Saturday, June 1, 2013

Eileen Gray Exhibition at the Pompidou Centre, Paris, 2013

A departure this week from from current blogs in tips for writing successful fiction.  Can't pass on opportunity to cover this exhibition, easily the best curated I've ever attended and I am an exhibition aficionado. And of course, the exhibition is relevant to w/t The Interview, my latest book on Eileen Gray to be published in 2014

During the spring of 2013 Paris’s Pompidou Centre hosted an exhibition of unique pieces, incomplete archives, models and the air of mystery that still surrounds Irish designer and architect Eileen Gray (1878-1976). On display in six rooms are 70 pieces. The immaculately curated retrospective looks at the way Gray’s creativity developed during her long working life, though many consider it puts undue emphasis on Jean Badovici’s collaboration with her. He was the penniless Romanian architect who was her on-off lover for 10 years and to whom she gifted E.1027.

Eileen Gray is generally considered either an iconic interior designer of the Art Deco era or an emblematic architect of Modernism, and sometimes a little of both. Today she is best remembered for E.1027 on the Cote d’Azur, and her internationally renowned lacquer work.  She believed, The future projects light, the past only clouds.

Lacquer work, interior design, architecture, paintings, photography and to a lesser extent sculpture were the ways in which Gray expressed her creativity. In the true spirit of Gesamtkunstwerk she is seen as a total creator.  She said, The role of the artist is to anticipate the external movement of emotions, to express the secret relations between man and the universe
During the 1920s her works were lauded by the avant guard; from the 1930s she fell into oblivion and with deteriorating eyesight, she became reclusive. She was the focus of interest again when ‘discovered’ by historian Joseph Rykwert in the late 1960s, although it was the sale of the collection of internationally revered couturier, Jacques Doucet in 1972, specifically the Destiny screen, that restored her and her works to their rightful place in the decorative arts.

The Exhibition divides chronologically into: (i) The Art of Lacquer Work; (ii) Jean Désert; (iii) Villa E.1027; (iv) Tempe A Pailla; (v) Lou Perou; (vi) The Portfolio of Eileen Gray; (vii) Personal Creation.

At the entrance to the Exhibition stands the Siren Armchair (1919) – This sumptuous piece in lacquered wood and velvet, sculpted with mythological creatures, was originally owned by Gray's lover, the French singer Marie-Louise Damien, known as Damia. Another original is the glossy black lacquered Brick Screen (1919-1922) which Gray developed using lacquered wood bricks as pivoting rectangular panels—her screens which revolutionised interior space are one of her most striking inventions—as part of her redesign of the Paris apartment of Madame Mathieu Lévy, a wealthy milliner.   And then there’s the lacquered wood, ebony and ivory table, with its Roman chariot motif which was part of the famed collection of French couturier and patron of the arts Jacques Doucet, who commissioned Gray to design furniture for his Parisian apartments.

The Art of Lacquer Work
Eileen Gray became fascinated by lacquer while studying at the Slade in London. She took lessons with D Charles an artisan restorer in Soho, and when she moved to Paris continued with Seizo Sugawara. Her best known pieces include The Destiny screen, The Magician of the Night and furniture such as the Lotus table, Siren armchair and Pirogue sofa. She created commissioned pieces for Jacques Doucet and Mme Lévy.  Their expertise and her sensibility, daring and talent were the source of some of the greatest lacquer work masterpieces of early 20th century

Jean Désert
In 1922 Eileen Gray opened Galerie Jean Désert on the luxurious rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honore. The first floor showcased her furniture, designs and rugs while the basement accommodated a weaving workshop, specialising in the rugs that were her best-selling items. Her clients were the aristocrats, financiers and successful artists of the time, and included Phillipe de Rothschild, Elsa Schiparelli, Damia, Romaine Brooks. The decade of Jean Desert was Gray’s most prolific period.

