Writing Changes Lives – 3 x 1 day Saturday workshops
Dates: Jan. 28th, Feb. 4th & Feb. 11th 2017
Venue and time: Brewery Lane Theatre, Carrick-on-Suir from 10.30am to 4.30pm
These are my own writing workshops, based on the work of Pat Schneider, and ‘built on a trust in the inherent talent in people and trust in the power of writing as a process’. Anyone who has written with me I think understands how that is proven over and over as we write together in the workshops. Something wonderful happens when people gather and write in a space safe enough to take risks. For more background I highly recommend Pat Schneider’s book, Writing Alone and With Others, (the quote above is from this book) – it is in many local libraries and in the Book Centre, Waterford. As always these writing days are suitable for anyone beginning, or beginning again, to write. Please contact me directly to book a place or to ask me about the workshops – I would love to hear from you.
The Story House – ‘Writing for Young People’ Mon. 20th to Sat. 25th February at Lisnavagh House, Co. Carlow
This is a unique five day taught residential course, led by two award winning writers, Sheena Wilkinson and Elizabeth Rose Murray, with midweek guest writer Patricia Ford (of Childrens Books Ireland). Limited to 12 participants – with workshops, one to one tutorials with each writer, and time and space to write. A deposit of €200 secures a place on the course – the fee of €700 is fully inclusive of all accommodation, food, workshops etc. For bookings and enquiries please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For some background to the setting up of TSH you can read an interview writer Lia Mills did with myself and Nollaig Brennan on her blog Libran Writer, and there’s also a recent filmed interview with us on Attic Sessions TV with poet Nessa O’Mahony.
Poetry Plus – monthly open mic at Brewery Lane Theatre tearooms, Carrick-on-Suir 8.15pm
This monthly event just gets better and better. Mark these dates: Fri. Jan. 27th; Friday, Feb. 17th; Friday, Mar. 24th; Friday, Apr. 21st (the latter date will be part of the BL Writers’ W/E, see below). Anyone who comes is welcome to read whatever they wish – poetry or prose. It’s a very welcoming and convivial night with tea and chat and we ask just €3 to cover expenses. No need to book, just come along.
Writing Changes Lives – 3 x 1 day Saturday workshops Jan. 28th, Feb. 4th & Feb. 11th in Brewery Lane Theatre
These are my own writing workshops, based on the work of Pat Schneider and ‘built on a trust in the inherent talent in people and trust in the power of writing as a process’. Anyone who has written with me I think understands how that is proven over and over as we write together in the workshops. For more background I highly recommend Pat Schneider’s book Writing Alone and With Others – it is in local libraries and in the Book Centre, Waterford. The fee for the workshops is €150 – please contact me directly to book a place. Suitable for anyone beginning, or beginning again, to write.
2017 Brewery Lane Writers’ Weekend – Fri. April 21st to Sun. April 23rd
This year in Brewery Lane we will be joined by two very talented writers and experienced teachers of writing, Lia Mills and Catherine Dunne, and already there is significant interest, just through word of mouth. The emphasis this year will be on the tools of fiction and memoir, with workshops and one to one meetings to discuss your work. There is an early bird offer of €160 if paid before Fri. 19th February, after that date the full fee of €175 will apply. Limited to 12 participants. Please email me directly to book your place and for payment details or with any questions.
I want to thank everyone who helped me out in various ways during 2016, with both moral and practical support, and to wish you all a lovely Christmas with time for family, friends and also some time for yourself to read, write and be refreshed as we cross into 2017.
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.
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’.
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 email@example.com
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.