Meet More of our Workshop Directors

Hurry, Hurry Hurry!  This is your last chance to enter our broad range of Literary Competitions.  So whether you’re putting the finishing touches to your poem, short story, play or essay, remember the Closing Date for receipt of entries is THIS Friday, 1st March 2013. So get them in the post without delay.

 Bernard Farrell (below) has written extensively for RTE and BBC television and radio.  He is a prolific playwright with many of his plays staged at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre.  A member of Aosdána, he is the recipient of many awards and has also served on the Board of the Abbey. Bernard will direct the Writing for Theatre Workshop.

 Bernard-FarrellQ.        Did you know from a young age that you would be a writer?

 A.        No, but I do know that from my middle teens (and almost unbeknownst to myself), I began to record experiences in notebooks, later keeping a diary and sometimes writing the dialogue of an argument that I had been engaged in… and lost!  In fact, I always felt, at that time, that I wrote because I always lost arguments – so I began to write to reset the debate, if only to show that I could have won it.  That brought me nicely into fiction and short stories.  I had a short story published when I was about 17 and I brought it to school and showed it to my English teacher.  He looked briefly at it and handed it back to me, saying ‘I think you’d be better off concentrating on the curriculum’.  It was later – much later, that I discovered that writing for the theatre, rather than prose, was my comfortable medium.

 Q.        Who were your early influences?

 A.        Both my parents were avid readers so we were always surrounded by books.  I remember that when I was very young, my father gave me a collection of the Father Brown stories by G. K. Chesterson.  From then on, I tried to read everything by Chesterton that I could find.  I lived in Sandycove, and at the top of our terrace was the house where J.M Synge once lived; in another direction, and equally near, was the home of Padraic Colum; and in another direction, equally near, was the Joyce Tower, the setting for the opening of Ulysses.  So I lived within a triangle of these writers, and their works, in time, found their way into my hands.  Also of influence were Brian Moore, Norman Mailer, Charles Dickens and John Steinbeck.

 Q.        Describe your daily schedule.

 A.        Usually, the routine is breakfast at eight-thirty, walk the dog, buy the newspaper and be at my desk at ten-thirty latest.  Lunch from one to two, then back to my desk.  I may also be just standing, walking, taking the air, making phone calls, idly reading books, doing correspondence – anything that supports the creative work-in-progress.  Dinner at six. The evening may vary, but in times of need, I may be writing again between eight and nine.  At various times this routine can change radically or, indeed, disappear!

 Q.        Do you use computer or quill?

 A.        Never a quill!  All creative work is always handwritten, on the same kind of A4 pad, with a black BIC biro! Thereafter, the second draft and later drafts are written on the computer.

 Q.        For you, what are the highlights of Listowel Writers’ Week?

 A.        I’ve always found the atmosphere to be magical.  I once compared it to the mythical Brigadoon (the musical) – the town that appears out of the mists, where joy and companionship and good conversation abounds and then, just as it appeared, it disappears again, and is not seen again for a hundred years.  I feel that Listowel has a strong measure of that magical attractiveness, without the downside of having to wait another hundred years for it to appear again.  During my times there I met some wonderful aspiring writers in the workshops and I have remained in contact with many.  I also met the Literary Giants there, including John B. Keane and Brian MacMahon and Brendan Kennelly.  But for me, it’s the small moments that become precious and that stay in the memory.  I recall sitting in the sunshine of the Square with Ciaran Carty – eating ice cream, greeting passers-by, hearing the music and the chatter as we discussed the merits and demerits of Hermann Hesse. Magic!


Paul Perry is a lecturer in Creative Writing at Kingston University, London and Writer Fellow for UCD.  He is the author of a number of critically acclaimed books and won the Hennessy New Irish Writer of The Year Award. Paul will direct the Poetry Advanced Workshop.

Paul-PerryQ.        Did you know from a young age that you would be a writer?

 A.        When I was a teenager in school, we were asked to write some stories and poems one day each week for a number of weeks. I felt a great sense of ease and relief in the request. So the answer is yes.

 Q.        Who were your early influences?

 A.        Walter de La Mare – The Listeners.

 Q.        Describe your daily schedule?

 A.       It varies from day to day. I teach in UCD and curate a poetry festival in Dun Laoghaire. So I try to write in the morning and at night.

  Q.        Do you use computer or quill?

 A.        Both. I don’t discriminate – whatever is to hand. But usually, it’s pen for poetry, keyboard for prose.

 Q.        For you, what are the highlights/memorable experiences of Listowel Writers’ Week?

 A.        The first year I was there, John McGahern was reading and receiving his award in the early 2000s. He read from That They May Face The Rising Sun. It was a thrilling and hilarious reading. It was also the year John B passed away. I remember having a drink in his pub as various luminaries and friends were ushered upstairs to say their farewells.  It was also the year I won the poetry prize at Listowel and the year I met for the first time my good friend Karen Gillece. We have since written a novel together as Karen Perry, which appears from Penguin UK in early 2014 and will be published by Henry Holt in the USA.