Villa E.1027
By 1926 Eileen Gray was ready to put into architectural practice the studying and on-site experience she had accumulated. She spent months looking for the perfect site for the perfect house. The result was E.1027, today recognised as the first truly ‘modern’ house. The villa is organised around a central room and the path of the sun, with interior and exterior spaces communicating. It is a model of sensitive modernity - an organic entity with a soul. Her reason for leaving E.1027 which she had gifted to Badovici, is well documented:  Le Corbusier, the best known architect of his generation and a house guest at the time, painted sexually explicit murals on her walls. When she asked that they be removed - in connivance with Badovici, he refused.

Tempe à Pailla
In 1931, she started work on Tempe à Pailla (a Mentonasc proverb meaning ‘time for yawning’).  The site is tucked between vineyards and citrus trees, and her architectural design lies at the crossroads of modernism and the vernacular. An object must be given the form best suited to the spontaneous gesture.  The architecture/furniture relationship is particularly strong: mobile furniture, a pants rack; stepladder-towel rack, retractable bench, extendable wardrobe. At the end of WWII, she restored the damaged house and sold it to painter Graham Sutherland.

Lou Perou
Her last architectural project at the age of 76 was in corroboration with local architect, Lou Perou.  Situated in the heart of a vineyard near Saint-Tropez, it was the restoration and extension of a country house she owned since 1939. The sobriety of the site, simplicity and rustic nature all appealed to her. As in E.1027, interior and exterior spaces intermingle.

From childhood Eileen Gray was intensely private and reluctant to disclose anything about her personal life. But between 1956 and 1975 she assembled a selection of her projects in a portfolio and the information from this forms much of the Exhibition. She omitted her paintings and photographs –this separation of her private world of creation from her career is in character.  We must ask nothing of artists but to be in their own time.

Despite abandoning painting for various periods of time, she never completely stopped painting and drawing. They were the subjects she had studied at the Slade in London and the Académies Colarossi and Julian in Paris, and her paintings were exhibited in 1905 at the Salon de la Société des Artistes Franҫais. It’s unnecessary that painting should express anything at all, but just be.’

One of the few personal episodes of the exhibition is her interview with French journalist, Bernard Dunard when she talks of her on-going need to create and dismisses age as irrelevant.

Eileen Gray aged 96 and still creating....  

Monday, May 13, 2013

Plot (2)

As discussed last week,  plot is the structure of the story.  It is what happens during the course of the story and in the order those happenings take place. It is cause and effect.  And without a plot, there is no novel or short story, merely a bunch of words on a page. There two schools of thought with regard to the importance of plot versus characters in today’s fiction.  While action stories, thrillers and most crime mainly focus on plot, contemporary women’s fiction and sagas are traditionally more character-led.  But the best of today’s fiction has a great plot and equally great characters, plus all the other components that make up the best of today's fiction.
Plot requires three elements to create a quality fiction story: theme, questions, and conflict.
(i) Theme: The theme of your fiction story or novel is the message it imparts.  The theme of a story makes a statement about society or behaviors. It can be anything from "good guys always win" to "it pays to lie and cheat" or “embracing change”.  Whether theme is overt or hidden is up to the writer.
(ii) Questions: In the course of a story, if the author can whet the readers’ appetites as to what will happen next, or how the characters will solve a particular dilemma, they will be intrigued and continue reading. A tip to catch the reader's attention is to pose an early question, and, ideally these questions should continue throughout the story until they are answered at the end.
(iii) Conflict: Conflict, defined simply, is the problems or obstacles that arise within your story's plot. If there is no conflict, there will be no interest. When a conflict occurs, it gives the characters something to do, to overcome, and to grow from. Conflict creates growth, and without growth, your fiction story will be flat and uninteresting.
These three plot elements are necessary for writing a good fiction story or novel. The best plots are well paced, with some scenes fast and furious and full of drama; others slow and meandering, perhaps the scenes of internal dialoguing. Creating an interesting plot, or story line, is essential to attracting and engaging readers. This can only be accomplished by formulating a theme, questions for the reader to ask, and conflict. Writing a fiction story without these plot elements is rather like painting a picture without color, shape, or meaning. 
Good Plotting.....

