Tag Archives: Irish Writers’ Centre

Spotty memories seen in reverse

Greg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angela’s Cash is…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Museum1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just not the way the Germans do.

And for that, we can be grateful.

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

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

Playwriting at the Irish Writers’ Centre: a review

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When the Irish Writers’ Centre asked me to pen a review of the playwriting course with Jimmy Murphy, I was delighted to oblige them. As someone who has wrestled with a career in freelance journalism for more time than I care to recall (well, it’s only been a few years but the black lines under my eyes tell a different story), the chance to write a first-person review was too good an opportunity to ignore. I didn’t ask them to put a profile picture beside my by-line, with me looking out a window posing; wearing glasses that I don’t have a prescription for and chewing on the neck of a pen with one hand while stroking my chin with the other. I didn’t ask them to do that, but I have dropped several subtle hints. Unfortunately, I now regret that I agreed to write it.

playwriteIt has been a few weeks since I said my goodbyes to my fellow classmates and shared a firm handshake with Jimmy Murphy thanking him for the two-day course. When I got home I started rewriting a one-act I have been jousting with for two years – you’ll notice a common theme of combat when I discuss my relationship with writing. I have not left its side since: forsaking sleep, food, drink and other things. Regrettably my obligation to the IWC has dragged me away from my brilliant script and for that I thank them. Really though, I’m very glad to have the chance to recommend such a course to people who might otherwise not have considered it.

Firstly, the Centre is one of the most beautiful, intimate places I have visited in Dublin City for some time. From the moment you walk through the door to the sad but inevitable moment when you leave it, you cannot help but feel inspired. I arrived on Saturday morning with all my many anxieties about playwriting and left them all behind me on Sunday evening. The class consisted of people who wanted to write something but needed to relieve themselves of the inhibitions which led them to do the workshop. In the morning we gathered in the reception area and had a chance to meet and greet over tea and coffee. I found that iwcdoorI wasn’t the only participant in the workshop who suffers from what I call ‘Manhattan syndrome’. The opening scene from Woody Allen’s 1979 comedy/drama features a writer struggling with the opening lines of his novel, which he rewrites a couple of dozen times. Some people have trouble finishing their novel, but a more common problem is starting it.

It’s like Alcoholics Anonymous. You stand up and say: “My name’s Mark and I cannot finish a play!” And then someone else gets up and, patting you on the back, tells you they have the same problem. And then the tutor, in this case Jimmy Murphy, tells you what you need to hear. Jimmy, in the first half hour of the course, illustrated the importance of finishing work before getting all perfectionist with it. You can’t, after all, fix a car unless you have a car to fix. When you start a play – and this is the part that holds many people back – you need to finish it. Jimmy put us into groups to work on a play together. This allowed the chance to share ideas with one another and see how we all deal with the writing process. A good gender and age balance in the group gave the class the insight to get different perspectives on characters from colloquialisms to mannerisms.

“How do you deal with this character’s feelings towards that character?”

“Oh, I hadn’t thought of that. I like your idea.”

This is a great way of learning the fundamental skills of playwriting.

Gathering around a table and listening to someone who has been writing plays for over two decades was an invaluable experience.  Jimmy spoke candidly about problems which have arisen in his writing and exhibited the techniques he used to correct them. Using his own play, the engaging Hen Night Epiphany, he went through the entire writing process from early drafts to the final published piece. He detailed how he first envisaged the story; how some characters were nearly removed from the final draft, down to vital scenes from the script so that all of us could apply his techniques to our own work. Nothing instils a young writer with greater confidence than hearing a published author discuss the transition from original idea to published work. Jimmy said he simply had the idea for the play and got to work writing it.

A scene from Jimmy Murphy's play 'Hen Night Epiphany'.

A scene from Jimmy Murphy’s play ‘Hen Night Epiphany’ © Irish Theatre Magazine

Jimmy introduced techniques he used when certain characters were giving him trouble. He showed us a scene from his play done two ways: as a conversation between characters and as a monologue. Both told the story but it was obvious which did so more effectively. This served to show how there are so many ways to advance your characters and, indeed, get a better insight into their relationship with the other characters. He encouraged us to take characters that proved troublesome out, put them by themselves and write out what they want to say. Then bring what they have to say back into the play, turning monologue into dialogue. This practice advances the characters; who and what they are and exactly how they are feeling about the situation they find themselves in.

When we broke for coffee I found that other classmates were gaining confidence and had a better understanding of the writing process. We all agreed that if the class was to end prematurely we could at least take comfort from being able to get home and work on our respective plays. A weekend course might sound like very little time to learn anything of significance but the pace of the course, the constant, confident nature of its structure proved enlightening. It reignited excitement, an enthusiasm which informs the greatest creative thinking and leads to better creative writing. It’s all constructed in such a way that you go home with the confidence to say, “Wow, I know what I’m doing now. It makes sense.”  In my case I realised what was getting in my way was myself and my own anxieties. Others realised that they were on the right track. Some brought in work to be read out aloud as the class acted as an audience. When you hear other people react to your work it helps you see where you might be going wrong.

