Phew! Another Waterford Writers’ Weekend has been and gone.
I was delighted to make it to five events over the weekend. Here’s an overview in pictures.
Event: Making Social Media Work for You
Venue: Greyfriars Gallery
Venue: Sabai restaurant
Event: To Blog or Not to Blog
Venue: Waterford Medieval Museum
Event: Writing Winning Short Stories
Venue: Greyfriars Gallery
Event: “Love is the Easy Bit” by Mary Grehan book launch
Speakers (l-r): Caroline Senior, Managing Director of Garter Lane Arts Centre, author Mary Grehan
Venue: Garter Lane Arts Centre
The festival organisers really hit it out of the park this year. One of them told me that their aim with the programme was to focus on the writers. They certainly achieved this aim with a line-up of events that covered a huge range of the skills that today’s writers need, or at least need to be aware of: social media, self-publishing, blogging, how to approach writing competitions, breaking into journalism, and more.
The panel discussion format was used for most of the events I attended. This worked very well. With the best intentions in the world, the audience can start to get a bit glassy-eyed at events where a single person speaks for an hour or more. With panel discussions, on the other hand, there is a variety of faces and voices to sustain your attention, the discussion is naturally more varied and dynamic, and there is a chairperson to keep it all together, move things along when required, field audience questions, and make sure everyone gets their say.
A highlight for me was the final event of the weekend, which was held last night in Garter Lane Arts Centre. It was the launch of Mary Grehan‘s novel, Love is the Easy Bit. Mary is a huge success story: she is the only new author to be signed by Penguin Ireland in the last 18 months. We are very proud of her here in Waterford and delighted to bask in her reflected glory.
The format of the launch was interesting. We all took our seats in the theatre auditorium and Mary gave an excellent reading. She was then interviewed on stage, which was highly entertaining and interesting. Lastly, there were questions from the audience by means of a roving microphone.
The organisers of Waterford Writers’ Weekend have set the bar very high for themselves if they are to make next year’s festival as good as or better than this one. But they are a bunch of highly motivated, organised and ambitious folk. I’m looking forward to WWW14 already!
PS. Needless to say, there were lots of other events over the weekend that I didn’t make it to. If anyone out there wants to contribute something about any of those other events, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
The event that I’m involved in for Waterford Writers’ Weekend 2013 is on the day after tomorrow. It’s a panel discussion on the topic of Making Social Media Work for You and it’s on Friday March 22nd, 1 -2 PM, Greyfriars, Waterford. One of my fellow panelists is Catherine Ryan Howard, Ireland’s most successful self-published author and a master of using social media for promotion. The event is relevant to anyone who uses social media in their work – small business owners, employees, and arts professionals of all hues. You can book your place here.
OK, shameless plug over. Time for the latest of my reviews of venues to visit in Waterford over the festival weekend.
Café Royal, Theatre Royal, The Mall, Waterford
Food and drink: A fairly standard menu of sandwiches, panini, salads, breakfasts and desserts. The quality of the food is good, most items are home made and there are gluten-free and dairy-free options. Salads are imaginative and change daily. The coffee is very good. The breakfasts are ideal if you’re in town first thing in the morning – I like the two-egg omelette breakfast with two rashers, two sausages and two slices of toast. There are child-friendly options in the form of cartons of juice (as all parents know, the least messy child’s drink when you are out) and cookies, though the cookies are over-priced, as they are everywhere (they’re only big biscuits!).
Service: Table service. The staff are very friendly and helpful. On festival weekends, the cafe people set up a stall by the main door of the theatre (which is at the side, a little confusingly if you’re new to Waterford) selling sweet treats and coffee, to save you climbing the stairs.
Layout and accessibility: This cafe is all location, location, location, and in more ways than one.
Firstly, it’s on the first floor of the Theatre Royal, the former Georgian playhouse that today houses Waterford’s beautiful, best-known theatre and is one of the main venues for Waterford Writers’ Weekend. There’s a treat in store for art lovers on the way up the stairs: the walls are lined with a selection of pieces from the Waterford Municipal Art Collection. Among them is an all-time favourite of mine, the wonderful Curiosity by William Conor.
Secondly, grab a window seat if you can, because this cafe has the most historic view in Waterford city. Right across the street you will see the Irish tricolour fluttering in the breeze. The building from which the flag hangs marks the spot where the tricolour was first unveiled by Irish revolutionary Thomas Frances Meagher in March 1848. This event is now celebrated every year in Waterford by the 1848 Tricolour Festival.
