New features: The Saturday Song, The Sunday Poem

As of this weekend, I’ll be running two regular, weekly features on music and literature: The Saturday Song and The Sunday Poem

Keep an eye out for two weekly music and literature features that I’ll be running, as of this weekend: The Saturday Song and The Sunday Poem

SO I’m going to start uploading some new, regular features to run along my published work.

Every weekend, I’ll post up The Saturday Song and The Sunday Poem on their respective days. These features will consist of a detailed, critical analysis of a song and poem, applying music theory and literary theory / poetic terminology to the song / poem in question, though done so- I hope- in a way that is entertaining, at the very least.

Every song that I feature will have either a Soundcloud or Spotify link embedded in the feature. For copyright reasons, it won’t be possible to post an entire poem on the site, though I will encourage readers to dig out the poem in their libraries and, indeed, from their own bookshelves. Certainly, I will list the collections and anthologies in which the chosen poem is published.

Another feature that I am toying with is The Friday Film, which would be written in the same tone as The Saturday Songs and The Sunday Poem. The Friday Film, however, is a longer term idea that I may develop, depending on the success of the The Saturday Song and The Sunday Poem. 

This week’s Saturday Song will be Vampire Weekend’s Obvious Bicycle.

This week’s Sunday Poem will be Simon Armitage’s The Shout. 

If there are songs and / or poems that you would like to see covered, please comment below with your suggestions.

From Page to Screen / From Screen to Page: WritersWebTV Launches in Dublin, Today

WritersWebTV: A fresh, vibrant, Irish start- up that’s thinking outside the box.

LAUNCHING their website today, WritersWebTV is about to turn the creative writing industry on its head and offer a fresh challenge to those already working in the industry and, in a broader sense, those working in the arts in Ireland.

Established by Live Training Ltd., WritersWebTV is a new Irish start- up originating in Dublin, having developed what can only be described as a world- first innovation in online education and resources for writers. WritersWebTV will be live- streaming interactive creative writing workshops from a multi- camera broadcast studio in Dublin, from Saturday 28th September. The inaugural workshop will be Writing for Children and Young Adults.

With workshops led by Vanessa O’Loughlin (founder of writing.ie), an in- studio panel will consider key elements of fiction writing and furnish viewers with tips, advice and actionable insights to help them improve their writing and get it on the path to publication.

Vanessa O’Loughlin: WritersWebTV workshop facilitator and founder of writing.ie.

Mrs O’Loughlin will lead the workshops in front of a limited in- studio audience of aspiring writers, as well as online viewers who can ask questions, participate in workshop exercises and comment online through Twitter, Facebook and email, with aspiring writers receiving on- screen feedback from in- studio writers and tutors.

Viewers can watch full, one- day workshops free of charge on WritersWebTV, when viewed live; to watch or revisit the course at a later date, viewers will be charged for a video workshop / tutorial / course, which viewers can keep and re-watch indefinitely.

Personally, I predict that the model that WritersWebTV have developed may very well set the precedent for existing MA Creative Writing programs, which already offer off- campus online programs for international students, though without the level of slick, sophisticated, broadcast quality offered by WritersWebTV.

I also believe that Moodle courses will soon be considered outmoded and obsolete if writers’ centres, universities, publishing houses and self- employed creative writing tutors follow the WritersWebTV model, which they may very well do in the years ahead.

If WritersWebTV achieves only one thing, though, it may be that it puts paid to the excuses that aspiring writers often contrive for their lack of creative output: “I have young children and they take up all my time. I can never make workshops in town.” / “I don’t have the time to write.” / “I can’t find a workshop that works for me”. Yep, I’ve heard ’em all, too.

So is WritersWebTV another gimmick from the creative writing / publishing / arts industries, or is it the model that will define the future of the creative writing / publishing / arts industries?

Would you, as an aspiring writer, use WritersWebTV?

Comment is free.

Interview: Deirdre Madden, Irish Novelist

Originally featured in the print edition of The Irish Post, Tuesday 30th, 2013.

Timeless talent: Antrim novelist Deirdre Madden

STRIDING to our meeting place from across Trinity College Dublin, Deirdre Madden, once widely characterised as a uniquely North of Ireland novelist (no doubt as result of her remarkable and best- known work, One By One in the Darkness, set during the week of the IRA ceasefire in 1994) appears to be at one with the Southern capital. The Antrim native, who has lived in Dublin for decades, now, with her husband, poet Harry Clifton, teaches Creative Writing at Trinity College.

