I am delighted to reveal that I will be holding a one-day summer writing workshop on the slopes of fabled Sliabh na mBan, in Co. Tipperary, on Sunday, 29th July, (maybe it should be re-named ‘Scríobh na mBan’ for the day).
The venue is Manyweathers Studio, close to the village of Kilcash, a working artist’s space full of creative energy and with views that will inspire you and fuel your writing. This will be a day where we will slow down, pay attention to place, to our senses and allow our pens to reveal the details, to offer surprises.
As always my approach to writers and writing is informed by the wisdom and work of Pat Schneider and Amherst Writers and Artists, I am an affiliate of AWA and Pat’s book, Writing Alone and With Others, will give those interested an insight into the way I facilitate workshops, and why, and is available in libraries and bookshops. This workshop method always generates creative surprises for both novice and more experienced writers and is based on a trust and belief in the inherent creativity of people. One of my roles as facilitator is to hold a space where we listen to each other and connect with what we hear and, for me, this is a great pleasure and privilege. I just love to do this.
The workshop will be limited to 10 participants. To book please get in touch with me through the Contact Page. All you will need is a pen, a notebook and a desire to write.
Where: Manyweathers Studio, Kilcash, Co. Tipperary (approx 20 mins drive from both Clonmel & Carrick-on-Suir)
When: Sunday, 29th July 2018
Time: 10am to 4.30pm
Fee: €75 (incl teas/coffees, snacks but not lunch. Suggest bringing a packed lunch)
Suitable for: anyone beginning or beginning again to write
with writers Lia Mills and Catherine Dunne
Dates: Friday 21st, Saturday 22nd, Sunday 23rd April 2017
Join writers Catherine Dunne and Lia Mills for three days of writing and discussion in the intimate setting of Brewery Lane Theatre, Carrick-on-Suir. Award winning writers Catherine and Lia will help you to come to grips with the writing process and write your way towards a finished story (fiction or non-fiction). The emphasis this year will be on the tools of fiction and memoir, with workshops and one to one meetings to discuss your work.
NB: Limited to 12 participants
Fee: early bird €160 (if paid in full by Friday 19th Feb) or €175 if paid later.
To book: please get in touch with me through the Contact page
Lia Mills writes fiction and literary non-fiction. Her most recent novel, “Fallen”, was the Dublin/Belfast: Two Cities One Book selection for 2016. Her memoir “In Your Face” was selected as book of the year by many commentators in its year of publication (2007).
She was the 2015-2016 Writer-in- Residence at Farmleigh House and the 2016 Arts Council Writer Fellow at UCD.
An experienced workshop facilitator, she has also worked as an arts consultant. www.liamills.com
Catherine Dunne is the author of ten novels, the most recent being “The Years That Followed”. “The Things We Know Now” won the 700th anniversary Giovanni Boccaccio International Prize for Fiction in 2013 and was shortlisted for the Eason Novel of the Year at the Irish Book Awards. She has also published one work of non-fiction: a social history of Irish immigrants in London, called “An Unconsidered People”.
Catherine’s novels have been short listed for, among others, the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award and the Italian Booksellers’ Prize. Her work has been translated into several languages. She was recently long-listed for the Laureate for Irish Fiction Award 2015.
Catherine Dunne lives in Ranelagh. www.catherinedunneauthor.com
Cancellation 4 weeks or more prior to the course start date – full refund (less a 10% admin fee)
Cancellation between 4 weeks to 1 week prior to the course start date – 50% refund
Cancellation less than 7 days prior to start – NO REFUND
The next course at The Story House is ‘Writing for Young People’ with the very talented and experienced duo of Sheena Wilkinson and E.R. Murray (Elizabeth’s novel The Book of Shadows has just been shortlisted for the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards). Writer Patricia Forde, of Childrens Books Ireland, will join the group for dinner midweek followed by readings and conversations about writing in this exciting genre. The venue for the course is the beautiful and inspiring Lisnavagh House in Co. Carlow and it will run from Monday 20th February to Saturday 25th February 2017. All courses at TSH are limited to 12 participants (over 18s only) and a deposit of €200 will secure a place. The full fee is €700 and local arts officers may be able to offer financial support.
