Listowel Writers' Week Fringe

Blogging Listowel's Literary Scene

Archive for the ‘tutors’

Sheila O’Flanigan back in Listowel in 2010

February 03, 2010 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: 2010, creative writing, tutors, workshop

Sheila O’Flanigan will be running a workshop this year…

UisceBots – great blog post on Jennifer Farrell

January 21, 2010 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: blogs, connections, historical, memoir, participants, tutors, workshop

Jennifer Farrell, Nuala O’Faolain and Listowel Writers’ Week are featured in this lovely piece of writing of memoir…

UisceBots is from Dublin, a blogger since April 2006. He doesn’t want anyone under 18 reading his stuff.

I admire this piece. Tis good isn’t it?

My workshop experience at Writers’ Week 2008

May 28, 2009 By: Patrick Stack Category: historical, participants, tutors, workshop

Having attended Carlo Gébler’s Writing a Novel workshop at last year’s Writers’ Week, I was hopeful that I would actually make some progress with my nascent novel-to-be. That, of course, depended on my making time in my busy schedule for writing. Inevitably this did not come to pass: as is almost invariably the case my priorities, like water, followed the path of least resistance, and the novel writing was de-prioritised out of existence.
The workshop itself, I found to be very useful, as it got me to focus on the why. Motivation is the key to everything. Each act carried out by each character in the novel must be believable, otherwise that character will not be believable. Even if the reader does not know or understand the motivation behind the action of a character, the author must know it, otherwise the character ceases to be believable. In essence that is what I gleaned from the workshop.
I enjoyed hearing the other participants read from their works in progress, as much as I enjoyed reading from my own. The range in tone and genre was breathtaking, the skill of the individual writers undoubted.
I felt that Carlo facilitated the workshop with real skill, facilitating a space for each participant to voice hir (his/her) thoughts, emotions and reactions. It was for me a very fruitful experience. Now, all I have to do is re-prioritise my novel writing to the point where I actually get something written – easier said than done!

Workshops we haven’t yet featured…

May 27, 2009 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: creative writing, novels, participants, tutors, workshop

Julia Bell on Writing Funny

  • turn a good joke into a good piece of fiction
  • write funny without turning out cartoons
  • difference between comic hyperbole & just plain old melodrama
  • developing comic characters
  • using point of view & structure to tell stories…to amuse and entertain.

Brian Dillon on Memoir Writing, author of “In the Dark Room”

  • first-person writing through consideration of history, methods & motivations of memoir
  • autobiographical narratives: Vladimir Nabokov, Joan Didion & Dave Eggers
  • confession in contemporary culture
  • how memories may be remade as literature.
  • experiment writing a short piece of prose memoir.

Declan Hughes on Crime Writing

Declan Hughes reads from his new novel

Declan Hughes reads from his new novel

  • anatomy of a crime novel.
  • crime writing forensically examined through character, dialogue, action, plot & structure.

Paddy Breathnach on Writing for Screen

E.M Forster wrote of the story, “It has only one merit, that of making the audience want to know what happens next. And conversely it can have only one fault, that of making the audience not want to know what happens next.”

  • ways of achieving the former and avoiding the latter by
  • recognising what you’re trying to write: tone, genre & simple stuff that’s often forgotten
  • mythic journeys & sequence theories that help structure your screenplay.

Michael Harding on Writing for Theatre

Putting the story on the stage.

  • finding your story.
  • what is the best starting point for a story?
  • examination of characters in the story & the world of the story
  • shaping your story, how to structure & shape as play for theatre
  • essential rules & principles of the craft
  • making your story work on the stage
  • examination of the personal & socio-political aspect of your story
  • how your story must serve the requirements of the audience.

Martina Evans on Advanced Poetry

  • Everything written is as good as it is dramatic – Robert Frost
  • screenwriter Waldo Salt spoke of thinking like a poet in order to visualise the Dustin Hoffman character in Midnight Cowboy
  • explore film techniques as a way of creating lyrics that are vivid compressed narratives.

Matthew Sweeney on Poetry Getting Started

  • Robert Frost: ‘Poetry is a fresh look and a fresh listen’
  • fresh look at the world around us
  • fresh listen to the language people are using
  • looking at poems that do this & taking your cue from them
  • writing in a way that might surprise you
  • If you surprise yourself, you just might surprise your reader.’(Frost)

Sheila O’Flannagan on Popular Fiction

  • practical, interactive
  • building a popular fiction, covering characterisation, story development, writing skills & editing
  • advice on how to get publisher
  • how to work with a publisher.

Carlo Gebler on Writing a Novel

  • start a novel, advance a novel or finish a novel
  • a better sense of the book you want to write
  • how to set about starting it, advancing it or finishing it.
  • those with work already written should bring it to the workshop
  • tutor cannot undertake to read it outside of the class.