If you do take a course in the IWC try to show up early for class as the collection of books in the reception might take your attention as does the art scattered around the building, it’s well worth a good look around. I will be making a point of dropping in for a cup of tea and a goo at the shelves more often. I texted a friend when I left the centre that Sunday. He had recommended the course to me and I had to sum up my thoughts to fit a text: “Just home after what was an excellent weekend. Very enjoyable, informative and most beneficial. Thanks a million.”

MARK FOR BLOGIf only all reviews could be so brief.

Now you’ll have to excuse me. I’m going back to my baby and I might not be out until summer.

**Mark works in communications and PR. He is involved in local dramatics, is a keen theatre-goer and blogger of unpopular, serially-contrarian opinion. He also likes to read and write and basically do anything that doesn’t involve lifting heavy things.

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Filed under courses, Creative Writing, Irish Writers, Playwriting

Susan Lanigan at the 2013 Novel Fair: all my heart and love

NovelIdeaIn 2009 I made the first rough notes for the novel I would spend the next three years writing. All I knew was the theme: the white feather: I had the barest of character outlines, no plot and had no idea I was going to be writing a novel. I thought it was a short story. I was trying, and failing, to write a novel about something else. Sometime in October 2010 I made a stark, bare outline – so stark I wrote it in Notepad, no word processing software for me! – and then got going. I joined an online group and the feedback they gave me, so early in the process, encouraged me to keep going as I pasted wodges of first-drafty material on the site and probably sorely tried their patience.
As the story began to flesh out and characters come to life (some quite rudely walking in and demanding to be noticed) the Irish Writers Centre were also coming up with the idea of their Novel Fair, which inaugurated in 2011. I had managed an unspeakable first draft and was part of the way through the second, so I sent in what I thought would be a good beginning, an in medias res effort. I remember just finishing printing it, glancing over the pages and my inner Reader remarking, a propos of nothing, “Don’t like it.”
“What do you mean, you don’t like it! The writing is good; it’s not dull or staying in the same place too long.”
“Dunno.” The Reader can be laconic beyond the point of frustration. “I just don’t like it, that’s all.”
I sent it in and sure enough it got nowhere. Then again given that the staff of the Irish Writers’ Centre were presented with several sacks and a total of 600 manuscripts – well, unemployment was high, what to do? – anything that was not coruscatingly good was not going to cut the mustard. And looking back on it, I was better off beginning at the beginning and not being a smart you-know-what about it. So I licked my wounds and kept on writing. And writing. And then next year came around.
I had a new character join the assembly, Lucia, an opera singer from Jamaica who had travelled over to England during the war. On her shoulders rested the prologue, and therefore the rest of the book. A night or two before the novel fair, I realised the prologue had to be rewritten. It was down to her. She pulled a blinder. And so I got the phone call and learned I – we – had made it through.
novel fairSo on Saturday 16 Feb, from 10.30 to 4, I went to the Irish Writers’ Centre with nine other novelists and pitched my novel almost non-stop to 14 publishers and agents in the industry. It was wonderful, exciting, overwhelming. When I got home that evening I went straight to bed and slept for several hours. (The three glasses of Prosecco I had afterwards courtesy of the IWC probably helped in that regard!)
It was an amazing privilege to speak about a dream that in Yeats’s words, “had all my heart and love” to luminaries in the Irish and English publishing industry. Each one of us novelists sat at a table and waited for the next publisher or agent to come around and when they did I would hand them my bio and, if they wanted to hear it, do the elevator pitch. If it happened that my particular elevator travelled five floors rather than one, I don’t think they held it against me they were all really nice  And also it was good to hear from the publishers about their own plans and what they wished to envision, as well as what interested the agents.
The people who spoke to us that day publishers: Penguin Ireland (Patricia Deevy); New Island (Eoin Purcell); O’Brien Press (Michael O’Brien); Hachette Ireland (Ciara Doorley); Liberties Press (Clara Phelan); Lilliput Press (Sarah Goff); Transworld Ireland (Eoin McHugh/Brian Langan); Picador (Paul Baggaley) agents: Ger Nichol from The Book Bureau; Faith O’Grady from Lisa Richards; Marianne Gunn O’Connor; Jonathan Williams; Sheila Crowley from Curtis Brown.
The previous Saturday, we had a talk in the IWC about what to expect. This was facilitated by Anthony Glavin, crime novelist Arlene Hunt and Niamh Boyce, who secured a publishing deal as a result of taking part in last year’s Fair. Anthony, one of last year’s judges, told us what worked in a novel and what he would have been looking for. Niamh explained what it entailed, advising full printing of partials for all and she was absolutely spot-on in her advice as partials went flying out. (In my bio a separate page with picture and writing CV I also added a public dropbox link in case people preferred the electronic option) Arlene was wonderful she made us all pitch on the spot and provided invaluable advice on how to structure the pitches. I took everything she said on board.
The Irish Writers Centre, ably staffed by June Caldwell and Clodagh Moynan as well as Gareth, covered the day very ably and efficiently. The all-important bell when the fifteen-minutes for each session was up made it very structured and well-organised. Food was on hand when needed, and at the end of the day, drink too!
I had an interesting conundrum in that two of the people I was due to meet had initially rejected my partial when I started tentatively subbing late last year. I decided I would tell them straightaway and offer them the option of having coffee and cake rather than hear me pitch. In a way these sessions were the best because I did not feel going in that I had to pitch and telling them they’d turned me down already broke the ice. As it happened, in both cases, they were happy to have another look so I pitched anyway!
By the end of it my head was in ribbons, but I also realised what a unique opportunity this is. I don’t know of anything like this anywhere else. And I realise how incredibly lucky I am to have been able to take part on a day like this and meet people you would normally as a writer never meet face to face. I would recommend 100 per cent that anyone seriously working on a novel enter this competition and I’m very grateful to the Irish Writers’ Centre and the publishers and agents for making it possible. No matter what happens, it was so beneficial to be there; the experience itself was an enormous boost to my self-confidence even if I was wracked with nerves beforehand!
But the fourth draft in full must still be honed. There is work still to be done. As a friend of mine said to me on the phone yesterday was a victory,Susan today is a day of rest. And tomorrow back to work on the MS!
Susan graduated from a Masters in Writing in NUI Galway with first class honours in 2003. Since then, she’s had short stories published nationwide in a variety of good quality magazines and publications, such as The Stinging Fly, Southword, The Sunday Tribune, the Irish Independent, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Mayo News. She’s been twice shortlisted for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award, and won highly commended awards for short stories and poetry elsewhere. Currently (as well as being a Novel Fair winner) she has one story published and another forthcoming in Nature Magazine’s Science Fiction section and is also featured in a special sci-fi/fantasy anthology Music For Another World. Her work has also featured in the fundraising anthology 50 Stories For Pakistan. Susan was shortlisted 30 out of 1,900 entrants to the Fish Short Story Competition 2011, where I have been longlisted in previous years. She’s  also a professional programmer/developer.

