minutes later I got my first order from them. The Irish Independent agreed to an article, Woman’s Way wanted to interview me about reluctant readers, Southside and Northside did a spread, WLR and Sunshine Radio wanted to chat – we were on a roll! I kept the retailers in the publicity loop and the orders trebled in a month.

I began focussing on the library and school network next. Dublin South Libraries booked me for two presentations to 90 schoolchildren in Tallaght and Lucan. Initial butterflies subsided and I loved every second. Through my friends, presentations at an Educate Together School, Rathdown Primary, Abbeyside NS and Scoil Garbhain followed. I wanted to meet more children so I put together a database of libraries and began to email them. Soon, I had an avalanche of library bookings matched by continual orders from school book and library suppliers.

In early May, the influential Children’s Books Ireland published the first ‘Bridget’ review and my heart sang! I did an in-store presentation in Easons Dungarvan in June and they sold 150 books. Autumn saw me read at the launch of the MS Readathon. By mid September, I’d been booked to present werewolf and young writer workshops to 700 children in 23 city and county libraries and schools. The orders continued to come particularly after ‘Bridget’ got a stunning review from Niall MacMonagle in the Recommended Reads Guide 2012.

Today, the sales grow. Easons just re-ordered for the 7th time and last week Trinity College showcased ‘Bridget’ to 100 children. It is a hard slog to succeed at self-publishing and there are times when I wish I had the support of a publisher if only to ensure shelf space in the bigger stores. Getting your paperback noticed and purchased without a publisher requires monumental determination and focus. I’m grateful for all I’ve learned but for Books two and three of the ‘Bridget’ trilogy, I would love the support of an international publisher. So come on publishers, a building ‘Bridget’ market is waiting for you!

Maura Byrne lives in Dublin, Ireland with her husband, her two teenage children and her dog. Her writing life started early when she wrote, directed and starred in her first play at age 9. The play went so well the school principal gave the cast a massive Easter egg as a prize. Unfortunately for Maura she was at the dentist that day and by the time she returned, the cast had eaten the lot! A ferocious reader, Maura loved being transported into strange worlds with unusual characters. She had four brothers after all and getting away from them was essential. When she wasn’t reading she was making forts, rubbing doc leaves onto her nettle-stung legs, playing piano, dressing as a tom-princess and watching episodes of ‘Black Beauty.’ Her favourite childhood book is still ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.’ When she grew up, Maura studied marketing and later created an exhibition for parents and children. It turned out to be a good idea because 30,000 people came. Of course Barney the Dinosaur was also there. – Maura was the first person to bring this purple   Jurassic creature to Ireland. But writing was still in Maura’s heart and a few years ago she started writing again. She has written lots including two more books about Bridget the reluctant werewolf and her world of nutty friends.

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What children are saying about Bridget in Werewolf Rehab:

‘I give Bridget in Werewolf Rehab 10 out of 10. My favourite character was Annabel.’ Shona aged 10

‘I absolutely love this story and that there are so many characters and they are all so different.’ Jennifer age 11

‘This book kept my imagination going. It is full of excitement.’ Tianway aged 10

‘This is an excellent story and there is a lot going on.’ Aoife aged 10

‘I think it is a well written book and I love magical creatures. My favourite character is Bridget.’ Caitlin aged 10

‘I give it 99 out of 100. Good work.’ Thomas aged 11

‘I love Bridget. Her character is so interesting. I love that she owns her own website called Howlo. The boat race was so funny when Horst farted and Werner couldn’t talk. I think it is so sad when her Dad died.’ Esther aged 10

‘I think this book is cool and exciting. It is a good mix of adventure and courage. I love vampires and werewolves.’ 10/10 Erin Kelly

 

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Filed under Beginning the Novel, Creative Writing, new writing, publishing, Self Publishing, Self-promotion for writers

Experimentation, comedy and metaphysics: Mike McCormack on the short story

The Dublin Book Festival came to a close last night, with two of Ireland’s finest short story authors, Kevin Barry and Mike McCormack, in conversation with Sean Rocks, presenter of RTÉ Radio 1’s ArenaMike McCormack has published two novels and won several awards, among them The Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. His story The Terms (video above) from his collection of short stories Getting It In The Head was adapted into an award-winning short film. Mike’s new collection of short stories, Forensic Songs, was published earlier this year. He is currently teaching a short story course at Irish Writers’ Centre exploring several aspects of the short story including structure, pacing, dialogue, endings and experimental compositional techniques. Please keep an eye out on our courses page for more short story deliciousness in the coming weeks for next term. Meanwhile, here’s Mike’s interview from last night, with many thanks to the Dublin Book Festival team:

You grew up in the West of Ireland and indeed studied there. How much does the element of place infiltrate your writing? 

