Sunday, May 29, 2011


Every writer needs an IT Angel. Mine is called Marie Helene and she operates out of

In previous times when groups of writers met we used to moan about needing a wife - shopping, cooking, cleaning, not to mention the involvement with children's school runs, playdates, leisure and sporting activities etc., played havoc with our writing time.

These days such is the pressure of IT that it has become one of the most urgent things on our minds, eating into our creative output.

When the screen goes blank, or we lose material, or updates come screaming across the screen, and we wonder should we? Shouldn't we? We don't need a wife. We need an IT Angel. My IT Angel never fails to appear.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


For students of writing the production of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion playing in Dublin's Abbey Theatre is a must and for anyone who loves theatre it shouldn't be missed. The language is magnificent; dialogue masterly and plot sequence wonderfully effective. And none of that mentions the performances by the actors, set design, direction, lighting and Peter O'Brien's breathtaking costumes which had me wishing I lived then.

Pygmalion not only has the powerful storyline of poor, uneducated flowerseller being transformed into lady, with and teacher and pupil finally recognising that they are in love, it also has many of Shaw's thorny obsessions:class consciousness, phoenetics and psychological insights.

For me the performance of the night was Nick Dunning as Colonel Pickering.
Get to see it - it palyed to a full house last night and advance booking is heavy.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


I get asked all the time about research. Hope this helps:

Research, whether major or minor, is a vital part of writing. There is nothing mysterious about research. It simply involves knowing where to get relevant information that you, as the writer, require. It is particularly important in non-fiction to be able to source relevant material, whereas one of the cardinal rules of writing fiction is not to allow research to dominate or to intrude. Fiction should be story-led not research-led

A generally quoted statistic is that for every 1000 words you write on a subject with which you're not familiar and which requires research, you are going to need in the region of 5000 words of research.
The way we writers research is as varied as the way we structure and write our short stories, novels and plays. Be open to discovering what best suits you. By trial and error I’ve found the following method to be both time efficient and effective.
• Initially I do preliminary research only – to give me a feel of subject/location
• Next I loosely structure plot and develop characters
• Then I write my first draft
• On completion of my first draft, I then carry out whatever detailed research is required.
Daft, you may think? But the reason behind this way of working is two-fold:
• Firstly, it ensures that my story is plot-led not research-led which is an easy trap to fall into.
• Secondly, I only research what is necessary to fill in facts and enhance plotline, characters and location
Obviously the information that you require will dictate where you carry out your research.
Primary Research is the study of a subject through firsthand observation. It can be as simple as watching the bud of a rhododendron unfold and use that to give an added texture to your work – say as a symbol of a growing relationship. Or if the setting for your story is in, say, a hotel, marketing company or unfamiliar location, ideally go to those places, notebook or recorder in hand, and ask questions of the pertinent person/people. In my opinion, Primary Research is the type of research that has your story lepping off the page.
Sources of Secondary Research are archives, newspapers, books, etc. and increasingly online. Basically Online Research involves searching the internet for information, which is then put together in a document that is rich in content, readability and flow. Google is an obvious mine of information but be aware that accuracy of the information is not guaranteed.
That said I don’t know how I managed before Google – often just typing in key words brings results. I’ve found invaluable sites, such as:
• – free encyclopedia that anyone can edit
• which gives a comprehensive listing of headings to look under
• – just key in your question
• – handy if you want to drop in foreign phrases to your writing.
• - a resource for weights, measures, calculators, converters.
The National Archives of Ireland are at Bishop Street, Dublin 8, tel: 01-4072300. website: - much information is online; its site is easy to negotiate and the staff are enormously helpful if you either ring in or visit.

The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, tel: +44 (0) 208876 3444. website: is the site to visit if you require UK or Commonwealth information. As someone who has used the facilities regularly – both onsite and in person - I can’t talk highly enough of the assistance I receive from the researcher allocated to me.

Libraries are great, a joy to work in and I’ve found the staff helpful beyond belief.

• The Chester Beatty Library, The Clock Tower Building, Dublin Castle, Dublin 2 tel: 01-4070750. website: The reference library includes manuscripts and scrolls of Chinese, Japanese, Burmese, Biblical, Arabic, Tibetian and Mongolian origin. Apply for research facility to director

Corporation and County Council Libraries Of special interest to researchers are:
• Dublin City Libraries HQ, 138-144 Pearse Street, Dublin 2. which houses Dublin City Library & Archive. tel: 01-6744999; email:;
The Ilac Centre, Henry Street, Dublin, 1. houses: The Central Library tel: 01-8734333; Children’s Library tel: 01 8734333; ; Business Information Centre tel: 01 8733996; Music Library tel: 01 8734333.
For further information log onto

• The National Library of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin 2. tel: 01-6030200; website: Offers the crème de la crème of research facilities for historical matters, though, as seating is so limited would-be researchers are encouraged to use their local library if material is available. Ring in for details on reader's ticket and manuscript reader's tickets.