David Park on Creative Writing Advanced

  • construct a piece of fiction, having focused on the cornerstones of structure, characterisation, setting and perspective
  • be willing to share both self and work
  • feedback given individually on all work produced.

Hopefully some of these workshop leaders will write a piece for us…


Hopefully those of you who are at these workshops will also write for us…

Éilís Ní Dhuibhne writes for us…

May 26, 2009 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: connections, creative writing, tutors, workshop

In 1978, I got a letter from the organisers of Listowel Writers’ Festival offering me a scholarship to attend the event and participate in a workshop.

David Marcus, editor of New Irish Writing in the Irish Press, where I had published a few stories, had recommended me and some other young writers – he was then, as he remained almost until his death, a great encourager of young writers.

That was a lovely letter to get, out of the blue, and I was delighted to accept the invitation.

I took the train and the bus – I can remember even the excitement of that, setting off from Heuston Station on a bright summer’s morning.

My accommodation was in a bungalow on the Ballybunion Road – a road I have often stayed on since then, in various B and Bs. I reported in to my digs, and was introduced to four other young people, who had also been offered these scholarships – three young men and one other girl, Eileen. ( I cannot remember her surname now, and have often wondered what became of her).

Eileen was a short story writer – like me, she had had some of her stories published by David Marcus. She was a little younger than me and very nice, which was good, because we shared not only the same bedroom, but the same double bed! I have to say my sense of pride in the scholarship tumbled just a little when I found out that it did not actually entitle me to more than half a bed.
But the week – I remember it as a week, or definitely longer than the present Thursday to Sunday arrangement – was fantastic.

We, young writers, took to one another, went everywhere together. We had a ball – there seemed to be frequent Irish coffee receptions, readings, parties of one kind and another.

And of course the workshop, which that year was given by Emma Cooke, in a room in the Listowel Arms. She was very sweet and down to earth, and we had many good laughs in that workshop.
The sun shone brightly all week long. In my memory, I am always walking along the road from the bungalow into town, with my four good companions, talking about what we wanted to write, the works we admired, our dreams of the future.
Who were those young people and what became of them?

One was Antoine O Flatharta, now a well-known playwright, and creator of Ros Na Rún, whom I have met many times since then.

There was a brilliantly funny Dubliner, a short story writer, called, I think, Jon Vavasour, whom I have not heard of since – perhaps he emigrated

and a playwright called Michael, whom I met just once a few years later, as he returned from the London School of Economics and was embarking on a career in finance.

Eileen I have not heard of again, or met, to my knowledge.

That was my first time at Writers’ Week.

A few weeks after it was over, I went away myself, to spend a year as a graduate student in Copenhagen.

I returned to Listowel again to take a workshop in 1982…

Julia O Faolain was the facilitator that time. (She used Alice Munro’s story ‘Wild Swans’ in class. That was my first introduction to Alice Munro’s work, although I did note her name at the time, or pursue her. Some years later when I ‘discovered’ Munro and fell in love with her writing I came across that story again, with a stab of remembered pleasure.)

I’ve been to Listowel several times since then…

– once to pick up second prize in the Poetry Competition (the one and only time I’ve won a Listowel award, although I entered the short story competition several times), and, on three or four occasions, to facilitate a workshop, as I am doing this year.

It’s always good, but that first time was the best – one of those gloriously perfect weeks that now and then fall into the life of a lucky person.

Workshops: Creative Writing with Mary Morrissy

May 22, 2009 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: creative writing, tutors, workshop

Are you a lucky one signed up to spend three days with Mary Morrissy?

Are you going to “tone up” your creative writing skills?

Mary Morrissy workshop director

Mary Morrissy workshop director

You can find her books here.

Read this Dublin Quarterly conversation with her.

Mary Morrissy was born in Dublin in 1957. She has published one collection of short stories, A Lazy Eye (London, Jonathan Cape/ New York, Scribner, 1993).

Her novels are Mother of Pearl (Scribner, 1995/Jonathan Cape, 1996); and The Pretender (Jonathan Cape, 2000).

She won a Hennessy Award for short fiction in 1984, a Lannan Literary Prize in 1995, and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize in 1996.

She lives in Dublin.”

The blurb for the Workshop says:

“Want to keep fit as a writer? … toning language skills, developing character and building plot …. in-class writing will be involved… light reading… short assignments for homework.”

I wonder what Mary Morrissy considers “light reading”?

If we are privileged, Mary Morrissy will accept our invitation and write something here before the workshop…

Progress Report: interviews we hope to get with authors

May 21, 2009 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: journalism, organisers, tutors

Today, we’ve made real progress.