Catherine Dunne is a prize-winning author of nine novels, the most recent being The Things We Know Now, as well as one work of non-fiction: a social history of Irish immigrants in London, called An Unconsidered People.  She has facilitated Creative Writing Workshops in Ireland and the UK. Catherine will direct the Novel Getting Started Workshop.

 Catherine-DunneQ.        Did you know from a young age that you would be a writer?

 A.        I always knew that I wanted to be – but it seemed an impossible wish in those days.  From a very young age, I thought that reading and writing were twinned – that if you were passionate about the one, then you had to be equally passionate about the other.  It took several years for me to learn that they were separate activities.  But by then, I was hooked anyway! I suppose, too, that rural life had always been the stuff of the Irish fiction I’d read as a teenager, and that was a life I had never experienced.  It took a summer in Canada to realise that urban living, friendship, relationships, women finding their way in the world of work – all of these could be great subjects for fiction.  It was a revelation.

Q.        Who were your early influences?

 A.        I had a wonderful teacher of English at secondary school, Bertha McCullagh.  She brought literature alive.  It was like learning how to read all over again.  Her insights brought me beyond the kind of greedy reading I used to love as a child.  That frenzy to devour the book in order to find out what happened at the end – where story was the only important element.  I’m not knocking it: the telling and the reading of stories is one of our biggest pleasures.  But with her, I learned to love language; to become fascinated by the slow revelation of character; to reflect, to respond – and to let the imagination fly.  And then there were the Canadian women writers: they came along just when I needed them.  Margaret Atwood, Carol Shields, Alice Munro… A summer spent in the excellent public libraries of Toronto was like finally coming home.  I knew then that writing was the only really satisfying life for me – although it took me many more years to achieve it.

 Q.        Describe your daily schedule.

 A.        I think that one of the great things about the writing life is its flexibility.  And one of the most difficult things about the writing life is its flexibility!  Nobody forces me to the desk: but the words have to get written.  And if I take advantage of  ‘flexibility’ one day, well then, I have to make up the work some other time.

Writing involves a good deal of sitting, so I start the day with a walk – usually before breakfast.  Walking has always gone hand-in-hand with writing for me.  I’ve resolved many a knotty problem after an hour or so pounding the pavements.

After that, I spend an hour or two on emails and phone calls: the things I call ‘clutter’.  I need to clear them from my desk and my head before I can get down to the real work. When I’m in ‘the zone’, time disappears.  That’s when the writing is going well – time ceases to exist.  I often look at the clock with a sense of shock and discover that I haven’t moved for three or four hours.  Those are the great days. On the bad days, even housework is appealing.  Anything to delay the call of the blank screen.  I try to stop when things are going well: when I know I could keep working for another hour or so.  Stopping in a good place means I am drawn back to the desk the following morning, eager to start again.  It means that I don’t go looking for distractions.  Of course, starting over the following morning usually means deleting most of what was written the day before – but that’s the writing life for you.

  Q.       Do you use computer or quill?

 A.        For several years, I wrote everything by hand.  And I still believe that there is a special relationship between the hand and the eye and the imagination.  I make notes in dozens of notebooks – notebooks are important to me, and nice pens! 

Gradually, I began using the word processor for the first ‘proper’ draft, as well as all the earlier, more tentative drafts that I used to do by hand.  I can type a lot faster than I write.  So it’s a mix for me: important first moments, or sudden observations, or dreams, or snatches of dialogue will first come to life in my notebooks.  After that, it’s the keyboard all the way.

 Q.        For you, what are the highlights of Listowel Writers’ Week? 

 A.        My very first workshop there was with Eithne Strong in the late seventies.  We dived into the short stories of Katherine Mansfield and new worlds kept opening.  It was the first writing workshop I had ever attended and I was mesmerised.  It was my first real understanding of how the craft of writing could be developed.

Then, some twenty years later, I was back.  But this time, I was attending Writers’ Week because my novel, ‘A Name for Himself’, had been short-listed for the Kerry Fiction Prize.  Now that was a memorable moment!  And then, being invited back again to take part in the 40th birthday celebrations – that was a very special time.  There was a real sense of the journey of the imagination bringing me back full circle, back to where it all started.  And I know that this time will be memorable, too.  I love facilitating workshops.  I love watching new writers blossom.  It’s a real journey of discovery: one of which I never tire.



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