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Counting Down by Lisa Harding

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There is a huge disembodied thumb and it’s pressing down on my chest. I’m pinned. I open my eyes and stare at a crack in the ceiling.

Big Joe is singing in his sleep, a tuneless whistling kind of snore-song. He is so big the spindly bed looks about to collapse. I find I can move my head from left to right, left to right and wriggle my toes. Some fella in the corner tells me to kindly shut the fuck up as I hum along to Big Joe’s tune. I think it’s the new guy who came in last night: the ruddy farmer who bellowed like a bull and had wads of cash stuffed in his socks. There are eight beds in this prefab, and it is narrow and low. Under the nylon sheets I am cold and clammy. In case we piss ourselves, there is a plastic under-sheet. February in Ireland on the outskirts of a small town shit-hole and it is raining. I can hear the steady drone on the tin roof. The man above hasn’t stopped piddling down since I arrived here three weeks ago. He’s having a laugh, and drowning us.

There are nuns here. They lead the group meetings and the rosary which is said three times a day. I’d rather a screw any day – I mean a prison warden – that kind of screw. A statue of the Virgin Mary sits high on a shelf in the corner of every room, where a wide- screen TV should be, and she is smirking down her nose at the men with their tattoos vmand swagger. I want to smash her smiling face in.

I am sober now and I have the shakes, the sweats, the colds, the hots, the hard-ons. The tremors, the deliriums, the tremens, the demons, the scratching, the snakes slithering and biting. Seriously, this place, the dried-up auld bodies in their habits swishing along the halls, the lack of alcoholic anaesthesia, the round yellow pills with TV44 scratched into them, all make my pecker stand on end. The little bastard won’t lie down. I swear those old crones know what they’re doing. I swear it is their revenge on the male sex. It hurts like hell.

I’m going to start throwing the pills away. There are tiny yellow faces hiding in every fake palm plant.

I swing my swollen purple feet out of the bed and sit at the edge, clinging on to the plastic. I can move. The cold lino is sweating and sighing beneath the soles of my bare feet. I need to get to the tap on the other side of the prefab and splash water on my face. I sway and stumble, and the farmer dude shouts some more. Big Joe doesn’t stop whistling, even when I crash into the bottom of his bed and curse loudly. I bruise easily these days.

In the gloom I make out the fluorescent green liquid in the dispenser by the tap. Kryptonite. It smells sharp and burns a hole in the back of my throat. I fan my pyjama top out behind me like a cape and punch the air. The stingy soap makes my hands tingle and go bright red. I cover my face in it anyway and splash it with icy water. My ugly mug scowls back at me in the chipped mirror – raw, red now, and old so fucking old. Last time I counted I was eighteen. I already have that bloated stupid face the old man had. Will I end up in the canal, before I’m forty? I cover myself in the green jelly again and I am the Incredible Hulk. I pretend to burst muscles and roar silently.

Reflected in the mirror I see a shape sitting up in bed. I can feel rather than see his black pointed needles-for-pupils jabbing into me. It is the Bull, and he isn’t bellowing now. He’s laughing; a kind of high pitched girly giggle and it is shrill and sharp and stabs me with its edges. The fucker has that kind of leering swollen face, stupid and mean, that kind of face that I know. I breathe in and out, right down to the tips of my toes, like that lady councillor taught me, the one with the lovely smile and the carefully-cared for hair. She told me when I felt like this, out of body, out of mind, to breathe and the world will centre itself. Breathing in crisp cool clean air, breathing out any tension, any anger, any malice. I breathe and I breathe and I feel like I’m working myself up into a fiery dragon-like rage. My breath is coming hot and fast now and short and shallow. Maybe if I hold my breath long enough I will float away. I count down from one hundred, my cheeks puffed out like one of those puffer fish fellas, and I know that underneath the green slime I am bright red. I hope I bust a gut, I hope I implode, or explode right here right now.

Instead, I find I have to breathe out. My body has betrayed me once again. It is a stupid, weak thing, over which I have no control. I have no control. None. The Bull in the Bed is still staring and I stalk over to him and punch the air above his head, and he cowers. He is a coward. I despise cowards. I despise that part of me that used to piss myself under the couch, instead of donning my cape and flying to her rescue. I look at the statue of Our Lady and I see her mild face and it isn’t mocking me now. She reaches out a hand and she smooth’s down my cow’s lick, and she rests her hand on my head. I close my eyes. I am blessed. When I open them again, the Bull has burrowed deep under his thin yellowing blanket, and I think I hear him pray. He doesn’t have violence in him, and something warm and fluffy and calm burrows inside my brain. My brain is a warren-hole.

A trickle of light leaks in through the gap at the bottom of the brown frayed curtains. The trickle starts to flow until it pours, and I pull back the curtains and welcome the flood of sunshine that forces my tired eyes to open wide. The rest of the men turn their backs to the sun. It is too bright, too exposing. I blink fast and feel like my blinking is the lens of a camera trapping the light. I’ve always wanted a camera. The lady with the lovely hair encourages us to make art. I have been making pottery: pots and vases and houses. I am shit at art. I got a D-minus in school last year. Mr O’Callaghan delighted in his minuses, to add to the shame. But I am sure my eyes can see things other people don’t see. Yes. I’ll ask the lady for a camera, even a crappy throw-away one. I’ve never owned a camera. I think I might be good at it, capturing moments.

I stand at the streaked window and look out at the mangy vegetable patch, and the playing pitch. Today is visitor’s day, and no one will come. This is the first day I have seen the view, it is the first day the rain hasn’t covered us in a wet blanket of grey. They grow their own veggies here. I’ve only ever had baked beans and frozen peas. Carrots make me want to puke. Rabbits eat them. And the heads of broccoli look like shrunken bunny’s brains, green from too much grass. There are chickens in the coop behind the vegetable patch. Stringy, skinny little fellas and I decide that today I will go and feed them, and maybe I’ll kick a football around the pitch, although it is utterly pointless. The lady councillor said that was exactly the point. There is no point. It is about having fun, she said, I don’t think you know how to do that. Just have fun. She says funny things like “Just be,” and “You are OK exactly as you are. You are loved.”  I gag.

“I love you,” the old man would say. “I’m only doing this because I love you so much.”

I rub my stinging face with a brown towel. I wonder why they want to surround us with so much of the colour shit. It’s probably because it hides the dirt, and I look at the towel and see maggot-like germs crawling all over it. Iridescent and hopping. I know this is not real. A great whopping monster of an imagination. I have been told it’s a good thing. It means I am “creative,” apparently. They keep trying to make me put a pen to the page. To put order to the chaos, to let the chaos flow, to make words. I have never been able to make sense of words. Numbers make sense; they line up or down and move in straight lines. Words jump about too much. There are books here and I can’t make head or tail of them. What is the point? To relax, she says, to escape, to maybe see a part of yourself in someone else. That can be a relief, she says, and I know what she means, kind-of, because when Big Joe spoke yesterday about his da, I felt it too. I can’t say it but I can feel it.

