The Joys of the First Rewrite

Don't Bother Me I'm RewritingI was sitting at my laptop, figuring I had about twenty more pages of the novel to go and suddenly I realised… That’s it. There’s nothing to add. The story had come to a natural conclusion. It crept up on me. I had set a goal of a specific word-count, but the story itself had other ideas. So, only two weeks after myself-imposed deadline, I found myself at the end of the first draft.

There are many milestones in a writer’s life. Finishing the novel. Getting that long-awaited e-mail from an agent or publisher expressing interest. Seeing the book accepted. Then there’s the arrival of the galley copies, the book launch… These things feed into the dreams we had when we were kids, when we first picked up a book and thought, That’s what I want to do.

But even before you get to any of those points, there’s another milestone very few people can truly appreciate: finishing the first draft and getting ready for the first rewrite.

No, it’s not quite the same as finishing a book, but it’s a milestone nonetheless and deserves recognition. Getting the that first draft down on paper (or in pixels, if you prefer) is a huge accomplishment. As flawed, as incomplete, and as pitiful as it may be, it is the foundation of the work that will follow. Now the real writing can begin.

I love rewrites. Correction, I love the first rewrite. This is where I take the story apart and reconstruct it. Where I polish the prose and enhance the tale. It’s my favourite part of the writing process. Instead of just ploughing through the pages, trying to get the tale down, I can savour each sentence, weigh each word, perfect each paragraph.  I test that the structure holds, that the pacing has a rhythm and an urgency where needed, and I make sure the characters are well-drawn and individual. After that, the wonderful first rewrite, it gets harder.

Each subsequent rewrite offers its own challenges. At ever stage, the writing needs to have a lyricism but not lose its spontaneity. This can be hard to achieve when you’re on your seventh or eighth pass. Once you get to the point where you know the novel almost by heart, it’s hard not to get worn down the the endless reworking. This is one of the reasons I love that first rewrite so much. The story is still malleable and fresh. Like bread dough without the yeasty aroma.

What makes that first rewrite so special? Well, by the time I sit down to work on it, I have figured out the story and know the characters. All the things I learned by getting through that creaky first draft can now be applied as I rework the tale. While I was writing that ghastly foundation draft I only had a rough idea of where I was going. Sometimes it took me a while to figure out the story my subconscious was trying to tell me. Why was Molly was so gloomy in chapter 2? It took me to chapter 11 to find out. But now as I begin the rewrite, I do know what was going on in her head. Now I can develop that early scene and give it a depth and and resonance it didn’t have before.

If the first draft is just making it up as you go along, the second draft is about refining, clarifying, and restructuring.  This is where you realise some scenes are non-starters. You introduced a maiden aunt in chapter four but by chapter five she’d vanished. Sorry, Auntie Edna, but it’s time you went bye-bye. If you introduced Auntie merely to explain that Molly had suffered a miscarriage years earlier, then perhaps a more dynamic character should have that reveal. Or maybe you need to work on your exposition. Either way, there’s no point keeping a character around if they only do one thing.

Discovering a whole character, or chapter, or even several chapters, have to be eliminated may cause internal bleeding, but you and your novel will be better for it. Don’t  try to wheedle out of it. Don’t try to compromise. Surgical cuts are best. Stop whining. Just do it.

Writing that second draft is where you use your most writerly tools. This is where you get to play with words, interrogate your characters, and see your prose transform from dross to gold. You’ll love it… At least until you get to the next rewrite.


As I was working on the blog last night, word came that Ursula K Le Guin has died. She wrote wonderful books that saw dragons and wizards encounter spaceships, and she used her fiction to address issues of race, gender and class. Ms Le Guin was the author of more than 20 novels and over 100 short stories, including what I consider one of the greatest short stories ever written, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.

I can’t do better than to conclude by offering her following tongue-in-cheek advice:

If you want your writing to be taken seriously, don’t marry and have kids, and above all, don’t die. But if you have to die, commit suicide. They approve of that.

Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018),  Dancing at the Edge of the World (1989).


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Advice Isn’t One Size Fits All

Over the past month or so I’ve been asked my advice a number of times. My daughter wants me to advise her about baby-care. Best pal Jane is moving house and asked for suggestions about the packing and the sorting. Various other people have asked about writing: How to bring a character to life. How to stick with a project. How to write a novel without, you know, putting in any effort.

