Beyond words November 28 2016

Recently we were thrilled to launch our 25th anniversary anthology, Beyond the Centre: Writers in their own words, at the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast on 16 November. We were even more delighted when Carlo Gébler agreed to help us launch the anthology, little did we know that his speech would be a tribute not only to the Centre — but to the writers who comprise such a vital part of it. Read on for Carlo's full speech.

Carlo Gébler launching Beyond the Centre at the Crescent Arts Centre"In 1978 the New Review, literary magazine, English, held a symposium on the state of fiction: 56 writers supplied replies to a questionnaire.   The respondents varied in age from mid-twenties to mid-sixties and they gave very different but very detailed replies. Peter Vansittart (1920 – 2008), 1st published novel 1942, 688 copies sold, described himself as, ‘fairly hopeful’ about being a writer. Auberon Waugh, son of Evelyn, confessed he’d eschewed the novel in 1972, when his 5th had earned him £600 on the grounds, and I quote, ‘it is not possible to bring up a young family of four on this sort of earning, and it is not possible to hold down any sort of regular journalistic engagement if one is to take three months off every year to write a novel’. You should be so lucky some perhaps thought, then, and even now.

Jeremy Brooks revealed his last novel Smith as Hero (1964), took three years to write, enjoyed good reviews, but only earned £1200 in total, so he gave up fiction for journalism. Francis King, sometime British Council employee, revealed that in order to support himself and novel writing: he worked as a reader for Weidenfeld & Nicolson, wrote a weekly fiction round-up for the Sunday Telegraph, a television column for the Listener, and took lodgers in to his house in Brighton with meals, which he cooked himself, included in the rent. Penelope Fitzgerald described how the managing director of Duckworth, Colin Haycroft wondered if an advance of £200 on her first novel The Golden Child (1977) was acceptable to which she replied, to him, ‘No, but I haven’t the courage to say no.’

So that was Albion. Thirty years later, different polity, we find, when we read Beyond the Centre, this marvellous collection of essays about literary culture now, and particularly Catherine Phil McCarthy, Jack Harte and Peter Sirr’s essays, those challenges as politicians would doubtless call them, encountered by writers, well, they haven’t gone away, have they? As several of the writers whose work is contained herein testify it is difficult, very difficult to make a living as a writer. Or, to put it another way, there simply ain’t enough cake to go round: not for writers, and not for the Irish Writers Centre either.  This gruesome economic truth runs through the essays in this collection like Bundoran runs through a stick of Bundoran rock. And by the way, yes, I bought some Bundoran rock recently and I know of what I speak. 

Now: These essays aren’t only about economics of course. This is an eclectic collection. The contributors have chosen to approach their brief from many different angles, not just the financial one and the book is the stronger for its breadth but it is, if any in power chose to read it, a bracing read because what would be born in on them is that the rewards for making literature are meagre. However, this is not artefact simply of complaint. There are complaints, yes, and the Irish state, its political elite and its arts bureaucrats get a quite a roasting, and fair enough, but this is also emphatically a book that celebrates collaboration, communal activity, solidarity between like minded souls and describes what people have done by pulling together.

Orwell wrote a marvellous essay on Dickens. It was inside the collection Inside the Whale. I love Orwell and in this essay I was particularly captivated by this, which I think Lisa McInerney, because of her contribution on culture and class in this collection, might particularly like:

‘If you hate violence and don’t believe in politics, the only major remedy remaining is education.  Perhaps society is past praying for, but there's always hope for the individual human being, if you can catch him young enough. This belief partly accounts for Dickens preoccupation with childhood.’

I personally don’t believe in violence and I despair of politics and our politicians, so all I have left is education.  That is, actually, all I believe in and that is indeed, in the widest sense what the Irish Writers Centre offers, as these essays also attest.  You’re probably now thinking, What’s he talking about, the classes, the courses?  Well, yes and no.  They are educational and they are a core part of the Centres activities. The Irish Writers Centre has helped writing by teaching people to write better and in the process has helped writers by employing them to teach people to write better. Hooray. But I’m not talking about just that kind of educational endeavour, the pedagogical variety. 

So am I talking about the huge number of happenings, events, readings, and the way the Centre has acted as an impresario for cultural activity, literary mostly, and that is in and off it self a jolly good thing. Again, yes and no. These are great. They introduce to readers writers and the work of writers they might not know. Fabulous. What’s not to like? And it is educational.

But the kind of education I’m talking about is the wider, deeper, fuller variety, the kind that raises consciousness, the kind that transforms actual thinking patterns and enables thereby, what hasn’t been thought before to be thought and then enacted, put in to practice, actualised.

And the basis and enabler of this consciousness raising is the utterly unpredictable but incredibly liberating, stimulating intellectual miscegenation that occurs by virtue of the Centre being a centre. Because it’s a centre people go to it. They bring ideas, literatures, attitudes, habits and social practices. They meet other people, talk, interact, blah blah, and all this psychic material gets mixed up, and then it gets churned around and then it gets broken down and then and then it reforms in to something not previously considered or imagined and then hey presto something new has arrived. This has been going on since the Centre started. Obviously a lot of what’s been made is written but there’s a lot more than texts made there and, moreover, we can name these things. The list is long, I’ll just list a few examples (don’t take it personally if you’re left out) the Liffey Project, the Bloomsday thingamajig, the Dublin Writers Festival, the UNESCO designation of Dublin as a ‘City of Literature, and a host of trade or industrial organizations and bodies. Other bodies were involved but the Centre was of some service in the case of these and more and these are the kind of educational outcomes that I believe in. I believe in things, programmes, rituals, whatever, that go out in to the world and change it for the better as all of the things that have come out of the Centre have done and I believe these things in turn, have an educational remit because they, in turn, all raise consciousness. You see, I have a thesis. There is a virtuous circle.