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Filed under Beginning the Novel, competition winner, Creative Writing, Novel Fair

Kevin Curran’s Book Deal!

Kevin Curran was a shortlisted ‘winner’ in our 2011/12 Novel Fair. Now he has a book deal with Liberties Press have laid claim to Kevin Curran’s novel, Beatsploitation. Here he talks about his experience at last year’s Irish Writers’ Centre Novel FairWhen you sent in your novel initially, what were your hopes/expectations? This was the first time I had sent any part of the manuscript off so I wasn’t sure how it would be received. I had work-shopped it with the Stinging Fly Novel Workshop about six months earlier, but there was still some trepidation.  I always hoped it would get selected, but didn’t hold my breath!

What is your novel about? How long did it take you to write it? The novel is about a teacher who ingratiates himself with a young African student in order to steal something from him. The two main characters, the teacher and the African student are the driving force behind the story. The initial push took a year of intense writing. Once I found the voice for the narrator – the teacher – and then found a voice for the African student, the thing really took off. Also, the main element of the story, its structure was firmly thought through in my head, but the sub-plot was hard work to make come in line with the overall plot. After a year of writing in shorthand and typing up after every chapter, I spent a year – right up until this month – getting the novel in shape. I’ve stood back from it and edited and edited, and then edited some more to try and really get down to what the bones of the story is about. So, all in, the novel took two years to get into shape.

When you got the news that you were shortlisted and invited to the Fair, were you finished the novel at that stage? I had finished the long hand and the typing, but now, a year later after getting the word I was selected, I can safely say I was nowhere near ‘finished’ as ‘finished’ should be. But, I suppose, that was one of the benefits of getting selected for the fair, it made me really work toward it and get my novel in the kind of shape it needed to be in.

Did you get any advice or prepare in any way for the Fair? Do you think it would’ve been helpful to have had some guided advice at this point, in say, how to pitch, etc? I did a lot of preparation for the fair. I was aware that such an opportunity, to get face time with publishers and agents alike, wouldn’t happen again so I made sure I did my research. I think finding interviews on the net that certain agents and publishers did was very helpful. There were certain things that kept on coming up in the pieces I read so I made sure to look at my novel through the terms and try to use the vocabulary that was being used by the publishers and agents. The pitch wasn’t something I had ready beforehand. I wanted to just sit down with the people and get a sense of what they wanted. As far as the synopsis went, the word limit set by the fair was great in that it really made me distil what I wanted to say about the story into one page. I used back page blubs from books I liked and really tried to get my opening synopsis paragraph to have the same impact as they did.

What was the day itself like, what was most memorable? The day itself was great. The people at the Irish Writers’ Centre made us feel very welcome and relaxed. The schedule was intense with the agents and publishers, but that’s what made it so exciting. You barely have time to take a breath after talking books and pitching to one big agent you just know you might never have had a chance to talk to again and then you started all over again with a huge publisher. It was surreal, but thoroughly enjoyable. The day itself was one buzzing blur so any one moment is hard to pinpoint as the most memorable. But I remember pitching to Daniel Bolger from Liberties and thinking he really got what I was talking about. That was exciting, just knowing a publisher was into what I was pitching.

Was it easier to pitch to agents OR publishers? Both were just as terrifying as the other to pitch to as you knew any one of them could make the difference!