We all like being asked for our advice. It makes us feel appreciated and valued. But proceed with care. Even though people are asking you what you think, it doesn’t mean they’ll love your response, if you’re truthful. For instance, your friend is having marital problems. “Should I leave him?” she says. Be very careful how you proceed. If you say, “Yes,” then she’s always going to remember you were the one who told her to go. That’s particularly tricky if she opts to stay.

Obviously, marital dysfunction is a dicey topic, but even giving advice about writing can pose unexpected challenges.  One of my friends is writing a memoir. She has thirty years of journals to sort through and is feeling, naturally, a little overwhelmed. She was overwhelmed when she asked for suggestions last month. And last year. And the year before.  It’s not that she thinks my advice is rubbish — I hope — but the task is just too big for her to wrap her head around. She keeps asking for my input because she hopes one of my suggestions will be the magic wand she needs to get the job done.

The thing is, she’s been trying to tackle this memoir for years now, but she is no further along in her project. It dawned on me, finally, that by giving her a number of suggestions, I was merely adding to her sense of confusion. This time, I offered just one tip. Since she’s an artist and is stimulated by the visual, I suggested she draw a mountain on a wall chart, and with each 5000 words she writes, she should draw a base camp on the side of the mountain. She sent me a text a couple of days ago to say that she had finally made a start, and the mountain idea was working. Whether she’ll continue or not I cannot say, but I hope she will.

Sometimes you’re better off not giving advice at all. When the person asking for it is under the influence of some chemical or other, for instance, or when they’re buttering you up for some reason. Sometimes, too, the advice you know is right is exactly not what your friend wants to hear.

“I know I can write a book if I can just find the time. I can spare a half-an-hour a week. How do you suggest I get started?”

They won’t thank you for saying, “Either find another ambition, or give this one the time and attention it properly deserves.” No, they want you to lie and say you wrote your first novel exactly that way. Writing a novel is easy, anyone can do it.


Your friend with the abusive husband is hoping you’ll say, “Oh, but abusive men change their ways all the time. He’s just tired / stressed and it’ll pass. He loves you really.” They don’t want you to say, “Leave the bastard before he kills you.”

People don’t want you to tell them they’re alcoholics or delusional or idiots. They’re not looking for change, they’re looking for someone to reinforce their world view.

If you write, especially if you’ve had some degree of success at it, you’ll find people will think you have some sort of magic elixir.  You didn’t get your books written and published because you worked hard, but because you happened upon some secret formula. They want you to give them that formula too. If you read between the lines, they’re saying, “If a dope like you can write a book, well, how hard can it be?”

Sometimes people give me things to read, short stories or the chapters of a novel. I admit I can be a tough critic. I read carefully and highlight issues that need work. I make suggestions that I know will improve the manuscript. My belief is if someone has gone to the trouble of writing something, and they expect me to go to the trouble of reading it, they must want my honest opinion. Right?


Oh, some do. The ones who have a genuine desire to succeed will drink up every comment and suggestion that will improve their work, regardless how much time it takes. If they disagree with me they have good reasons for doing so, and that’s fine. We can discuss the options and take a professional approach to the rewrite. I’m delighted to help anyone who has a genuine desire to learn their craft. Such people are rare, though. Most people want me to ignore the cliches, the bad grammar, and the cardboard characters, and just tell them they’re wonderful. I can’t do that, not if it’s rubbish. I try to be gentle, “It has a lot going for it. If you make these changes it could be excellent…” Doesn’t matter. Don’t I know they spent twenty minutes on that thing? Do you really think I’m going to work on it more? Are you mad?

The thing is, advice isn’t one-size-fits-all. People seeking advice tend to come in the following broad categories:

Those who genuinely want your opinion are usually good friends who know you’ll be honest, or would-be writers who are serious about developing their craft.

Those who are canvassing a lot of people to get feedback. Your suggestions don’t mean more than anyone else’s. Less, in fact, if you radically disagree with them or the rest of their pack.

The ones who ask for advice simply as a way of opening a conversation. “I don’t know what to do about my job,” isn’t an invitation for you to tell them to quit, or to stick it out. Your expected response here is, “What’s going on? Do you want to talk about it?”

