Friday, November 30, 2012

Braille Music

Seems impossible? Luckily its not.
I know Braille but not at this level, with its specific notation and difficulty in sourcing materials let alone finding someone who knows it and can teach it .....
My colleagues recently hosted a Braille Music Workshop Day to great success.
With new technology coming on line all the time its great news when more and more things can be opened up and utilised in such a positive way.
Here's a great video about Braille Music from the Guardian. Fascinating.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Ruins of Detroit

I saw "The Ruins of Detroit" exhibition by the photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre earlier this year in the Fontana Fortuna Gallery in Amsterdam. Industrial Detroit: a forgotten civilisation, a dying world that is still holding on with its steel girders and well built walls. The photos are a beautiful testement to what we are capable of acheiving but also what we are capable of destroying.

The complete annihilation of this part of the city from an industry led economy is enthralling. I marvelled at the audacity, bravery of both its inception and its destruction. They left behind homes, schools, theatres, doctors and dentists surgerys, alongside factories, police stations (including blood sample evidence) and offices. The kind of scene you'd expect to see after an apocolypse. But its neighbours have just stepped back and watched it callopse.

So whats changed? The cyclical and unchanging hounds of history divide and conquer no matter what this generation says about the last.

The artists statement: "Ruins are the visible symbols and landmarks of our societies  and their changes, small pieces of history in suspension.  The state of ruin is essentially a temporary situation that happens at some point, the volatile result of change of era and the fall of empires. This fragility, the time elapsed but even so running fast, lead us to watch them one very last time :  being dismayed, or admire, making us wondering about the permanence of things. Photography appeared to us as a modest way to keep a little bit of this ephemeral state."

The exhibitions tragic beauty is enthralling. Look through some more of the collection here. Buy the book here.
(Photographs in this post are copyright Yves Marchand, Romain Meffre)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Irish Book Awards 2012

Voting closes at midnight this Sunday (18th) so be sure to stick your oar in where it counts.
Vote here.  Five lucky voters will also be in with a chance to win some book tokens.
Support great Irish writers!

Heres the short lists:

Friday, November 9, 2012

Selina Guinness The Crocodile by the Door

As I made my way up the stairs of the deserted Guinness Store House I wondered what the night time view was going to be like from The Gravity Bar.

I had been invited to the launch of Selina Guinness’s debut book The Crocodile by the Door published by Penguin.

I’ll put it out there immediately I am a past pupil of Selina’s. Through out my four year degree she guided me through the mire of Irish Literature. But not only that; she was instrumental in securing Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill for our final year creative writing module, which was to set me on a path I have been walking ever since. With Selina’s gentle but persistent encouragement I later went on to do a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of St Andrews. Hands down one of the best years of my life.

The city lights twinkled below us as they stretched out over the city. Tibradden House, of which the Memoir is about, was well hidden in the swathes of black night as the city petered out towards the mountains.
When Harry Clifton took to the podium to introduce Selina he spoke of the mystery and majesty of the creation of a sense of place. How a place like Tibradden and a book like The Crocodile by the Door are so defining, not only for the people directly involved but also because it stretches so far beyond that and into the outer reaches and corners of a community, a city, a country.
The room stocked full of a myriad of friends and family listened to Selina’s heart felt words of thanks of which were suffused with perhaps a small lingering seed of disbelief that it had all worked out. Thankfully for us readers it did.

I am only a third into the book but am already enthralled with not only the fluidity and elegance of the prose but also the unrestrained and beautiful honesty of experience that has governed the experience and the writing. Because in life, that is all we have.

Already the book has been short listed for the “Sunday Independent New Comer of the Year Award” in the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards. Vote Here.
No doubt it is only the first of many well deserved successes for the woman, the book and the house.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Greenway, Mayo.

My dad wanted to do something different.  My sister, at the end of an adventure around Europe finished up in Dublin with a significantly lighter wallet, wanted to do something else before heading back to London.  It was the end of August and I was eager to make the most of the last days of summer so I suggested The Greenway.
We packed small backpacks with a change of clothes and blister plasters and took the train to Westport to commence the 42km walk to Achill.


After an overnight in Westport and a belly full of the Full Irish we started in earnest.  It was hoods up as soon as we left the hotel.  With a cheery acceptance that we may have hoods up the whole time we walked through the town to start the trail.  On our first day, Friday,   on the Westport to Newport leg we literally did not bump into anyone else on the path.   We didn't met any other walkers on the path at all and from day two  anyone else we encountered was cycling. More than a few commented on our craziness for walking and not cycling; "It's much quicker" the cyclists laughed as they sped past.  But surely that wasn't the point?
We stayed overnight in Newport and eager to replace the lost calories of the day we had dinner and fantastic pints of Guinness in the Grainne Uaile but the best part was the ridiculously fantastic Pear and Almond tart that I have since tried but failed to replicate.

After Full Irish number two we were on our way again for the second leg, Newport to Mulranny. It was Saturday the sun was shining and the Way was busy.  Families, groups and singular cyclist rang their bells around us. After taking one or two diversions off the path we walked an epic 24km.  Our arrival in Mulranny Park Hotel was silent and tired.  I went straight to the jacuzzi, the other two didn't make it past the front bar. Dinner that night in the beautiful dining room overlooking Clew Bay was spectacular. The sleep that followed was deep and still.

