Sunday, 18 June 2017

Irish Writers Centre - Mindshift: The Connected Writer at Listowel

On Saturday 17th June 2017 as the hot weather emerged I wondered had I made a mistake.  A few weeks beforehand I had booked a day indoors to attend Mindshift, an event organised by the Irish Writers Centre in association with Listowel Writers Week to be held in Listowel.

I decided to proceed, heading off on the almost two hour journey.  I hit a slippery patch of loose gravel above Taur and my car went for a dance terrifying me in the process.  I knew not to hit the brakes but to hold the steering wheel with fingers, lightly.  I arrived in Listowel to sunshine and smiles and in one piece.

We kicked off on time by having a group photo taken on the steps outside The Seanachaí Centre.  Out of the sun Elizabeth Dunn, Chairperson of Listowel Writers Week introduced the event and welcomed everyone.  Eilish Wren from Listowel Writers Week and staff from The Seanachaí Centre were also in attendance and ever helpful.

The initial part was titled 'Event & festival curators in conversation'.  The panel consisted of Máire Logue [working with Listowel Writers Week for more than 10 years], Dani Gill [Poet and Director of Cúirt 2010-2016], Patrick Cotter [Poet and Director of the Munster Literature Centre] with the conversations ably facilitated by Kate Cunningham of The Irish Writers Centre.

The focus of this section was to present an insight into how events and festivals are curated and writers selected.  Festival organisers are frequently inundated with requests from writers who wish to read.  Some festivals such as the Cork International Poetry Festival do not accept unsolicited submissions.  The key message from the panel is for writers to develop their writing first, to submit and have their work published in well established and respected journals then to build a writing profile and gain experience at reading by attending Open Mic events.

If writers decide to approach a festival with a request to read they should provide a clear outline of: 'what they have done so far', 'what they are doing now', and 'what they want to do at the festival'. They should indicate if their work has a theme and provide details on workshops/retreats they have attended. At the Cork International Poetry Festival a selection of publishers present writers who have featured in their journals - another reason for writers to submit and support journals.  Having a self- published book without having a track record of journal publications is of limited value.  It is preferable to have a collection published by a reputable publisher.   Most of the larger festivals do provide opportunities for emerging writers through Open Mic or introduction and similar events.

The term 'good literary citizen' was referenced by Patrick Cotter - and reiterated by the panel. Relationships do matter, writers need to support other writers by attending events, buying their books and supporting them online.

The panel mentioned that when reading at an event do not exceed the time allotted, stay until everyone has read - whether you are a guest poet or reading at an open mic event.  This advice would also be applicable to musicians participating in jamming sessions.

As we broke for lunch it was good to catch up with some people I met a few weeks earlier at the Listowel Writers Week.  These included Mike Gallagher, John McGrath [who is frequently mistaken for Gabriel Fitzmaurice] and Matt Mooney.  I met with other new faces including Joe Healy [Co. Limerick], Bernadette Ní Riada [Killorglin], Fiona Pilkington [Tipperary] and Brigid Sunderland [Shannon].

After lunch Louise Phillips  [Author of four psychological crime thrillers] gave a most informative talk along with handouts about the modern writer and promoting one's work, social media etiquette and other nuggets of information.  She didn't however divulge the best place to hide a body.  I think we need to read her books to find the answer to that question.

After tea, coffee and a chat Gene Rooney [Professional Actor], took us in hand and had us leaping around like children.  Everyone got stuck in and a reading about radiators proved more interesting than one would imagine.  Gene said that sitting is no gift for readers so we were on our feet for the final hour.  This was an extremely useful and practical session where we came away with tips to help with public speaking - the basic one being to open one's mouth - try putting two fingers one on top of the other between your teeth and you get the idea.  Other tips included:  using eye contact, breathing exercises, asking oneself in preparing for a reading 'what do I want to convey?'  The listener gets one chance to hear and hopefully understand so the reader needs to speak clearly, slowly [unless you are a rapper] and with sufficient volume that they are heard.  A microphone will not help with any of these things except perhaps volume.

After a rewarding and enjoyable day indoors I had not made a mistake as I headed to the sea and Ballybunion for a refreshing dip before the journey home.

Information on Writers Groups, Open Mic events, open submission and other opportunities for writers available at The Irish Writers Centre, Poetry Ireland and Words Ireland.

Open Mic events in Munster include:
Cork City:  ÓBhéalLive Words; Fiction at the Friary - monthly; Spotlight;
County Cork: Hungry Hill Poetry Friday - Castletownbere; Psoken Word, Clonakilty;
Limerick: Stanzas;  On the Nail Literary Gatherings;
Co. Kerry: Bank Holiday Poets' Corner - Tralee; Literary Listowel Readings - Listowel and Poetry in the Park, Listowel - on the second Sunday of each month at 2:30 pm.

Blog (c) Bernadette Gallagher