What about the aftermath, how long was it before you got an agent or follow-on calls? We had the Novel Fair on Saturday and on Monday I had received a number of full manuscript requests. That week was fairly mad as a number of other requests then came in. The feedback and contact with the agents and publishers was a real opportunity to get out there into the world of publishing. 

What are you expectations now? I’m delighted to have signed my first book deal but am already working on my next book, so I suppose it’s a matter of looking forward and trying to make the next book as good as it can be. I’m just delighted I took a chance on the Novel Fair as I’m sure my manuscript, had I sent it out, would still be sitting on many slush piles today waiting to be read.

Would you do it all over again!? Tips for others entering the Fair? Of course I’d do it again, to get face time with so many influential people from the literary world was a once in a lifetime opportunity. My tips for others would be just go for it, and then if selected work as hard as possible in getting the book in shape for when you meet with the agents and publishers. The initial contact and interaction with the agents and publishers, if not beneficial in the short term, could really be of use down the line!

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Filed under Beginning the Novel, Creative Writing, Liberties Press, literature, Novel Fair, novels

A dynamic new MFA in Creative Writing

The majority of ‘lit-interested’ tourists visiting Ireland seem to show a preference for dead distingué, while ignoring a very vibrant ‘living writers’ scene. How will the new MFA in Creative Writing at American College Dublin concentrate on contemporary Irish authors and what their writing can offer students? The historical legacy of the Irish literary canon is extraordinary. Still, its weight can be a burden in terms of the perception of contemporary literary activity. The quality of writing produced in Ireland right now is remarkable. The recent Guinness world record Read For The World marathon event at the Irish Writers’ Centre was a striking snapshot of the excellence and breadth of the work of Ireland’s current writing fraternity. Over a hundred contemporary authors read from their works and the standard never flagged. It’s not surprising. A quality standard has been established in this country over a long period of time. Much as it’s hard to get anything less than an excellent espresso in Naples, the expected writing standard in Ireland is such that the general quality is very high – and the best of it is world class. And the writing environment is great. You need only attend a book launch on any given evening in Dublin, or indeed a random event at the Irish Writers’ Centre, to be impressed by the vitality, generosity and enthusiasm of Ireland’s writing culture in the here and now. Without wanting to gainsay the glories of the past – indeed, much of the MFA is delivered in Number One Merrion Square, the childhood home of Oscar Wilde – the programme seeks to tap into the rich and diverse resources of the present Irish writing and publishing scene, in terms of teachers, engagement with the contemporary Irish literary community, exposure to a wide variety of writing styles and approaches, and access to current publishing industry players and trends.

Who will be teaching on the MFA for the first year, what are their credentials? The writing workshops will be taught by Sean O’Reilly and Mike McCormack, both of whom are highly regarded authors and experienced teachers of creative writing. Sean is the author of a short story collection Curfew and Other Stories, novels Love and Sleep and The Swing of Things as well as an experimental novella Watermark. He is also contributing editor to the literary magazine The Stinging Fly and has a wide range of contacts in the Irish writing and publishing communities. Mike was awarded the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature in 1996 for his short story collection Getting it in the Head and has also published novels: Crowe’s Requiem and Notes from a Coma. He has been a writer in residence and teacher of creative writing at NUI Galway. The academic modules will be taught by our head of liberal arts, Dr Peter Sadowski and Dr Peter Rooney, both of whom have long experience teaching in the English literature field. There will also be a number of guest lecturers teaching on the publishing industry module in the second semester, among them agents, publishers, booksellers and publicists. The second semester also provides for master class presentations by a variety of well-known writers.

American College Dublin is a small University compared to most, but this surely has several advantages above some of the gargantuan institutions out there? The established institutions have many advantages over a small, private, not for profit college like ACD – vast resources, lofty reputations, the unswerving support of the state. But they are also, by nature, establishment-bound, conformist and conservative organisations. The state institutions have an internalised, inward-turning hierarchical culture that makes them genetically less predisposed to a programme of the sort we have developed – outward-looking, drawing heavily on interactions with the writing community outside the academy, open and reacting to the influences of non-academic prose practitioners and organisations. Make no mistake, the MFA is as academically demanding as any master’s level creative writing programme in Ireland. However, it does not limit itself to the confines of academia – it pursues an active and intimate engagement outside the walls of the academy with the current practice and practitioners of writing in Ireland today.

Could a compendium of courses by living Irish writers across many genres - the short story, the novel, artist as critic - make the point to the world Irish literature is not parked in the past but is very much part of the present? Exactly, that’s the point. The achievements of Ireland’s literary past are astonishing. We’re right to treasure them. We’re delighted to be able to deliver a creative writing programme in the childhood home of Oscar Wilde. But let’s use those historical associations as inspiration for new achievement, not huddle meekly in their shadow. There’s a richness of writing in Ireland today. Let’s celebrate that. Forget the robber bankers, the vapid ephemera of the recession, the gloom – writers and writing are building new monuments right now – ones that will stand long after the last ghost estate is bulldozed. We’re living in an exciting age for literary endeavour. This MFA wants to be a part of that.