Thirdly, stay in that window seat, especially if you have an interest in architecture, or just like looking at beautiful buildings. The cafe overlooks part of Waterford’s Viking Triangle, including the Bishop’s Palace, home to the Georgian collection of the Waterford Museum of Treasures – a fantastic place to visit, whether you’re local or a visitor – the House of Waterford Crystal with its eye-popping window displays and, if you crane your neck, the Waterford Medieval Museum, a recently added architectural delight. The Mall, an elegant, tree-lined Georgian street, also lies stretched out below.
As for accessibility, the cafe can be reached by lift. There is just about enough space between tables for a buggy or wheelchair. The tables are set back a little from the door so you have space to stop and look around when you go in.
Toilet facilities: The toilets are handily located just off the main cafe. Toilets are functional and clean though a little cramped. There is no changing table, a strange omission in a cafe that has high chairs; children who need high chairs are going to need changing too. On the plus side, there is a hook on the back of the toilet door. (This may seem like a trivial point, but us lay-dees really don’t like having to leave our bags on the toilet floor …)
Free wi-fi: Yes.
Parking: There are a few on-street parking spaces on The Mall, directly outside the theatre, but they are almost always full. Instead, head to Catherine Street, a two-minute walk, or Waterside, a four-minute walk, where on-street parking is more plentiful. Alternatively, park in the Bolton Street car park, a two-minute walk. This car park has no daily limit, so you can leave your car there as long as you like. Charges: €1.80 per hour.
As I mentioned in my last review, if you’re planning to head to several festival events over the day, park in the private car park just off Thomas Hill (head up the hill, follow the street around to the right, entrance is on the right) for €5.00 a day flat rate.
Accessibility to festival venues: The Theatre Royal is one of the main venues at Waterford Writers’ Weekend. Other festival venues are a maximum of five minutes’ walk away.
Tempus is fugiting! Saint Patrick’s Day is now behind us and Waterford Writers’ Weekend 2013 is right in front of us. So here’s the third in my series of reviews of alternative venues to visit over the festival weekend.
The Granary café, Hanover Street, Waterford
Food and drink: Above average prices with standards to match. On offer are quiches, pies, salads, panini and daily specials. Everything is of exceptional quality. The salads in particular are among the best I have had anywhere; the beetroot and carrot salad takes the two humble roots to new heights. The main dishes change daily; a recent example is pan-fried hake with lemon and tarragon cream. The coffee is very good, though not the best in Waterford (for that, see my previous venue review). If you are booked in to any of the early morning events at Waterford Writers’ Weekend, the mushroom omelette breakfast (two-egg omelette with mushrooms, sausage, rasher and wholemeal toast) comes highly recommended.
Service: Self-service. The counter staff are highly efficient, though some are not given to smiling. An exception is manager Artur, who is equally efficient and very friendly.
Layout and accessibility: The cafe is located in a high-ceilinged, glass-walled extension to the beautiful old granary building. These days, the former granary is home to the Waterford Institute of Technology School of Architecture.
The cafe itself, located on the ground floor, is one of the best in Waterford in terms of accessibility and family-friendliness. The main doors have no steps or door-sills. Inside, there is plenty of space to manoeuvre wheelchairs and buggies. The seating area is large, and there are leather sofas and good-sized coffee tables at the back by the lift. This area is also good for quiet conversation, and local movers and shakers of the arts and commerce are often to be seen holding meetings here.
Toilet facilities: Upstairs, accessible by lift only. The lift itself is well located. The toilets have baby changing facilities.
Free wi-fi: Yes.
Parking: There is no parking directly outside as Hanover Street is pedestrianised. The nearest on-street parking is on Thomas Hill, across O’Connell Street. A little farther away, there is the car park on Little Patrick Street behind The Book Centre. Charges: €1.80 per hour.
If you’re planning to head to several events over the day, park in the private car park just off Thomas Hill (head up the hill, follow the street around to the right, entrance is on the right) for €5.00 a day flat rate.
Accessibility to festival venues: The Granary is a 60-second walk from Garter Lane theatre, one of the main venues at Waterford Writers’ Weekend. Other festival venues are a maximum of five minutes’ walk away.
Café Libro, The Book Centre, 25 John Roberts Square
Food and drink: the menu looks ordinary enough at first glance – pre-packed sandwiches, pizza, cakes and pastries, coffee – but the quality and freshness of the ingredients elevate the fare here well above the ordinary. The made-to-order pizzas have fabulously thin bases and the sandwiches are delicious. The cakes and pastries are home-made by local artisan bakers, which is particularly commendable for a chain. The cinnamon rolls are worth the visit alone. And the coffee is – drum roll – the best in the city.