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Price of Desire

The Price of Desire is the title of producer Mary McGuckian's film about
Eileen Gray's relationship with Le Corbusier, details of which
Le Corbusier murals
One of Le Corbusier's murals
will be announced at Cannes Film Festival later this month.

Gray was the toast of Europe for her innovative designs and completion of E.1027, regarded today as the first modern house. Le Corbusier was the most talked about architect of the era. They locked creative horns over what she saw as his despoilment of the pristine of the walls of villa by his eight sexually explicit murals.

In these straightened times funding can be a problem, one which McGuckian has overcome by using Kickstarter crowd-funding to ensure the restoration of the villa, where several scenes will be shot. For those with movie-star aspirations, a pledge of $5,000 will get you the role of telegram boy or girl bringing to Gray the news of the ill health of her lover Jean Badovici (to whom she gifted E.1027)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Plotting Fiction (1)

This week I've been in deep and meaningful conversation with UCD's department of Adult Education about writing courses for 2013/14. As always we're upgrading to meet the requirements of participants. The courses on offer from me are: (i) Autumn Term 2013. 10 Modules Writing Fiction (1) - emphasis on Plotting (ii) Spring Term 2014. 8 Modules Writing Fiction (2) - emphasis on creating Character, Era and Locations and Summer Term 2014. 4 Modules Self-Editing Fiction - self explanatory, I believe! 

This week and for the next few week, we'll look at Plots and Plotting. Plot can cause a writer worry. What is it? How do I work it out? How do I know how to go about it? are questions frequently asked. 

Quite simply plot is the telling of your story. Take it a stage further to structure which equally simply is how you go about constructing your story. Contemporary fiction is primarily described as being 'plot-led' which means the stronger the plot the more attractive the fiction is from a publishing point of view. 

Plot begins when a problem occurs that requires reaction from one of your characters. Plot thrives on structure and pace - it is said that pace is to fiction what buses are to commuters – regular arrival, neither too many nor too few and should forward the storyline at a relevant pace for the story.

Plot can be divided into five parts: exposition (of the situation); rising action (through conflict); climax (or turning point); falling action; and resolution.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Eileen Gray, E.1027 and The Price of Desire

Eileen Gray designed and built the world's first modern house, so architectural pundits insist. It's the iconic E.1027 situated on the lip of a cliff overlooking the Bay of Monaco on the French Riviera.

Eileen Gray
E.1027 is back in the news in a big way thanks to film director Mary McGuckian
 who is making a biopic, The Price of Desire about Gray. For the past number of years the house has been under the auspices of  undergoing a refurbishment programme but money has run out. McGuckian is raising money both from private donation and on Kickstarter, a crowd-funding website. A budget in the region of €192,000 is being sought by her, so that the house can used for filming instead of building a set.

 E.1027 has a checkered history. It began its life as a holiday get-away, gifted by
 Eileen to her then lover Jean Badovici; when Le Corbusier, arguably the most
famous architect of the time, defiled its pristine white walls with sexually explicit
murals, she left, never to return. The dispute with Le Corbusier continued until 
Badovici’s death in 1956 after which Le Corbusier built an elevated 2-storey hostel over looking E.1027 – he had already built his famous Cabanon in 1952 - and dedicated himself to the preservation of his murals. In 1960, E.1027 was bought by Madame Marie-Louise Schelbert of Zurich. Five years later Le Corbusier's body was found at the base of the cliffs. Madame Schelbert willed E.1027 to her doctor who transported and sold Gray's furniture in 1991 for today's equivalent of €390,000. The house was vandalised by squatters in June 1998.
 Despite an international campaign spearheaded by Irish architect Patrick Mellet who urged the Irish government to buy the house, it was bought by the Conservatoire du Littoral and declared a French national monument.  Ironically, it owes its salvation to Le Corbusier’s murals. Without them, rumour has, it would be left to rot. Plans for its restoration were prepared architect Renaud Barrès who was replaced by Pierre-Antoine Gattier. 