Having completed novel number eight, Time Present and Time Past, I ask Madden, described by Sebastian Barry as “The constant genius of Irish letters”, if her move to Dublin and her post as a lecturer in Creative Writing at the college’s Oscar Wilde Centre for Writing have made the process of writing novels any easier.

“I suppose it doesn’t get easier; it just feels different. You’re always changing what you’re writing about. My writing habits have definitely changed. I used to write primarily at night and I don’t do that anymore, now; I tend to write, more, now, in the morning. I suppose in the same way you are piecing things together. The more you write, the more your confidence does grow. But it’s a very slow process and you are trying to balance everything. It’s not always easy, so I am very happy to get this latest book finished.”

“When I’m teaching my students, I suppose some of the things I would advise are straightforward. I always tell my students to read their work aloud at least four times in a row during the drafting process; you pick up on the flow of the sentence- if too long, or not flowing smoothly. Reading is so important. If you’re trying something, you try to think of who else is doing what you’re doing. I think I read more as a writer now than I would have done as I was younger. It takes me a while to figure out what I have. The ideas for characters, for narratives are always hazy and you’re always interested in developing them. The more you work on those ideas, the more you put them through the mill, the more that they become clearer and concrete towards the end of the novel. You always ask why: why is this person important, why do they live here…”

Time Present, Time Past is set, largely, in Dublin during 2006, the Celtic Tiger economy still roaring with the end to those heady days just over the hill. The protagonist, Fintan Terrence Buckley, is a 47- year- old solicitor living in the leafy suburbs of south Dublin, who’s new- found interest in photography sparks an interest in the past and how it is that we think about the past. Photography features as strongly in Madden’s latest novel as music does in, say, Nick Hornby’s Hi- Fidelity; photography is almost, you might say, another character in the book. I ask Madden why photography, of all of her interests, became such a huge part of the novel’s narrative.

I think that we sometimes find the past can seem further away from where it is.

“It’s something that a lot of people have remarked on. I’ve always loved old black and white photographs and I became aware that colour photography had been developed much earlier than had been commonly thought. In a way, I’ve always preferred black and white portraits; they just feel more dramatic. And I became interested in how colour photography and colour photographs had been taken at times in history that I hadn’t been aware of. An example I would give is of a photograph from WW1: if you see those photo’s in black and white, they look very dramatic, very austere, but if you see them in color- and these are actual photographs in colour that haven’t been improved or impressed with a color filter- they’re so immediate, more contemporary, much more closer to us. That was what really interested me in featuring it so prominently in the novel. I mean the photograph on the cover of the book is actually a photograph from 1907 and that’s an original colour and I find that quite strange; I think that we sometimes find the past can seem further away from where it is. That whole way of how we view the past, how we picture the past is interesting to me. And I though that photographs worked as a good medium to discuss that particular view.”

Running alongside Madden’s interest in photography is the theme of progress, which appears again and again in the novel. Madden seems to be examining what progress actually is and whether what we think is progress is actually a step forward in the right direction. In the final third of the novel, for example, we are brought to the North of Ireland, where Fintan and his sister Martina visit their grandparent’s old house, only to discover their cousin Edward has flattened the land and intents to erect a “decent, modern house”.

Though Madden stresses that she did not intend to write a Celtic Tiger novel (“novelists are not journalists”), it is hard, in the current economic climate, not to read a book set in Dublin in 2006 and think of the difference between now and then; Madden agrees and she compares and contrasts life in Ireland between “the two days”.

“I think people gained a lot during the Celtic Tiger years, but I also think that we lost a lot. People did travel more widely; they were able to take sun holidays more often, buy houses, etc. But as result, people became a lot more insular and so there was always a step back. The quality of life, now, has, obviously changed quite a bit; people are not as brash, impatient and, sometimes, rude in shops and restaurants…that whole mercenary thing, which I think that they were during the Celtic Tiger years.  People have calmed down a bit, now, so there are few things like that, which perhaps we are now reflecting on. We’ve also become more and more interested in making things, particularly this resurgence in baking, in boutique shops in pop- up shops and markets. So every time you have progress, you lose something; every time you take step back, you gain something.”