Then there are the ultimate time-wasters. They neither need nor want your advice, but they figure by asking you you’ll be flattered enough to give them a loan / walk their dog / recommend their services to someone…

So, here, though I’m breaking my own first rule, is my advice on giving advice:

  • It should never be unsolicited.
  • Just because it’s asked for, doesn’t mean it will be taken.
  • Remember the words of Solon: “In giving advice, seek to help, not to please, your friend.”
  • Once you’ve given your advice, let it go. If your friend wants to give you an update or ask for other suggestions, that’s entirely up to him.
  • Remember, most people only want to take advice if it matches what they had already decided to do.
  • Never give advice you know to be wrong or harmful, just because it’s what you think your friend wants to hear.
  • And the most important one of all:


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Here’s to Number Two

It being January, my thoughts naturally turn to beginnings. New month, new year, new projects. I love new calendars and shiny new diaries. Everything is rife with possibilities. Number One is great. Being first, the best, the leader. Who doesn’t want that? And yet… isn’t there a lot to be said for Number Two, too?

The Godfather II is far superior to the first film, The Godfather.

Second-in-command is often the one to get the job done while Number One is taking all the bows.

Two people together are usually better than one alone.

Second chances are more valuable than the first ones. So are second thoughts.

And, oh yes, a second draft of a story is always a damn sight better than the first draft.

I recently completed work on a short story that had been commissioned. I had, I thought, a good premise, but the story didn’t want to go where I tried to send it. I had a strong characters, a fairly decent plot, and a subplot. After six weeks of frustrated writing, I realised the subplot was the better story. Out with the first idea and on with the second. I finished the rewrite in six days. Second choice isn’t necessarily second-best.

Sometimes number one is a pill. We imbue it with a magic it doesn’t deserve. We stress ourselves out trying to achieve it. So give yourself a break. I’m not saying settle for mediocrity or don’t try your best, just don’t beat yourself up if you come in second. As someone once said, It’s an honour just being nominated.

The problem with ones and firsts is if we don’t reach them we self-flagellate. More, we figure that the opportunity has gone and we give up. You have a new year resolution to go on a diet on January 1st, but there’s still all that holiday cake and chocolate lying around the house. By January 2nd you figure you’ve already failed and decide to cancel the diet till next year. But what’s wrong with starting on January 2nd? Or 3rd, 30th, or even mid-March? The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, they say. Does it really matter when you take that first step? By the time you reach your destination, the starting point will be forgotten anyway.

There seems to be a part of human beings that needs that magic that Firsts seem to possess. Or perhaps there’s a sense of collective purpose with half the planet hearing the first of the year as some sort of starters’ pistol. The danger is, of course, once we miss the crack of that start, we let the opportunity for new endeavours evaporate. But why? Is a task begun on January 2nd any less valuable?

So what I’m saying is if you had a project planned for this year and you’re feeling down because you didn’t start “on time”, forget the magic of the First and make your own magic. After all, today is the 10th — what’s that but a 1st with a zero attached?

What are you waiting for? Just do it!

And just because they say you’re slow
That doesn’t mean that you’re slow, you know
And even if you’re never first
Compared to someone who’s last
They’re sure to think you are fast

The World is a Circle ~ Burt Bacharach

Image result for second

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Happy Holidays

It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on…

River ~ Joni Mitchell

This year has, like all years, had its share of smiles and tears. To my surprise and, I’m sure, the surprise of a lot of other people, we’ve somehow managed to survive. Between the yellow peril in the White House and Brexit and Kim Jong-Un, there were days, even weeks, when I wondered if this sad fragmented world would still be around by the end of December. But, woo-hoo! we survived and we can all hope for a better, brighter world next year — If wisdom and common sense prevail, if women and men of integrity continue to step up, and if politicians stop throwing their toys out of the pram.

I know, I know, I got all political on you there for a minute. Let’s return to the business at hand which is blogging. As part of my end of year review, I took a look at my blog statistics. You’re right, I can’t help myself. Anyway, here’s what I found:

At present, this blog has 2120 followers, which is lovely and thank you all. In addition, this year my posts have been viewed 12,731 times by 7301 visitors.  These visitors, I’m sure you’re dying to know, came from the following countries (listed in order of number of visitors):

US, UK, Ireland, Brazil, India, Italy, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, New Zealand, Hong Kong SAR China, Philippines, Hungary, Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Malaysia, Russia, United Arab Emirates, Sweden, Indonesia, Denmark, South Africa, Poland, Romania, Morocco, Croatia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Ukraine, Taiwan, Kenya, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Czech Republic, Mexico, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Greece, Japan, Belgium, Finland, Thailand, Uruguay, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Portugal, European Union, Switzerland, Vietnam, Egypt, Latvia, Pakistan, Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica, Slovakia, China, Cyprus, Bahrain, Georgia, Panama, Lithuania, Isle of Man, Argentina, Kuwait, Venezuela, Iceland, Guernsey, US Virgin Islands, Columbia, Israel, Armenia, Chile, and Estonia.