Generously, the marketing & administration team of Writers’ Week have agreed to arrange for our journalists to interview Colm Toibin, Terry Jones & Rebecca Miller.

Although they are not scheduled to be at this year’s festival, I harbour a hope that Fergal Keane & Joseph O’Connor will be found wandering round Listowel, or willing to down a pint with me in one of the famous pubs.

We’re still working on the technology to enable us to shoot short video interviews. The big media will be after the big names, but we’d like to broadcast the voice of the ordinary punter. So we’ll be talking to Mary from Dunlow, Seamus from Leitrim & Michael from Dublin.

I’m going to make a point of featuring the voice and opinions of young writers and listeners. They’re the seeds of the future.

Is there anyone you’d especially like us to feature?

Workshops: short fiction with Éilís Ní Dhuibhne

May 20, 2009 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: participants, photographs, short story, tutors, workshop

Some people are fortunate to be going to spend three days with Dubliner Éilís Ní Dhuibhne on short story writing…

Workshop Director

Workshop Director

Éilís Ní Dhuibhne is running the workshop on Short Fiction.

As the 4th in our series covering each of the workshops, we look at


  • provide a space for those booked on the workshop to say what you hope to get from it.

Anyone have a Éilís Ní Dhuibhne story you can share?

The blurb for the workshop sounds stretching. Promises …

the short story as a genre… outstanding short stories. Key elements of writing technique… stories brought by students will be critiqued in a positive and supportive atmosphere… writing exercises… to stimulate… imagination, identify wellsprings of creativity… hone literary craft…”

Éilís writes in both Irish and English.

If we’re really privileged, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne will accept an invitation to write a piece for us before the workshop

What’s it like in Listowel? 8.5 days to go…

May 19, 2009 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: blogs, journalism, organisers, preparations, Street drama, tutors

Yesterday I drove over from Glanmire.

Out the Mallow road, turned left around the sugar factory onto the R576 through Kanturk, Newmarket, Rockchapel, Kilkinlea and Abbeyfeale. By the R555 with rain all the way into Listowel.

I found parking in the square, 1 euro per hour (bring coins), and scampered for the warmth of the Listowel Arms Hotel.

In terms of Writers’ Week, it would be hard to exaggerate the significance of this hotel. It’s the nerve centre. Yesterday, there were people in the bar at 1130. I had Americano & scone with butter & jam. Kerry prices.

Wrote a few words in my Moleskine notebook:

Two women sit on the long seat. Five women and two men sit in a circle. One woman sits alone, her back to the corner. A couple of men sit at their own table. The carpet is brown. Fruit scone comes with Dawn butter from Kerry Foods, Industrial Estate, Tallagh. Robertson’s Strawberry jam in a plastic pack. The walls are chattering, sound re-bounding.”

Jeremy Gould and his son Thomas arrived for our first meeting.

I was excited and a bit nervous, hoping I wouldn’t put him off chucking in his skills to this project.

Together we ‘rappored’. Thomas played on dad’s Iphone. Jeremy may have emigrated to Listowel recently but he has years of visiting behind him and his wife’s people are Kerry.

We went visiting the festival office.

Moire Logue and Eilish joined us for lunch. We got on great.

Out into the rain with us next. We did the main streets, photographing venues,

Venues for Writers Week

Venues for Writers' Week

and even saw Billy Keane doing an interviewwalk with a man holding an RTE mic.

Billy Keane RTE interviewwalking

Billy Keane RTE interviewwalking

Monday is 1/2 day in Listowel. Brenda Woulfe wasn’t in when we called to the bookshop.

Festival Venue

Festival Venue

Left a message to say we’d called.

Saw a big crowd of schoolboys being escorted to John B Keane’s pub by their teacher.

Into the pub with your teacher

Into the pub with your teacher

Imagine that! No teacher ever took me to a pub.

Networking tools were discussed…

Lots of discussion about how to use all the social networking tools to best effect on this blog. I’m no technophile, but not a technophobe either. The thing I took away was the idea of putting a hashtag [#listww09] into Twitter tweets and Facebook updates. Maybe I should put them into blogposts too?

I remember how the sun shone in 2007, those glorious days at Writers’ Week. If yesterday is anything to go by, bring your wellies & brollies…

It was the search for broadband that made me nervious.

I have visions of writing stuff that gets lost because of systemfail. So I interviewed the receptionist in the hotel.

She showed me the only public place from which I could connect. When I went testing, my system crashed and I lost my post which I hadn’t saved. That’ll learn me. The walls of the ballroom are 4 feet thick, so no wireless signal there. We’ll need a ‘dongle’.

There are two internet cafes in town.

Community I.T. Access, 58 Church Street is open 9-5, Mon-Fri only: 3 euro per hour and he’d be prepared to negotiate a special daily rate. Lovely & warm, clean & tidy, more like an office than a cafe.