Everywhere feels new to me; whether I’m in Dublin, in the North, wherever I am. I’m always interested in everything

It’s on this note that I ask Madden if she feels the same way about writing as she does about the theme of progress in Time Present, Time Past; if there’s any relationship between the perceived progress during the Celtic Years and the perceived progress in writing a novel. Pausing, she carefully considers the question.

“It takes me a while to figure out what it is that I actually have. The ideas for characters, for narratives are always hazy and you’re always interested in developing them. The more you work on those ideas, the more you put them through the mill, the more that they become clearer and concrete towards the end of the novel. You always ask why: why is this person important, why do they live here…There are times, of course, that you can go down the wrong road when an idea leads you astray; I think that most writers don’t like talking about that because it’s such a horrible experience. It’s like tossing a coin; toss a coin and the odds of it coming up heads or tails is 50/50. No matter how many times you toss it and if it comes up heads every time, logic dictates to you that, even if it comes up “heads” 10 times in a row, it should, eventually, come up “tails”. But that isn’t true. You can convince yourself that “ok, I’ve spent 6-12 months on this; the longer that I work at it, it’s bound to come good at some point” But that can leave you disappointed. You accept that instead of losing time, that you have to ask “why does this not work”. You have to know what went wrong. If you don’t, you’ll do it again. The relation of time and effort isn’t always equal.”

As the interview is finishing and we get up to leave and walk out to an unusually sunny day in Dublin, I ask Madden if, as a northerner living in Dublin for as long as she has, Dublin feels still new to her and if it felt fresh to her having written a novel set in Dublin; she smiles, looking down one of the city’s many Georgian streets. “Everywhere feels new to me; whether I’m in Dublin, in the North, wherever I am. I’m always interested in everything; I’m interested in what people are wearing, what the traffic is like, what people are eating…the whole fabric of life really interests me. I feel very much at home here, but when I’m traveling I find everything interesting.”

On that note, Madden returns to the gates of Trinity College, leaving me with a impression that she is, as a novelist, of her time and yet timeless; a juxtaposition that wouldn’t be out of place in one her own novels.

Time Present and Time Past is out now from Faber

Author Interview: Novelist Helen Seymour, author of Beautiful Noise, interviewed by Philip Cummins

Making a noise: My interview with novelist Helen Seymour was published Rí-Rá: The entertainment supplement of The Irish Post.

Originally published in the print edition of The Irish Post on Wednesday April 27th, 2013

“I can tell you now that that cover is printed on 320 gsm and that the inside cover is 80 gsm Munken; I can tell you that the printer tried to pull the wool over my eyes and print it on 270 gsm and I had a fight with him; I can tell you that this is a single press: you can actually have a double press where you get like a little flat spine going along it; I can tell you it’s silk coated on both sides so that the photograph on the inside of the back is just a little bit shiny. I can tell you a lot about that and for a lot of people that would be scary, but for me it’s just advertising. So printing the book and publishing it didn’t scare me.”

Helen Seymour is a pro. Though she rejects the perception of herself as a ‘Celtic Tiger High Flyer’ (“That expression in itself is kind of bizarre”), when I meet the former advertiser, marketer and now first time novelist , she exudes the sort of confidence synonymous with those atop the crest of Ireland’s wave a decade ago.

Striding impressively across the upstairs foyer of Dublin’s Westbury hotel, the 44 year old arches her pink tinted Chanel sunglasses atop her head as she gestures towards me and greets me with a confident display of cordial pleasantries. She’s clearly used to meeting business professionals following 17 years at the coalface of marketing and advertising.

She leads the way as we find a table at which to seat ourselves. “Hmm…,” she says. ‘Too near the ailse. What about the window…that sun is strong…”

Seymour, a self- described “control freak” who used to run her own company, eventually settles on a table, seating herself on a couch and strategically placing herself within clear view of the outside clock of a pub down on the street, before ordering a double espresso.

For the next two hours she’ll prove engaging company as she discusses her bold move to follow her dream and jack- in her highly successful (and lucrative) day job in order to write her debut novel. Along the route she’ll touch on her friendship with Bono, the influence Ireland’s pirate radio stations of the 80’s had on her, and turning down an offer from renowned publisher, Harper Collins.

Beautiful Noise

Seymour’s novel, Beautiful Noise, a story of three young Dubliners who set up Studio One, a pirate radio station that takes on RTÉ, has been lauded by everyone from Roddy Doyle to Bono. The U2 frontman even launched the work in the full glare of the national media last February; unheard of, for a self- published writer.