When I visited in 2008 the site was in full renovation spate and due to be opened in 2009. But money ran out and it lay dormant until now and McGuckian's intervention.

Releasing Your Creativity

As promised last week here are tried and tested methods of releasing creativity and they work wonders for fiction writing: 

  • Stream of consciousness
  • Trigger writing
  • Memoir
  • Dreams
  • News stories
 Stream of Consciousness
Close your eyes, blank your mind and allow in snatches of images/people/places. Using what is known as the ‘blink’ method, write what comes into your mind without thought or analysis. Your ‘blink’ could range from  a person to a place or an incident.  Focus on impressions and sensations, using the five senses: Sight. Sound.Touch. Smell.Taste.  If it’s an incident, get the bones down. The important thing is to capture the essence of your ‘blink’.  It will need some tidying up but you will have a raw energy with which to work.
The most famous example of stream of consciousness writing is James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Trigger Writing
Is a variation on Stream of Consciousness. Use a sentence, phrase or line of poetry that appeals to you and allow your imagination to take off. A sentence could run along the lines of: A five-year old saying after swimming, ‘I’m going to shiver myself warm’. In your mind, try to imagine who is this child? What does he or she look like?  Where is the action taking place? Who is with him? How and why do they happen to be in that particular location?
A phrase could be as simple and as visual as, ‘drops of dew along the telephone wires, like rosary beads’.  What does that bring to mind? Develop that thought.  Or ‘a band called Tangerine Dreams’. What images does that conjure up? Who plays in this band? What’s the era and where’s the location? What can you make happen? The possibilities are endless when you run with trigger writing. Again write spontaneously, using the blink method.
One of the most powerful examples of trigger writing is C. S. Lewis’s classic series on Narnia.

Like it or not, we are the sum total of our life experiences and we all bring a wealth of that to our writing. Budda goes as far as saying, ‘What we think, we become.’
Start by writing about your happiest/most profound childhood memory; first day at school; most dominant life memory. Most of us can remember our first kiss. Go back in time to that, recalling the sensations it evoked. By no means dismiss the light fiction of palpitating hearts and weak knees.
What starts as memoir writing often ends up as powerful fiction.

Treasure your dreams, they are a potent aid to writing. Have you ever awoken from a dream so powerful that you taste the aftermath? Get it down on paper before its impact floats off into infinity, as dreams have a habit of doing. Whether or not you’re a dreamer, keep a notebook and pencil by your bed. And you know that wonderful feeling of floating between sleep and wakefulness? That is a creative time. Capture the pearls of ideas contained in its essence before they float away, as, if not secured, float away they will.

News Stories
Newspapers and magazines are a fertile stomping ground for ideas, particularly if you don’t have a great imagination. If you take to this method, perhaps you’re destined to write more factual fiction – fiction-led fact or novelization, as it’s currently labelled. There are loads of newspapers – broadsheet and tabloid, and magazines – current affairs, fashion and style, and trade to choose from. Look at any publication of your choice, see what story draws you and do a ‘what if’ around it, looking at the various possible connotations.
Choose the method that most appeals to you:  think it through, make a few notes or bullet points, and when you’re ready give it eight to ten minutes of spontaneous writing. You’ll be surprised at what you come up with. The next day look over what you’ve written:
(i)                 Is there tension in your piece?
(ii)               Are your characters viable?

When you’re satisfied, pick another heading and so on until you’ve completed all these exercises.