Do you hope this course will allow students to see 21st century Ireland through a modernist prism, to observe a country not through the misty lens of rural Celtic arcadia and theme-park Paddy-Whackery!? There are no prescriptions on subject matter or interpretive approaches. The students’ themes may or may not be Irish, and the programme accommodates all manner of writing styles. The only thing that the programme insists upon is that the writing is done well. Having said that, students will be encouraged to develop material that steers clear of cliché, that is located in original experience and perception and reflects their own imaginative impulses. Some of that process may involve referencing of historical issues, popular imagery, popular culture. On the whole, the direction of the course is geared towards the production of material that is engaged with the writer’s contemporary concerns, rather than the creation of self-consciously canonical works.

The publishing industry and how writers are ‘getting their work out there’ is changing rapidly at the moment, so much so, it will be hard to apply the usual retrospective learning techniques to a module on publishing, for instance, how do you propose to overcome this? With difficulty! The pace of change in publishing is such that whatever you describe today will be different tomorrow. We’ll be using a team teaching approach on the publishing module in order to cover the gamut of publishing possibilities available. There are challenges in publishing as there are in all sectors of the economy. That said, the new technologies mean there are a lot of opportunities for getting work into the public domain. Alongside a full coverage of mainstream hard copy publishing and marketing in the programme, the class will also hear a lot from industry experts in present and emerging fields in electronic publishing, social media and the like.

How cost effective is the course for US students? Very. The tuition for the course is €8,000, currently about $10,000. Add accommodation and expenses for the year and return airfare and the total outlay is competitive by US standards for a master’s degree in creative writing – especially when you throw in the overseas experience in Dublin, a literary epicentre and as stimulating a city for the creatively inclined as you could expect to find. One important matter to note for US students – American College Dublin’s accreditation with the Middle States Commission on Higher Education means the MFA, like all the institution’s programmes, is eligible for US federal financial aid.

What other resources and add-ons will be available to students during the year? The programme’s association with the Irish Writers’ Centre is the first that springs to mind. Although most of the classes will be delivered at ACD’s Oscar Wilde House on Merrion Square, there will be regular programme events at the Centre. Students will be members of the IWC for the duration of the course, and will be encouraged to be fully involved with its community of writers and to participate in its schedule of activities, such as the novel fair and publishing days. It may be whimsy, but we also like to think that the regular peregrinations between ACD’s campus on Merrion Square and the IWC building on Parnell Square will provide a stimulus for the students’ creative processes!

Would one of the key achievements of the course be the production of real material from students potentially for publishers…to have this course as a practical launch-pad for writing careers on both sides of the Atlantic? That’s the ultimate goal. First and foremost, we want to work with the students so that they are producing material that is of a publishable standard and represents the best of their abilities. Over those processes we have a lot of direct influence. The goal of publication follows on from those primary aims and, although we cannot guarantee publication post-graduation and have a limited influence over such decisions, the course will do everything it can in terms of technical instruction, advice, motivation and education in how publishing works to facilitate the students in developing careers as writers.

When is the deadline for application(s) and how can people apply? The course begins the week of 17 September. We will be accepting applications up until the course fills, which we trust will be before then! Potential applicants can ring our admissions office for guidance on the application process at 01-676-8939, or applications can be made directly online through our website at www.amcd.ie.

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June Caldwell in conversation with Rory McEntegart before the start of the new MFA. Rory has been with American College Dublin since its foundation in September 1993, serving as Lecturer in History until 2001 and later as Academic Dean. He holds a BA in History and Politics from the University of Auckland, an MPhil in Reformation and Enlightenment Studies from Trinity College Dublin and a PhD from the London School of Economics. He is the author of Henry VIII, the League of Schmalkalden and the English Reformation, as well as numerous chapters, articles and reviews in historical books and journals. His current research is concerned with Assertio septem sacramentorum and the development of the theology of Henry VIII and the culture of religious discourse in England in the 1520s. Rory was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 2007.

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Just. Keep. Going.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Writing away from the agonies

In a week where we saw yet another person die on the streets of Dublin from random violence, do you think that contemporary novels are covering contemporary themes enough? I don’t know that we should look to novels to remedy the problem of violence on the streets – novels can do many things, but I think it’s a matter of some doubt whether they are capable of ameliorating severe social problems. But to answer your question more usefully, I think there is – at last – a gradual movement in Irish writing away from the agonies of the 1950s and towards an engagement with various kinds of contemporary experience. You can see it in Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies and you’ll see it in Claire Kilroy’s wonderful new novel, The Devil I Know, which comes out in August. It was bound to happen eventually – sooner or later, all the people who can’t seem to get over the 1950s will be dead, and all the young turks will be complaining that older Irish novelists won’t shut up about the Celtic Tiger.

What was the very first piece of fiction you wrote? When I was about seven I wrote a story about a boy who travelled into the future with his Professor friend and had a lovely day out. It was about a page and a half long and I still have no idea what obscure impulse moved me to write it. But that was it, from then on I was, for better or worse, a writer. The next thing I remember writing is a ghost story called “The Thirteenth Floor.” I suppose I was eleven or twelve by then. It dealt with a bed-and-breakfast with a haunted thirteenth floor. Must have been one hell of a bed-and-breakfast.