The bells of the Angelus ring. It is time for morning meditation. I decide to dress carefully and to try to listen today. I find it very hard to hear what other people are saying, my mind whirs about like a jumbled-up washing machine, which is why they tell us to meditate, or medicate as Big Joe calls it. My mind gets louder in the silence and the sitting. I need to move and be surrounded by noise. I am more comfortable with shouting, than silence. This I something I need to un-learn apparently. It seems like everything I’ve lived with so far is wrong. It is wrong to feel angry all the time, to feel jumpy, to feel like you want to punch a hole in the face of the world. Although, the word wrong is wrong too it seems. The word is acceptance. And love.

I am the first today, and I kneel with all the crones in the big cold hall, and I look at Our Lady and think that’s what Ma looked like, before she met him. The room slowly piles up with half-sleeping men, who as soon as they are settled on their knees sleep again. Soon it is filled with the sound of shallow breathing and whistling. Big Joe is swaying in his sleep. He is twenty-five and looks about fifty. A fifty year old Womble, and I look around me at all the other wet-brained Muppets and I choke on a chuckle. A nun narrows her eyes at me and says, Shuuuuuuuush, and her fat lips look like two wet worms, and I laugh even louder.

“Leave,” she spits, “and say ten Hail Marys.”

I go to the canteen and have a cup of gloopy rancid coffee. There is a yellow piss-like stain covering half the wall. My stomach feels like its lined in acid, and I want to throw up. My shin is throbbing, where I hit it against Big Joe’s bed. I roll up my trousers and see a shiner, and I am reminded of the women in my house, all pretty in purple. I run my hand over the pink-red swelling and press down on it hard. A nun comes in and tells me I have a visitor.

“Your sister has come to see you,” she says.

I wonder why my sister would come to see me. I wouldn’t, if I was her and she was me.

My sister is twenty, exactly one and a half years older than me. She has big blue eyes and tiny fluttery hands. Dommo and Neill both fancy her and tell me they’d “do” her. I tell them I’d murder them first. I wonder will either of those assholes come see me here. I doubt it. So much for The Three Musketeers. Stick a fork in me I’m done fellas. This time I’m really done. Overdone, cooked, done-in.

My sister’s name is Beth.  I don’t know anyone else called Beth. Da told me it was Ma that called her that stupid name, and because he loved her so much he let her. He told me that it was himself that called me Kev, after his da. I never knew Kev Senior but Da spoke of him often with watering eyes. I was Da’s favourite. He never hit me, and he gave me money on the sly. He told me all his secrets when he came in stinking from the pub, and he was in a soft gooey mood. He’d wake me up in my bed and say “Son, I’d like to tell you all about how hard it is to be a man,” and he’d launch right into it. He’d hug me hard to him afterwards, and wet my hair with his tears.

So, today is the 17th February 2013. It means nothing to me, although the nuns are fond of telling us the date, the time, the place. They ask me when my birthday is… I don’t remember when my sister’s is either. I don’t think I have ever given her a card. Today I will ask her when her birthday is, and I will write it down. I forget everything, until sometimes I remember snippets now I’m sober, and I want to forget again. I feel some kind of extra whirling in my stomach. They are teaching us to “name” our feelings in here. Anxious, is one word for it, angry another and apparently – vulnerable, although I don’t really know what that means. I try it out. I feel vulnerable, and I don’t like it. It makes me feel small, so I settle for anxious.

“What about happy?” the lady asked me one day.

I see my sister through the round window of the waiting-room. She is wearing a blue dress with black tights, and is sitting on the edge of a plastic orange chair, ready to fly away. She looks like a tiny blue bird.

“Hi Bro,” she says, when I’m through the door.

“You look lovely.”

“Wish I could say the same for you! Jesus, look at the state of you; all skin and bone. What do they feed you in this place?”

“Carrots!”

“You’ve never eaten a carrot in your life.”

“Nope, and I’m not about to start,” I say imitating a rabbit with my two front teeth, and hands for paws.

She laughs, and looks at the ground.

“How’s Ma?” I ask

“Ah ye know. The same. She doesn’t notice much these days.”

And I think she hasn’t even asked about me, has forgotten all about me.

“I think she misses Da,” she says.

taytoAnd I think that’s right; there never was any room for anyone else. That hulking baby took all of her. I look at my sister and I can see something reflected in her eyes. That something in her eyes says “I’m not here, not really.” She kind of floats and disappears all at the same time, like a wisp. She has always possessed the special Power of Vanishing. I want to wrap my arms around her and say “I’m Sorry,” instead I pretend to be a rabbit again, and I say I don’t want to turn into Bugs, so I ask her,“Would you go out and buy me a six-pack of Tayto?”

That way by the time she comes back visiting time will be over.

And I fancy a pack of Tayto, I really do.

I notice that her right eye is twitching and there is a raised scar close to the baby blue, and I am back there in the kitchen and I AM HIM. I push her against the wall and punch a hole in the thin chipboard, and graze that eye.

I think she got in my way, or something.

My stomach heaves. It has shrunk and I can feel my ribs sticking through my checked shirt.

“Are they good to you in here?” she asks.

“Apart from force-feeding me carrots and broccoli, yeah!”

“Good, that’s good. Glad to hear it…Right, I’ll be off now. Crisps, anything else? Fags?”

“I can get fags in the shop on site here, just not Tayto.”

“Ok” she says and turns to go. I know that when she comes back there will be no time left, and so I say to her back,

“When is your birthday Sis?”

She turns towards me, and she looks like all the air has been sucked out of her, like vapour, as if she might evaporate, and I wonder will she come back.

“Yesterday.”

And I think ok, that means my sister’s birthday is the 16th February. I take out my pen and notebook and scribble the date. I can do that. I can write numbers and names.

“I knew that! Happy Birthday Sis. Hang on a second.”

I run to the recreation room and I take the clay model of a house I’ve been building. It’s wonky and tiny, and looks like the witch’s house in Hansel and Gretel. I even put little blobs of clay for sweets all over it.

“This is for you.”

lisa

Writer: Lisa Harding

She says “Thank you” all formal and polite, and I think she is holding her breath, her shoulders are up around her ears and her face is going red. She does it too, I think, and I imagine her counting down from one hundred.