Service: Very good. Friendly and efficient. Order at the counter and staff bring your goodies to your table.
Layout and accessibility: Now we come to the real USP of Cafe Libro. Like the other cafes in the chain, it is situated in a book store. But this one is special, because it is in The Book Centre. This book store is notable on two fronts: it is one of Ireland’s few remaining independent book stores; and it is housed in a former cinema. The cafe is located on the mezzanine, overlooking the ground floor and main entrance – ideal for people-watching. The atrium construction preserves the cinema feel.
Appropriately, the cafe serves as an informal meeting place for writers, and many can be spotted here on weekdays mornings, tapping feverishly on their MacBooks. The tables are quite close together, but not unreasonably so. There are leather sofas and a low coffee table near the counter. The walls are lined with books on sale just like the rest of the store, and the ceiling is decorated with an impressive newspaper collage made from real newspapers (I checked with the manager!).
Accessibility is fine for the non-mobility-impaired, but if you use a wheelchair, or have a buggy or pram, this is where things get tricky (despite the sign outside proclaiming the cafe to be “child-friendly”). There is a lift in the building, but it only goes to the higher floor, not the mezzanine. Buggy users have two options: fold up your buggy and carry it up the stairs (hopefully you will have someone with you to carry the child), or leave the buggy downstairs. Wheelchair users have no means of access that I have been able to make out.
Toilet facilities: up a flight of stairs, basic, clean, very cramped, no baby changing facilities.
Free wi-fi: yes.
Parking: behind The Book Centre on Little Patrick Street. Charges: up to €1.80 per hour.
Accessibility to festival venues: this cafe is bang in the city centre, within two or three minutes’ walking distance of all festival venues.
Waterford Writers’ Weekend 2013 is fast approaching. This is one of the smaller of Waterford’s many festivals throughout the year, but that doesn’t stop it from being a vital, vibrant weekend.
One of the challenges faced by festival organisers the world over is to vary the content of their festival programmes from year to year. The Waterford Writers’ Weekend organisers, Waterford City Library, Galanta Events and Vanessa O’ Loughlin of writing.ie, certainly seem to have achieved that this year. The focus of the programme is on emerging writers, self-publishing, independent publishing and social media.
The Weekend has a selection of official venues and partners, all of which are great and worth visiting. I thought it might be useful in the run-up to the festival to attempt to complement the official list by posting reviews and information on additional venues from the viewpoint of a local person.
These venues are perhaps lesser known for whatever reason, but offer people something different and a good reason to venture off Waterford’s main thoroughfares and do some exploring.
I’ll make my reviews as practical as possible by including information on parking, toilet facilities, accessibility, child-friendliness, availability of wi-fi and any other useful tips.
Here’s my first venue review!
Harlequin cafe-bar, Stephen Street
Food and drink: Authentic home-made Italian food – such as gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce – great coffee, good selection of Italian wine. The staff don’t mind you popping in for just a coffee and pastry or a glass of wine.
Service: Excellent. Beautiful native Italian coming from the staff as they work. Some of the best-looking male staff in the city (sorry, men of Waterford!).
Layout and accessibility: compact, tables close together. Buggies have to be folded up and even at that there is not much space to stow them. Having said that, the staff are very welcoming of families with small children. Wheelchair users should be able to get in the door easily as there is no step.
Toilet facilities: on same level, basic, clean, slightly cramped, no baby changing facilities.
Free wi-fi: yes.
Parking: on-street outside the cafe or nearby Mayor’s Walk. Charges: up to €1.80 per hour.
Accessibility to festival venues: maximum 10-minute walk (if you’re a slow walker – five minutes power-walking!).
I love the term “soft eyes”. I first came across it in The Wire (“Refugees”, Episode 4, Season 4) and it has stayed with me since.
In that episode, new arrival to the Homicide department Detective Kima Greggs is sent to her first crime scene. An experienced colleague advises her to use “soft eyes” – that is, to take a wide overview of the scene and let intuition and the subconscious come into play in order to spot things and make connections.
Getting bogged down or stuck in details is a problem shared not just by writers, or even creative types in general, but by anyone with a creative aspect to their work.
I am currently in the early stages of writing one of the stories in my work-in-progress short story collection. I had been floundering around for a few days, trying to work out the finer details of certain scenes.
Then I remembered about soft eyes. I zoomed out in my mind’s eye, brought the scenes into soft focus, and let my mind do its thing for a while.