Writing about a pirate radio in 1980’s Dublin, she says, came by default rather than design.

“I grew up in an era of no mobile phones, no internet,” Seymour says. “You had two television stations, five if you were lucky.” Wide- eyed with wonder, she recalls how she first discovered pirate radio stations such as Big D and Radio Dublin, a breeding ground for future RTÉ talent such as Dave Fanning and the late Gerry Ryan. She was struck, she claims, by the alternative ways of thinking and non- mainstream culture that pirate radio fed on.

“I was always going to be a writer, I think, though I didn’t know that back then. But writing was always what I wanted to do; it was at the heart of who I was. So worlds interested me and there were all these fascinating little worlds. And I used to just sit there, night after night, going up and down the dial.”

In fact, Seymour’s years listening to pirate radio partly influenced her move into advertising at age 21 and, from the off, she begun working within the medium.

“I remember on my first day [in advertising] my boss said ‘“Get your coat, we’re going to 2FM; we’ve won the 2FM PR account.”’, she recalls. “So by no great plan of my own, I went from a position- and I never married the two in my head at the time, but it’s only in hindsight when I look back- that I married the obsession with pirate radio as a teenager to suddenly, properly working for professional radio. And we had the Coca Cola account and they spent so much money in 2FM. 98FM and FM104 had just been launched…I was constantly in and out of those stations doing promotions, sponsorships, radio events.” All of which to say, that Seymour’s didn’t choose to write about radio- it simply chose her.

Seymour’s other childhood obsession was of course the written word. An avid reader as a child, she talks glowing of Enid Blyton’s novels before spending time in the company of Jilly Cooper and Joan Collins. She reserves her highest praise, however, for John Irving’s The World According to Garp, which chronicles the life of writer T.S. Garp and his feminist mother, Jenny.

“Nothing was ever quite the same after ‘…Garp’. No book was ever the same. I kept reading the girls books and they were just like ‘blah’. Like the books in school- Pride and Predjudice, Henry James…you know, they were good, but nothing excited me the way ‘Garp’ excited me; that was somebody with a real voice: a voice that spoke to me.”

She would later read two more books that leave a similar impression on her: Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, which she read as a 30 year old, and Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments, a novel involving the music scene in Dublin which, like Seymour’s Beautiful Noise was Doyle’s first book and which he initially self- published.

Reflecting on her 17 years, in marketing and advertising, Seymour has, seemingly, no regrets. If anything, she seems to have enjoyed it.

“What I didn’t realize was that advertising was satisfying my creative needs, because it was “write a radio ad, design it next week”, “design a press ad…”, you’re constantly creating and it’s very instantaneous; it’s not “oh, I’ll sit in my room for five years and write a novel and hope that someone will buy it and put it out.” You see your work driving past you on trucks, you see it on TV., so it satisfied my creative needs for a long time. But somewhere along the line, something began knocking at the door about writing. It was just like “I’d love to write, I’d love to write and I just didn’t believe that I could leave my job and become a writer. I mean, how would I earn money? How would I live how would I survive?”

Eventually, at age 38, cynicism towards the notoriously cut throat, shark-infested waters of advertising began to seep in. After a gruelling three month interview process for a high- powered role with a British charity,  she was offered the role only for the job to fall through before contracts were signed. By this stage, however, she had relinquished control of her company and found herself ‘standing on the tarmac with my suitcase packed but with nowhere to go. She her mind up there and then to get out of advertising.

“I was gutted. That three month process ended my relationship with advertising. I had no idea where I was going, where I was going to go. A friend of mine lived in Martha’s Vineyward. I had some savings and I’d never taken any extended leave; it was always just the two week holiday. After 6 weeks, I did a four day writing course. I turned each one of my stories into a comedy. On the last day, I felt the electricity that I first felt when I started writing. My arm was on fire.”

After returning from the states in January 2007, refreshed and energised  she moved back in with her mum at her house in Howth and took a job as waitress in The Oar House restaurant in Howth, where her new co- workers had once recognised her as a regular customer. She describes it as a job that doesn’t drain her brain power as advertising did, leaving her with plenty of energy to focus on her prose writing.

On the Path to Publication

Soonafter, Seymour approached Marrianne Gunn O’Conner, the Irish based literary super- agent, who took her on under the condition of a title change from Studio One and that Seymour cut 30,000 words.