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Lisa Harding came second in the Doolin Writers’ Weekend Short Story Competition 2013 and is currently completing the M.Phil in creative writing at TCD. She is an experienced actress, and has written plays for the stage including STARVING at Theatre503, AND ALL BECAUSE at BAC (as part of the National Theatre’s festival of new writing: Connect Four), PLAYGROUND at the Project Theatre Dublin. She is currently working on a new play OVERSPILL, for which she was awarded an arts council bursary and a Peggy Ramsay award. She is also writing her first collection of short stories.

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International Record Store Day – Twelve Writers Go On Record

The Irish Writer's Centre celebrates International Record Store Day 2013

The Irish Writer’s Centre celebrates International Record Store Day 2013

Like book shops, Record stores have never had it so tough – it’s a reality not lost on anyone reading this blog. However, today being International Record Store Day, let’s take a break from mourning for a moment and instead celebrate just a little. Celebrate the experiences these places afford us. Nothing beats rifling through the racks, pouring over the artwork, peering over the shoulder of the customer in front of you just to see if what’s in their hand matches your perception of the them – you judge them, yes you do. I’m romanticizing sure, but how could you not. Think about the hours you lost in the record shops  defining and refining your identity. Take a moment to consider what it is that we lose when another one closes its doors.

And now back to celebrating…To mark International Record Store Day this year, I contacted twelve of the finest writers, poets and journalists around, and asked them to share with me an album that has in one way or another inspired, seduced or fascinated them. What became apparent was that most writers have private, intense, and sometimes perverse relationships with particular records as much as they do with other books. Does what they listen to influence how they write? Keep reading to find out.

Oh, and more importantly, What do their musical choices say about each them as people?

Yep, it’s judgement time!

For your listening pleasure, here are twelve “masterpieces” as chosen by Kevin Barry, Siobhán Mannion, Paul Lynch, Janet Cameron, Peter Murphy, Nuala Ní Chonchúir, Gavin Corbett, Sarah Clancy, Jim Carroll, Dimitra Xidous, Ferdia MacAnna and Oran Ryan.

Kevin Barry

Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Don’t Stand Me Down  

Don’t Stand Me Down by Dexy’s Midnight Runners came out in the early summer of 1985 and it was considered outlandish and a touch bizarre and in commercial and critical terms it was a total disaster – but it is of course a masterpiece. There are lots of odd spoken-word bits, and there are tunes that take an age to get inside your brain, and it is resolutely and unfashionably passionate … I have no doubts that it’s one of the greatest records ever made. This Is What She’s Like is the stand-out track, probably. An interesting side-note: there are lots of Irish references – one of the many things the record is, is it’s a Brummie’s homage to his Irish roots. Kevin Rowland was then and remains now a God-like genius. We are not worthy.

Track: This Is What She’s Like

Kevin is the author of two collections of short stories, There are Little Kingdoms and Dark Lies the Island. His Novel City of Bohane is shortlisted for the 2013 IMPAC Award.

 

Siobhán Mannion

Throwing Muses – The Real Ramona

Back in the early nineties, one of my best friends was a great mix-tape maker, bringing the likes of Cocteau Twins, Cowboy Junkies and Mary Margaret O’Hara into my world. Throwing Muses featured frequently in these compilations, and on Side B of one particularly beloved cassette, I had their 1991 album ‘The Real Ramona’. ‘Counting Backwards’ – the first track – sets the tone, with its catchy rhythm and jangly guitars disguising something much darker in the undertow. Today, all I need is the opening beats and the intervening decades dissolve.

Track: Counting Backwards

In 2011, Siobhan won the Hennessy Award, and in 2012 her play The Big Picture took the World Bronze Medal for Best Writing at the New York Festivals International Radio Awards.

 

Paul Lynch

Wayne Shorter – Speak No Evil (1965)

Large parts of Red Sky in Morning were written listening to Wayne Shorter’s classic 1965 album Speak No Evil. I find that jazz loosens up the deep place of my mind, lets me find my own strange rhythms. The music here bridges the period when post-bop began to slide towards the avant-garde. Shorter’s powerhouse five-piece cook up something exotic and sinuous — an inviting yet eerily elegant mood-piece. Even the titles seem mythic — Witch Hunt; Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum; Dance Cadaverous — and their imagery crept unconsciously into the book. A dark-glistening gem.

Track: Witch Hunt  

Paul Lynch is the author of Red Sky Morning (Quercus UK; Little, Brown, USA)

 

Janet E. Cameron

Kate Bush – Hounds of Love (1985) ‘If I only could, I’d make a deal with God, and get him to swap our places…’ Want to know what it’s like to be an unhappy hormonal teenage girl? Listen to Hounds of Love. No other album does it better. Big drums! Big drama! Shrieking and howling! Everything’s here: fear of sex (‘Hounds of Love’), longing for romance (‘Running Up that Hill’), mother guilt (‘Mother Stands for Comfort’), father worship (‘Cloudbusting’), and strange tortured impulses towards self-annihilation (pretty much everything on Side Two). In the penultimate song Kate even blows up the entire world (‘Hello Earth’). The dancing and kissy-faces in the video for ‘Running Up that Hill’ look a bit silly to me today, but I remember something very different. It’s after school, there’s a thundering rain storm outside, I’m in my room huddled next to the speakers, and this album is on the stereo, loud. Very loud. Perhaps my mother tells me to turn it down and I think, ‘After this song,’ or ‘You don’t understand me!’ Ah, youth. How does anyone survive it?

Track: Hounds of Love

Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World (Hachette) is Janet’s first novel.

 

Peter Murphy

Robert Johnson – King of the Delta blues Singers  

Most great artists have an air of the abducted alien about them. Robert Johnson’s King of the Delta Blues Singers sounds like the work of a man who landed on this planet by mistake and can’t wait to get off. Songs like ‘Hellhound On My Trail’, ‘Me and the Devil Blues’ and ‘Come On In My Kitchen’ are Gnostic lamentations set to music. This may be the scariest record ever made.  

Track: Hellhound On My Trail

Peter’s journalism has appeared in Rolling Stone, the Irish Times, the Sunday Business Post, and Hot Press magazine. His second novel Shall we Gather at the River (Faber & Faber) was published in 2012. 