Place is fundamental to my work. It is the generative ground of what I do and I am speaking about West Mayo and Galway – the villages, the fields and bogs of Mayo are a huge part of my imaginative landscape so too are the narrow streets of Galway. I would like to think that this deep rootedness and immersion in this landscape enables me to explore universal ideas of the human condition. It is both fount and ground.

Do you think there is such a thing as a distinctive ‘Irish’ voice when it comes to fiction writing? 

Speaking for myself, I think there is. I hear it as a three part harmony of experiment, comedy and metaphysics. Bringing those three voices together in close harmony is what the Irish voice is about for me in Irish writing.

Your first collection of short stories, Getting It In The Head enjoyed much critical success and indeed it won the Rooney Prize as well as being voted book of the year by the New York Times. Did this help or hinder you in terms of writing after that? Was there more pressure to live up to what others had seen in you?

No, the difficulty in writing my second book had totally to do with the nature of that second book. My first book was the book of the ‘head’ and the second, Crowe’s Requiem, was the book of the ‘heart.’ As such it dealt with emotions and sentiment and I found at the time a much more difficult proposition than writing about themes of ideas and things of the mind. So in answer to your question, any pressure I felt was self-inflicted. However, I look back on the writing of that book now and see it as a crucial experience in which, for all its challenges, it deepened the reach and register of my voice.

Your second book did not get the fanfare enjoyed by Getting It In The Head and you said in an interview with Peter Murphy, the short stories were a product of the head, while Crowe’s Requiem was one of the heart. Did this disappointment affect how you approached Notes From a Coma?

No, not really. In my mind’s eye, I have always considered Getting in the Head and Crowe’s Requiem to be two halves of the one book, My third book, Notes from a Coma was always going to be a further exploration of the governing ideas and impulses underlying those two books but now within a more experimental idiom and framework – hence the marriage of science fiction and domestic realism and the whole Event Horizon construct. It is a book in which the reader is invited to be an active, constitutive part of an evolving experiment, to become an integral part of an authorship in which the reading of the novel goes some way towards mirroring the tides and shifts of consciousness itself. Notes from a Coma will be published in March 2013 in the US by Soho Press and it will be interesting to see how it is received there.

There has always been a kind of tension between the short story and the novel as a form- something which the likes of Anne Enright has spoken about at length in her editing of the Granta Book of the Irish Short Story a few years ago. You started out with this form. Was this a conscious decision for you or did you toy with the idea of debuting with a novel?

It was a conscious decision on the part of the short story to have me write short stories at the time. Ideas, in different times and circumstances, for me, present themselves in varying shapes and forms. The ideas in Getting it the Head came to me as short stories, the ideas of Crowe’s Requiem came to me as a novel, the ideas of Notes from a Coma came to me as an experimental choral piece of six narrative voices. Forensic Songs as a collection of short-stories, continues this experimental marriage of various voices and idioms.

You seem to have a strong preference in your work for a kind of magic realist, dystopian science fiction if I may be so bold! You also, in the words of New York Times reviewer Michael Upchurch, ‘flout’ the strictures of Irish Catholicism.’ Do you think this is a fair summation of your style?

Yes, all of those elements are present in my work. However, I have always thought that fiction was the work of a measured and sober realist who has due regard for the metaphysical and fantastical elements which underpin every moment of our lives. One fundamental premise underpinning my work is not the fact that we are alive as humans but the incredible fact that we are alive when the cosmic odds are so stacked against us being anything at all, dead, alive or otherwise. It seems to me that any comprehensive realism is bound to be inflected by this cosmic wonder or anomaly – the unlikely being of the individual human being.

You have been compared, rather favourably to Ian McEwan and Edgar Allan Poe. How do you feel about this? Are there other writers and artists who you would see yourself as emulating?

Poe as a short story writer and as a theoretician of the form would be a big influence. I have said it before all the ‘Bs’ have been inspirational, totemic figures for me – Ballard, Bartheleme, Borges and Beckett and of course a K, Kafka. Those are my Olympian figures.

You once said that the 19th century Gothic in Ireland is ‘critically neglected’. With the Bram Stoker Festival coming up, do you perhaps think it’s time to broaden it out to include the likes of Le Fanu and Charles Maturin?

Yes I do. It would be nice to see a wider, more popular appreciation of Le Fanu and Maturin. They were extraordinary writers and sensibilities.

Who has influenced you the most in terms of your writing?