Monday, April 22, 2013


When you get into the habit of writing regularly, you’ll graduate to those flashes of insight when you instinctively know how everything connects, it’s known as ‘thinking above the curve’ and ‘over-logic’. Whatever it is, for us writers, it’s magic.
 It can help the creative process to look at a beautiful abstract
Emerging writers (I’m not fond of the adjective, but haven’t 
come up with a better description) frequently fall into two categories;
·         Full of ideas and images but wavering in a limbo of indecision about which writing route to take.
·         An unquenchable drive to write but lacking in ideas and feeling devoid of creativity and imagination.
Let’s look at the full-of-ideas situation first. So you’re bursting with all sorts of inspiration, characters, locations, bits of plots etc., but can’t decide what to do with them or in which direction to go? Have you moments of giddy passion about writing a novel? Should it be historical? A thriller? Perhaps a gothic fantasy? Maybe you’d be better settling for short stories?
Only you can answer. But if in doubt about your writing direction, I suggest you keep an open mind at this stage, and develop the habit of writing regularly to hone your skills. Eventually you will know. And the relief of having a goal to aim for is enormous.
As  for the second category: even when the drive to write is well and truly there – sometimes deep and silent within you; on other occasions positively clamouring for expression, you can still feel stymied by lack of creativity and imagination.
Remember writing being a learned craft.
Creativity and imagination are interlinked. Their function is to enable us to see and feel reality we wouldn’t otherwise experience. Imagination lights up reality. Imagination insists on reality. Despite what we may think, the function of the imagination is not just to escape into dreams, it can be creatively channelled.  Put to work.
It’s facile to say – just write. If you’re stuck for something to write about go back to the exercises in (1). In the process you will develop your own way of writing and your writing voice.
Next week we’ll look at tried and tested methods of releasing creativity

Monday, April 15, 2013


Thanks to all those who sent exercises relating to (1). I've replied/commented individually but  decided against publishing. Why? Because the good ones are good enough to be incorporated into novels, non-fiction or short stories. And that's where I hope they'll find a home. 

It’s heartening for the emerging writer to know that writing isn’t misted in a blur of mystery.  While certain people are enormously creative and appear to have inherent instincts, the majority of writers use their interest to acquire the various necessary skills, and of course a certain amount of talent always helps.
There are thousands of books written about writing, including my Writing for Success, geared towards succeeding on the Irish market. Some books are good; most are helpful, but bestselling American thriller writer Stephen King's On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft is superb.Beg, borrow, buy or, if you have to, steal a copy. It’s a bible.
‘Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex and work. Especially work,’ he advises.  
Like any other occupation, there are basic requirements for a career in writing, many of which are aided by an attitudinal approach that is consolidated by practice. While not making us perfect writers – perfection doesn’t exist in writing, practice does take us along the road towards perfection.
 If you plan to become a writer it helps if you have:
  • The mind of a detective  – inquiring, keen, observant and thorough
  • A nose for a story
  • A smattering of psychology
  • A feeling and empathy with and for people
  • A skill for storytelling which need be nothing more than basic
More Tips next week...

  • Last but most important: the strength of character to keep on writing, one word after another, sentence after sentence and paragraph after paragraph, particularly on those days when your story ‘bellies’ and what you’re written seems crass. 

Monday, April 8, 2013


For the next number of weeks my Writers' Blogs are for anyone and everyone interested in writing fiction

The question I’m most frequently asked is: How can I get published?
There aren’t any mystical ingredients, no closely guarded publishing secrets. But there are certain practical steps which make
for proficient writing, professional presentation and, hopefully, getting published.
The facts and tips I provide are only the tip of the iceberg of the immense amount of information that’s available on writing. But they are what I know; and the steps I've taken to have a variety of books published and translated.
Emerging writers are often so busy wanting to have a life as a writer that they forget they have to have a life to write about. 
So here are a few exercises to get you started
Set aside fifteen minutes. Put on a favourite a piece of music - soothing works better than heavy metal. Writing in longhand, describe a situation in your life that you are currently trying to metabolise. If nothing comes to mind, listed are a few key ideas: 
  • Coping with my boss’s moods
  • My anger at my sister/brother/mother/father/best friend/lover/husband
  • Dealing with toddlers/teenagers
  • Living with my lover/husband/wife
  • Should I buy that Harley Davidson/mountain bike/skateboard/designer outfit?
 Well done. You’ve crossed the first hurdle. Those scenarios are all tension-making. If you can get into the habit of writing tension-laden rather than internal-dialogue heavy fiction, you’re halfway there.