With blister plasters applied day three the final leg, Mulranny to Achill began after yet another porkathon in the breakfast room. I won't lie the final leg was difficult.  We stopped for tea and porter cake along the way. Luckily we didn't see the rain began until our final approach to Achill.

The walk down into the town and across the bridge seemed never ended.  The wind howling in off the Atlantic was almost too strong to walk against.  As we stopped to catch our breath we watched a boat come into harbour with a broken mast being held up my about five men. Could the wind really have done that we wondered as we inched over the bridge.

After about seventeen hours walking over three days it was disconcerting to get into the car and be driven back to Westport in a little over sixty minutes.  As the Way became visible from the road at intervals we relived our moments as we hurtled past.  Our walk seemed so epic and I guess it was.  With just a change of clothes, the freedom of  being outdoors, the free flow of easy conversation and silence, the juicy blackberries dotted through the hedgerows and the polite greetings from fellow travellers we all felt suitably intrepid.

One foot in front of the other was the only way to get there.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

"Out damned spot" ...

So my life is in boxes in three separate locations and I can't help but feel like I'm back at square one. Which of course isn't true but I have a nagging feeling that I've been coasting for the last few years. But what could I have done differently? Don't we come to things when the time is right for us to have it in our life? Or is that just a complete fabrication we tell ourselves, to placate, to smooth down the feathers. Are we not where we want to be simply because we didn't work hard enough? I know, I'm being too hard on myself.

All of the stupid question marks that start floating up, like unsettled dust, over my head, staring down at me with blitheful menace as soon as you remove 'the stuff'.  But the hugest mark of all that is up there is invisible because it is more ingrained in me than anything else I know .... what is it that I want?  .... And the awful truth that I'll probably never be able to answer that.

But at least there are the words. And a small comfort in escaping my own life for the terrible life of my character. Because hers is definitely worse and it, if only for a limited time,  makes me feel a bit better about my own.

In the midst of it all I came across this. AL Kennedy was one of the guest tutors, for the fiction side of things, on my course in St. Andrews. I never saw her or even heard her speak. But she was much revered and feared in equal measure by the short story ladies. Lara tried to persuade me one day to sneak into a talk that AL was giving but her reputation preceded her and I remained in the relative safety of my poetry workshop. 

Anyway ....

As August is in the process of disappearing behind me I find that the unsettled feeling is settling slightly. And I hope that in the kick up of the dust that it throws up something that I had forgotten about, or something I didn't even know was there, or if I'm lucky something brand, spanking, new.

"Wherever I am. Onwards."

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Truth versus Fiction

Great Article from by Irish Author Keith Ridgway from the The New Yorker.

Everything Is Fiction

Posted by Keith Ridgway

I don’t know how to write. Which is unfortunate, as I do it for a living. Mind you, I don’t know how to live either. Writers are asked, particularly when we’ve got a book coming out, to write about writing. To give interviews and explain how we did this thing that we appear to have done. We even teach, as I have recently, students who want to know how to approach the peculiar occupation of fiction writing. I tell them at the beginning—I’ve got nothing for you. I don’t know. Don’t look at me.

I’ve written six books now, but instead of making it easier, it has complicated matters to the point of absurdity. I have no idea what I’m doing. All the decisions I appear to have made—about plots and characters and where to start and when to stop—are not decisions at all. They are compromises. A book is whittled down from hope, and when I start to cut my fingers I push it away from me to see what others make of it. And I wait in terror for the judgements of those others—judgements that seem, whether positive or negative, unjust, because they are about something that I didn’t really do. They are about something that happened to me. It’s a little like crawling from a car crash to be greeted by a panel of strangers holding up score cards.

Something, obviously, is going on. I manage, every few years, to generate a book. And of course, there are things that I know. I know how to wait until the last minute before putting anything on paper. I mean the last minute before the thought leaves me forever. I know how to leave out anything that looks to me—after a while—forced, deliberate, or fake. I know that I need to put myself in the story. I don’t mean literally. I mean emotionally. I need to care about what I’m writing—whether about the characters, or about what they’re getting up to, or about the way they feel or experience their world. I know that my job is to create a perspective. And to impose it on the reader. And I know that in order to do that with any success at all I must in some mysterious way risk everything. If I don’t break my own heart in the writing of a book then I know I’ve done it wrong. I’m not entirely sure what that means. But I know what it feels like.

I do no research. Given that I’ve just written a book that revolves around two London Met police detectives, this might seem a little foolhardy. I have no real idea what detectives do with their days. So I made some guesses. I suppose that they must investigate things. I tried to imagine what that might be like. I’ve seen the same films and TV shows that you have. I’ve read the same sorts of cheap thrillers. And I know that everything is fiction. Absolutely everything. Research is its own slow fiction, a process of reassurance for the author. I don’t want reassurance. I like writing out of confusion, panic, a sense of everything being perilously close to collapse. So I try to embrace the fiction of all things.

And I mean that—everything is fiction. When you tell yourself the story of your life, the story of your day, you edit and rewrite and weave a narrative out of a collection of random experiences and events. Your conversations are fiction. Your friends and loved ones—they are characters you have created. And your arguments with them are like meetings with an editor—please, they beseech you, you beseech them, rewrite me. You have a perception of the way things are, and you impose it on your memory, and in this way you think, in the same way that I think, that you are living something that is describable. When of course, what we actually live, what we actually experience—with our senses and our nerves—is a vast, absurd, beautiful, ridiculous chaos.