 

Nuala Ní Chonchúir

Rufus Wainwright – Want One

From the resigned exuberance of ‘Oh What a World’ to the heartbreak of ‘Dinner At Eight’, Rufus’s lullaby-lament for his relationship with his father, every song on Want One is worth singling out. This is the album I discovered Rufus on. Not the first CD of his I owned, but the one that made me fully appreciate his poetry, his emotion, his genius. I choose ‘14th Street’ as my stand-out track. It reminds me of New York. And I have seen Rufus close so many shows with this song that it always conjures his brilliant live performances. Also I adore the banjo solo, performed on the CD by Rufus’s late, great mother Kate McGarrigle. Here’s a note I made when the album was new to me: “14th Street’ makes me shout-sing and thump the air. While driving. The words ‘Vaguely missing link’ – and the way he sings them – purely brilliant!” Says it all, really.

Track: 14th Street

An author and Poet, Nuala’s latest collection of short stories is Mother America (Little Island).

 

Gavin Corbett

Flipper – Generic  Life is hard, and it’s too exhausting to be sad about it the whole time. That’s why, for me, the cynical and distasteful Generic by Flipper is the ultimate escapist album. The best track on it is ‘Sex Bomb’, which I genuinely think is one of the greatest pieces of art ever created. It sounds like John Coltrane and R2D2 having a competition to make the most noise; ‘John Coltrane’ wins, although I suspect he’s not playing the saxophone at all but merely letting the air out of a balloon. If I were a professional snooker player, ‘Sex Bomb’ would be my entrance song.

Track: Sex Bomb

This is the Way (Fourth Estate) is Gavin’s second novel.

 

Sarah Clancy

Paul Simon  – One Trick Pony

One of Paul Simon’s least well-known albums is a movie sound track called One Trick Pony and I love it. It was released in 1980 but it was around 1985 or 86 before I came across it. I would have been about 12 or 13 or so then and I was in secondary school in Galway. Bear in mind that this was the 80′s the era of Stock Aiken and Waterman, of Bros and Wet Wet Wet and even Wham.

The school I was in though, was pretty grungy artsy and left field, people in the years ahead of us were all into The Smiths and The Cure. Musically I wasn’t in either camp; not the cool brigade nor the pop fans, I was in some weird little subset of my own that only I inhabited and I often sat in the corner with my yellow Christmas present Sony Walkman on listening to a strange mix of country music and folk; people like Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rodgers, I was a mad Buddy Holly fan and I also would have listened to Makem and Clancy though I wouldn’t have confessed that to anyone. I had one Bob Dylan album- ‘The times they are a changing’ but I only really listened to one song from that album and I played it over and over again – (that was Spanish Boots of Spanish Leather) Dylan lead me down a path to discovering or rather re-discovering other music like Donavan, like Guy Clarke and a few other greats, but I was fickle and the bitter sweetness of Simon and Garfunkel when I came across them, immediately captivated me. … songs like for Emily, Wherever I may find her, Homeward Bound and I am a Rock became my constant sound track until, running out of new (to me) material of theirs to listen to I started on Pauls Simon’s solo albums.

Oddly enough this was just before he landed back into popularity with the big huge hullaballoo that was Graceland, and so in some strange way the fact that I had seriously old-hippie taste in music had suddenly placed me ahead of the posse in terms of having cutting edge music interests. I found this very confusing, also at that time I was totally confused about other things; there was another Paul Simon fan in my class and we had become friends in that intense and sudden way that only teenage girls seem to do.  I was very, very innocent at that age and though it seems odd now in the light of all the information that floats around these days, I had never even heard of the existence of lesbians or gay people, anyway my new pal and I swapped mix tapes of Paul Simon songs (she had older brothers who had LPs of some of his earlier albums) and on my birthday she made me a tape of the album ‘One Trick Pony’ which we listened to sitting on the wall outside her house. The album is a mix of world weary melancholy and band on the road type story songs. It’s an album full to the brim of restlessness, thwarted love and longing, and so when later that week my friend embarked upon her first relationship with a young lad who played guitar or at least carried a guitar case around with him and left me to my own devices it formed the perfect soundtrack for a summer I spent moping around not knowing what it was that I was so, so sad about. If you want to join in a little of my teenage world-weariness then I recommend the track…

Track: How the Heart Approaches What it Yearns  

Thanks for Nothing, Hippies (Salmon Poetry) is Sarah’s latest collection of poetry.

 

Jim Carroll

Marvin Gaye’s – What’s Going On

From day to day and week to week, the musical homies by the stereo shift and change. Your mood changes so your musical moods change too. There are days when only a piece of superbly pitched pop fluff will do the trick, the musical equivalent of a bar of dairy milk chocolate. Other times, it takes one of those dusty grooves which once captivated you on some euphoric dance-floor to break through the noise. With increasingly regularity, new tunes pop up to take their place in the firmament.

The problem in a time of plenty is that competition for your ears and attention is fierce. Your ranking and filtering system are shot to bits because the width and depth of what you’re gauging changes size and direction and scope and shape with such regularity. If your ears are truly open as opposed to you thinking that they’re open, the music which seeps through to your cranium should always be changing – new styles and tones, new takes on old music, old takes on older musics. You need to have the head-space for 360 degrees and not have your head spin trying to keep up with all those spans of longitude and latitude.

And then you should also be fierce enough to stick to your guns. Years ago, I remember drawing up a list of my favourite albums. There was a berth near the sharp end for Miles Davis’ “Sketches Of Spain”, an album which still sends me on a bus journey around the hills of Almeria. There was room for DJ Shadow’s “Endtroducing”, a sampledelic jamboree which changed how I listen to and hear music. There was space in the single digits for Dusty Springfield’s “Dusty in Memphis”, an album of blue-eyed soul which threw light into the shadows. There was a spot reserved for Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska”, an album which turned a young Tipperary lad’s head westwards towards the prairies and deserts and badlands of America.

But the album at the top of the list then is the album which is still at the top of the list now. I listened to it yet again the other day. I’ve forgotten how many times I’ve listened to it at this stage. I have it on CD and vinyl and ripped onto the hard-drive for good measure too. You can never have too much of a good thing.

I know Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” as well as I know my own skin. It’s a peerless, magnificent, earth-moving affair, an album full of awesome music which I’m so in awe of because I have no idea how they did it. Sure, you can read all the stories and books you like but unless you were there, you really don’t know.

Last year, I found myself in Detroit for a week, that once grand, proud city now up to its neck with abandoned buildings, social strife, crime and a serious lack of municipal funds to do anything about the above. I walked to the Hitsville USA building over on West Grand Boulevard, paid my dollars for the tour and found myself in the studio. Weirdly, there was no music playing. As the rest of the tour party went through to the souvenir shop, I sneaked on my headphones, closed my eyes and pressed play on “Inner City Blues”. The shivers ran up and down my spine. The best music sends you somewhere else and “What’s Going On” does that every damn time.

Track: Inner City Blues

Jim is a music journalist, blogger and editor for The Irish Times He runs a blog titled On the Record for the newspaper. 