In short stories, all the ones I have mentioned already but especially JG Ballard. It was he who showed me the short story as a place of formal and thematic experiment. In the novel, the biggest influence was Thomas Pynchon mainly because his work illustrated how the glitter and bric-a-brac of popular culture could be redeployed and considered as high art. Also, his introduction to Slow Learner was a hugely enabling piece to come across as a young writer.

If you could absorb any one element from another artist, writer or musician- be it fashion sense, creative style or bank balance, what would it be?

If I could redeploy Maradonna’s goals against England and Belgium from the ’86 World Cup as a prose style – that would be a gift worth stealing…

What was the first book to have made a serious impression on you?

At the age of nine or ten, after I stopped reading children’s literature, I read from my father’s collection of westerns. So many of those novels thrilled me but the one that really got me was Shane by Jack Schaefer. It is a brilliant story, beautifully written and a powerful enchantment to this day. I can still read the opening page with wonder. ‘He rode into our valley in the summer of ’89. I was a kid then…’

What are you reading at the moment?

I am reading two novels. One is a thriller from Northern Ireland, Stuart Neville’s The Ghosts of Belfast and the other is an experimental work from Hungary by Laszlo Kransznahorkai, Santantango. Two very different books but both very good.

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Just. Keep. Going.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Why not to throw your novel away

I was half way through my first novel and like most of us, getting badly stuck. I’d been writing it in a bitty way for over six months, without any real discipline. I knew it was good enough to publish – I just didn’t know how to get the story tidied up and like a lot of us on our first attempt, I was rambling all over the place. Truthfully, I was just about to chuck it away and give up the whole sorry mess, but then I met up with an old friend for a coffee, the writer Conor Kostick, who was just about to start teaching at the Writers Centre. And Conor said, “You should do my course.”

Naturally, I resisted with every bone in my body. Going back to school was the last thing I wanted to do, I whinged. It was humiliating enough to be a failed novelist, without having to bear that in front of others who (I was convinced would be) brilliant and professional writers. I whinged some more.

“You should really, really, seriously do my course,” Conor said.

Of course, he was right. I hummed and hawed and eventually signed up, arriving late the first night – a sign of my fear and ambivalence! The others in the group were, I felt, streets ahead of me as writers. The last thing I wanted to do was to read anything aloud – and Conor made me do this, on the first night, a horrendously difficult writing exercise. I left the class, almost in tears, vowing not to return. But as Conor and I waited for the same bus, he gently suggested that as I’d paid the fee, I might as well finish the course. “But I’m the worst in the class!” I wailed.

“In that case, you should definitely finish the course,” he said.

So, yes, I did finish the course. By the end of the term we were a polished little group. I realised, after reading some more of my manuscript, that it was actually alright. Some of it was really good. It was publishable. From the feedback of the other writers I was able to quickly fix huge problems I’d been having – this is the major benefit of working in a group. Somebody else will immediately have the answer to a piece of bad writing you’ve been torturing yourself with, and you’ll cut blissfully to the chase. Joy of joys, by the end of that summer I had not only finished the novel but I had met a super group of friends, found a publisher, and had been signed for three more books.

I can safely say, that if I hadn’t had my arm twisted into doing that course at the Irish Writers’ Centre, I would never have become published. Like most people who have a yearning to write stories I lacked the professionalism and discipline to turn a story idea into a book. The beauty about working with a professional writer in a workshop is that you cut through a lot of time-wasting, and get down to the real nuts and bolts of what will make the story work. Now that I teach first-time novelists at the Writers’ Centre, I see the same problems that I had coming up over and over again – motivation to get the story down on paper, motivation to keep writing when everything else keeps trying to get in the way, and finding the confidence to just do it, just write it. Stop agonising over your words and write the story. Just write the story that you want to write.

Of course it isn’t easy. The most difficult thing, when you have set out to write, is knowing what to write. Then you have to know how to write it. Working in a group makes a huge difference. Working with a professional who’s done this before, who’s doing this all the time, can save you a lot of time wearing out the delete button.

I’d love to say that there’s a magic trick to getting your first novel published, but I guess that the magic is in taking a professional attitude (rather than dreaming that it will all just come together some day. . . ), and taking on the task.

Have the yearning and the love of writing. Learn the technique. Practice the technique. Practice some more. Get feedback. Use the feedback. Set goals. Stick to the goals.

Every professional writer will write in a different way. I plot first, write a synopsis,  then a chapter-by-chapter breakdown, then fill in the gaps . . .and then all of the plotting and chaptering changes as I write. Others start with character, and let the character drive the plot. There are no hard rules. But you won’t know what’s going to work for you until you try.