A deal with Harper Collins soon followed and Seymour’s path to literary glory seemed assured. It all came to sudden halt, however.

“After signing with Harper, they came back and suggested a title change: I’d already done one title change and didn’t fancy doing another at that stage. It was originally titled Studio One. So I started working with Harper. Then Harper gave me the first set of edits. Let’s say they gave me ten notes. And they way they give it to you is over the phone and through bullet points. I didn’t agree with any of their ten bullet points. None of them.

“And my agent, Marianne, said to me; “Look, I want you to take these and sit with them and think about them and come back.” So I took a month off work. A friend of mine was selling her house; the house was empty. I went in with a portable table and chair and did nothing for a month but sat and look and digest their edits. And I did about 50% of them. I knew, deep down, however, that I had to make my own book; it wouldn’t be my book if I took all their editorial suggestions. Edits are very important and it’s an art in itself. But it’s also so objective. I couldn’t let the book out there unless I was 100% happy with the overall product.”

Eventually, Seymour self published and her mix of DIY punk ethics and her expertise in design came to the fore. Within months, she had printed the book in Sweden at almost half the price that eight printers in Ireland had offered her. Gill & MacMillan took care of VAT, invoicing, distribution to bookshops.

Bono 

But Seymour’s success in publishing the book became more visible when she pulled in heavy hitters from her address book. Launching in 37 Dawson Street to the national media and a guestlist of 500 friends, family, writers and former advertising colleagues, Bono launched the book. The question on everyone’s lips, then, was how does a self published writer- without the publicity machine of Harper Collins- pull in such a name?

The connection is through the U2 singer’s wife. Seymour has been close friends with the U2 singer and wife Ali for 14 years, coming into contact with Ali after working with Gavin Friday on Muc, flying pig / money box aimed at raising funds and awareness for Kosovo. Seymour had designed Friday’s marketing campaign. Impressed with Seymour’s savvy marketing and advertising skills, he put her in contact with Hewson, who was similarly trying to raise awareness for Sellafield. It was through Ali that she became friends with the U2 singer.

It seems to be sensitive topic for Seymour; though she’s willing to openly talk about her friendship with the power couple, she’s quick to quash the idea that she simply pulled in celebrity pals to push her book.

“When it came to launching the book, it wasn’t about badging on a celebrity. Now, look, of course, from a publicity point of view: you get the frontman of the biggest band in the world, it’s not gonna hurt, but it actually made sense: he’d read the book, twice, you know? He’d been with me on the journey. So it wasn’t like “you’re my pal and you’re famous will you launch my book?” He also gave me a blurb for the back cover of the book. So it would have been stupid not to ask him to launch the book.

“Bono asked about this story from day one. He loved the story- the pirate radio story, because U2 got a lot of their early singles played on pirate radio; it was a big part of how they got started here. And he asked what the story was about. He was always very interested, y’know, he’s amazing and she is amazing and he asked me a lot about the story and so did she. And I was coming to the end of the story, we were out one day- I can’t even remember where we were- and he asked “how’s it going?” and I said “I’m nearly there.” And he said to me “Would you like me to read it?” And he just offered. “Would you like me to read it?” They had been friends for years- I had never asked for any favours; I wouldn’t because they get so many people swinging out of them for things and they do so much for their friends…I just love their company their great people. I admire them- I admire their work ethic, they’re two of the hardest working people I know, they’re so good to all their friends, not just to me, and to the wider world, and they’re inspiring- both of them. I look up to them- apart from being my friends, they’re people that I look up to, that I admire as people.”

From Page to Screen

Bono’s tip of the hat to Beautiful Noise has given Seymour a launch- pad from which to get her novel out. Also showing a strong work ethic, she has two other novels on the go as well as a screenplay for the film adaptation of Beautiful Noise.

Optioned by Dundalk- born director John Moore (who recently helmed A Good Day to Die Hard), the proposed feature has received development funding from the Irish Film Board and has Damien O’Donnell (East is East, Heartlands, Inside I’m Dancing) attached to direct.

Soon, though, the clock that Seymour had first position herself towards at 10 am is nearing 12pm. Though I’m sure the self described “yapper” would probably continue talking, we part amid excited chatter as to the film adaptation and with a firm sense that Seymour’s world- beating drive and Hollywood glamour may soon find her a million miles away from Studio One.