 

Dimitra Xidous

Pearl Jam – No Code – Those Three Words That Define Joy For Me

Pearl Jam was my youth – and, even though I left them for a bit when No Code came out (I couldn’t understand the shift), I made my way back to them – have stuck with them well into my thirties. Say what you will about Eddie Vedder, I like him. I like the way he commits his face when he sings. It’s raw and it’s visceral and it’s all there. And even though it was the album that made me leave them for a while, I love No Code. I love Hail Hail, and Lukin, and one of the greatest little lines in any song for me is ‘circumstance, clapping hands’ from Who You Are. Those three words define joy for me, as a feeling and a complete state of being. The album also holds a memory of a good-bye, of having to say good-bye to one of my dearest friends in Edinburgh some years ago. I cannot listen to Smile without thinking of her, of our good-bye at the airport, and of the friendship that continued on, even though we no longer spent every day together. I am a romantic with all things and so it is that No Code lives and breathes for me, for the way in which it feeds my memory; that even when something is done and gone and off in the past, a song – or two, or even a truckload – can bring it all back, and you can cry, or you can laugh at it all, and how it all amounts to a life lived well. Between my two hands, as I type this, there is great joy in knowing that.

Track: Who You Are

Dimitra is a Greek-Canadian writer and poet whose work has appeared in  Bare Hands Anthology (2012), and Words and Wonders: A Guelph-area Anthology (2001). In 2011 she was long-listed for the Montreal International Poetry Prize.

 

Ferdia Mac Anna

The Allman Brothers – Live at the Fillmore

When I was 16, my Dad returned from directing plays in the USA and brought me a new LP – The Allman Brothers Live at the Fillmore. Wide-angle, rollicking, rambunctious, gritty, soaring, often achingly beautiful rhythm and blues music played by six long-haired chaps from Georgia. They had two lead guitarists and two drummers. I loved it so much it’s still my favourite record, over forty years later. There is one tune – ‘In Memory of Elizabeth Reed’, written by guitarist Dickey Betts, that I listen to at least once a week. Shortly before my dad passed away, I asked him how he knew to buy me this treasure. I figured he must have known his eldest son very well well. He told me that he had walked into a record store at the airport on his way home and asked the guy behind the counter what music 16 years listening to this year. The guy recommended the Allmans. Somehow, that only made the gift more precious.

Track: In Memory of Elizabeth Reed

Novelist and screenwriter Ferdia has written three novels, including The Last of the High Kings which was made into a successful Hollywood movie. It was recently republished by New Island Books as part of the Modern Irish Classics series.

 

Oran Ryan

Hawkwind – Hall of the Mountain Grill

It’s hard to quantify the effect the Hawkwind album ‘Hall of the Mountain Grill’ (1974) had on me when I heard it first. I was fourteen years old. I saw the cover of the album while browsing in Caroline records on Richmond Street. It was a painting of a half-sunk spaceship, mired in a misty lagoon. I remember buying it, bringing it home and putting it on. Holding it in my hands, imagining I was there in that lagoon looking at this ship, hearing the music, the slow rhythmic build of a music that mesmerised me. I was sitting in my father’s rooms, all alone, listening to Hawkwind playing Psychedelic Warlord’s Disappear in Smoke, and I was transported. Then came the howling haunting Wind of Change, then, D Rider. Before the album was half over, I had become a lifelong fan of this band. The album title is a nod to Grieg’s Hall of the Mountain King and a restaurant the band used frequent, the Mountain Grill. I named the main character in my novel One Inch Punch, Gordon Brock, after Dave Brock, the lead vocalist of Hawkwind at the time  What a wonderful album!

Track: You’d Better Believe it.

One Inch Punch (Seven Towers) is Oran’s third novel.

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This Must be the Place

Diana FriedmanThe first time I set foot in Dublin, this city bit me in the ass. It’s sweaty and full of speed, it’s dirty and alive, it’s loud with the thumping of punk, thrash, metal, car horns, endless voices, and the heartbeats of artists everywhere. On that visit—a brief stopover on my way home to the U.S. from Spain—Dublin sliced a vein and I made no effort to stitch it up. Instead, I let it bleed into a novel.

I can think of no cliché more potent for an American than the notion that Ireland feels like home. This petite country of five million has spawned 40 million offspring in America alone and based on the constant crowds at JFK’s Terminal Four gearing up for homeland tours, the chains of buses choking the roads of County Clare, it appears that most of Ireland’s children want to come home at one time or another. If Ireland held a full-on gathering, not this miniature DIY, community-based, one family-at-a-time thing, and opened its doors to all of its diaspora children simultaneously, the country would capsize and sink into the sea.

My family would fall into the “friend” category at that gathering. With the exception of one small band of Lithuanian Jews who, as the story goes, disembarked in Cork when they thought they heard the captain call out New York, it’s a good bet none of my tribe, close or distant, ever stepped off the boat here.

My friends keep asking: What’s up with her and Ireland?

Answer: I have no idea.

All I do know is that seven years after my first visit, nowhere else does my brain catch fire like Dublin, spewing creative output at a pace that baffles even me. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, writes that the work of an artist is not so much to make things up, as to get them down. When in Dublin, that’s what I do. I open my ears to the stories and I get them down.

hallIn August, 2012, I visited the Irish Writers’ Centre for the first time. I was on my way to the Dublin Writer’s Museum, but I’d been there before, and while the guardians of Irish culture might rip my landing card to shreds and toss me back on the plane for asking this, I’ll venture forth anyway: exactly how much Joyce, Beckett and Yeats does any one person actually need in one lifetime? Especially when Dublin has such a current bustle, vibrancy, art of merry making and merriness of art-making. You can’t spit in this city without it hitting a poet, painter or playwright, all of those faculties sometimes rolled into one.

I know that things are not what they used to be. That the price of economic growth has been a vast migration of the old artistic core from Dublin’s city centre to the fringes. That the government is broke. Drug lords have faster cars than the police and lead them on lengthy car chases for sport and spite. Austerity is a convenient synonym for further disenfranchising the already disenfranchised. That more and more people are in the streets. The list goes on.

But so it does everywhere else as well. Ireland may have been an island for all of its existence up until now, but, as John Donne might assert, were he here today, no island is an island. The world is too interconnected now.