Learn from professional writers all about the publishing industry and how it works. Read as much as you can, watch as many movies as you can, learn from television, film, journalism, theatre, keep learning from other literary forms about how story-telling works. And then write the story. Write it down. Keep on writing. Write some more. Write the story that you want to tell.

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Juliet is teaching a six-week course packed with fantastic tips on how professional writers write novels and get them published. The course, which runs from 1st May to 5th June is workshop-based providing a chance to share work with others and enjoy their feedback. If you’ve just started a novel, or if you’re just at the dreaming and plotting stage of novel-writing, this is the course for you. Classes will focus on character development, motivation, writing from the imagination, plot development, structure, style, genre and tips for approaching the publishing industry.

 

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Filed under Beginning the Novel, creative writing course, Fiction, How to Write A Novel, Irish Writers Centre, IWC, Juliet Bressan, literature, new writing

Arlene Hunt on crime fiction

Your stories have been described as ‘dark and atmospheric, why did you get into crime writing above other genres? Without a doubt, crime fiction is my favourite genre to read, so it was natural for me to want to write it above all else. I’m trying to imagine attempting a romantic fiction or sci-fi novel: I wouldn’t even know where to start. Where would I hide the body?

There’s lots of talk about Ireland being more crime-riddled and dangerous since recession, has this impacted on how crime is portrayed in fiction? Is there? I thought we were pretty bloody before and during the recession, that seems to me to be era the gangs rose. It’s possible that lesser crimes like burglary have increased, but murder and other violent crime seems ever present regardless of who has what in their pockets. There are definitely more weapons available, that translates into fiction. Weapons and drugs.

How long does it take you to write a book? About nine months, a good old gestation period.

Do you interview sources or pluck the details & plots from the ether!? Depending on the book, I’d say both. I did a good bit of research for my last book, The Chosen, as it was set in the USA. I had to be very sure of my terrain which was essential to plot, and I had to learn how to operate a long bow and how to make arrows and so forth. It was very enjoyable. I read a lot too, hunting magazines, forensics, books on psychology, that sort of thing, but that’s a pleasure and something I would do in my spare time anyway.

Do you have any quirky habits when writing or a particular time of day when you’re most creative? I write in the morning (badly) and in the evening (fluidly), with the mid-afternoon taken-up with reading submissions or editing. I’m also training for a marathon at the moment, so it’s a pretty full day, with little time for quirks: unless you consider operating as a cat butler a quirk. I don’t. More a chore. Stupid mammals, not having opposable thumbs.

Are any of the characters based on people you know? Not really, most of the people I know are far nicer than the people who appear in my books. That said, if I met someone I actively dislike you can be sure they’re going to meet a grisly end amongst my pages.

You list your favourite authors as: Robert Crais, George Pelecanos, James Ellroy, James Lee Burke, John Connolly – what do you particularly like about them? That they have the ability to combine good writing with escapism without losing credibility. I think it’s fair to say that you can read any one of their novels and come away with something you didn’t have before you cracked them open. The older I get the more I appreciate the skill and practice that goes into good writing.

Give us a writing tip! Read! Don’t ever stop reading. I cannot fathom people who write but do not read.

Your last book The Chosen was a departure from the QuicK Investigations, was it harder to write? No, but I had the story kicking around in my head about a year before I sat down to write it, which is unusual for me. It was kind of nice to stretch myself mentally too. It’s easy to get moored to one particular formula, so this was a nice break.

What inspired you to launch your own publishing company? I thought the time was right for such a move. It was a huge learning curve of course and many lessons were learned in the process, but I’m glad we did what we did; it seems to be working out for us with two titles behind us, and hopefully two more to come this year.

What are you working on now? A novel set here in Dublin about two children who run away from home to escape an abusive father and walk straight into a drug war in the process.

“Arlene Hunt may just be the best female crime writer to have emerged from these islands in recent years” – John Connolly

Arlene who will teach a Crime Writing course at the Irish Writers’ Centre from 25th April began writing at the age of 27, and produced her first novel, Vicious Circle, within the year. This book was eventually published by Hodder Headline at the end of April 2004. Her second novel, False Intentions, introduced two characters, John and Sarah of QuicK Investigations, who were set to become a regular part of Arlene’s work, and was published in May 2005. Her third novel Black Sheep was published in June 2006. Arlene’s 4th novel, and the third in the John and Sarah series, is called Missing Presumed Dead (MPD) and was published in June 2007. It was translated into Dutch and is available under the title ‘Vermist’ and is due to be published in Russian. Her fifth novel, the fourth QuicK Investigations book, is entitled Undertow and was published in Septmber 2008. It was nominated for Best Crime Novel at the 2009 Irish Book Awards. In 2009 Arlene completed her 6th novel, Blood Money, which was published in March 2010. It continues the QuicK Investigations series. Her 7th novel, ‘The Chosen‘ was published in October 2011. It is a standalone thriller based in the USA and will be published by Portnoy Publishing.