Bad Day in Blackrock was set in an era of ‘easy credit, two-car families and cheap cocaine’…what kind of ‘recession themes’ are we likely to see in books over the next few years? The four year period we now mean when we use the word “recession” is already the most written-about period in the whole of Irish history, and the flood of nonfiction coverage isn’t going to stop any time soon. I suspect this will discourage novelists from tackling it directly, in the short term. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: novels work best when they don’t have an axe to grind. I won’t make predictions, except to say that in certain quarters, the response to the crisis will be to write about farms and priests, just like always.  As long as there are Americans to think of Ireland as a priest-ridden potato field full of shivering orphans, there will be Irish writers to tell them they’re right.

How long did it take? About six months, all told.

What has changed for you since it was first published? I’ve become a full-time writer, which I never thought was possible. I’ve also learned that “being a writer” is pretty much just a job, as opposed to a permanent state of adolescent daydreaming. It’s a good job, though. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

Do you have themes that you explore in all of your work? It’s too soon to tell.

What’s something that might surprise your readers about your writing life? I write at night, from midnight to four a.m. Plays havoc with my social life.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Laziness.

What is the trait you most deplore in others? Humourlessness.

Who’s your favourite writer? Martin Amis.

Inspiration? I have a three-by-five card pinned above my desk that says in big letters, “IT’S FINE.” That’s usually enough to keep me going, whenever I start to worry about the work.

Give us a writing tip. The trick to a good novel is to tell a secret and keep a secret all at once. Not my quote but a good one! Obey the Ancient Mariner principle: your narrator simply has to tell this story – he/she has no choice. Tell every story as if your life depended on it.

Can people be taught how to write!? They can be taught how to write better – but only if they’re already passionate about writing.

Have you ever seen a ghost? No, and I never will.

What’s the first record you bought? Oasis, Definitely Maybe. It was the Nineties and everyone was doing it.

Kevin Power is an Irish writer and academic. His novel Bad Day in Blackrock was published by The Lilliput Press, Dublin, in 2008. In April 2009 he received the 2008 Hennessy XO Emerging Fiction Award for his short story The American Girl. He is the winner of the 2009 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. He is teaching a one-day writing workshop on The Novel at the Irish Writers’ Centre on Saturday 14th July, 10.30am – 4.30pm. It’s aimed at people who have already done some work on the first draft of a novel and are interested in completing a full draft. Accordingly, we will be looking at techniques for structuring a novel-length story (how the story might best be told), and examining point of view and voice(who’s telling this story?), as well as emphasizing page-by-page issues, such as tone, style, sentence structure, paragraphing, and characterisation. Close readings of participants’ work will be combined with discussion of general narrative strategies. Participants are asked to submit NO MORE than 15 pages of their work – ideally, a brief section from the beginning of their manuscript. Typescripts should be double-spaced. Due to the nature of the course, spaces are limited to ten people. Book a place on the course here.

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IWC Novel Fair – A Winning Tale

I always kept notebooks full of poems, lists, drawings and rants but I started writing seriously in 2008. I went to a workshop facilitated by John Mac Kenna and became hooked on writing short stories. I wrote till the early hours of the morning most nights during that time, it was like there was a backlog of stories needing to get out there. My stories were very short, 1,000 words and eventually they got longer and I started sending them out to magazines. I was lucky that the first story I sent out was published by Crannog, a Galway-based literary magazine. It was called The Wild Cat’s Buffet. My next story was published  by The Sunday Tribune and shortlisted for New Irish Writing Award. It was an encouraging start and I think encouragement is important to writers, it helps keep you going. Literary awards and magazines are vital in that regard, especially for short story writers and poets.

Nowadays poetry would have the strongest pull. I enjoy writing it more than I do fiction, it feels closer to the bone, more powerful (though short stories come a close second). For me, poetry can say things that the other two can’t. When I’m working on a novel I get terrible cravings to write poetry, I keep it at bay by buying beautiful notebooks with birds on them and stack them by the bed, for later, for when this project is finished, that’s what I tell myself. Often when I’m writing I don’t know what form the piece will take - I have a piece in a notebook for months now that still doesn’t know if it’s a poem or a story, and neither do I…it’s the tale of a woman whose brothers turn into wolves, so maybe it’s a hybrid…

The novel fair was a great experience for me, there were no negatives. It may have been more useful to have had more than 15 minutes with each agent/publisher but obviously it worked out very well for my book as I met my agent Ger Nichols and publisher Patricia Deevy on the day and because of that The Herbalist will be published in May 2013.

Yes the first draft was finished, I’d written it in 2008 and it took between 8 to 10 weeks to write. I wrote it fast and in the mornings longhand, typing it up at night when everyone was in bed. I averaged around 2,000 words a day and they seemed to flow out. That wasn’t the case with my other novel. Saying that, writing that fast meant I didnt edit or worry about meaning, contradictions etc.. so the second draft was a much slower and harder process. In many ways it was like reading something a stranger had written!

The novel is about a herbalist coming to a small town in the late 1930s – it is written from the point of view of four very different women who become involved with him.

