There will be a change to my usual workshop calendar in Brewery Lane for this autumn. I won’t be starting my usual Saturday morning classes in September because I am taking some time out to complete a long anticipated personal project. Instead I will do a series of full day workshops on 3 consecutive Saturdays in November, the 12th, 19th and 26th.
If you are interested and would like to sign up for these writing days please let me know through the contact page as soon as possible. The fee will be €150 and, as always, the emphasis will be on playfulness and creativity while being open and generous to yourself and others.
‘Would a feeling of aliveness be reason enough?’ Lynda Barry
Time: 10.30am to 4.30pm
I am running this as a benefit day for The Story House and the proceeds raised will help Nollaig and myself to put plans in place for the next residential course, open to anyone who wishes to write.
‘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’.
‘Writing has brought me up from underground. I’ve been my own Orpheus.’ Nuala O’Faolain
Join writers Selina Guinness and Katie Donovan for the 2016 Brewery Lane Writers’ Weekend. The dates are: Friday, 1st April, Saturday, 2nd April and Sunday, 3rd April, the weekend after Easter. This is Ireland’s most intimate writers’ weekend, limited to 12 participants, where writers get the opportunity to work with some of the best writers and teachers of writing in Ireland. Participants gain insights into the practice and craft of writing through group workshops, one to one tutorials and time for writing.
Here is what Nessa O’Mahony, one of our fabulous duo of tutors at the 2015 event, has written about the impact on her of attending a workshop with Katie Donovan: ‘Katie Donovan will forever have my gratitude for being the first professional writer to tell me that I had something worth developing – my own voice.’
The early-bird fee for the weekend is €160, but this must be paid by Friday, 5th February. This fee includes all workshops and tutorials plus lunch on Friday and Saturday. For payments later than this the full fee of €175 will apply, but please note that the weekend will fill on a first come, first paid basis. If you need accommodation for the weekend the Carraig Hotel is offering a special deal to participants.
For booking and payment details please get in touch with me through the Contact page.
Writers, if you want to treat yourself to some writing time in 2016, with expert tuition and guidance (or suggest this to anyone who is asking what you would like for Christmas), here are a couple of suggestions:
The Story House course, ‘Poetry: The Craft’, with poets Nessa O’Mahony, Peter Sirr and midweek guest Patrick Chapman. The dates are Monday, 11th to Saturday, 16th April 2016 and you will be living and writing in the magnificent surroundings of Borris House in Co. Carlow. The full fee is €700, which includes daily workshops, one-to-one tutorials, all accommodation and food. A deposit of €200 secures your place with the balance to be paid six weeks before start of course. If you want to check any details about this please email firstname.lastname@example.org
For a shorter writing break there is the 3 day Brewery Lane Writers’ Weekend with writers Selina Guinness and Katie Donovan, from Friday, 1st April to Sunday, 3rd April. There is an early bird offer of €160 if booked and paid in full by Friday, 5th February (€175 if paid later). For those who live outside of Carrick-on-Suir The Carraig Hotel are offering a special deal to participants. For more details about this you are welcome to get in touch with me through the contact page here.
Both of these courses are limited to 12 participants.
The poet Adrienne Rich gave the instruction to ‘Send out your signals, hoist your dark scribbled flags’.
If you think it’s time to hoist your writing flag my autumn series of writing workshops will start on Saturday, 26th September for 8 weeks, in Brewery Lane Theatre, Carrick-on-Suir, open to anyone who wishes to write. The tea-room of the theatre on those Saturday mornings becomes a special creative and energetic writing space. If you want to find out more get in touch with me through the contact page here – you can read what previous participants have said here
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.
I have been neglecting this blog in recent months, not that I’m losing my conviction that writing changes lives, far from it, but because so many other things have been happening in my writing life, one more exciting than the next!
Not least is the development and launch of The Story House, a residential writing centre inspired by the work of the late John Moat & The Arvon Foundation. The first course to take place in The Story House, on short fiction, will be taught by Julian Gough & Susie Maguire with a visit from the special mid-week guest, Dónal Ryan. This inaugural course will take place over five days, from Mon. 23rd to Sat. 28th March 2015 in scenic west Waterford. Hurry on over to The Story House website for all the details and to book your place.
The Brewery Lane Writers’ Weekend has also been completely revamped for 2015. Taking inspiration from Arvon’s city courses the weekend will feature three days of writing with two writers, Ferdia MacAnna (aka Rocky de Valera!) & Nessa O’Mahony, in the intimate setting of Brewery Lane Theatre, Carrick-on-Suir. During the Brewery Lane Writers’ Weekend you will 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.
Dates: Fri. 10th – Sun. 12th April 2015. Fee: €160 early bird if paid by 12th Feb 2015 or €175 if paid later. Accommodation available in The Carraig Hotel at a special rate to participants . To book your place or to find out more details please get in touch with me through the Contact page.
Last, but not least, my own spring series of writing workshops will start again in Brewery Lane Theatre on Saturday, 24th Jan. 2015. If you’re interested in writing but have not previously attended my workshops you might like to start by reading Pat Schneider‘s book ‘Writing Alone & With Others’ (but it’s not at all compulsory). Pat has been an enormous influence on my work and her book is in Waterford City Library and, often, in The Book Centre, Waterford, and is also available to buy online.
And have I mentioned the monthly Poetry Plus night in Brewery Lane Theatre? It’s free and it’s fun!
‘Each of us has genius, but we need support …’ Pat Schneider
Is it just me or did we not just have the October Poetry Plus night? Tempus is fugiting … The November Poetry Plus night is on Friday next, 21st at 8.15pm in Brewery Lane Theatre, Carrick-on-Suir. There will be the usual extravagant prizes for those who take up the challenge and recite from the heart.We’ve had some stunning performances and I’m looking forward to more.
I find Ted Hughes’ explanation for the decline of learning by heart and the rise of rote learning over so many dismal decades in school very interesting. He links it to the rise of Puritanism with its attempts to eradicate imagery from all aspects of life, not only in churches and the forbidding of drama, but also the use of imagery as a memory technique. The deadening, stultifying learning by rote then became the norm. You can read the complete version of this in his introduction to ‘By Heart:101 Poems to Remember‘.
The theme for this month’s event is ‘Music’. You can read / recite in any form that appeals to you. There is a limit of two poems or short(ish) pieces of prose. If you have a song let’s hear it!
I’m tempted to read from Lavinia Greenlaw’s memoir, ‘The Importance of Music to Girls’. Now what to pair it with?