So I love hearing from people who have no time for fiction. Who read only biographies and popular science. I love hearing about the death of the novel. I love getting lectures about the triviality of fiction, the triviality of making things up. As if that wasn’t what all of us do, all day long, all life long. Fiction gives us everything. It gives us our memories, our understanding, our insight, our lives. We use it to invent ourselves and others. We use it to feel change and sadness and hope and love and to tell each other about ourselves. And we all, it turns out, know how to do it.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

New Irish Writing Hennessy Awards

Am absolutely delighted to have been selected for the New Irish Writing Hennessy Awards! You will find my short story 'Digging for Bait' in the Irish Independent this Saturday 28/07.  :)

read the story here .

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Friday, July 13, 2012

Guest Blog for The Irish Writers' Centre

I did a guest blog for The Irish Writers' Centre blog . Big shout out to June Caldwell who organised it.

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.

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; Kobo, 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.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Siri Hustvedt on writing

I love this woman! 'What I Loved' blew me away when I read it. Probably for that reason I'll never read it again. She strikes me as a woman with endless talent, intelligence and sophistication. I love what she says about the excitment of having the first thing published and how nothing since then has come close to that feeling.

Photograph: Michael Brennan/Getty Images

Siri Hustvedt, writer – portrait of the artist
Interview by Laura Barnett, Tuesday 10 July 2012

-'I don't read reviews. But I hear about them – especially when a book has been trashed.'
-'Every time I finish a book, I say: “Please let me live to write another one” … Siri Hustvedt at her home in Brooklyn.

What got you started?
A summer night in Reykjavik. I was 13 years old, and had been reading David Copperfield. I remember walking to the window and looking out at the city; it was still light, though it must have been one in the morning. I thought to myself, "If this is what novels are, it's what I want to do."

What was your big breakthrough?
I'd been writing poems for many years, but most of them I didn't like. Then, when I was 23, I wrote one I did like, sent it to the Paris Review – the highest publication I could think of – and they accepted it. No other moment in my literary life has quite come close to that.

You've often written about science. Should literature make more effort to understand science – and vice versa?
I deeply believe conversations among the disciplines can break open new kinds of thinking. Since I published The Shaking Woman: A History of My Nerves, I've been asked to speak at a number of neuroscience and psychoanalysis conferences. Recently, a neuroscientist friend was asked why he'd asked a novelist to speak to his department. He said, "Well, Siri is like yeast: she makes things grow." I'm very happy to be a kind of yeast.

What's the greatest myth about writing a book?
There's a myth of control. Writers are in control of editing processes – making a sentence better, cutting out a paragraph. But the initial outpouring has very little to do with conscious control or manipulation.

What song would work as the soundtrack to your life?
Bach's St Matthew Passion. Not because I have lived my love with that kind of grandeur, but because my inner-being responds to it so deeply.

What's the biggest threat to literature?
That it becomes, in the eyes of culture, a highly feminised form. Far more women read fiction than men, and because of this, novels have become marginalised as serious texts. I don't think it's a conscious, hostile act, but an unconscious feeling that seriousness in literature belongs to men, not women. However, I'm optimistic that if we bring this into the open, many people will realise they are suffering from a prejudice that they could very easily correct.

Do you read your reviews?
No. I hear about them, though – especially if a book has been horribly trashed. The publisher feels an obligation to tell you in case you go to a dinner party and people are looking at you cross-eyed.

What's your greatest ambition?
Every time I finish a book, I say to an imaginary god that I do not believe in, "Please let me live to write another one."

In short
Born: Northfield, Minnesota, 1955.
Career: Has published five novels, including What I Loved and The Summer Without Men, and several books of poetry, essays and non-fiction. Is appearing on Friday 13 July in the Literary Arena at Latitude 2012.
High point: "Finishing What I Loved after six years. It really felt like I'd broken through something in myself."
Low point: "Feeling, in interviews, that I haven't really been understood."

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Have been dipping in and out of this 2009 lecture series from Harvard University. Really interesting stuff. Hard to believe that a monetary value can be put on human life, but like everything else, its possible. 
Also when I watch it I get to reminisce about college days although none of the lecture halls that I frequented looked like that!

Monday, June 18, 2012

I saw history in the making!

Guinness World Record annihilation in the Irish Writers' Centre last Saturday. The record for most author's consecutively reading from their own books had originally been held by the Germans who managed a measly 75 authors. But now in our greatness we hold the record at 111 authors in 28 hours.
There was an amazing atmosphere at the Centre. I arrived at 5am Saturday morning and stayed until 2pm when the event was brought to a close with a reading and a fantastic speech by the director Jack Harte. I kept coffee pots topped up and made sure Butler's chocolates (who were the sponsors) were scattered through out the building. It was fantastic to be a part of it all.
It also served to highlight the amazingness of the staff there and just what a fantastic resource (not to mention beautiful building) the centre is. (Although my thighs from the upping and downing of the beautiful staircase have been the paying the price.)