Phew!  That’s a lot of the world to cover and I’m really honoured to have welcomed you here.

As  you can imagine, I need a little break to recharge my batteries so I’m taking a few weeks off to catch up on some other projects. I’ll be back on January 10th, though, and I hope to see you here again. In the meantime, thanks for reading, thanks for commenting, and thanks for sticking with me over the year.  In the meantime, have a wonderful holiday, whatever you celebrate, and remember…

We survived 2017

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Taking Stock

December is a good time for reflection. Yes, it’s insanely busy and there are huge distractions what with the food and the alcohol and the visitors. Still, we can usually find one quiet evening during the month to sit and think about the year that has passed and all it contained. It’s good for human beings to stop once in a while. To turn off the electronic gizmos and just think. It’s becoming a forgotten skill for some people, I’m afraid. Thinking.

Those of us who write tend to live in our heads. Unfortunately, most of our thinking involves the project in hand. This novel, this short story, this play. Whatever is on the page right now is where we focus. Yet we, too, need time to stop and reflect, and year end is a great time to do that — if only because there are shiny new diaries and planners in the shops just waiting for us to fill them with our hopes and plans for the future.

Reflection is a good way to keep focused. It helps you to plan your career instead of simply reacting to each event that happens along. Yes, some things will be beyond your control, but not everything. Figuring out where you are, what you’ve done, and what you still want to do, are important in any line of work.

“You can’t really know where you’re going until you know where you have been.”                                                                                                       ~ Maya Angelou

Thanks to my trusty To Do List (What a To Do!) I have a record of everything I did over the year. The list is unforgiving as it reflects those things I did not accomplish or am still working on, as well as my achievements. This makes it easy to see the projects that fizzled out or the goals yet to be met.

The thing to remember about end of year stock-taking is that you have to be kind with yourself. There will always be some disappointments, but you will probably find you’ve done better than you realised. There will be projects you finished and forgot about, positive responses from readers, and ideas you put in your journal that are just waiting for you to take to fruition. This is your time to gather it all together. It’s not a time to beat yourself up, nor is it time to start finishing a story you had abandoned.(End of year review always gets me eager to fix some story or other. I’ve learned to make a note of my brilliant ideas and return after the review is finished.) Right now, your focus is on reviewing where you are. If you do find projects that need to be finished, then put them on your list for next year.

How you approach the review task is up to you, but I break the task into the following categories:

  • Successes and Failures
  • Work completed
  • Publications
  • Competitions
  • Professional development
  • Other

Successes and Failures:

Like most people, I don’t spend enough time congratulating myself for my accomplishments. Writers are pretty hard on ourselves. We easily see the failures or the near-misses rather than the hits. If I sell a short story to a small literary magazine, sure, I’m pleased, but a part of me niggles that I should be getting into bigger markets by now. A novel finished is a thrill but soon panic sets in that I don’t have an idea for the next one. This is one reason why quiet, dispassionate reflection is so important. Since a little time has passed since this sale or that rejection, the heat of emotion has cooled and I’m able to judge my progress in a more objective manner. Ending the year on a celebratory note sets a positive tone for the year to come. Acknowledging the good work done over the year motivates me to keep going.

Of course, it’s not all cherry soda and chocolate cake. There are failures that need to be evaluated, and unfinished projects to be reviewed, too.

I am always reluctant to write off (no pun intended) a story that has failed to find a publisher. There are a dozen or more pieces floating around my cupboard that just didn’t get there. Yet. It’s a shame, because they were good stories. Well, some of them. But I keep reviewing the markets in hopes that one of them will like a tale that’s a bit too weird or quirky to work for most established journals. I also rewrite or revise the stories now and then. That said, I don’t expend too much energy on them. There comes a point where you have to move on. At the end of the year, I look at the stories I’ve generated over the past twelve months and see where they are. Deciding whether to stop fussing over the failures or giving them one more chance is a judgement call.

Work completed:

Now I look at the work I’ve done over the past twelve months. How many pieces did I complete and submit to markets over the course of the year? If something hasn’t yet been published, I’ll check to see if it’s still in circulation. If not, I’ll make a plan to start resubmitting it. This goes on my To Do list for January.


