Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Libran Writer has moved ...

... see me at libranwriter.wordpress.com

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Top Tips for Novelists (1)

The most infuriating advice for would-be novelists has to be ‘Just do it’. Unfortunately, it also happens to be most practical thing you’re likely to hear.

You’d think that those of us who’ve seen several books into print already wouldn’t need to be reminded of this core principle, but we do, we do. It’s so easy to be seduced into other activities: readings, workshops, reports, a mouth cancer awareness campaign, short stories. And that’s before life kicks in, with its accusing “what about me?”, and sets about wrecking the most carefully-laid of narrative plans.

Having recently succumbed to the wiles of a short story, I’ve come to see this as a kind of infidelity. A short story can sidle up to you like an attractive stranger at a bar, murmuring secrets into your ear. Before you know where you are, you’re in the grip of an idea, swept away on currents of language, the thrill of the unfamiliar, the fresh, the other. It’s hard to find yourself washed ashore on the far side of it, certain phrases echoing in your brain and rousing you from sleep at ungodly hours, the fingers of lost paragraphs plucking at the edges of your dreams. It's hard to accept that it’s over, whatever it was. That brief, tempestuous, exhilarating thrill has burned itself out. It’s time to go back to your long-term commitment to your novel-in-progress. You slink back to the desk, contrite, promising reform. You can’t blame your novel if you find it in a sulk: resistant, stubborn. Impenetrable. Telling you to leave, go and find a whole damn library to live in, if that’s what you want.

Never apologise, never explain. But some concessions are necessary, like an overhaul of your attitude, a renewal of your commitment to the more long-term relationship, the novel-in-progress. Give it good reason to stay. Can it trust you again? Are you worth it? If you’re allowed back, there might be conditions. You have to stay in more, pay close attention to the matter in hand, be there when the bulbs blow and the fuses need re-setting, stand ready with the toolkit and the paint if things threaten to come undone. Avoid temptations to stray.

In other words, dear reader, I’m taking a bit of time off from the blog. I have a draft to finish.

But I’ll be back. After the break ....

Monday, June 21, 2010

Arts for change

At least two events this weekend demonstrated that the arts can be effective in bringing about change.

The first Dalkey Book Festival was blessed with the most glorious weather a weekend has seen in these parts for a good long while. Local businesses and local artists came together in an ambitious programme of readings, discussion, literary tours, Italia '90 nostalgia and the unique opportunity to see Ross O'Carroll Kelly let loose on a turntable. Dalkey was packed with cheerful people in brightly coloured clothes, strolling around with melting ice-creams in hand, wandering in and out of shops, pubs, the market. As word spread the crowds grew, so that in the end there was standing room only at some events, with queues forming in the street. Those who were turned away went shopping instead, bringing much needed traffic to local businesses and the Tramyard market. One woman, in a fabulous pair of green Italian shoes, told a packed upstairs room at the Country Bake (where they supplied free coffee and tasties to the audience) that she was glad she’d come to hear Brian Keenan and Martina Devlin in conversation with Kate Holmquist instead of going to Mass. She reckoned she got more spiritual value from the discussion. No one contradicted her.

I’ve been told it was handbags at dawn for people who couldn’t get in to Finnegan’s to hear Maeve Binchy on Sunday morning. Several complained bitterly to the organisers.Considering all the voluntary work that went into planning this three-day-event and seeing it through to its triumphant conclusion, it hardly seems fair to berate the organisers because the festival was a success.

Later that evening, One in Four hosted Ómós, an evening of music, readings and performance to show solidarity with people who experience sexual violence in Ireland (statistically, one in four people, hence the name of the organisation). There was an extraordinary atmosphere in St Stephen’s church (the Pepper Canister), which was packed despite the glorious evening that did its best to lure us all out to play. Inside, there was music, drama, laughter, some tears. ‘Killing the silence’, is how one person summed it up afterwards. 'A beginning,' said someone else.

Wrapping it up, Theo Dorgan (who had steered us through the night) observed that if this sort of thing continues, we just might get our own Republic back. [http://www.oneinfour.org/]

Friday, June 18, 2010

Irish Writers' Centre

The IWC held a meeting for members last night. Jack Harte talked about the progress that has been made in salvaging the Centre over the last year or so, largely due to staggering levels of committment from himself (he didn't say that, but it's true), the other board members, and all the young volunteers who keep it open from 10 am-10pm Mon-Thurs and 10am-6pm Fri/Sat.

The IWC is a development agency for Irish writing. Plans for the future include creating and supporting a platform for prose readings both in Dublin and around the country, a great initiative. While the Centre is open to the public, members are entitled to perks such as free internet access and tea and coffee while they use the resource room, not to mention access to one of the best venues for readings and workshops in town.

Membership costs €50 for the year. I know we're all strapped for cash these days, but the Centre is worth supporting. Why not empty the change jars and invest in its future? It's really a fantastic resource, and members get to have a say in future initiatives.