This is from The Irish Times :

Irish writers break world record by Orla Tinsley

Irish writers made history today by breaking the world record for the most authors reading consecutively from their own work. Some 111 authors took to the podium against the clock at the Irish Writers' Centre in Dublin from 10am on Friday until 2pm today shattering the German held record.
The record was officially surpassed in the early hours of this morning by author Lissa Oliver who became the 76th person to read from her book Chantilly Dawns. The former Guinness world record of 75 authors reading consecutively was set at the Berlin International Literature Festival.
"At 5am there were quite a few people here and that was the point we exceeded the record," said programme co-ordinator John Kearns. "There were always between 10 and 20 people supporting over night," he said.
The event was streamed live across the world on the internet through the Irish Writers' Centre website and clocked up over 1,000 viewers.
Despite the benefits of technology supporters turned up throughout the night to hear authors read by candlelight under the watchful eye of invigilators from KPMG and The American University Ireland, who kept time and marked attendance for the Guinness Book of World Records.
Each author participating had precisely 15 minutes kept in check by a looming alarm clock directly infront of the podium.
Authors reading included Seamus Heaney, Kevin Barry, Ed O’Loughlin, Carlo Gebler, Catherine Foley, Roddy Doyle, Evelyn Conlon, Mike McCormack, Sarah Webb and Lucille Redmond.
The event was held to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the conception of the Irish Writers' Centre as well as raise awareness of the writing community in Ireland on Bloomsday.
"We wanted to emphasis that the tradition is not broken because these people died, the tradition continues and as you've seen over the last 28 hours there are wonderful writers writing and living in Dublin, in Ireland right to the present day. It is a source of enormous pride to the country that so many have achieved so much," said author and founder of the Irish Writers' Centre Jack Harte
The Guinness Book of Records rules dictated that the authors must read from one of their own works for 15 minutes and that each book must have a ISBN number.
Author Roddy Doyle who read from his book The Van described the experience as "nerve wrecking".
"The lights and everything are unusual and it's so hot in here compared to outside," he said.
"It's a great event. The surprise is that everybody turned up on time, given the reliability of Irish writers, it's a bit disturbing," he said.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Hemingway's house "Finca la Vigía", Cuba.

It was all exactly as he left it. That was the most surprising thing about my visit to Hemingway's house, about an hour outside of Havana. The day was hot, humid. The sun shining. But as we left the city behind and neared the house clouds started to roll in. The air was changing.

It was expensive to get through the front gate (probably the same price as a month's local wage) and all you could do was look through the open windows and doors. If it started to rain the guides and workers would set about closing them until the rain had absolutely stopped. We looked up at the sky and kept our fingers crossed.

I approached the front door and peered in. Feeling like a trespasser. Everything was exactly as he had left it in the late 50's. In a matter of months he would kill himself.

It was good taste incarnate. None of the beautifully designed (often especially for him and this house) would have looked out of place in a home today. And it struck me; the wealth, the freedom, the society. He had the world at his perfectly perfunctory feet. Constantly being, allowing himself to be, and actively wooing the whose who of the times. There was a small wooden bowl in the dining room with the engraving "From Mr and Mrs Roosevelt" (not Mr and Mrs President).

The magazine rack brimming with Time and literary journals.
And he often wrote standing up. This was something I didn't know. But then I don't think I was the fan I am now since seeing the house. I don't know if it was the air, the light, the impending storm but seeing the house left me with a silence; one that I am still unable to articulate. Perhaps a feeling of the impossibility of it all.

One of the best things in the house ... his daily record of his weight neatly inscribed just inside the bathroom door.  

Another one of his writing perches ... chair positioned with his back to the window. Which to me seemed odd.  I love nothing more than to face out the window. But then maybe that's why I haven't written a master piece yet. One of the items on his desk is a letter stamp that reads "I never write letters". Apparently he would return letters unopened with this defiantly emblazoned across their chests.

The room at the top of the look out tower where he only did his editing.

The old Corona that sits on that desk.

A walk through the pet cemetery and past the empty pool brings you to an awaiting Pilar under her canopy. Much bigger than I had imagined she would be. In my mind maybe all boats related to Hemingway are small with old men sitting in them.

The thunder rolled out just as our guide was finishing up with her last tit bit. As we exited the compound there were houses and huts built almost to the front gates and I wondered if it had been like that when he lived there?

And the heavy air followed us all the way back to Havana where I thought about how any of our lives must look from the outside, or the inside, of a home. How strange it is sitting there locked in another decade. In it's brilliance and isolation.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

A poem

This is the first poem I read and thought "this is my life".  I was in my early twenties. After that I thought poetry was pretty cool and set about writing some poems for myself. This one poem managed to alter my entires life's experience of poetry up to that point. Nightmares of learning lines by rote and being told what Yeat's meant when he wrote .... disappeared into the ether. It also helped that a woman wrote it. But more than that I understood it,  without help assitance or dictate. I saw myself, my own life, my own experiences and my world has never been the same since.

Casselden Road, nw 10

for Marya

The wind would fan the life-green fires that smouldered
under the lamps, and from the glistening road
draw out deep shades of rain, and we would hear
the beat of rain and darkened panes, the sound
of night and no one stirring but ourselves,
leaning still from the window. No one else
will remember this. No one else will remember.

Shadows of leaves like riders hurried by
upon the wall within. The street would fill
with phantasy, the night become
a river or an ocean where the tree
and silent lamp were sailing; the wind would fail
and sway towards the light. And no one else
will remember this. No one else will remember.

Denise Levertov (1923-1977)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Reflections on a creative journey

My piece for the Italian festival website and blog (also with translation!)