Here, I include the statistics for my published novels, as well as new stories or articles that I have seen appear in print over the course of the year. It’s not only the numbers that matter here, but also things like what sort of markets are publishing my work. How big are they? Where are they located?


This isn’t something I spend a lot of time on, but I usually try to enter at least two or three writing contests over the course of the year. I prioritise high-profile competitions such as The Sunday Times Short Story Award. I know the odds of winning are slim so I don’t enter too many of these over the course of the year, but success in any of them can be career-defining so it’s a good idea to try at least a couple. Some people focus more on competitions than they do getting published. I’m not sure that’s a great idea. The very act of studying markets and submitting your work  takes time to learn and there really are no short cuts to help you master it. I suppose it depends on the sort of writer you want to be. If you’re happy to turn out a couple of stories a year and hope to get lucky with a contest, then I can’t say you’re wrong. On the other hand, if you are looking for long term success as a professional writer — something that’s incredibly difficult to achieve — you need as many tools in your toolbox as possible. Just my opinion.

Professional Development:

For me, this includes membership in the Irish Writers Centre, attending classes, engaging in public reading opportunities, and reading books or articles that will help me improve my practice.  I also attend as many readings and literary interviews as I can so I have a chance to interact with other professional writers. You may want to include things like developing a new skill, whether it’s in actual writing or editing, or perhaps mastering a new computer programme.


I like to see how much time I have spent on other activities. For me, these include my weekly blog, working with the writers’ group, blogging for the Kells’ Hinterland Festival, and any classes I may have taught over the year. I set up my calendar and To-Do List for next year here, and I also review finances but I save that until I’m feeling brave… You can probably think of several other items that don’t fit readily into any other category, too. Just try to include as much as you can.

What’s Next?

Once you’ve completed your year-end review, it’s time to put a plan in place for next year. If you neglected your professional development this year, then try to focus on it for the next. If you have a huge stack of incomplete manuscripts vs finished ones, then maybe your goal for next year should be getting stuff finished. What are you lacking? Good word processing tools? A functional calendar? A website or blog? It’s only by looking at where you are that you can see where you are going.

If you’re of a particularly analytical mindset,  you may want to look at when you are most productive. If you keep a log of when you work, you’ll be able to see if you are a morning writer or an afternoon or evening writer. Are you more productive at the weekends? What time of year suits you best? Use this analysis to help you schedule your writing time for next year. If it doesn’t work, don’t worry; your next review will highlight any problems. You don’t have to wait a whole year for that review, either. You can do it weekly, monthly, quarterly — whatever fits your style and your schedule.

Decide the kind of writer you want to be and be that. It is for you to decide what success looks like.  The only real failure is in not trying.

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Why Stories Matter

I remember when I was about five years old my primary school teacher showed the class a series of pictures. We had to arrange the pictures in the correct order to make a story. One had to do with someone going out for a walk, deciding to take an umbrella, it starting to rain and the umbrella going up. Weird the stuff you remember. Of course, even then I couldn’t do the predictable and so I arranged the pictures differently and had a story to go with it. (I think my umbrella was magical and found the man who had forgotten it.) But the point is we all need stories so we can learn to anticipate the consequences of our actions.

That’s a lesson that seems to be increasingly ignored by otherwise intelligent people in recent years. They vote for fascists and seem surprised when their civil rights are eroded. They allow bigots to dictate the terms of civil conduct ignoring how appallingly said bigots’ input has proved every single time they’ve been given a voice.

Even cavemen told stories. They explained the night sky by creating myths and legends. They told the stories to their children and those same tales are being told today.  Children learn very young that stories have value.

“The child intuitively comprehends that although… stories are unreal, they are not untrue …”  — Bruno Bettelheim The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (1976)

My grandmother was a storyteller. When my brothers and I stayed with her, the best time was when she lit the fire and she told us tales of the headless horseman, or the telltale heart. Back then, I thought she’d made them up herself, but I later learned she was a constant reader and she passed on what she read to us. She also told us about her childhood. She’d had to leave school at the age of 12 and work as a scullery maid. All the same, she never stopped reading and books elevated her far beyond her peers.

Sadly, the world of readers is shrinking. According to the Washington Post, the number of people who read literature — novels, poetry, plays — has been in a steady decline since the 1980s. See the linked article for the specifics.

