Category Archives: writing groups

Spotty memories seen in reverse

Greg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a Comment

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

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.

 

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

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

10 Comments

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

Your First Novel – Halfway There

Novels usually begin with an idea. Sometimes that idea comes fully-formed and ready to be written with a cast of fleshed-out characters whose dialogue crackles with wit and wisdom. If that is your experience, you may stop reading at this point and continue laughing all the way to your bank. If, on the other hand, you are now half-way through your first novel and wondering why you did not take up bog snorkeling or hang gliding as a less demanding alternative, read on.

Writing a first novel begins on a wave of enthusiasm. You are finally taking your idea and moulding it into words. You are putting flesh on the bones of  ephemeral characters, endowing them with personalities, voices, locations and a time frame for their existence. They are doing your bidding and behaving with the exactitude demanded by your plot … or so you believe until suddenly at the halfway stage you run out of steam.  A friend of mine who is an experienced novelist refers to this stage as the ‘belly drop’. Suddenly that taut torso you are moulding begins to sag in the middle and develop cellulite. But enough of the metaphors and on to the real problems that can arise at this point.

Characterisation is one area where writers can run into difficulties. You start off with a female character whom you envisage as having a meek, timid personality but every time she opens her mouth she’s lippy and self-opinionated. The hard man you created behaves like a pussy cat with manicured claws. The middle-aged woman drinking a bottle of wine every night is becoming increasingly recognisable as your workaholic boss and you have a vision of yourself leaving the libel courts, pursued by photographers.

A character, whom you secretly love more than the others (it happens), must display a behavioural trait that casts him/her in an unflattering light. Your writing becomes defused as you over-explain this behaviour in an effort to make it acceptable to your reader. You won’t succeed. You have to trust your reader to understand the many dimensions of your character’s personality.

The plot that began with a clearly defined path has trailed into subplots that meander off in different directions. These subplots are fascinating but are causing confusion and weakening your main story line. You struggle with point of view. Who is telling this story? You began from a clear character perspective but other characters keep intruding, demanding to be allowed their point of view. If you allow them this liberty, how will it affect the development of your plot?

The back story you hoped would flow effortlessly into the main narrative bulges like a rather distressing carbuncle every time you cast your eye over the page. Your dialogue is (a) clichéd (b) a reflection of your own thoughts and beliefs  (3) indistinguishable between characters (d) static and does not move your story along (e) so repetitive and long-winded that even you are bored reading it back.

You attend a publisher seminar and come away convinced (a) it is impossible to find an agent (b) it is impossible to find a publisher (c) erotica is all that’s selling (d) you must write to a specific genre and your book can only be defined as ‘unique’ (e) you’ve discovered that writing The End simply means you’re starting your second draft (f) the writer you most admire and hoped to emulate has just listed the structure of your novel as ‘one of the great mistakes made by first time novelists.’

You discover that a real-life event linked to your fictitious plot occurred a year after the time frame you’ve established and a rewrite is necessary. A true-life incident that acted as a catalyst for beginning your novel is hindering your story as if develops its own energy and direction. As a stronger narrative emerges, this incident has to be distilled into fiction, otherwise it will limit your novel’s imaginative scope.

None of these problems are insurmountable. They are part of the learning curve that you travel when writing your first novel – and will be explored during the upcoming course: Your First Novel – The Halfway Stage, being held at the Irish Writers’ Centre, Sat 17th & Sun 18th November: 10.30am – 4.30pm. €150/135 members.

June Considine (aka Laura Elliot) is the author of sixteen novels for adults and children. As Laura Elliot she wrote The Prodigal Sister and Stolen Child,  published by Avon HarperCollins. Earlier novels include When The Bough Breaks and Deceptions (New Island.)She has also ghost-written a number of high profile non-fiction books and is working on her latest novel. Her novels have been translated in many countries, including Germany, Holland, Russia and Italy. She recently e-published Deceptions by Laura Elliot and gained invaluable experience in the on-line publishing field.

Her books for children include the fantasy Luvender trilogy and the popular Beachwood series of books for pre-teens Her young adult novels include View from a Blind Bridge and The Glass Triangle. Her short YA stories have been broadcast on  RTE’s Fiction 15 series and have appeared in a number of teenage anthologies in Ireland, the UK and US, including The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror Annual Collection.

Website: juneconsidine.com

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Beginning the Novel, Bestsellers, courses, Creative Writing, Fiction, How to Write A Novel, Irish Writers Centre, Self-promotion for writers, writing, writing groups

Meet the Ink Slingers!

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

 

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

2 Comments

Filed under courses, Creative Writing, Ink Slingers, Irish Writers Centre, writing, writing groups

What’s the use of a creative writing course?

People write. If they’re good enough, they get published. Then they write more and get more things published. Then they earn lots of money. All this happens smoothly and words flow in a constant stream of inspiration.

Pah! If only the business of writing were that simple!

Human beings are a complicated lot and writers themselves are a scruffy, jumbled bag. They write very different things and in very different ways. One thing holds true though, whether you wop words out on the page quicker than a laser-jet printer, or mull over your masterpiece for decades; it’s a long, tough road and you will probably write alone. You may get lonely and self-doubt could well tag along for the ride.

Creative writing courses are a great way to shake off pesky cling-ons of uncertainty and isolation that can be so severe as to make some writers give up completely. The chance to sit in amongst like-minded people who love to shuffle words around and tell stories, coming with their own ideas and angles, can be an invigorating experience not just for a complete beginner, but just as much for a writer who’s been battling along alone for a good while. And a writer at absolutely any stage can meet an inspirational writer or teacher who highlights something about their writing that they could not themselves see.

Want some hard proof of the brilliant revitalising power a writing course can have? No problem…

Poet Jane Clarke took part in a poetry course at the IWC back in 2007 led by Catherine Phil MacCarthy. She sowed the seeds of a poem there, The Lighthouse Keeper, drawing on Catherine’s encouragement to explore persona and to absorb herself completely in someone else’s life

Jane finished the course and abandoned the poem, thinking it was not really working and that she would return to it later. It didn’t happen. That is until, three years later, Jane found herself in another poetry course at the Centre, this time led by Paula Meehan, whose focus was very different; breath, rhythm and line. Inspired once more, Jane rustled through her papers at home, pulled out that poem and reworked it from a new angle. She then submitted it to an international poetry competition, the iYeats Poetry Contest, and won first prize.

Jane, a member of the Airfield Writers’ Group, has been writing for a long time and has had many poems published, but she has no doubt that putting yourself into different, creative experiences can take you in exciting writing directions. So as well as a chance to learn new things, a creative writing course could be just as useful in giving you an external stimulus; to put it another way, a blooming good kick up the typewriter!

Congratulations to Jane on her win and we look forward to seeing more of her work published in the future.

Donna Sorensen

2 Comments

Filed under competition winner, creative writing course, poetry, writing groups