It is the kind of thing that’s hard to explain; the curve of a lover’s body, the shape of a line on the page, the route of the path the word travelled on, the shape of my own life because of it.
It is as difficult to find the moments of peace to sit down and write as it is to put the actual word on the page. And yet without that moment, or the search for it, there is no peace.
These are some of the things that made me stay at the inn for too long – a destructive relationship, an unshakeable lack of believe, rejection upon rejection upon rejection, work, laziness, the fear of never being the kind of writer I dream of being, life.
And what is that intangible thing that makes you put one foot in front of the other?
The whiteness is as vast as any black hole or galaxy. It is the shapeless mould of my dreams.
But it is as much about what goes unsaid as what is said. As the words etch
themselves out into the white space that surround them it is the shape they make, that they themselves create, that is the journey.
The initial idea is revealed. Then it must be chipped away until a smoother shape starts to appear. The shape of a poem on the page or a character’s memories must then be carved, sanded and polished until finally there is nothing else that can be done and it must be left where you found it.
Practice (n) the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method, as opposed to theories relating to it, regular exercise of an activity or skill is the way to become proficient in it.
Then there is the inevitable disappointment that whatever has been written doesn’t quite capture what you meant to say.
It’s so easy to see just how insufficient language really is. And so you start again because this will be the one. The next one will definitely be the one.
Riflessioni su un viaggio
(traduzione di Barbara Gozzi e Federica Sgaggio)
È il genere di cosa difficile da spiegare; la curva del corpo di un amante, la forma di una linea sulla pagina, l’itinerario del percorso che la parola ha attraversato, e, di conseguenza, la forma della mia vita.
Trovare i momenti di pace per sedersi ha scrivere è difficile quanto l’atto effettivo del mettere le parole sulla pagina. Eppure, senza quel momento, o senza la ricerca di quel momento, non c’è pace.
Queste sono alcune delle cose che mi hanno fatto rimanere al coperto per troppo tempo – una relazione distruttiva, un’irriducibile mancanza di fiducia, un rifiuto dopo l’altro, il lavoro, la pigrizia, la paura di non arrivare mai a essere il tipo di scrittrice che sogno di essere, la vita.
E qual è quella sostanza immateriale che ti fa mettere un piede davanti all’altro?
Il biancore è grande come qualunque buco nero, come qualunque galassia. È lo stampo informe dei miei sogni.
Ma si tratta tanto di ciò che viene taciuto quanto di ciò che si dice. Poiché le parole si incidono nello spazio bianco che le circonda, si tratta della forma che esse creano, della forma che le parole si creano da sole: il viaggio è questo.
L’idea iniziale è una rivelazione. Poi deve essere frantumata fino a quando non comincia a rendersi evidente una forma più arrotondata. La forma di un poema sulla pagina o i ricordi di un personaggio devono a quel punto essere scolpiti, levigati e lucidati finché, alla fine, non c’è nient’altro che possa essere fatto, e tutto dev’essere lasciato dove l’hai trovato.
Pratica (sostantivo): l’applicazione fattuale o l’uso di un’idea, una convinzione, o di un metodo, in contrapposizione alle teorie che la riguardano; l’esercizio abituale di un’attività o di una capacità è il metodo per diventare esperto in quella pratica.
Poi c’è l’inevitabile delusione per il fatto che qualunque sia la cosa che è stata scritta, essa non riesce a esprimere esattamente quello che intendevi dire.
È così facile rendersi conto di quanto il liguaggio sia effettivamente insufficiente. E così si comincia daccapo, perché questo sarà quello giusto. Il prossimo, assolutamente, sarà quello giusto.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

flash fiction : getting it right.

taken from the guardian

Stories in your pocket: how to write flash fiction 16 May is the first ever day celebrating the art of micro-fiction. But what are the pros and cons of ultra short stories – and what's the secret of writing them? Follow David Gaffney's tips.
It's National Flash Fiction Day on Wednesday – the first one ever – and it's an exciting day for me and many others who specialise in this particular truncated form of prose. A few years ago, I published a book of flash fiction called Sawn-off Tales. But until only a little while before that, I hadn't heard of flash fiction or micro-fiction or sudden fiction or short-short stories. Then, on poet Ian McMillan's recommendation, I parcelled up a manuscript made up entirely of this stuff and sent it to Salt Publishing, a poetry specialist. Fifty-eight stories, each exactly 150 words long. The odds were entirely against me. No one wants to publish short stories, least of all by an unknown. And stories that took less time to read than to suppress a sneeze? I was chancing it, I knew.

I began to produce these ultra-short stories – sawn-off tales, as I call them – when I was commuting from Manchester to Liverpool: a 50-minute journey, often elongated by windscreen-wiper failure, fights on the train, or getting stuck behind the "stopper". But I had a book, as did most passengers. One day while ruminating on the number of train journeys it took to read a novel, I began to wonder how long it would take to write one. I decided on 500 words a trip – there and back was 1,000 words a day – taking just four months to reach a respectable novel length of 80,000 words.

So the next day I boarded the 8.12am at Manchester Piccadilly, rushed for a table seat, and, instead of whipping out my paperback, set up my laptop and began tapping away. But after a couple of weeks it was clear that the novel wasn't working. What I'd produced was a set of separate stories each around a 1,000 words long.

I was about to ditch the idea when I heard about a new website called the Phone Book, which needed 150-word stories to send out as text messages. All that was needed was a bit of editing. Initially, as I hacked away at my over-stuffed paragraphs, watching the sentences I once loved hit the floor, I worried. It felt destructive, wielding the axe to my carefully sculpted texts; like demolishing a building from the inside, without it falling down on top of you. Yet the results surprised me. The story could live much more cheaply than I'd realised, with little deterioration in lifestyle. Sure, it had been severely downsized, but it was all the better for it. There was more room to think, more space for the original idea to resonate, fewer unnecessary words to wade through. The story had become a nimble, nippy little thing that could turn on a sixpence and accelerate quickly away. And any tendencies to go all purple – if it sounds like writing, rewrite it, as Elmore Leonard said – were almost completely eliminated. Adjectives were anthrax.