I’m also acutely aware that as a visitor, I’m exempt from the country’s underside. I don’t have to suffer the daily frustrations of bureaucratic malfunctions and intransigence. When abroad, like any traveller, I am other. But here’s the thing: for a writer, transformation to other is the best tool in the toolkit. Not succumbing to the daily grind and gloom. Stepping outside yourself to access a set of fresh eyes and ears. To arrive at that far-reaching and mystical place where you thoroughly grasp that no one in the world can tell the exact same story as you.

eggMy novel is about an American woman, who, among other concerns, has a somewhat unhealthy infatuation with Bono. She crosses paths with the owner of a small record shop in Dublin, who, needless to say, has differing opinions about Bone-oh and his tribe of twats. After a number of humorous e-mail exchanges, the relationship takes a different turn when they discover a shared affinity for the written word.

road recordsKnowing nothing about the nature of running a Dublin record shop, I searched for someone in town who would let me learn, and wound up hanging out in the now (sadly) defunct Road Records on Fade Street. Road, for those who never had the privilege to visit, was a unique little shop that focused on selling Irish indie music long before indie went mainstream, before Damien Rice sold out huge American venues, and before Bell X1 ever played their first note in the states. The shop carried everything from mainstream to unsigned to undersigned artists and it was not uncommon to find Meatloaf, the Boredoms and Miles Davis overlapping in the display window. Because of its focus on Irish indie music, it was a hub of the indie music scene in Dublin for many years.

Road’s owners, Dave Kennedy and Julie Collins, two amazing people, as everyone who knows them knows—were not only kind enough to let me loiter incessantly at the shop to conduct my requisite snooping and eavesdropping, they were also more than gracious about answering every stupid question I have been throwing at them these many years, all so that I could indulge in the pleasure of writing my book. And lucky me: another fabulous by-product from hanging out at Road was all the indie Irish music I was exposed to, such as Dinah Brand, The Villagers and Rory Grubb, to name just a few of the dozens of amazing artists I never would have found otherwise.

So, as I was saying about Ireland’s old greats versus its new ones:

Why paddle around the past when you can dive straight into the present?

Or, as our friends to the very far east like to say: Be Here Now.

It was in that vein that I turned away from the Dublin Writer’s Museum and climbed the steps two doors over at the Irish Writers’ Center, a decision that later handed me an unexpected gift, the kind I have paradoxically come to expect every time I visit Dublin. June Caldwell, in charge of international relations & membership at the Centre, deciding that I wasn’t lost or looking for a place to piddle, or seeking to pillage the donation jar, invited me in and plied me with tea and biscuits, information on writing courses, and the upcoming Novel Fair, to which I eventually submitted my opening chapters. In the middle of our chew and chat, we darted across the room to a computer to watch Katie Taylor smash her Russian opponent to bits to take the gold. It was more than a good moment to be in Dublin.

And, as it turns out, the Centre was more than a good place to stumble into for other reasons. After all, my book is about two aspiring writers, one of them from Dublin, so why not hang in the hub where aspiring Dublin writers gather? Over the years, the novel has received interest from agents and editors, but no publisher has bitten yet. There is, I understand, from the powers that be, more work to do, even if I often don’t understand what it is I’m doing until after I’ve actually done it. It may seem disingenuous, but one of the joys of writing this novel has been discovering everything I don’t know and then pushing forward on blind faith that I will learn what I need to learn as I go.

On that first visit to the Centre, I knew what had to hit the cutting room floor and what had to change thematically. But I had no idea how to fill in the huge gaps I was creating. As usual, though, the minute I stopped thinking about it—I believe it was somewhere over Prince Edward Island this time—the answer arrived: it was the Irish Writers’ Centre that needed a small scene in my book. Or, better stated, my book needed the Irish Writers’ Centre.

And so I’m back, squirreling myself away on the top floor of the Centre, working on a set of rewrites. This time, I warned June I was coming, and when I arrived, she had an offer for me I couldn’t refuse: in exchange for giving me space to work at the Centre for a few days, would I blog about my experiences as an American Writer in Dublin?

Would I?

Yes, I would!

And so I am.

********************************************************************

Diana Friedman was born and raised in New York City, and corrupted at college in California and upstate New York, where she got a few degrees, none of them in writing. After doing the east coast-west coast leap a few times, she landed outside of Washington D.C. in 1996 and has been there ever since. To keep bread (and butter) on the table, Diana works as a science editor/writer, but her true passion is creative writing, particularly fiction. About seven years ago, she passed through Ireland on her way back to the States, and, finding herself compelled to write a novel partially set in Dublin, discovers herself here quite a bit.  She’s lost track of whether she now visits to work on the book or to holiday, but as these two activities are equally fun, she no longer bothers with that distinction. Except for the taxman.

Her 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. On her most recent visit to Dublin, Diana was asked to guest blog for the Irish Writers’ Centre as an “American Writer in Dublin.” She has no idea what that title means but she agreed happily in the hopes she might find out. If you’ve enjoyed her writing you can find more of her work at: www.dianafriedmanwriter.com

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 https://twitter.com/Dfriedmanwriter

 

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Nelipot Poets: Vote Now

nelipot

 

Earlier in the week we got poets to submit poems made up out of five of ten words we plucked from our heads and our dictionaries.  The results were ridiculous, wonderful, and in a few cases, deranged. It makes the choice really hard. But now we are shifting the responsibility onto you.

Please vote for your favourite by replying to this thread (please include your name – votes from anon will not be accepted). We will also accept votes via twitter which are posted to @irishwritersctr and end with the hashtag #Nelipots

We have left the poets names off to poems and would ask the writers not to post which poems belong to them publicly. Keep it fun and fair! Voting ends on Thursday at 6pm.

 

Entry One:

The Nelipot’s last cut

 

After drinking turmeric from the chipped

spout of a pink teapot, waves of collywobbles

caused her to retch a string of bile-coated grawlix,

startling giraffes necking amongst mimosa leaves

on the adjacent page. They all became trapped

in the first issue’s title story when the comic folded.

 

An unpublished second edition starred a surgeon

spilling six pounds of spawn and fourteen frogs

from her opened stomach, onto the theatre’s floor

while chanting batrachophagous to the nurse.

Then dancing across the room, wearing a look

of relish as jellied pearls oozed between his toes.

 

Today, giraffes chew on acacia leaves and our dog

licks my husband’s feet as I stare into the pond.

 

 

Entry Two:

Imprints

 

The war starts; we go nelipot, the gang of us,

walking in a field of falling sun,

dodging cattle, tracking muck.

 

The pond is full of them, and there’s a dare –

I’m white-mailed into trying batrachophagous,

put my foot down. Two slots, two bruises; just a lick.

 

Then we play doctors; one’s a surgeon, plucking hairs.

I kick the collywobbles, surviving jibes,

think pink fairy buns, the teapot waiting.

 

When I hold them back, the tears,

they know I’ve won.

 

 

Entry Three

The Bad-tempered Anti-subculture Giraffe

 

“Get some shoes buddy!”