If you wish you may send your exercise to I'll comment on and publish the best.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


We writers love our notebooks. Over the years mine have progressed from rolled school copybook and scraps of paper to detectives' notebook and stickies, and now I've arrived at Moleskine. I love my Moleskines, love their history, the cover, elasticated band and inside paper. I'm the first to admit it's more an ethos than a product.

Bruce Chatwin is responsible for today's fascination with Moleskines.
Along with Irish designer Eileen Gray, he is also the subject of my
latest book to be published by New Island in 2014.

In Songlines, Bruce mentioned the obsessive tidiness that is the start of
a writing project. The notebooks he used were obtained from a papeterie in rue de l'Ancienne-Comedie in Paris, but made by a small firm in Tours. When the owner of the firm died, Bruce assumed his source of notebooks had dried up, but the business was bought by a Milanese stationer who eventually began producing the notebooks again.

The Chatwin syndrome is alive and well - it's the delusion that using the brand of notebook Hemingway, Picasso or Oscar Wilde might have used bestows a writerly air of elan and panache. Perhaps it does?
What Bruce couldn't have guessed was that tomorrow (3 April) the business will be floated on the stock market with the company valued at €560m.

Friday, March 29, 2013


I've never lost the excitement of having a new book to read, and owning an iPad makes it an instant pleasure.  With the painless flick of a button, the book arrives; it's as effortless as that. But it's not to say that I don't love browsing bookshops and bingeing on books.

My latest foray into download is American writer, Gillian Flynn's Gone 
Girl. It comes with a great pedigree: tops the influential books-of-the-year lists; with some 23,000 critiques, it the most reviewed book on GoodReads; spent 8 weeks at No. 1 in NY Times best seller list and six months after its release had sold over 2m copies in print and digital formats, as well as having the film option picked up by Reese Witherspoon.

So what is this book about? It's a whodunit revolving around the marriage of two writers that strips the mask and makes toxic the commonly recurring marital themes of money, careers, in-laws and parenthood. The story is told through  the wife, Amy's diary entries, and Nick, the husband, who narrates his experience in the first person.

Gone Girl is flagged as noir for women, as is English writer Harriet Lane's recently published Alys, Always - another download. This is the unsettling tale of a manipulative newspaper editor. |Hurrah. These titles are a departure from the genres of chic lit and the more recently popular, erotic - too often regarded as reading for women.

Friday, March 22, 2013 - Writers' Blog: HAPPENINGS IN THE WORLD OF WRITING - Writers' Blog: HAPPENINGS IN THE WORLD OF WRITING: Good news today. My course titled Anatomy of Editing is starting om Wednesday 17 April from 10 o'clock to noon for 4 weeks on Carysfort...


Good news today. My course titled Anatomy of Editing is starting om Wednesday 17 April from 10 o'clock to noon for 4 weeks on Carysfort Campus. It the third in a trilogy of courses that have proved successful since September with participants winning awards, getting publishing contracts and generally discovering the joy of writing.

Frequently emerging writers feel all they have to do is write the first draft. But today's publishing industry requires more than that. Publishers look for almost 
publication-ready manuscripts which is where Anatomy of Editing comes in. I've been convening writing courses in various guises for many years in UCD, but this is the first occasion we're focusing on Editing - being market aware, I suppose.

The ethos of UCD's Adult Education programme is lifelong learning, and it works. Our writers develop a bond that frequently blossoms into friendship.