Mentally, this process (or some variant of it) is what happens when you put on your soft eyes. Physically, you can help soft eyes happen if you sit back, close or half-close your eyes, do some slow breathing or shoulder rolls – anything that you find relaxing.
Linda Formichelli discussed a similar idea the other day on her blog The Renegade Writer. In a post titled “Are you pushing away ideas – and work – by trying too hard?”, Linda’s main points are:
- Focus on the input, not the output: it’s easy to get caught up in producing output, but you need to feed your creativity by absorbing other material.
- Go wide, not deep: this is the idea I mentioned above of not drilling narrowly into details at the expense of the bigger picture. As Linda says, this is intended to be an easy, relaxed process: “Just take [ideas] in and let your subconscious do the work.”
- Be playful: anyone who is familiar with the techniques of Mindfulness will know this as a creativity-enhancing technique called “habit releasers”. Brush your teeth with the other hand, or go to the cinema and see a movie at random rather than planning and booking ahead. The idea is to get your mind “unstuck”.
These techniques also tie in with some good advice I have heard from Nuala Ní Chonchúir in her short story workshops: don’t get tied up too much with plot. Instead, just get writing, and plot will emerge. This to me is a related idea, as it too focuses on relaxing and trusting the subconscious.
Try it! And after you do, post a comment below. I’d love to hear how “soft eyes” works for you.
Multinational corporations are often derided for their use of “corporate-speak”. But as a former employee of multinational corporations, I have come to appreciate the value of some aspects of corporate wisdom. Two examples I wanted to write about today are outcomes and deliverables.
I recently attended a seminar hosted by Big Smoke Writing Factory in Dublin. The seminar was about Independent Publishing and the facilitator was Vanessa O’Loughlin, founder of writing.ie and The Inkwell Group, and influencer of a host of other literary activities and projects around Ireland.
To my delight, both the outcomes and deliverables of the seminar were excellent, and I met some lovely new fellow writers to boot.
Getting back to the corporate-speak. Freelancers pay for all training and professional development out of our own funds, so we need to make sure that we get a return on our investment. The most useful definition of ROI for freelancing purposes is that used in the financial world: “The money that a person or company earns as a percentage of the total value of his/her/its assets that are invested.”
The corporate world also teaches us that ROI in professional development is best measured in terms of the following two factors, one “hard” and one “soft”:
- Outcomes (“soft”) – something changes for the better as a result of you attending the training course. For example, your knowledge of the subject matter increases, you feel equipped to take specific actions, or you have a new qualification. If nothing changes as a result of you attending the course, there were no positive outcomes, and your money and time have been wasted.
- Deliverables (“hard”) – the specific, concrete things that were promised in the course description and that you take home with you at the end of the day. For example, a pile of useful notes or handouts (“useful” is key here – we all know the horror of taking home stacks of handouts we will never look at again); new practical skills; or a piece of work that you were guided in producing during the course.
For me, the outcomes of the Independent Publishing seminar were:
- A solid grounding in the various aspects of independent publishing, both print and digital
- Knowledge of and confidence in implementing the practical steps in independently publishing my writing work
- Awareness of the increasing significance of independent publishing in the literary market
The deliverables were:
- A careful selection of useful handouts
- 15 pages of my own notes
- Individual advice from Vanessa
So, my ROI on the seminar has been very satisfactory so far.
Of course, it’s too soon yet to know whether the seminar helped with the ultimate outcome: getting published.
I have been considering for some time whether I should release some of my stories as standalone publications. Short stories lend themselves particularly well to the digital format, as evidenced by the success of Kindle Singles. As well as that, Amazon’s digital book sales exceeded their print sales in the US for the first time last year, so the market for digital definitely exists.
I’ll be posting regular updates on my adventures in independent and digital publishing. Watch this space.
Rejection letters are a funny old thing.
When you start out as a writer, your rejections tend to be from smaller publications and lesser known websites.
After you have been diligently persisting for a few years, the rejections still come, but from loftier sources.
I recently received the following rejection letter from Ciaran Carty, editor of New Irish Writing, which appears monthly in the Irish Independent and has launched the careers of many prominent Irish writers, including Joseph O’ Connor, Dermot Bolger, Vona Groarke and Mary O’Malley.
The New Irish Writing page was started by David Marcus in The Irish Press in 1969 and is the longest-running creative writing feature of its kind in any Irish or British newspaper.
Ciaran Carty is also director of the Hennessy Awards. Work published in New Irish Writing is automatically entered into the prestigious Hennessy Awards.