 

The giraffe sneers at the grazing nelipot,

bothering no one on principle

(except some trees not know for their tactility).

 

Giraffe licks turmeric from a teapot and heaves,

(he thought it was Horlicks, his favourite tipple),

growling grawlix. Beeps.

 

The surgeon will have to be called

to extricate the collywobbles

from his large intestines.

 

(Not much he can do about giraffe’s bad-temper.)

 

“Shower of wasters! The batrachophagous French

only eat the legs!”

Pink with rage he beeps, beeps, plops.

“Grawlix, grawlix Hippies.”

He has some neck.

 

 

Entry Four

Nelipots – A Life Explained.

 

What on earth, you may ask, is a Nelipot?

I Google searched, for this task, here’s what I got:

 

It’s one who goes, for many days, on the trot,

With nothing on their feet, No not a jot.

No lacing shoes, or heavy boots, in a knot

Feet stay pink and bare, in cold weather, and in hot

No fear of sloshing hot water in teapots.

No worries of rocks, dog poop, or foul rot.

Only a hardy soul would give this life a shot.

No collywobbles, he’s as Brave as a Scot.

Licks his wounds, carries on, curses a lot.

 

 

Entry Five

The Oxpecker*

 

I was the Oxpecker to your Giraffe

used my licks to swallow your ticks

For ten years long, we lived on pink gins

a cacophony of sweets and sins.

 

Used my licks to swallow your ticks

my belly grew big and bold till

your cacophony of sweets and sins

made the acacia leaves lose their hold

 

My belly grew big and bold

with turmeric, you wanted me exotic, more erotic

but the acacia leaves lost their hold

The teapot turned cold

 

With turmeric you wanted me exotic, more erotic

Put me out off my misery, I said

The butterflies inside have grown old.

Return me to my song in the wild.

 

Put me out off my misery I said

Return me to my song of the wild

I was the Oxpecker to your Giraffe.

 

*Oxpecker is a bird that cleans parasites from large mammals i.e. the giraffe

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Win a Place on a Poetry Workshop with Leanne O’Sullivan

Poetry Competition for Nelipots Who Feast on Frogs.

kermit

Just for fun we’re having an impromptu poetry competition!

Below is a list of 10 words, use a minimum of 5 of them in a poem and send it to submissions@writerscentre.ie by 1pm on Monday. We’ll choose a 3 – 5 of our favourites and put them up for public vote on the blog on Monday night. Voting will close on Thursday, the 7th of March. Poems should not exceed 20 lines.

The winner will receive a place on the Poetry Workshop with Leanne O’Sullivan on the 9th of March.

 

nelipot

batrachophagous

surgeon

collywobbles
grawlix
giraffe
turmeric
pink
teapot
licks
If this all sounds like too much work but you’d love to attend a class with the wonderfully talented Leanne O’Sullivan do check out our website and book yourself a space on the course.

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The Young Pretenders: New Writers’ Group Seeks Members

The Young Pretenders Writers’ Group is a newly formed network for young writers (age 18 and up) who want to meet kindred spirits in an informal setting. Unlike other writing groups we don’t sit and listen to each other reading our work; we exchange stories and ideas online and meet in person every few weeks to discuss, offer advice and support, and just share our common passion for writing.

We’re currently looking for writers of all shapes and sizes to join us – bloggers, journalists, aspiring novelists, and everything in between. If you’re starting off in the world of publishing and want to meet like-minded folk then come and join us. For more information email youngpretendersdublin@gmail.com. We’ve just joined Twitter too: @YPWritersGroup

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Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair 2012 in photos.

After so much work, waiting and worrying, the inaugural Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair went off without a hitch! Below are a few photos of how the highly-caffeinated day transpired…. Well done and thanks to all who came!

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Oran Ryan reviews Census 3 launch

 

There is no shortage of Writers in Ireland. Whether they hail directly from Ireland or come here to live and work and hopefully stay, the diverse nature of styles and influences and historical experiences inherent in their work is fascinating to listen to, and certainly at events like this, which is a census of such different writing styles, one hears everything.

At the IWC on Wednesday 22nd Feb 2012, there were literally hundreds of writers coming and going from about seven o’ clock till ten in the evening , some reading, many buying large numbers of the Census 3 anthology, proud parents delighted to see their offspring get their first publication, Writers with many books to their name checking the text and pleased to see friends they admire in the same book as they, others who have been to so many launches, or indeed are dropping by to say hello to buy a book and wander off to another event, got to meet the people for the few minutes they were there they hadn’t seen in years or weeks. Writing is one of the most uncertain and lone of existences. Hence these moments – whether it be a celebration of the launch of a rather big book like Census 3 or a smaller reading - the mere fact reading and celebrating the written word is not just a key element of the creative process. It is that. But it connects one with others who are beavering away at their own work. Mr Eamonn Lynskey, poet, wit and raconteur, who edited this particular tome, led the proceedings, that is, after the managing director, Sarah Lundberg, welcomed the throng of poets, thinkers and scriveners, and spoke of the challenges and joys of bringing out the third on the Census trilogy. (Word has it there will be a forth). Eamonn introduced six readers, as I recall, including Seamus Cashman, Lucy Hattaway, Clar Ni Aongusa, John Sexton, Hugh Mc Fadden, among others. The readings were representative and excellent. With 94 authors, it was impossible to have even a quarter of them up on stage. I thought it a good thing, though . A launch is pretty much a celebration, where people can meet and socialize and buy books. So accompanying these words are many pictures. There are more. I keep getting welcome emails with more pictures. A good time really was had by all.

Finally this is my big opportunity to plug a friend of ours. The Irish writers Centre needs your support. It’s a fantastic place. Join them. Go to their gigs. Support them. They really went way beyond the call of duty to make us welcome and make the night such a huge success.

About Seven Towers
The Seven Towers Agency was set up as a not for profit limited company in 2006 by a group of friends who loved great literature and wanted to play a part in the cultural scene. They knew of a great many superb writers and poets, who, because of the size of the Irish Market, were not finding publishers and exposure to the public. Thus they began publishing and agenting books and setting up readings, and have continued to do so since then. Seven Towers is not supported by any grant or aid, and is run totally on the good will of those who help and promote our work. We strive to foster an atmosphere of collaboration and co operation among artists of many different genres and disciplines. We also strive to foster a strong international feel to our work, inviting poets from other continents to drop by and read with us and work with us. Not only this, but 7Towers runs readings in the US and in Britain, including the Last Wednesday Series, and the Chapters and Verse series. Seven Towers is immensely proud to be part of a flourishing Dublin Literary scene and sees a bright future for Irish and international Writing.
View all posts by Seven Towers →

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NaNoWriMo – The Final Roundup – by Grace Tierney

My annual novel-writing adventure is over. I finished my last chapter and 51,398 words on the 29th of November, which means I’ve won NaNoWriMo for the third time. Many other writers in my region have won too. 40,000 people worldwide wrote a novel in a month this year. Even those who wrote a few thousand words have won the challenge in my opinion, for daring to try.