The Story House is unique in Ireland, offering an immersive taught residential experience to anyone who wishes to write. We’ve seen how changes can happen over the five day period as the outside world is held at bay and creativity is given room to grow and flourish. Participants meet and mix at morning workshops, one to one tutorials, communal meals, and also experience the luxury of taking time on their own with their writing, entering a different internal space. All the while supported by the two tutors and the TSH team.
Yesterday we were delighted to announce a very special initiative, news we’ve been waiting to share for some time – The Story House Residency. Any writer who attends a course at TSH is eligible to apply for a week’s private residency, free of charge, during May 2017 at a lovely, peaceful cottage in the west of Ireland, generously donated by a past participant, (did I mention that changes happen on a Story House course?). This will give one writer the opportunity to focus for a week on a writing project away from their everyday distractions and responsibilities. If you attended a course in the past or wish to book a place on the ‘Writing for Young People’ course above, you are eligible to apply for this special residency. See here for details of how to apply.
‘Write about what you don’t know about what you know’ (Eudora Welty)
My workshops, Writing Changes Lives, will start again on Saturday, 23rd January for 8 weeks in the tearoom in Brewery Lane Theatre, Carrick-on-Suir. I like to keep the emphasis on playfulness and discovery, the essence of creativity – it doesn’t matter if you are beginning, beginning again, or at some other stage in your writing life, I guarantee you will experience a renewal of your creative self.
If you would like to join me or to find out more please get in touch with me through the contact page. We will start at 10.30am each Saturday in the tea-room and the fee is, as usual, €150. If you know of anyone who might be interested please feel free to spread the word.
I will, as always, be basing my work on the Amherst Writers and Artists’ philosophy – that ‘the teaching of craft can be done without damage to a writer’s original voice or artistic self-esteem’.
Brewery Lane Writers’ Weekend
Fri. 10th, Sat. 11th, Sun. 12th April 2015
Inspired by Arvon City
EARLY BIRD OFFER: €160 if paid by Thurs. 12th Feb. (€175 after that date)
‘The universe is expanding … you’re going somewhere else!’ (Robert Pinsky).
Join writers Ferdia MacAnna & Nessa O’Mahony for three days of writing in the intimate setting of Brewery Lane Theatre, Carrick-on-Suir. Expand and develop your range of writing skills and learn how techniques used in screenwriting, poetry and memoir can help to expand your writing toolkit. You will work with Nessa & Ferdia, two experienced writers and teachers of writing, over three full days, exploring the link between real life and imagination and discover new ways of identifying and transforming material. There will be facilitated workshops, one-to-one sessions and time for you to write. Fee: €160 early bird if paid by 12th Feb or €175 if paid later. If you want to know more do get in touch with me through the Contact page.
On Monday, 23rd March 2015 The Story House Ireland will open its doors to its first participants for a course on short fiction led by Susie Maguire and Julian Gough with guest writer Dónal Ryan. This is how it began …
It was the mid-2000s and I was searching around for a writing retreat but I couldn’t find what I wanted. And what did I want? The truth is that I didn’t know. I was not a ‘Writer’, there was little evidence of that unless you looked closely at scattered crumbs along my life path. A teacher in secondary school who read an essay of mine and said it was the best he’d ever read. Winning second prize from The Irish Times for an essay on Hubert Butler’s Escape from the Anthill when I was starting my Open University degree. The surprise and delight of that fuelled me to keep studying for six years and longer. But a writer? No, people like me didn’t do things like that – woman/mother/working-class background? No. In spite of Eavan Boland’s understanding and eloquent articulation of women’s exclusion, she omitted that bit about class. But there was an itch I couldn’t scratch. Somewhere in me I knew it had to do with words and now I appreciate the irony that I couldn’t put words on it. One Sunday morning I was in the kitchen having my breakfast, in that desultory Sunday morning way, when my ear caught something on the RTE Radio 1 programme ‘Sunday Miscellany’, it was a mention of The Arvon Foundation, an organization I hadn’t heard of before. Why my ear pricked up at that I have no idea – I wasn’t paying any particular attention to the programme, it was just a background hum. But I immediately went to my computer and googled Arvon. As soon as I found the website and started to read some details I knew that this was what I had been searching for. I knew nothing about Arvon before that moment but something in me recognized it immediately. Nowhere else had I seen it explicitly expressed that ‘anyone can benefit from the transformative power of writing.’
