Listowel Writers' Week Fringe

Blogging Listowel's Literary Scene

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…

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.

Songwriting @ Listowel: message from Freddie White

May 25, 2009 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: participants, songwriting

Thanks for doing this (the blog).

Noticed that you left out the ‘flying by the seat of the pants’ bit in the blurb – !

Last year was my first foray into workshopping, and, after a shaky start, it worked out pretty good – thanks in large part to participants who were really up for it, and produced some very good work.

Inevitably we spilled over into some great sessions in a couple of the locals and inspired by that, this year we’re adding a planned performance of the songs on Friday night.

Nothing like a deadline to light a fire under your bum and anyway a song isn’t complete until it’s played to a live audience. The last morning we’ll revisit and see what worked and what didn’t.

Listowel is a great event and I’m proud and delighted to be part of it. See you all there!

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…

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

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.

Workshops: Storytelling with Pat Speight

May 15, 2009 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: participants, storytelling, tutors, workshop

What an opportunity… three days with Pat Speight on Storytelling…

The inspired storyteller Pat Speight is running a workshop on Storytelling.

As the 3rd in our series covering each of the workshops, we look at


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

Anyone have a Pat Speight story you can share?

The blurb for the workshop sounds excellent. Promises it will

introduce story telling to beginners, and improve the skills of existing storytellers… cultivates awareness of the interaction of the storyteller with an audience..”

Pat Speight’s been featured at many festivals, including:

USA National Storytelling Festival
Jonesborough Tennessee
Manchester Irish Festival
The North West International Festival
Cape Clear Festival
The Ulster Folk and Transport Festival
Scealta Shamhna in Dublin
The Irish Centre London
Seacat Storytelling Festival
Newcastle Irish Festival
Irish Festival Chicago, USA
Courtmacsherry Storytelling Carnival

If we’re really fortunate, Pat will accept an invitation to write a piece for us before the workshop

Dishing the dirt on a Listowel Workshop (chapter 3)

May 15, 2009 By: Paul O'Mahony Category: historical, participants, poets, tutors, workshop

Over the first teabreak, I found out I hadn’t been late.

The workshop had started dead on time. I’d been three minutes late into the room. Shows how nervous I was, that I let that upset & disorient me.

(You can read the first two episodes here & here.)

James McGrath had come to the workshop from New Mexico. He turned out to be an extraordinary individual and poet (author of “At the edgelessness of Light“), but I didn’t realise that straightaway. My first impression was his accent. It was different and fresh.

Philip Byrne was from the Irish east coast. He’d been sitting across the table from me, and also sounded different: his poem had shape to it. It made a picture on the page. Gradually I found out he had loads of ‘concrete’ poems, and a litany of other talents.

I forget the name of the man from Clare, the Burrenman. He read out his poem, and it sounded as if it came from deep within segmented rock. My first impression with that I was in the presence of a mythvoice.

As I recall that first 90 minutes with our leader, Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, I remember my disgruntlement at her lack of apparent organisation. Soft voiced, she had no interest or investment in being in control. She simple asked us to pick postcards, write and read. No other introductions. I don’t think she even introduced herself. She had no ego on display.

What a marvellous way to get introduced to poets.

No preamble. No spoof. Simply a poem that spoke for the DNA of the author.

I can think of no better way to begin working with a poet than hearing them read one of their poems, so fresh, that if it was an egg, you’d lay it aside before cracking the shell.

I can’t find my notebook (the place where I wrote my thoughts and inspirations.

Shit, bollocks, feck…

I’ll have to go on exposing my imaginative memory…

(to be continued)

Workshops: Songwriting with Freddie White

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

The wonderful singer-songwriter Freddie White from Cork is running a workshop on songwriting (click his name & hear him sing).

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


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

Anyone have a Freddie White story?

The blurb for the workshop sounds great. Promises it

will capture the essence of lyrical and musical composition. Words and music will be combined in an inspiring, original way.”

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

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