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The Novel Fair 2013 will be launched tonight at 7.30pm. It aims to introduce up-and-coming writers to top publishers and literary agents, giving novelists the opportunity to bypass the slush pile, pitch their ideas and place their synopsis and sample chapters directly into the hands of publishers and agents. By the time the deadline rolled around on November 11th last year, the Irish Writers’ Centre had received over 570 entries, a figure which demonstrates the vast number of people writing fiction in Ireland today. Twenty writers were selected for the Fair. Many of the shortlisted winners have signed with agents, a few of the books are under consideration as well as Niamh’s publishing deal above! This year’s Fair includes an additional prize of a place on a seminar on ‘How to Pitch Your Novel’ to help the novelists perfect their presentations and material for the day. The deadline for the competition this year is October 17th and the Novel Fair itself will take place on February 16th 2013. A judging panel will be asked to select a shortlist of ten successful entries, presented to them anonymously. There is no limitation on style, genre, or target market, the only requirement being that the writer has not published a novel before. Publishers and agents will be invited to come along on the day to the Irish Writers’ Centre and meet the ten selected writers in person. Each writer in attendance will have a stand at the Fair with copies of the synopsis of their novel, the finished novel itself and biographical material.”

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Julia O’Mahony: awake for 28 hours

by Julia O’Mahony from Totally Dublin

Charged with attending the duration of the twenty-eight hour Read for the World Guinness World Record Attempt for ‘The Most Authors Reading Consecutively from their Books’, I was feeling quietly confident about my chances of staying awake for the entirety of proceedings. My optimism was, in this respect, perhaps a little misplaced, but my excitement about the event itself was, I would discover, entirely justified. I had been to the Irish Writers’ Centre earlier in the week, to meet with the organisers and their enthusiasm had been contagious. I got up bright and early on Friday, and after stopping for supplies, legged it up to Parnell Square. The centre was buzzing, and I got cosy in a seat that, though I didn’t know it yet, would be responsible for a really impressive bout of pins and needles in the early hours of the next morning.

And suddenly we were off! Larger-than-life David Norris, fit to burst with Bloomsday excitement, kicked off proceedings and when we had a chat, his declaration that I ‘was far too nice to be a journalist’ did at least have me in high spirits – the charmer. Next up, John Boyne, author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and former student of Norris’s, as it happens, really got down to the literary stuff, reading an excerpt of terse dialogue from his new novel, The Absolutist. That morning we sped through multiple Irish childhoods, flirted with punk rock and the Celtic Tiger, slipped in and out of geriatric wards and spent quite a while reflecting on dreams of a dinosaur. Each reader spoke for fifteen minutes, and we were flying through at quite a pace. At half twelve, I tucked into my Caesar salad, and was surprised to discover just how noisy a lettuce cruncher I was. I munched on self-consciously, particularly enjoying Iggy McGovern’s Proverbs for a Computer Age (beware of geeks bearing .gifs, etc) and spluttered croutons everywhere accordingly. Later, Mia Gallagher put on a superb show, with a brilliant dramatic reading from her novel Hellfire.

Throughout the day, it was great to see so many of the speakers hanging about to hear each other read, and there was a really pervasive sense of both camaraderie, and general jollity that lasted the duration of the 28 hours. They came to support one another, but also no doubt to listen to writers whose work they hadn’t encountered before. At sevenish, my housemate rolled up, with some tasty treats to keep me fortified, just in time to hear Pádraig J Daly’s recitation of poems, from his collection Afterlife. She popped off before the next reader, and I was pretty content until about half twelve, when I decided to do a quick circuit of Parnell Square, for sanity’s sake, with a second bout of visitors, who had popped in for a few readings. They suggested a pint, but I declined, knowing that a drink would hardly be likely to stave off closing eyelids in the coming hours.

We returned to the Writer’s Centre for one-ish, and. I was welcomed back by a member of staff, who threatened to tie me down in the room in which I was supposed to be listening for the remainder of my sentence. He was joking, I think, but caffeine does strange things to people, and not taking any chances, I scurried back upstairs, all ears once again. The wise people at the Irish Writer’s Centre had thought the timetable through, so throughout, the speakers alternated between poetry and prose, and there was no early – morning lull in subject matter. Indeed, it was at this point that things started to get really interesting, as the younger writers took to the podium for the night-shift. It was pretty upbeat, and I particularly enjoyed a natty comparison drawn between the courtship rituals of African Elephants and Dubliners drawn by Ross Hattaway. Then up stepped the monikered Winston Smith, to read from his book Generation F. He did tell me his real name, and I felt pretty cool to be privy to more than just his 1984 alias. However, in the days since the event, I have slept so deeply that I’m lucky to remember my own name, and hardly surprised that his top secret one has slipped through the net. His recital was hilarious, and just what we needed; it detailed his time working in social care in England; the numerous lines of red tape that he had had to wade through, and the range of eccentric characters that he was trying to help on the other side of it – the kids. When I spoke to him after, he told me that he still finds it bizarre that people are so amused by the whole series of events. It was just his life, he told me, rather modestly, though his reading was so well delivered, with faultless comic timing, that it’s hard to believe that he hadn’t at least got used to the books warm reception by now.