I have a photo of the other place which I’ll give details of later.

Internet cafe terms

Internet cafe terms

The thrill of the day was getting Mary Kenny’s piece and putting it up from Listowel…

It came by email. She kept her promise. It’s a lovely piece of writing. Hopefully we’ll have many more pieces from workshop leaders.

I’ll put photos up later.

Mary Kenny writes about Listowel

May 18, 2009 By: Mary Category: connections, historical, journalism, storytelling, tutors, workshop

My first ambition, as a young girl, was to be a ballet dancer, a profession for which I was in almost every respect wholly unsuited, but for which I entertained (and still entertain) a romantic attachment. Apart from the gossamer beauty of the dance, I also liked the traditions of the great ballet schools: the endless practice, the demanding disciplines, the ensemble of working together with a company: and above all the notion of having a ballet master – or mistress – who taught the younger dancers, and who had, in turn, been taught by classical teachers when she was young, who had, in turn, been taught by their classical teachers: so that every performer is part of a chain of past, present and future, of seamless continuity in the performance of a great profession.

Later in life, I also encountered classical and orchestral musicians, who explained to me that a good musician should always have both a teacher and a pupil: you should always be learning, and what you have learned, and practiced, you should also teach and transmit.

And that, today, is very much my attitude to writing. A seasoned writer should have both students to teach, and masters – and mistresses – to follow. You are learning the craft that you practice until the day you die; and where there is a chance to teach it, it is part of your craft to pass it on. And in any case, by teaching – and by reflecting on teaching – you also learn more.

There has been some discussion in the press, recently – notably, in the letters’ column of The Irish Times – as to whether writing can be taught; or, more specifically, whether “creative writing” can be taught. I would say that genius cannot be taught: and yet, was it Einstein who said that even genius was ninety per cent inspiration and ten per cent perspiration? Let me go back to the example of the ballet-dancer: the dancer must have some innate ability to dance. But what you see in the finished performance on stage is the result of work, work, work: of hours and hours of rehearsal every day: of an exacting teacher who demands perfection, and sometimes beyond, from this poetic expression of the human body.

In writing, too, whatever talent that exists in the writer can be developed, honed, improved, worked upon. In his recent book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell looked at what it was that made people in a number of fields outstandingly successful. In the building of a fortune, he found, there was an element of luck – especially, in the luck of being born at the right time, when there were fortunes to be made. And yet the common denominator among those who achieve their ambitions was this: they worked much, much harder than others.

An interview with Colm Tóibín, too, in the May issue of Image magazine (by Bridget Hourican) also brought out that theme: writing, said Tóibín, is just hard work. You sit down at it and you do and then you do it again and again and again; and you work at it until it is right. Yeats, whose gold and silver phrasing slips off the page with swan-like ease, said – perhaps more fancifully – that he would rather be scrubbing floors than working at words. I don’t quite believe that W.B. scrubbed many floors – there were servants, otherwise called “women” to do that kind of thing! – but he was reaching for an apt metaphor of hard labour.

So, while the genius of writing obviously cannot be taught – nobody can be taught to be a James Joyce or a W.B. Yeats – the craft of writing certainly can be. And like any other craft it is improved by practice, application and helpful mentoring.

One of my favourite metaphors for the craft of writing is one that Yeats certainly would not have experienced: writing is like breast-feeding. Breast-feeding is “natural”, and yet, many first-time mothers need some mentoring to get the knack. In order to be successful at breast-feeding, you must keep doing it regularly – otherwise the flow of milk will dry up. However, you mustn’t do it too much; otherwise the milk will get thin.

Good breastfeeding depends on good nourishment of the mother: so to get a high-quality milk yield, you must also have some high-quality input. And here is the parallel: to write, you need to keep writing – Virginia Woolf could sometimes only manage 50 words a day, but it was allowing the juices to flow. (Beckett sometimes managed nothing, and to me, that says a lot about the sainted Beckett, and the element of nihilism in his work.) However, if you write too much, the work may deteriorate and become sub-standard. Some very successful authors wrote too much: and of the prolific output perhaps only one text is remembered.

And as for the input – the nourishment that must go into the body to produce high standard milk, or into the imagination to produce high-standard writing: a writer has to keep reading, and to keep reading good writers.And good writers of one’s own choice, too, I’d say. You are not obliged to like Beckett, say, just because he is revered by many. You can like a writer who is totally out of fashion: I am extremely fond of Somerset Maugham’s short stories, although it is practically social death to say so among some literary folk. But he feeds my imagination. And whatever works for you – use it.

I have attended workshops in Listowel as a student and I have given one as a seasoned writer: this year being my second experience teaching. And like the veterans at the Bolshoi, I hope to go on learning and teaching until I drop.

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