In other news:

The first Dalkey Book Festival kicks off on Friday evening and goes on until Sunday night (18th - 20th June). It draws on a considerable pool of local talent (too extensive to fish for individual names - go to their website and see for yourself) and includes readings, performances, walking tours, plenty of discussion and a nostalgic return to Italia '90. Many of the events are free, and Dalkey is already humming in anticipation: www.dalkeybookfestival.org

On Sunday 20th , an evening of readings and music in support of people who have experienced sexual violence in Ireland will be held in the Pepper Canister Church, Mount Street Crescent. The event (Ómós) is being organised by One in Four: http://www.oneinfour.org/events/ Tickets cost €25

Another good cause, well-worth supporting.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Hated Words

The Dublin Writers’ Festival is over. At an event in the Abbey yesterday, Tom Murphy read from his plays. Afterwards, he and Conor McPherson had a ‘conversation’, followed by questions from the audience.

In the context of the vexed question of writing ‘Irishness’, and changing perceptions of what that means, Murphy told us about a conversation he had with Tony Cronin at a party, years ago. Tony Cronin said that his most hated word, growing up, was ‘Manliness.’ Cronin, Murphy went on to explain, had been to boarding school. Murphy’s most hated word would have been ‘Respectability’. It was the notion of respectability that he wrote against, in the early days of his career.

I’m paraphrasing. I hope I have it right. In any case, the two most hated words are accurate –I know because I wrote them down as soon as I heard them. I’d have left right then if I could, because I wanted to think about this wonderful idea of the most hated word.

Straight away, I knew what mine would have been, if I’d been part of that conversation: ‘Control’.

Which explains a lot. (I went to boarding schools too.)

As a tool for investigating the patterns of one’s life, this ‘hated word’ concept could be really useful. I’d love to know what other people’s most hated word is, and what it might explain about them.

Sometimes writing a blog is a bit like talking to yourself. Actually, it IS talking to yourself, but allowing for the possibility that someone might drop in and listen for a while, before wandering off to another keyhole.

Dear Reader, if you’re out there, tell me your most hated word and why.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Louise Bourgeois

The story is breaking on the internet that Louise Bourgeois has died, of a heart attack. What a loss. I thought she'd outlive all of us, and continue making art forever.

Last autumn, during a fabulous residency at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris, I often walked down to the Tuileries in the evenings to put my hands into her expressive piece Welcoming Hands (1996), a series of bronze sculptures set on blocks of granite: pairs and groups of hands and one tiny, solitary, child's hand. They invite touch, just as her great spiders invite entry, as her work compels admiration, as she herself inspired fascination and affection, even in people (like me) who never met her. She was a tiny woman, but a force to be reckoned with. Possibly the most inspiring thing about her, and what made her so important to so many of us was her absolute commitment to her art, and the astounding fact that she continued to make it, into her 90s.

One night in Paris that October, Gail Ritchie, whose residency in the CCI coincided with mine, came to drag me away from my desk, out to see her latest discovery: a new Louise Bourgeois piece, which she had come across by accident in the window of a tiny gallery on rue Jacques Callot. (This was the sort of lucky accident that happened to us quite often in those extraordinary weeks.) It was the Self Portrait (2009), depicting a 24-hour 'clock', with the hands set at 19 - 11, the year Louise Bourgeois was born. We stood with our faces pressed to the glass, like children, and stared, taking it all in. That she was 98, and still making striking new work.


In a recent documentary, Louise Bourgeois says: "My emotions are inappropriate to my size. My emotions are my demons ... It is not the emotions themselves, it is the intensity of the emotions, too much for me to handle ... that’s why I transfer the energy into sculpture." (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMdWNwOWnng)

"My emotions are inappropriate to my size." I miss her already.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A lovely new anthology was launched in the Cervantes Institute in Dublin on Wednesday. To The Winds Our Sails: Irish Writers Translate Galician Poets, edited by Mary O’Donnell and Manuela Palacios, (Salmonpoetry) offers introductions to the work of 10 Galician poets – all women – and the twelve Irish poets who have translated their work into English and Irish.

Great idea.

In her introduction, Mary O’Donnell writes about the extent to which Irish poets have become ‘accustomed to being the focus of literary research and scholarship from abroad’. When she went to Galicia in 2006, to give a lecture on Irish women writers, she became curious about the ‘dearth of information and interest in Ireland regarding Galician poets.’ This anthology is the wonderfully constructive outcome of that curiosity, a collaboration between Mary O’Donnell, the Galician academic Manuela Palacios, and the inimitable Jessie Lendennie at Salmon – not to mention the poets involved, both Galician and Irish.

Speaking at the launch of To The Winds Our Sails, Michael Cronin carried Mary’s observation a little further, remarking on a narcissistic trend in Irish literature, whereby we accept international interest in Irish literature as our due, but do not reciprocate that interest to anything like the same degree. He also remarked on how any debate on the EU focuses on financial, economic and political dimensions but rarely includes the literary, and never extends to an exploration of how European literatures might influence us, as opposed to the other way around.

Of course individual writers engage with international literature, but in a broader cultural sense, I think this observation is depressingly close to the truth – apart from the odd festival here and there – and is certainly worth thinking about. I’d love to be wrong, so if anyone reading this feels motivated to correct me, go ahead, be my guest. With examples, please.

In other news: the Dublin Writers’ Festival begins on Tuesday, 1st June and runs until Sunday 6th. The conversation between Tom Murphy and Conor McPherson (in the Abbey @ 4 pm on 6th) has been billed as a memorial event for Eithne McGuinness, who died after a short illness last December. Eithne, a playwright, actor and short fiction writer, worked on the festival for several years.

Some events have already booked out, so what are you waiting for? For more info, go to: http://www.dublinwritersfestival.com/