Sarah Clancy stepped up to read with a keen sense of fun, and pithy poems to match. Thanks for Nothing, Hippies has achieved widespread acclaim, and Clancy skipped through it eloquently, and had everyone chuckling. Then, after a pretty chilling retelling of Into the Grey by the author Celine Kiernan, it was time for a break from all the literary business, and so I slipped downstairs.

Twenty-eight hours is not really all that long a time to be awake for, I had thought to myself in the days prior to Read for the World. I knew that I’d lasted far longer than that before. What I hadn’t anticipated was the languor that set in after being read to for so long. My Mum used to read to me at bedtime as a treat when I was little, and it seems that it’s still as soporific as ever. I’d heard at least sixty-five speakers, and forgotten what it was to have feeling in my backside. I thought I’d nip downstairs, get a coffee and chat to some of the IWC staff for a while, and return refreshed, and ready to listen, to the room where the action was. I was a fool.

For a start, it was really nice downstairs. The staff were friendly, funny, and all genuinely excited about the event, but not so consumed by it that they weren’t willing to admit that they too, were absolutely pooped.  It was nice and light and airy downstairs, I could be noisy, and do a few star jumps to get the blood circulating in my limbs again, and I hung out with them for longer than planned. When I made my way back upstairs, it was even tougher than before I’d left. The room was warmer, and darker, and I had a few snoozing accomplices in the back row who were tempting me to follow their lead. I though about throwing in the towel, and counted how long I had left. Ten hours.

At half past five, something had to be done, and so I went for a quick jog along O’Connell Street. Hardly a gym bunny myself, I must admit that if that last sentence appeared effortless, it was in fact an elaborate deception. Quick and jog, in combination with my own levels of personal fitness, might be described as something of an oxymoron. Naturally, in keeping with this sudden lifestyle overhaul I went to the liberty of buying a McDonalds. Unfortunately, at 6am, McDonalds do not stock their usual meaty treats but instead, have a range of creepy egg-in-bread produce. Who knew! My Mcmuffin was an abomination, though the hash brown that is surely meant to serve as some sort of aperitif was satisfyingly delicious.

Back to the Reading Room, and things were getting tense. I was sat next to a man who had arrived at about midnight, and by half six, the strain was beginning to show. The pair of us were pulling off some pretty impressive impressions of nodding dogs as we fought sleep, and his eventual descent into sleep was my cue. If I was ever to stay awake for the Heaneys and Roddy Doyle, I’d have to catch just one or two cheeky z’s. I perhaps could have planned it better than to have fallen asleep on the organiser and founder of the Irish Writers Centre himself, Jack Harte, who’s comfy arm unwittingly volunteered itself as a pillow, but he didn’t seem to take my fifteen minute snooze too personally. I hope the particular speaker whom I chose to nap through understood my plight.

At eight o’clock, and feeling comparatively well rested, I noticed that the room had begun to fill up again. Were these hardcore Heaney fans? In fact, I think that it was people just strolling in and out, perhaps before tasty brunches. However, from nine, I was pretty sure that the cavalry assembled had turned out to see Seamus. His wife Marie read first, from her retelling of Irish legends – Over Nine Waves. And then, the man himself, introducing himself to the packed room as “the husband of the previous reader.” It won’t surprise you to know that he, like many of the other poets over the course of the event, knew his work by heart. Ninety-six readers had gone before Seamus, all of them thoroughly enjoyable, some certainly with the promise of being as poignant. And yet as he read his poem ‘Postscript’ the whole audience was on edge, particularly for the last few lines:

“As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways,

And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.”

Perhaps it was simply that so many of the audience clearly already had a fondness for Heaney’s poetry, but the audience was absolutely rapt. Then, off he slipped back to Sandymount, his departure as understated as his arrival (despite the flock of fans that traipsed after him). It was good to see that the room didn’t empty completely after Heaney – and there was a large audience for the remainder of the day. The penultimate reader and old-time favourite Roddy Doyle had everyone in stitches and was followed by Jack Harte, founder of the Irish Writers’ Centre, and organiser of the event, who spoke last. After reading one of his short stories, he thanked all the participants and organisers for their hard work, and then that was that! Twenty-eight hours since David Norris’s upbeat entrée, and the record had been broken. Everyone was delighted, and there was much running around and back-slapping done by all.

So, anything gained? By Saturday afternoon, when my friends joined me for a pub lunch before long-awaited nap time, I was sleep-deprived and delirious, but essentially feeling pretty jammy. I’d made a few pals, listened to Seamus Heaney read, chuckled at Roddy Doyle, and got chummy with David Norris. Yet easily the most important thing that I took from the experience was not, in fact, renewed confidence in my power to stay awake (if anything quite the reverse), but instead a genuine appreciation for the work of the Irish Writers’ Centre. There is so much going on – aimed not just at writers, but at readers also. I have every intention of becoming a member, and would definitely recommend that you pop along to the centre, or to one of their events, even if its duration is significantly less than twenty-eight hours.

©totallydublin.ie


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