According to the website there were four Arvon centres and one of them, Totleigh Barton in Devon, was near a village called Sheepwash. Years earlier I had worked for the Central Statistics Office here in Ireland gathering data on households re employment, education etc. For several years I had driven around the south east of Ireland finding my way using very large scale maps – a time before SatNavs. One of my areas was the remote, beautiful Nire Valley, folded into the Comeragh Mountains in Co. Waterford. Scattered across the map of The Nire Valley were marks which indicated sheepwashes – places where in the past mountain sheep farmers had communally dipped their sheep. If I had a choice of Arvon writing centres then the one near a village called Sheepwash it had to be.
In Totleigh Barton on that first Monday evening we all strolled after dinner across the yard to an old barn made comfortable with squishy sofas and armchairs. We were invited to introduce ourselves by the tutors, John Moat and Peter Please. I heard myself say that I was afraid of what I might write. I was shocked by what I had just said. Waves of hot panic washed through my body, shame and embarrassment. What on earth did I mean by that? What was I thinking? I hadn’t a clue then and it was years before I gained some insight into the way that writing worked and what a force the subconscious is. However in that barn on that August Monday evening no-one took the slightest notice of what I had just said. I imagine in retrospect that John Moat and Peter Please nodded with infinite understanding.
Even though I had been travelling since four that morning I felt compelled to write in my journal before bed – ‘I can’t go to bed without recording on paper something of what I feel here tonight. I feel excited to be home. Yes, home. I can express it no other way. My whole being is tingling with excitement. This feels right from the inside out.’
Our week was set out for us. We would meet after breakfast each morning in the barn for some writing with John and Peter. The afternoons were our own but we could make appointments to meet with John and Peter individually. Peter told us that if he was outside carving wood that was a signal that he was available for a writing chat. John would be in the goose house.
I made an appointment to speak with John early in the week. He listened while I explained about what I hoped to write. Then he asked me to go away and write the first page of a novel. I’m sure I stopped breathing. Surely he didn’t expect me to do this. I had said I wanted to write, and here was this calm, lanky Englishman telling me to go ahead and write. But, but … my thoughts were in a whirl. Surely I couldn’t … just do it? Me? John had called my bluff. I expressed none of this inner turmoil to him, but instead took myself off to the bedroom I shared with another participant, Philippa from London, and started to write. Someone thought I could write and that was the starter I needed. I wrote in the bedroom, I wrote in the gazebo, I wrote in the barn. It seemed as though the sun shone for the entire week although it didn’t really. I wrote in the sitting room one rainy evening and a sparrow whirred up from the grass directly outside the window. A small brown sound that lifted my attention from the page.
Along with all the others I put my name on the rota for preparing dinner on one evening. I can’t remember the menu except that there were a lot of potatoes and I volunteered for potato peeling, being Irish, to the amusement of the others. The previous evening some of us had met in the sitting room to read our works in progress to each other and get comments. Carol, a jazz singer from London, had wanted to read but then decided against sharing her work.
But suddenly, this evening in the kitchen, in the middle of carrot chopping and potato peeling she decided that she would like to read it to us now and rushed off to her room to get her pages. She read to us a vivid piece about identity and the particular challenges to identity there are in a woman’s life, about her own life, about all those name changes. Who was she really? There was a palpably charged atmosphere in the kitchen. We all stood around the large wooden table with our aprons on and knives and other implements paused above pots and chopping boards, silent while she read. It was a powerful Arvon moment, an experience of listening to authentic writing, that I wouldn’t have missed for anything.