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Writing The City To Right

by Sean O’Reilly

The other week, scanning the bookshelves in one of those charity shops, in Dublin city centre, I had the uncanny experience of realising that a number of the books used to be mine. I’d moved house a few months earlier, shed a few boxes of books and here they were back again, resurfaced, broken spines, dead barcodes, some of the titles still hot and resonant of another time. I slid one out: Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. It was scalded by the evidence of my past in a note I’d made in a margin and I saw myself years back, an older younger self, still silently walking the streets of Dublin in the first days after arriving here, trying to memorise the street names, that book in my pocket.

I loitered around in the shop for as long as I could, checking out the ties, the DVDs, a red bucket full of watches, waiting to see if some punter might be tempted by one of my old books, that man with the blackthorn cane, that woman taking sly photos with her phone, and whether I would give in to the desire to follow them, the desire to end up somewhere new, out of my depth, stripped bare, ecstatic, to create a new path through a suddenly mysterious city. But nobody was interested in the fiction shelves that afternoon.

Outside on the streets I watched some men putting up posters for One City/One Book 2012 above the anti-household charge placards. This year it’s Joyce’s Dubliners. He fought the printers for the right to name names, to use the real names for real places. Johnny Rush’s, cab and car rental in The Sisters, The Shelbourne Hotel in Two GallantsThe Herald in A Painful Case, Brown Thomas’s in A Mother. This type of scrupulous realism was unheard of here and so was the guilt-laden psychological realism Joyce had learned from Ibsen.

It got me wondering about the contemporary city, and how in the writing groups I’m involved with, the question of naming always seems to come up, whether a writer should use the actual names of recognisable places. Funnily enough, it’s a question that only arises in writing about the city. A story set down the country, so to speak, is rarely as nervous about naming as an urban story. The rural story can rely on a sense of place, nostalgic perhaps, and usually created by vaguely animistic descriptive passages about landscape and weather that the city story turns away from, preferring instead to indulge in the naming of iconic sights in the city like the Spire, Connolly Station, The Grand Canal. It’s a small detail but symptomatic, I think, of a desperate straining to find a city we all share, a city we have in common, a visible city.

Maybe naming the names is not enough any more. Maybe there are so many eyes these days it has led to even more doubt about what is being seen. So many screens and portals nobody knows who is really doing the looking, the watching, or who is really browsing who? I’ve read that new writers are less interested in place than verbal pyrotechnics or that the crime thriller is the last hope for the realist novel now that the city is big enough to have a dark underbelly! Maybe, unlike Joyce, writers are wary of dealing with anything topical, having bought into the idea that literature and politics are a bad mix. Or does it just seem impossible now to capture the cultural complexity of the city, the extremes of wealth and poverty, the hybrid sexualities, the trafficking of languages.

One City is a PR touch-screen phantasy. We all have our own secret city, our private monuments and parks, graveyards and houses of pleasure, burning unnamed ley lines twisting from Clondalkin to Skerries.Maybe in our dreams it all joins up, like Calvino’s description of Zobeide, the city of desire. Founded when men from many nations came together and discovered they all had had the same dream: a naked woman running through the streets of an unknown city, each of them in pursuit, each of them losing her. These men decided to build a city just like the one in the dream but at those points where they had lost her, those intersections where she had escaped, they would make some changes, alterations, a wall here, no wall there, to prevent the woman escaping again. In time more and more men arrived and each of them made their own corrections. No one in the city of Zobeide has ever seen the woman again. Even the chase has been forgotten now.

Sean O’Reilly runs the Stinging Fly’s New Way to Fly Novel Workshop, which is now accepting applications for 2012-13. His published work includes Curfew and Other Stories, the novels Love and Sleep, The Swing of Things and Watermark  (The Stinging Fly Press). He has been writer in residence with Dublin City Council, Fingal Country Council and IADT Dun Laoghaire and has led writing workshops at Listowel and Cuirt. Between April 24 and June 12, Sean will also be running a short story course, Tales of the City: Short Fiction at the Irish Writers’ Centre. The course will focus on the challenges of writing short fiction about - and set in - modern urban environments. There are still places on this course – ring 01-8721302 to book a place. Thanks to The Stinging Fly for this interview.

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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.  

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