As ML (municipal liaison) for Ireland NorthEast I’ve spent the last couple of days celebrating with my writers and planning for next year.

We held an online Thank Goodness It’s Over Party (TGIO) just after midnight on the 30th. I got to dance the jive with an imaginary Pierce Brosnan at that one! We held our real-world TGIO on the evening of the 1st of December. We chatted about our novels, what we plan to do next, and ate lots of chocolate.

Planning for next year is two-fold. As ML, I’m planning an October Plot Party in 2012 where we’ll plan our novels. A teacher in my region who runs a creative-writing club is hoping to run the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Programme too. The younger writers set their own word count goal (usually a bit smaller than 50K so it doesn’t compromise their schoolwork) and then dive in. It’s an amazing way to support the writers of tomorrow.

With my writer hat on I’ve been thinking about what I learnt this month. In 2007 I learnt I could write daily. In 2008 I learnt outlining in advance really helps me. In 2009 I won for the first time and became ML, but had to recognise my story didn’t work. In 2010 I learnt that I loved writing younger characters and discovered the limitations of having a ghost as a character. This year I learnt that I need more action in my plots. Also I had huge fun trying a new genre (children’s adventure fiction).

Are you tempted to join us in NaNoWriMo 2012? If so, jot it in your diary for October 2012 (for outlining and research). Then sign up today at www.nanowrimo.org so you get the introductory emails next year. We’d love to have you aboard!

Now excuse me, but I need to start printing my Nano children’s novel for my kids’ Christmas present. Then I need to finish and revise my 2010 Nano novel…before it’s November, again.

Grace Tierney (www.gracetierney.com) writes in Meath. Her work has been published internationally in print and online. She is the Ireland North East organiser for Nano (www.NaNoWriMo.org). Now that Nano 2011 is over she’s revising her second women’s fiction novel (started in Nano 2010). She blogs about unusual words at http://wordfoolery.wordpress.com/.

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Frank X. Buckley’s Address on November 24th.

In the first place I would like to thank Jack Harte the current chairman of the Board of the centre who’s commitment to it in recent years is unparalleled and who initiated this celebration. He was among the first to advocate a centre for Irish writers. In 1991 he negotiated with Mat McNulty a joint project, An Irish Writers’ Centre. Mat was then in the process of setting up the Dublin Writers Museum next door. For some time Jack had been concerned about the facilities and services available for Irish writers. He founded the Irish Writers’ Union in 1987. He secured from the government a commitment to make a building available for such a centre and got a promise of some funding from the National Lottery too. Jack came forward again in 2009 when the Arts Council ceased to support the centre and it was in danger of foundering. His skill and determination has given it new life.

It is more than twenty years since I first became involved with the project that was to become the Irish Writers Centre. Mat McNulty whom I knew through Skal, the fellowship of people working in the Irish tourism and hospitality industry was responsible for drawing me in. As CEO of Dublin Tourism he had already put his mark on Malahide Castle, The Martello Tower in Sandycove, associated with Joyce’s Ulysses, and Shaw’s birthplace in Synge Street and helped to save them as part of our cultural heritage. But he was especially interested in the Georgian period, its buildings and furniture. These two beautiful Georgian buildings were in peril. They had been vacated some years previously by the VEC who had moved their marketing school to larger premises on Mountjoy Square. Their peril proved an opportunity for Dublin Tourism to restore the buildings and to give them a new future in the Dublin Writers Museum and an Irish Writers Centre. It was Dublin’s year as European City of Culture. The project would provide “a hub and a centrepiece to make access to our rich literary heritage more accessible and more tangible”. Dublin needed and deserved a museum to honour its many writers of world renown and the whole of Ireland would benefit from a centre to promote its writers and help improve their craft.

I was excited by the possibility of assisting the project by lending some paintings to complement the building and enrich the experience of visiting it and working in it. The humane influence of the paintings would help to transform an empty house into a home for writers and contribute to the efforts of the team which was being assembled to work here. Dublin Tourism had managed the restoration of the buildings. Its subsidiary, The Writers Museum, next door was involved in the development. In those days before the Centre was up and running there was a very close connection between the museum’s building and the centre’s; an interconnecting door on the second floor opened to a push and the director of the museum oversaw this building
too. That is how the paintings came to be given on loan to Dublin Tourism – Dublin Writers Museum but with the intention that they were to be placed in the Irish Writers Centre. The loan became a gift when a few years later I had become ill and faced my own mortality. I believe now that my involvement in that giving contributed in no small way to my management of the illness and thereafter to resume collecting paintings again.

The pleasure of collecting has many aspects. There is the chase, the search, the finding, the badgering, the bargaining, the negotiating of terms, the acquiring. There is the delight in the acquisition, its installing at home, enjoying its presence. There is the study and understanding of its background, its style, its creative process, the acquaintance with the artist, sometimes developing into friendship. But then there is the added delight if sharing one’s pleasure with friends and others, in sharing paintings which have become precious and personal. Those who really enjoy art invariably wish to expand their appreciation and introduce others to the experience. have been greatly enriched by those who have generously influenced me in the past and I’m immensely grateful to them for that. These beautiful paintings have given me great joy over many years and it has meant even more to me that I have been able to share them with the people who frequent the centre. I am grateful for that too. I hope that they will inspire many more in they future as the centre goes from strength to strength.

Towards concluding may I also be bold enough to suggest to the Minister responsible for the Arts, Minister Dennehy, that he might look to the vacant derelict buildings on this side of Parnell Square to restore and develop them as the major centre for services to Irish literature. The old parliament buildings serve their present function very well and thousands of people, Irishmen and tourists, visit them every day in the course of their banking, business and private to enjoy and admire them and appreciate their history.  I find it a welcome distraction in dealing with my own sorry finances when I
go there.

And then finally, I would like to thank Sarah Symes and her colleagues, all of whom work voluntarily here who have organised the event. I offer a special word of thanks to the artists whose works form part of this collection, the first paintings I purchased and among them those who have participated in the evening, those who responded to the paintings in poetry and prose; and you who have come and by your presence have honoured me greatly. You make me realise all the more that in giving I am really the recipient. Thank you.

Frank X Buckley

24 November 2011

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