All week we were encouraged to observe. Although I had no art or drawing experience I had brought a drawing pad with me, suggested in advance by John, and on the first page there is a shy drawing of a tree growing in a curve towards the right with the comment underneath ‘Tree covered with lichen in the garden at Totleigh Barton as seen from the gazebo. 9-8-07’. Technique? Zilch. Attention? 100%. I later learned that John was a gifted artist. I remember that one of the others in the group, Katy, was instructed by John to go down the fields and observe a cow pat for the entire week. She read out a richly observed and sensual piece of writing on the final evening. Peter shared with us his journals, beautiful closely hand written pages that seemed to have a texture, like something woven. On that final evening I read that much re-written first page and other bits that had emerged on to my page during the week.
I left Totleigh Barton on the Saturday morning knowing I had been changed in some fundamental way. The week was utter simplicity, time to write, a belief in writing itself. But the five days had worked on me, and it seemed on the others, in a way that could not be explained in any rational way. There was one nagging question overriding all the week’s work. Why was there no residential writing centre, such as Arvon in Ireland? One that existed to foster creativity through writing, that valued the process of writing to the individual, and that was open to anyone who wished to write. I asked John why there wasn’t one even in Northern Ireland. He couldn’t say. But he inscribed my copy of his book ‘The Founding of Arvon’ with this message: ‘For Margaret who knows Arvon’s real home is in Ireland. Love John.’ At the time I had the resources to travel to Devon but what if I hadn’t? Why, in spite of Seamus Heaney’s patronage of Arvon from its inception and the dozens of Irish writers who had taught there over the decades, was there no similar centre in Ireland? I wanted that to change.
Shortly afterwards, by a great stroke of good fortune, I discovered Pat Schneider and Amherst Writers & Artists whose work was similarly based on an understanding of the value of the process of writing to the individual. I have written about some of my experience with Pat and her work here. Do I still have a fear of writing, of what I might write? Of course, but the difference now is that I am so much better at recognising it (although it can be very devious and nasty) and that recognition when it happens takes away much of the power of fear. In the years since that encounter with John Moat and Arvon I have continued to write, although not yet a novel, and I have gained immeasurably from a writing practice that includes journalling, fiction and poetry. I confess that I don’t understand it when writing is spoken of as a lonely pursuit. To be honest the time I spend writing is the time I feel least alone. And I especially love the times when I can combine writing with teaching and the value of the process of writing is proven to me over and over.
John Moat passed away on the 16th September 2014 and he will be deeply missed by all who knew him. For anyone interested in gaining an understanding of John Moat’s philosophy of writing and an understanding of his generous legacy, I suggest reading his memoir, The Founding of Arvon and also The Gist: A Celebration of the Imagination, a compilation of essays on writing by writers associated with Arvon, including Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes, published to honour John’s life and wisdom.
President Higgins has replied to my Open Letter and you can read his elegant response in full below.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote that ‘If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood, and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.’ So the campaign for a residential writing centre in Ireland, that is open to all, continues. If you have any thoughts on this I would love to read them in the comments box below.
Dear President Higgins,
You are about to start a historic visit to the United Kingdom and I have no doubt that the schedule planned for you and Mrs. Higgins during this trip is interesting and full.
In a recent article in The Irish Times you raised some interesting questions. “What is necessary to human flourishing? What human capabilities does Irish society encourage, genuinely enable, or block?” I suggest that you may find some answers to those questions if you include in your visit a meeting with John Moat and a visit to any of the four Arvon houses in the UK. What is The Arvon Foundation? In its own words “Arvon is a charity that works to ensure anyone can benefit from the transformative power of writing.” Don’t you find that wonderful? That anyone can benefit? John Moat, with the late John Fairfax, founded what became Arvon over 40 years ago in Devon. To date there is nothing comparable in Ireland that offers a residential experience to anyone who wishes to write, away from everyday distractions, responsibilities and habits and that also actively engages with schools and many underserved communities. Nor one with the simple apprenticeship model of Arvon, each 5 day residential course led by two experienced writers.
