Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Summer Poetry Workshops with Matthew Sweeney in Cork

Matthew Sweeney
Matthew Sweeney is not only renowned as a poet and anthologist, he also has a reputation as one of our best workshop leaders. He is one of Ireland's most translated poets, with volumes published in German, Dutch and Slovakian. He is co-author of Write Poetry and Get it Published. His Faber anthologies have enjoyed many reprints.

In six weekly workshops on Thursday evenings, June-July, Matthew will teach on writing about animals, about art, learning from song lyrics, copying other poets without committing plagiarism, dramatic monologue and developing your imagination.

A full course description with dates and information on how to book is here.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

WILD ATLANTIC WORDS Poetry Festival & comps


(Readings, workshops, children’s workshop, open mic)

5-6 September 2015 in Castletownbere, County Cork

WILD ATLANTIC WORDS Poetry Competitions

(Open competition and two children’s competitions)

Closing date: 19 July

For further information about the competitions and festival, including competition entry details, the festival programme, and workshop bookings, please follow the link to the website

Monday, 11 May 2015

ULLAPOOL BOOK FESTIVAL - thoughts and pics

I got back from the Ullapool Book Festival last night after a long day of travel and an exhilarating few days in Scotland. The fictional Highland village of Kinlochbrack, in my novel The Closet of Savage Mementos, is a thinly disguised Ullapool. I worked there in a beautiful small hotel called The Ceilidh Place 23 years ago.

We drove from Aberdeen to Ullapool - this is along the final stretch

The road to Ullapool

A house on Loch Broom

Entering the village of Ullapool
The Ceilidh Place

The village hall!
I went back to Ullapool four years ago to do final research for the novel, and I was back there this time to read at their book festival. In a lovely twist, I got to stay at The Ceilidh Place, which felt very grown up and posh altogether.

The festival was busy and comprehensive: events started at 8am and went on until late - there were writers from South Africa, Canada, England, Malaysia, Scotland and myself from Ireland. There was a ceilidh, as well as readings: poetry, fiction, non-fiction. We ate like royalty, three meals a day laid on (the food in The Ceilidh Place has always been good and has always catered for non meat-eaters like me). We had glorious salads (charred cauliflower was my highlight), celeriac and apple soup, homemade oatcakes, artichoke risotto, spinach and ricotta lasagne, raspberry fool (which pleased me hugely as the chef in my book makes a gooseberry fool, to which Struan says: 'Old fool makes new fool.') At the village hall, where most events took place, there was a tent where you could buy Fairtrade drinks and home-baking - I had a chocolate ginger fridge cake that was out of this world.
Looking over the loch and out to sea

Loch Broom gate

Out for a walk

North of Ullapool

Northern scenery - the weather was fantastic
I went to as many events as I could manage but, after late nights in the bar and upstairs lounge with the other writers, journalists and arts admin folk, it wasn't possible to go to every event. Once we took our hire car and drove about 20 miles north to see Stac Pollaidh and all the other beautiful mountains and inlets (we saw deer!).
Stac Pollaidh
Other times we woggled around the shops and ate (yet more) cake in The Frigate, a shoreside café where I also worked (it was run by The Ceilidh Place way back). There are great shops in Ullapool selling top-notch local crafts, vintage wares and art. There are two book shops in the village, which is pretty amazing, and both support the book festival. I bought my obligatory paperweight (obsessed); I also managed a beachcomb.

Beachcombed finds
All this while attending plenty of readings. The election was on the day we arrived so there was a lot of lively discussion late into the night about all that had happened with that. Many people bewildered by the overall result.

Bilingual signs abound which is great to see. 'Little houses' for toilets - sweet!!

These fab sculptures feature in my novel - I was delighted to find them still in situ in a window on Shore St

Typewriter in The Frigate
Apart from the readings from the books, there was something extra to enjoy at every event: Christopher Brookmyre read hilarious emails received from fans, correcting him on the geography of Berlin, or wanting to meet him in remote places. Zoë Wicomb was fascinating on the politics of South Africa, as was Chiew-Siah Tei on Malaysia. The lovely Kerry Hudson writes her books in a shack in Vietnam (I felt like such a square plodder when I heard that). Ditto while listening to Linda Cracknell recount her solo walks through Scotland and her climbing in Switzerland. Her writing is stitched with wisdom as much as adventure - beautiful.

Myself and Zoe Strachan, waiting for our event to begin

It was terrifying to follow these people's events but my interviewer, writer Zoë Strachan, made it all really easy and we had a full house, including several former Ceilidh Place colleagues, which was a joy.

Writer Ian Stephen from the Isle of Lewis

Writer Murray Armstrong from Airdrie (now living in London)

Malaysian writer Chiew-Siah Tei (now living in Glasgow)

Ullapool harbour - evening
Ullapool is a magical place - it pulls on you and seduces you and never quite lets go. The sealoch and mountain scenery, the sweet white houses, the warm people, the fabulous food - all of it combines to make a wonderful experience. I was honoured to be invited back for the book festival and was like a sulky child when we had to leave yesterday morning; I just did not want to go. Huge thanks to Joan Michaels and her book festival team, to President Louise Welsh, and to our hosts at The Ceilidh Place - you all do a terrific job. Tapadh leibh!

Wednesday, 6 May 2015


My sister Aoife O'Connor has written a great blogpost about our Great-Grandfather, who was a witness to the Phoenix Park Murders on this day in 1882.

Read it here.

Monday, 4 May 2015


Ann Patchett by Heidi Ross
Oh dear - this is so true:

'When I can’t think of another stall, when putting it off has actually become more painful than doing it, I reach up and pluck the butterfly from the air. I take it from the region of my head and I press it down against my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it. It’s not that I want to kill it, but it’s the only way I can get something that is so three-dimensional onto the flat page. Just to make sure the job is done I stick it into place with a pin. Imagine running over a butterfly with an SUV. Everything that was beautiful about this living thing – all the color, the light and movement – is gone. What I’m left with is the dry husk of my friend, the broken body chipped, dismantled, and poorly reassembled. Dead. That’s my book.' Ann Patchett

And the more 'hopeful' bit:

'The journey from the head to hand is perilous and lined with bodies. It is the road on which nearly everyone who wants to write – and many of the people who do write – get lost... Only a few of us are going to be willing to break our own hearts by trading in the living beauty of imagination for the stark disappointment of words.'

More here at Brain Pickings.

Sunday, 3 May 2015


The good people at Writers' Week in Listowel have interviewed me ahead of my appearance at the festival and the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award, later this month. Here.

Saturday, 2 May 2015


I just learned the book tour for my next novel MISS EMILY will kick off in the beautifully named town of Mystic, Connecticut. At Bank Square Books. I am bursting a gut with excitement! Road trip - wheee!

I have also heard (and OKed) the actresses for the audio book which will appear from Blackwell's in July. It is so, so cool to hear the words read out in beautiful, competent, convincing voices. Bizarre and amazing.