So, after weeping onto my keyboard for a while, I’m now actually a bit chuffed that Ciaran Carty sent me a personally signed letter, even if it is their standard PFO. He even wrote my name by hand!
I will fight on.
Who would have thought that tidying up some Lego would help with structuring a story?
I constantly have to keep in mind that writing time is for writing only and not other tasks, no matter how strong the temptation. Mostly, I am fairly successful at walking airily past household messes and sitting down at my desk to write.
One concession I sometimes allow myself is to do a quick tidy of the room I work in – after all, it is part writing den, part children’s play room. (The two parts are separated by room dividers from Woody’s – highly recommended if you share a writing space.)
So this morning I was in the play room / writing room, on my hands and knees (what a way to start the writing day), picking up Lego and mulling over the short story that I had started yesterday. I had most of the components of the story in my head: main character, secondary character, a strong visual image, and setting.
Some elements in the story are a little out of the ordinary, and I was stuck for “something” that would tie together all the pieces in a plausible way. I was beginning to get quite grumpy about being stuck and was wondering if I should just park the whole story.
As I tidied, an idea struck me and I began playing with a few of the pieces of Lego.
I selected a single yellow piece and put it on the kids’ play table. This was my main character – the component around which everything else in the story is built.
Then I took a bigger, blue piece. This is the story’s central visual image. It is strong in both size and appearance, like the image I have in mind. I placed this piece beside the yellow one, but not attached to it, just as the components of my story were disjointed at that point.
Next, I added a purple piece to the ensemble. This was the secondary character. I was really getting into the Lego-as-symbol thing at this stage, so I stuck this piece on top of the original yellow piece, but only partially, to show that the secondary character is only loosely connected to the main character at this point.
By now my Lego creation was looking like a bit of a mess, just like the story. (If I were someone like Tracey Emin, at this point I would probably throw something sticky at it before placing it in an exhibition and charging people money to look at it.) Something was definitely missing.
Then it hit me. My story needed another narrative layer to tie it all together. In other words, another character who would narrate the story as told to him or her. I remembered Wuthering Heights and how Charlotte Brontë famously used multiple narrators to make the book’s wildly romantic, sometimes fantastical characters and events plausible and believable to the reader.
I chose two long red Lego piece as my supporting, super-narrative layer and attached the existing structure to the top of it. The red pieces now supported everything else and connected it all together.
I have now started translating my Lego “creation” into words – that is, creating my additional narrative layer. This does raise questions about having too many characters, which can weigh down a short story. However, I am inspired (again) by Raymond Carver’s story “Fat”. This story’s main character tells her story to a friend over coffee, which is a variation of the technique; the reader hears the story as told to a third party.
The creativity that I was able to tap into by playing with the Lego led me to this solution. Techniques for tapping into creativity are something I have toyed with in the past but never devoted much attention to. I may re-visit them now.
“Mind” is such a multi-purpose word, isn’t it? As a verb, it can mean to object to, to look after, and in a more archaic sense, to remember. As a noun, it encompasses all those nebulous concepts that we associate with our non-physical selves: the spirit, the personality, the intellect, among many others.
Today, my mind is all over the place. Since it is a work day, this poses a serious challenge. If my mind were connected to a printer, this is an extract from what it might be printing right now:
gottobookthatportraitsessionformysonmustphonetheeventspeakerfortomorrownightohgodidon’ttknowyet what’llimakefordinnermustsendthanktocardtofriendforlovelypartygottoremindhusbandtocomehomeearly onwednesdaybetterwritecheuqeforcommitteetreasurerohgodihaven’tmademuchprogressonmynewshortstory sincelastweekandihaven’tevenstartedontoday’sblogpost.
My mission for today – and I have no choice but to accept it, since I’m a writer – is to extract something meaningful from the whirl of nonsense in my mind. Right now, I feel like dangling by a rope from a precipitous cliff-face might be the easier task.
One thing that really helps with calming a chaotic mind is Mindfulness. Those of you who have read Mindfulness: Finding peace in a frantic world by Mark Williams and Danny Penman will know what I mean. Those of you who haven’t, I strongly recommend it. The CD of guided mediations that comes with the book is worth it alone.
I find the first CD track, an eight-minute “body and breath” meditation, great for clearing the mind. The mind printer certainly outputs less of the scary, stream-of-consciousness stuff afterwards.
If anyone else in the writing field or other areas of the arts uses mindfulness techniques, either in conjunction with the book or otherwise, I’d love to hear about it. Just leave a comment below.