It worked. By the time I got to Birchwood I had it down to 500 words, by Warrington to 300, at Widnes 200 and as the train drew in to Liverpool Lime Street there it was – 150 words, half a page of story; with a beginning, a middle and an end, with character development and descriptions, everything contained in a Polly Pocket world.

These stories, small as they were, had a huge appetite; little fat monsters that gobbled up ideas like chicken nuggets. The habit of reducing text could get out of hand too; I once took away the last two sentences of a story and realised I had reduced it to a blank page.

Luckily the Phone Book liked my stories and published them, and I continued to churn them out each day on the train, while the train guard announced the delays, the tea trolley rolled past, and a succession of passengers sat next to me, reading over my shoulder.

A week after sending the manuscript to Salt Publishing I got a call from Jen, their editor. They wanted to publish it, and quickly. All I needed was a quote for the cover, a photo for the sleeve, and we were off.

I don't commute that route any longer – my new job covers the whole north west of England involving train trips to Blackpool, Lancaster, east Lancashire, west Cumbria and Cheshire, so my stories have grown quite a bit longer. But last time I was on a train to Lime Street the guard's identity badge took me right back – because that's where I got the names for all of my characters.

How to write flash fiction

1. Start in the middle.
You don't have time in this very short form to set scenes and build character.

2. Don't use too many characters.
You won't have time to describe your characters when you're writing ultra-short. Even a name may not be useful in a micro-story unless it conveys a lot of additional story information or saves you words elsewhere.

3. Make sure the ending isn't at the end.
In micro-fiction there's a danger that much of the engagement with the story takes place when the reader has stopped reading. To avoid this, place the denouement in the middle of the story, allowing us time, as the rest of the text spins out, to consider the situation along with the narrator, and ruminate on the decisions his characters have taken. If you're not careful, micro-stories can lean towards punchline-based or "pull back to reveal" endings which have a one-note, gag-a-minute feel – the drum roll and cymbal crash. Avoid this by giving us almost all the information we need in the first few lines, using the next few paragraphs to take us on a journey below the surface.

4. Sweat your title.
Make it work for a living.

5. Make your last line ring like a bell.
The last line is not the ending – we had that in the middle, remember – but it should leave the reader with something which will continue to sound after the story has finished. It should not complete the story but rather take us into a new place; a place where we can continue to think about the ideas in the story and wonder what it all meant. A story that gives itself up in the last line is no story at all, and after reading a piece of good micro-fiction we should be struggling to understand it, and, in this way, will grow to love it as a beautiful enigma. And this is also another of the dangers of micro-fiction; micro-stories can be too rich and offer too much emotion in a powerful one-off injection, overwhelming the reader, flooding the mind. A few micro-shorts now and again will amaze and delight – one after another and you feel like you've been run over by a lorry full of fridges.

6. Write long, then go short.
Create a lump of stone from which you chip out your story sculpture. Stories can live much more cheaply than you realise, with little deterioration in lifestyle. But do beware: writing micro-fiction is for some like holidaying in a caravan – the grill may well fold out to become an extra bed, but you wouldn't sleep in a fold-out grill for the rest of your life.

Off you go!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Better late than never .... Cuba 01/12

Hotel National, Havana






Jose Marti Memorial, Santiago de Cuba

Santiago de Cuba



Thursday, April 26, 2012

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Press Release for Italio-Ireland Festival

Under the patronage of the Embassy of Ireland to Italy, we are proud to announce the second edition of
Italo-Irish Literature Exchange - Festival italo-irlandese with Catherine Dunne e John Lynch,  and the contribution of Mimmo Paladino
Nogarole Rocca - Verona, 3-6 maggio 2012

Italy and Ireland share a common catholic background. Moreover, their agricultural tradition turned
suddenly – yet in different historical moments and with different intensity – into an unexpected boost in
industrial, financial and urban development. In both countries, family plays a crucial role, more as an actual
institution than a mere small social community.

The stories of the two countries, though, have been artistically told in dramatically different ways.
The very first idea of a putting together people from both the two “cousin” countries sprang out of the blue,
as an unpredictable outcome of a creative writing course held by Catherine Dunne at the Irish Writers’
Centre in Dublin. One of the Italian promoters and organisers, Federica Sgaggio, deeply fond of Irish
literature and music, enjoyed Dunne’s lectures and conversations, and began to spread among her friends –
who were writers like her, or otherwise “into words” – the suggestions she got from the great Irish Author.
Why don’t provide other friends – journalists, actors, editors, or mere devotees of reading – with the chance
to improve their knowledge of Irish culture, books, authors, places, arts and history, then?
That was it. Thanks to commitment and passion, the Italo-Irish Literature Exchange first edition was born,
organised with the Irish Writers’ Centre and supported by the Italian Institute of Culture, Dublin.
It took place in Dublin, Sept. 2011.
‘It was a huge success,’ says Catherine Dunne. ‘We met people who, like us, were willing to share their
love for writing and reading. At the same time, the initiative raised Italy’s profile in Ireland, just like this
second edition will surely enhance Ireland’s image in Italy.’