• Universities: have comprehensive libraries and research facilities, but you'll probably need a reading card, usually only available to those who have studied there. It's best to make an email query.

Belfast - The Queen’s University (;
Cork - University College Cork, UCC, (;
Derry - Mcgill University (
Dublin - University College Dublin UCD (
Trinity College, TCD (
Galway - NUI Galway, (;
Limerick – University of Limerick (

Monday, May 16, 2011


Oh the joy of Listowel Writers’ Week where every bookish taste bud is satisfied. Featuring this year Wed 1 June to Sun 5 June are Alice Sebold (The Lovely Bones); legendary Sir Michael Holroyd and Edward St Aubyn whose latest novel At Last comes out this month; Blake Morrison with his poignant memoirs about his parents, while Emily Barr will read from her latest novel The First Wife. As well as writers John Lynch, Catherine Dunne, Gerry Stembridge, John Boyne and best selling crime writer John Connolly.

One of the hightlights has to be ‘The Whole World Round Tour’, an evening with Joseph O’Connor, Philip King and special guests Scullion and Eimear Quinn on Saturday 4th June.

More info:


Thanks to the bundle of enthusiasm that is Dianne Trimble, the Irish arm of Historical Novel Society, huge in USA and steadily growing in UK, is taking off in Ireland. Writers and readers of Historical Fiction welcome. Meetings held in Belfast and Dublin. Look into

Friday, May 13, 2011


The pieces that Joseph O'Connor read from his Ghost Light last evening at Irish PEN's function were sheer magic. There is nothing like hearing writers read their work - particularly when they have the seductive voice of ownership. One of his tips was for writers to read aloud their work so that awkwardness of phrase or ponderousness of thought can be ironed out.

Monday, May 2, 2011


Hello again,

May is the month where the adult education administrators of UCD plan the courses for autumn 2011 and spring 2012. I’ve been pitching courses to meet the requirements of emerging and writers wishing for publication.

No previous writing experience is required for any of the courses, although an interest in the power of words and enthusiasm for writing is a decided advantage.

For the autumn, 2011 we’re offer a 10-week course titled The Nuts & Bolts of Writing & Plotting Fiction. The purpose of this course is to assist writers to find and use their voice to achieve their writing dreams. Writing is based on a combination of life experiences (nuts) and imagination (bolts). This course facilitates the discovery of creativity and its use to put the nuts and bolts of life into writing in a structured way which is where Plotting comes in. Focus is on: storylines, structuring, various methods of plotting and locations, as well as narration and dialogue. Areas covered include short stories, novels and plays. Sessions arranged to allow time for writing and constructive analysis.

In Spring of 2012, we’ve a 6-week course titled Building Story People – Creating Fictional Characters Characters are the royalty of fiction. No matter what sort of fiction you write, your story has to be populated with characters. The majority of characters, if not all, have to be created from scratch. While there is no instant solution to the creation of memorable fictional characters, there are tried and tested Do’s and Don’t’s. That’s what we’ll explore during this course. The sessions are arranged to allow time for writing and constructive analysis.

While The Nuts & Bolts of Writing & Plotting Fiction and Building Story People – Creating Characters are stand-alone courses, they are complemented by:

Intensive Fiction which we’re hoping to run as a 5-morning course later in Spring 2012. This will best suit those who have a body of work that would benefit from intensive structuring, editing, etc.

Because we use one-to-one and group participation, the results of these courses are good – several published, many awards and even more discovering the joy of the written word, and all that goes with it.

On completion of these courses participants will be able to:
• Assess their own creativity, realise their writing potential and developed their writing voice
• Channel personal life experiences towards writing

• Be familiar with finding and developing ideas, structuring writing, research and acquiring skills in style and technique.
• Know and meet requirements of today’s market.
• Create dynamic fictional characters using both modern and traditional methods
• Use life experience to research the creation of memorable characters
• Work their characters to forward and enhance storylines, boost emotional landscaping, etc
• Create the best characters for whatever story the writer is working on

Despite having an outline for the courses, the final content is dictated by the requirements of those taking part.

If you're any queries do contact me on Further information at and