Instead in Ireland there is an ad hoc provision of writing courses, writing centres and writers augmenting their income through teaching. Indeed I offer some of these courses myself. Arts officers here strive to support all the creative arts within increasing budgetary constraints and a public discourse that veers between questioning the relevance of the arts and attempts to yoke the arts to an economic project. The support available to a writer too frequently depends on the area in which they live. The writers I have worked with over the past few years have shown me again and again the value of the process of writing, how the sudden discovery as the pen leaks words onto the page changes lives in a myriad of minute ways. It’s about writing but it’s always about more than writing. When I lectured in Adult Literacy Studies in the past, particularly in the area of Family Literacy, the class always came alive when I introduced them to creative writing, to story, using the method developed by Pat Schneider, founder of Amherst Writers and Artists. Pat has written that “Art is the creative expression of the human spirit, and it cannot – it must not, for the sake of the human community – be limited to those few who achieve critical acclaim or financial reward.” I think you appreciate better than most that if appropriate conditions are put in place then creativity, and people, can flourish. For example, it is likely that there will be an increase in the numbers of writers emerging from north Dublin because of the existence there of Fighting Words and the work of Sean Love and Roddy Doyle. There will consequently also be many, many more young people in that area growing into adulthood with increased confidence in their own voice and their ability to express themselves. As Gianni Rodari said:
“Every possible use of words should be made available to every single person … not because everyone should be an artist but because no one should be a slave.”
There is quite a list of Irish writers who have taught on Arvon courses, from the late Seamus Heaney through Paul Durcan, Anne Enright, Carlo Gebler, Hugo Hamilton, Patrick McCabe, Shane Connaughton, Medbh McGuckian, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Thomas McCarthy, Colm Tóibín and others to Leanne O’Sullivan and Julian Gough, yet none seem to have brought back the spirit, the idea of Arvon to Ireland. I find this very puzzling. Seamus Heaney judged, with Ted Hughes, the very first Arvon poetry competition and was a patron of Arvon until he died. An essay of his is included in a book called ‘The Gist: A Celebration of the Imagination’, recently published in acknowledgment of the work of John Moat. Also included as an appendix in this book is Ted Hughes’ ‘Arvon and Education’ in which he says that “we have to acknowledge what is perhaps not much acknowledged – that far-reaching inner changes, creative revelations of our inner self, the only part of us with any value, are usually triggered in the smallest fraction of time.” If there is to be one piece of writing that I would press on you to read in relation to the importance of developing a residential writing centre here, modelled on Arvon, it is this essay by Ted Hughes.
In ‘Renewing the Republic’ you wrote that “Unlike the characters in a play, we can change the script of our lives. We can reflect on the choice of selves, societies, masks and fictions. If we lock the arts away for an occasion, for an evening, for an indulgence, we lose out on much of their potential for the future, and for their revelatory and pleasurable potential now.”
Now to return to your recent questions: “What is necessary to human flourishing? What human capabilities does Irish society encourage, genuinely enable, or block?” Establishing a residential national writing centre in Ireland would serve as the tangible symbol of a belief in the importance of writing as a vital part of the creative arts and also provide real support for developing writers of all ages. There would also be opportunities for cultural tourism. It would provide a focus for the development of a community of writers, teaching opportunities for writers, and also “ensure anyone can benefit from the transformative power of writing”. It is my belief that many people in Ireland, indeed Irish society as a whole, would benefit and flourish from such a development.
At last it’s time to reveal the details of the 2014 Brewery Lane Writers’ Weekend! The dates are Friday, 11th April to Sunday, 13th April. This is Ireland’s most intimate writers’ weekend, centred in the special atmosphere of Brewery Lane Theatre, Carrick-on-Suir.
The writer Dave Lordan will deliver workshops on Flash Fiction, Shem Caulfield, artist and photographer, will hold a seminar called ‘The Epic is in the Detail’ and there will be a showing of the film Poetry, winner of Cannes Film Festival 2010.
The Brewery Lane Poetry Competition is now open for entries. As well as overall awards, there is a special category for an emerging writer, plus a schools’ category. The closing date for entries is Friday, 14th March. This year’s judge is Richard Hayes, Head of the School of Humanities, Waterford Institute of Technology.
All enquiries, including entry form and rules for the poetry competition, to firstname.lastname@example.org or through the contact page here
They are all gone now aren’t they?
We’ve well and truly crossed into 2014 – decorations are down, chocs are history – and now here are dates and details that should be of interest to all you writers in or around the south-east:
And if all of that doesn’t give you the urge to crack open your notebook straightaway and grab a pen I don’t know what would!