Listowel Writers' Week Fringe

Blogging Listowel's Literary Scene
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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.

www.mary-kenny.com

Workshops: Freelance Journalism with Mary Kenny

May 14, 2009 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: journalism, participants, tutors, workshop

Who better to be with than Mary Kenny...

In the first of our series covering each of the workshops, we look at

and

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

Anyone have a Mary Kenny story?

If we’re really privileged, Mary Kenny will accept an invitation to write a piece for us before the workshop.


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