Now it’s our turn: «ònoma» association and IWC and Culture Ireland , with the contribution of Il Circolo dei Lettori di Verona, and ScuolAleph, has organised the second edition of the initiative (, which is going to take place from 3rd to 6th May in Nogarole Rocca (Verona) and Verona.

We are proud to welcome and host – along with Catherine Dunne, whose 8 novels are published in Italy by
Guanda – the actor and novelist John Lynch, from Northern Ireland (who was in In the Name of the Father,
Sliding Doors, Cal, Best...); the writer, critic, journalist and editor Anthony Glavin (who edited Nuala
O’Faolain New York Times No. 1 best-seller Are You Somebody?, published in Italy by Guanda); the two
acclaimed poets Niamh MacAlister (emerging poet for the 2010 Poetry Ireland Introduction Series) and
Celia de Fréine (a multi-awarded author who writes in Irish and English); the writer June Caldwell (winner
of the Irish Blog Awards, 2001), and Lia Mills, creative writing teacher and novelist whose work is published by Penguin Books.

“Any story is a million stories“ - “In ogni storia c’è un milione di storie” :: a Workshop
Would you like to write your own piece of fiction, poem, screenplay, or get started with your novel having
Catherine Dunne and John Lynch at your side? Well: this is exactly what you are supposed to do on Friday,
4th May, from 9.30 to 18, during the workshop “Any story is a million stories- In ogni storia c’è un milione
di storie”, our Festival’s central event (Nogarole Rocca, agriturismo Corte Castelletto). In order to make
everyone comfortable in using their own language, we will have the assistance of two professional
interpreters from the Italian Associazione nazionale interpreti di conferenza professionisti (Aiti).
This seminar is all about stories: how they can be dismantled and reassembled into new and unexpected
shapes and fashions; how they can change their own natures and rationales; how they can be manoeuvred
and pushed and pulled and stretched and shrinked and shaked, and torn, and finally rebuilt.
You will meet an actor (Fabio Bussotti, who will tell us the germinal story, from which anyone will extract
their own bits and pieces by asking him questions), a journalist (Luigi Grimaldi, who will drive the story
into a newspaper’s piece); a writer (Federica Sgaggio, searching for raw matter to put together into the short story she’s inclined to tell); an editor (Barbara Gozzi, whose peculiar task will be to discover stories and characters and settings cuddled up between the lines); and two Systemic psychoterapists from Centro
Milanese di Terapia della Famiglia (Massimo Giuliani) and Episteme, the Turin section of the CMTF,
(Teresa Arcelloni). Both of them will be tracking down key-points and keystones, to unravel threads and
enlighten the germinal story under a new spotlight.
Then, you will attend Fabio’s monologue, which is the outcome of the “contaminations” of the initial story.
Any of us will then have room to write their own story. We will afterward edit and collect them in an
anthology along with the stories written by the Irish authors and the teachers from ònoma.
In order to take part in this workshop you must sign in for membership at ònoma (150 eur.) by 30th April.
You may have to pay an additional fee (30 eur.) for later signing.
Since ònoma is a non-profit organisation, any fees is assigned to statutory activities.

Info and bookings: see below.

In the evening, a public reading will be held in Nogarole Rocca, Corte Bassa. (Free entry).
On Saturday morning (5th May) at Santa Maria in Chiavica church, Verona, we will host a meeting between
our Irish guests and a group of Italian professionals working in the publishing sector. In the afternoon, some
Italian emerging writers will join the morning group to animate a public conversation about public cultural
policies in the two countries. We will hear the actual voices of Irish institutional representatives who,
recently recorded in Dublin, tell us how things work in their country. (Free entry)

On Sunday morning (6th May), Catherine Dunne and her Irish colleagues will lead in English a three-hour
workshop of creative writing at ScuolAleph, Verona, via Monte Nero 1.
The third edition of Italo-Irish Literature Exchange is scheduled to take place at the end of September in
Dublin. Its focus will be on literature and music.
ònoma is planning a rich agenda of cultural exchanges, especially aimed at leading people through the knowledge of English language and Irish traditional music; it is also working on creative writing courses and a lot of further projects.

Italireland - Un ponte tra Italia e Irlanda (
Federica Sgaggio - mob. +39 348 2231106
 Barbara Gozzi - mob. +39 392 8055828
 Luigi Grimaldi - mob. +39 347 8455175
 Paola Francia - mob. +39 347 7201752

Agriturismo Corte Castelletto
Via IX Maggio, 47 - 37060 Pradelle di Nogarole Rocca (Verona)
Tel. +39 045 7925300/7925294 - Fax. +39 045 7925296;

Moving On by Catherine Dunne
Front cover by Mimmo Paladino
Saturday 5th May at 8.30 p.m., at Santa Maria in Chiavica church, Verona, our Irish guests will meet their readers. We will launch Moving On, a luxury bilingual edition of an original short story by Catherine Dunne.
The front cover has been illustrated by the great Italian artist Mimmo Paladino. The book has been printed in limited and numbered edition. Both the artists generously donated their work to support the Italo-Irish Literature Exchange.
In the same evening, The Birkin Tree, a celebrated ensemble of Italian musicians, will play Irish traditional music.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The workshop at the festival

Some notes on the festival taken from Federica Sgaggio's blog.  I can't wait to do this workshop. I've never done anything like it before.

