Wednesday, February 26, 2014


We're into session 4 now, halfway through our 8-week course on Writing Fiction in UCD. Today was a breakthrough. As students read out their creations the room came alive with a set of interesting, viable and dynamic fictional characters going about a day in their life.

Our pointers today included:

* defining the setting or initial scene
* adding specific characteristics, as basic as whether male, female or child, being aware that age is a factor
* defining character's goal, how characters deal with obstacles defines them
* giving them attitude, make a list of likes and dislikes; and quirks, good habits, bad habits
* setting your character in a home
* using mannerisms and features of others
* role playing as your character

Monday, February 24, 2014


 I love libraries and can spend hours locked in the wonder of books. Librarians never ask you to either 'move along' or 'buy', as has happened to me on numerous occasions in various book stores - though I have to say never in Shakespeare & Co in Paris - but that's another story. Libraries are a place of un-paralleled ease that exist as much to browse as to take-out, with staff who are both knowledgeable and helpful.

Comfy library
Every now and again we hear that libraries are on the point of extinction.But the latest news is that a new pilot project for 'staffless' libraries is on the cards which has proved successful in Denmark. From May, self-serviced technology is being installed in six libraries at a cost of €120,000.  These include Tullamore and Bangor libraries in Co Offaly; Tubbercurry, Sligo; Kenmare in Kerry and Donabate and Deansgrange in Dublin. The libraries will be open seven days a week from 8 am to 10 pm. And the good news is that the librarians will continue to be in the branches during working hours.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

WRITING FICTION - CHARACTERS (3) - Writing Feelings into Fiction

Writing feeling into fiction is a source of great energy, but it can be difficult. One way to get the most out of the energy locked into feeling is to put the feeling inside a character.

Creativity in Action!
With February sunshine beaming golden in the window, focus during this session was on breathing emotions and feelings into the characters we'd created over the past week. This is where creativity has full rein.

While the physical aspects of fictional character/s are important, really the most interesting thing about characters are their feelings. An easy way to introduce feelings to the physical aspects of the character/s you've created is to start with one of the facts and write about how your character feels about that fact.

Giving emotion to a character allows the writer to express them to the full - as  the emotion belongs to someone else your character can be as unreasonable as you like - angry, sad, funny, happy. Use the energy of your own feelings to strengthen your fictional character/s

Thursday, February 13, 2014


Our second session of spring term in UCD went well with a full complement of students, despite the driving rain, gusting wind and puddles of flooding.

The first exercise was to use someone we knew as our template, list their physical characteristics, the way they dressed/moved, objects they owned; then we went through that description and marked the items that best give a clue to their personality. The test question is 'why' about something mentioned. It has to be remembered that objects aren't clues to anything. Inexpressive details have to be jigged to become clues to personality.

Next came the rewriting bearing above in mind and adding to the character's personality by borrowing characteristics from another person.

Writing can be as joyous - as this!!!
Writing can be as joyous as this.
Getting the writers to start with a person know to them has the advantage that they are working from something familiar towards guesswork/invention.

Initially there was the expected grumbling - it's a tedious exercise - but by the end of the two hours there was a palpable sense of satisfaction and smiles all around. What more could I want?

Friday, February 7, 2014

Writing Fiction (2) - Characters

In UCD for Writing Fiction (2) we’re developing characters and bringing a sense of place and atmospherics to students’ writing – last term was Writing Fiction (1) with focus on structuring plot lines. The majority attending this term have works in progress, mostly full length novels, with a few settling for short stories. Their work is varied, diverse and very professional, and they are enthusiastic about editing to publication standard. The ultimate aim for most of them is publication.

It’s by looking at life, meeting new people, wondering about them and putting our spin on them that we come up with fictional characters that leap off the page and draw in our readers from the beginning. While creativity is all important, it can be helped with a little formulaic thinking, particularly when creating characters.

I don’t favour hand-outs, preferring to as it were ‘jigsaw’ information to my writers and let them pick and choose what is applicable for them and their story - sometimes the smallest of comment will be a beneficial trigger. But where the development of character is concerned sometimes emerging writers can find it difficult to believe that as a writer we need to know our characters in detail for us to breathe life into them on the page.

Though all that said, I’ve two hand-outs that have proved themselves:
 (1) I call Characterisation – it looks for physical description, as well as personality and hates/loves/passions/obsessions – the most telling.
(2) is a template for creating fictional characters and bringing them to life. The most beneficial aspect of this is answering questions from the character’s point of view.

Monday, February 3, 2014 - Writers' Blog: The Interview - my new Book on Eileen Gray - Writers' Blog: The Interview - my new Book on Eileen Gray: The Interview is quite a short book, just about 62,000 words. When I set out to write it, I knew a lot about Eileen Gray but it took me a l...

The Interview - my new Book on Eileen Gray

The Interview is quite a short book, just about 62,000 words. When I set out to write it, I knew a lot about Eileen Gray but it took me a long time to get it written to my satisfaction. And I suppose to my satisfaction is the important point here. As of this year I've been convening writing workshops for UCD for the past 20 years, so I feel I can stress the importance for all writers of not letting go of their work until it is to their satisfaction

Eileen Gray believed, ‘to create, one must first question everything’. It's a good mantra for writers to observe.

The Interview explores the relationship the relationship Eileen Gray and Bruce Chatwin, and why the interview he carried out with her for The Sunday Times Magazine was never published. At the time, in 1972, she was the reluctant darling of the international media, second time around, and he was the then rising star of Fleet Street.

For decades Eileen Gray, architect and designer has fascinated me.
Bruce Chatwin (as he was in 1972) and Eileen Gray (in the 1930s)

I’ve written, broadcast and given talks extensively about her – she even visits me in my dreams. Indeed, I’ve heard it said I’m an expert on her. It appeals that I might be so regarded!!