In my opinion, there’s a direct correlation between the decline in people’s ability to see other people’s points of view, to anticipate negative outcomes of actions, to see the big picture. There seems to be an erosion of sympathy and empathy in people who do not read. Look at the people around you. You can probably guess who is a reader and who is not. Do you think Donald Trump reads literature?

One of the differences between a good novel and a video-game or an action movie, for instance, is that a novel doesn’t do the thinking for you. Fiction doesn’t necessarily answer all the questions. Heroes sometimes make mistakes, they behave badly, they are, if they’re well-written, human. Villains can sometimes be kind. People from cultures and backgrounds far different from your own can teach you something about yourself. Really good books can make you think about the world in a new way. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847) told wealthy people that even servants and orphans have lives they value and can feel deeply.  Robert Louis Stevenson showed that even good people can have a dark and dangerous side to them in The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde (1886). Literature opens doors, allows us to explore cultures we may not otherwise be able to interact with, challenges our values, and offers us insight into ourselves. Furthermore, when you read you enter the world of the book, you identify with the character. When you watch something on a screen you’re an observer.  There’s always some distance between you and the characters.

Neil Gaiman says,

“Reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do.”

He goes on to add, “I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons – a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn’t read. And certainly couldn’t read for pleasure.

It’s not one to one: you can’t say that a literate society has no criminality. But there are


Neil Gaiman

very real correlations.” Neil Gaiman

Reading is habit-forming. Once you start to read a book, unless it has been forced upon you or is not to your taste, you feel compelled to read to the end. Once you’ve been captured by the right book, you’ll find that reading is fun.

You can’t love everything. I have mentioned before that my grandmother was my book-pusher when I was a child. She had me reading The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902), The Diary of Anne Frank (1947), and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) all before the age of eight. She also tried to foist Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies (1863) on me and I loathed it. So yes, you won’t love everything, but the things you do love you’ll never forget.

If you have children, tell them stories, read them books, buy them books. Make sure they have a library card and encourage them to use it.  Society is depending on them. The best decision makers are the ones with imagination. As another great reader, George Bernard Shaw, once said,

You see things; and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?”


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Cavan Comes to the Irish Writers Centre

Last week I read an excerpt from my current work in progress at the Irish Writers Centre in Dublin. Looking for the Right Word (whose title comes from a poem by the late Dermot Healy) was the showcase of the Cavan writers. Catriona O’Reilly of the Cavan County Council Arts Office said of the event, “I am delighted to work with the Irish Writers Centre in Cavan. We have a proud tradition of literature in Cavan, from the work of Cathal Bul Mac Ghiolla Gunna, Charlotte Brook, Mary Ann Sadlier, to the recently departed Dermot Healy and the ground-breaking playwright Tom Mac Intyre.  There is a genuine interest in the county to explore words and givev them a voice and I believe that this partnership supported by the Arts Council will bring a new dimension and strengh to the literary landscape of County Cavan.”

If the readings I heard during the evening are anything to go by, Cavan is well placed to take the lead in the country’s literature. Almost every reader was a prize-winner and master of their craft. Whether their preferred medium was poetry, prose, or play, they each demonstrated considerable excellence and I felt humbled to be in their presence.

For some of the writers, it was their first time delivering a public reading, although once they faced the very enthusiastic full house, the nerves vanished. It was a lovely experience, both as a participant and as an audience member. My own reading was very well received and I appreciated the foot-stomping, cheers, and applause. More importantly, they all laughed at the right places, which is welcome feedback. One woman was in tears at the end which was also a good, if unexpected sign. (I’m a writer; we’re heartless in the face of others’ tears if the tears indicate we’ve done a good job.)

Following our readings came an interview with Pat McCabe (Breakfast on Pluto, The Butcher Boy) and Mike Harding (Priest, Bird in the Snow) in conversation with award-winning playwright Philip Doherty. The men brought dry good humour to their anecdotes and, though they come across as temperamentally very different, the reserved McCabe and the exuberant Harding, their mutual esteem endeared both of them. They then treated us to some readings of their work — who could ask for more?

Actually, we could, because the evening ended with music from Cavan-natives The Strypes.

It’s great to see the Irish Writers Centre meet the literary needs in communities outside Dublin and I’d love to think this is just the beginning. Perhaps it won’t be too long until people in the other counties in Ireland, both North and South (Brexit-borders wiling), can share in the great treasure the Irish Writers Centre has to offer.


Irish Writers Centre

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