15 apr 2012
Would you like to write your own piece of fiction, poem, screenplay, or get started with your novel having , , Anthony Glavin, , Celia de Fréine, Niamh MacAlister and at your side?
Well: this is exactly what you are supposed to do on Friday, 4th May, from 9.30 to 18, during the workshop “- In ogni storia c’è un milione di storie”, our Festival’s central event (, agriturismo Corte Castelletto).
In order to make everyone comfortable in using their own language, we will have the assistance of two professional interpreters from the Italian Associazione nazionale interpreti di conferenza professionisti (Aiti).

This seminar is all about stories: how they can be dismantled and reassembled into new and unexpected shapes and fashions; how they can change their own natures and rationales; how they can be manoeuvred and pushed and pulled and stretched and shrinked and shaked, and torn, and finally rebuilt.
You will meet an actor (, who will tell us the germinal story, from which anyone will extract their own bits and pieces by asking him questions).

Then, you will attend Fabio’s monologue, which is the outcome of the “contaminations” of the initial story.
Any of us will then have room to write their own story. We will afterward edit and collect them in an anthology along with the stories written by the Irish authors and the teachers from ònoma.
Info and booking:

A journalist (Luigi Grimaldi, who will drive the story into a newspaper’s piece).
A writer (myself, searching for raw matter to put together into the short story she’s inclined to tell).
An editor (, whose peculiar task will be to discover stories and characters and settings cuddled up between the lines).
And two Systemic psychoterapists from Centro Milanese di Terapia della Famiglia () and Episteme, the Turin section of the CMTF, (). Both of them will be tracking down key-points and keystones, to unravel threads and enlighten the germinal story under a new spotlight.

The Italo-Irish Literary Exchange.

Am very excited and honoured to be a part of this project. Its having it second outing this May in Nogarole Rocca and Verona.  Below are the Irish team and the website address to keep up to date on all the developments!

Irish members

Catherine Dunne is the prize-winning author of eight novels, the most recent of which is ‘Missing Julia’. She has also published one work of non-fiction, a social history of Irish immigrants in London, called ‘An Unconsidered People’. Her work has been optioned for film and TV and has been translated into several languages.
Catherine was awarded the International Prize at the Vigevano Literary Festival in Italy in 2006, and has been shortlisted for, among others, the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Prize and the Italian Booksellers’ Award.
She is currently working on her ninth novel, entitled ‘the things we know now’.
One of Ireland’s foremost literary editors, Anthony Glavin is author of a critically acclaimed novel, Nighthawk Alley, and two short story collections, One for Sorrow and The Draughtsman and The Unicorn. His stories have also appeared in Best Irish Short Stories, Short Story International, The Journal of Irish Literature, Best New Irish Short Stories (Faber, 2007) & New Irish Short Stories (Faber, 2011). Editor of ‘New Irish Writing’ in the Irish Press from 1987-88, he has served as an associate editor for New Island Books since 1994, for whom he commissioned & edited, Nuala O’Faolain’s New York Times No. 1 best-seller Are You Somebody?—The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman. A critic and journalist, he reviews for the Irish Times, and has contributed to RTÉ Radio’s landmark Sunday Miscellany programme for over twenty years.

Lia Mills is a novelist who also writes short stories and literary non-fiction. Her novels are Another Alice and Nothing Simple. A memoir of her experience of Mouth Cancer, In Your Face, came out in 2007. Her short stories and essays have appeared in publications such as the Irish Times, the Dublin Review, The Stinging Fly and in many anthologies. She has worked as a creative writing teacher and arts consultant, and on several Public Art Commissions. In a previous existence, she worked for the Women’s Education, Research & Resource Centre in UCD for several years, teaching undergraduate, adult education and postgraduate courses. She is currently completing her third novel. For more information:
Niamh MacAlister 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.
June Caldwell studied Writing & Publishing at Middlesex University, London, before returning to Ireland to do a Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism. She spent 14 years writing feature articles and news stories for the UK and Irish press. In 2006 she co-wrote a non-fiction biography: In Love With A Mad Dog (Gill & MacMillan) and the following year she enrolled in an MA in Creative Writing at Queens’ University, Belfast, where she was awarded an Arts Council of Northern Ireland fiction bursary. In 2008, she was commended for a feature article in The Guardian following the death of writer Nuala O’Faolain and in 2011 she won Best Blog Post at the Irish Blog Awards. June likes to write short stories, fiction, and modern poetry and has been shortlisted for a number of creative writing competitions. She us currently working on a novel set in the 1940′s Blitz in Coventry (UK). Her day job is ‘Programme Coordinator’ at the Irish Writers’ Centre in Dublin.

Celia de Freine is a poet, playwright, screenwriter and librettist who writes in Irish and English. She has published five collections of poetry: Faoi Chabáistí is Ríonacha (Cló Iar-Chonnachta, 2001), Fiacha Fola (Cló Iar-Chonnachta, 2004), Scarecrows at Newtownards (Scotus Press, 2005), imram : odyssey (Arlen House, 2010) and Aibítir Aoise : Alphabet of an Age (Arlen House, 2011).
Her poetry has won many awards including the Patrick Kavanagh Award(1994) and Gradam Litríochta Chló Iar-Chonnachta (2004). Her work on Marathon and Rian: Trace have won awards at the New York International Film Festival (2009 and 2010).
Arlen House has also published a collection of her award-winning plays Mná Dána.
Further information:

John Lynch is a successful film, television and stage actor. Torn Water is his first novel, Folling out of Heaven has been published in May 2010. He lives in France.
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