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.