The world, at the moment, is not a happy place. We live in a mad world and we, writers, artists, what ever you want to call us, we have a job. Our job, to paraphrase Mencken is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, or so I believe, and we do that by raising consciousness also in what ever way we can and the Centre’s function is, in every way, to enable that, and it has, and it does. It’s been doing it brilliantly for the last quarter century, as the essays attest, and I believe there is every certainty, given the people in charge, Valerie Bistany et al, I believe that there is every certainty that it will continue to fulfil this vital function. And in that endeavour it will certainly have my absolute and unqualified support."

Carlo Gébler
Wednesday, 16 November 2016
Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast

Beyond the Centre: Writers in their own words is available now from New Island Books, just in time for Christmas!

Irish Writers Centre launches Northern Ireland Programme November 16 2016

IWC Northern Ireland Courses

Image: Pictured at the programme launch are: Valerie Bistany, Irish Writers Centre, Damian Smyth, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, and writers Jack Harte and Martin Devlin.

The Irish Writers Centre (IWC), with support from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s National Lottery funding, is extending its programming into Northern Ireland with a series of specialized courses and residentials in Belfast, Derry, Fermanagh and Tyrone. The prestigious Dublin-based institution is also offering 20 free professional memberships to local writers. 

The IWC, which supports and promotes writers at all stages of their development, announced the details at a special event, hosted at the Crescent Arts Centre, on Wednesday evening.

The information session was attended by writers from across Northern Ireland and provided an in-depth look at the services and resources that the Centre can offer emerging and professional writers, such as workshops, networking opportunities and training courses.

Upcoming events include, Mindshift: The Connected Writer at The Crescent Arts Centre on 19th November, an event for writers wishing to raise their public profile. While crime fiction writer Declan Burke will be hosting a writing course at Ranfurly House on 3rd December, revealing the critical elements needed to create a memorable mystery.

Damian Smyth, Head of Literature and Drama, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, commented:

“The Irish Writers Centre is already a flagship resource for writers across the island of Ireland, providing quality training and development opportunities for those at all stages of their career. It’s first dedicated programme of workshops, training days and residencies will stretch to venues across Northern Ireland, with opportunities for writers of all disciplines to get involved.”

Valerie Bistany, Director of the Irish Writers Centre, commented:

"The Irish Writers Centre is delighted, with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s support, to offer a bespoke literary programme for Northern writers, with a specific emphasis on professional development.   We are inviting Northern writers to connect and engage with us, and form part of an all-island writers' community.

“To that end, we are offering professional Northern Irish writers 20 free memberships for 2017 on a first-come first-serve basis (pending eligibility), two dedicated Cill Rialaig residencies and a subsidy scheme to avail our mentoring scheme. Sign up for our newsletter for information on how to apply."

The Irish Writers Centre is a national resource for literature. It runs a diverse programme of writing courses and workshops led by established writers across a range of forms and genres, including screen-writing, memoir, poetry, playwriting, short-stories and the novel. In addition, the Centre offers a variety of seminars, lectures, events and readings all related to the art of writing and has welcomed many award-winning writers through its doors, including Nobel, Costa, Man Booker & IMPAC winners.  

Compass Lines: Days by Karl Whitney & Philip Terry March 21 2016

Compass Lines #1 Days

Compass Lines is a writers’ exchange project aiming to establish links between writers and communities in the North and South of Ireland, while additionally examining relationships between the East and West of these islands, through workshops, public discussions, and the commissioning of new collaborative writing.

Compass Lines aims to encourage artistic fusion and integrate a sometimes fragmented audience, geographically and otherwise, through the strategy of combining writers with various concerns and backgrounds. Eschewing their comfort zones and usual patterns of working presents a diversion and a challenge to the writers, and a way of instigating discussions about ideas of process and place that reside in contemporary writing and which are often ignored through traditional views of literature.

Developed by poet, editor and curator Christodoulos Makris in collaboration with the Irish Writers Centre as producing organisation, and with the participation of the Crescent Arts Centre as partner venue, Compass Lines will comprise a series of enterprises, alternately in Dublin and in Belfast, each with the participation of two writers – one with connections to the north of Ireland and one to the south.

Each enterprise consists of three strands, community connection, discussion and new writing which will be specially developed collaborative pieces involving pairs of writers associated with the north and south of Ireland. The first Compass Lines event was on Wednesday 2 March 2016, the first in this series of collaborative pieces is available below.

Karl Whitney & Philip Terry

Days travelling to Ennis.

Beefsteak days.

Days coming events cast their shadows over.

Days when you buy a new pet.

Days walking in Tolleymore.

Days wondering whose thoughts you’re chewing.

Days when you feel as if you had been eaten and spewed.

Days when you bury a pet in the garden.

Days eating orangepeels.

Nights walking home from the 49N.

Nights lit sharply by the moon’s glow.

Some nights you remember, and others you forget. I remember:

Nights, restless nights, spent wheezing ‘til dawn.

Afternoons cycling along the tow-path.

Afternoons making kits.

Afternoons fretsawing.

Afternoons when you believe others’ eyes.

Afternoons watching cartoons after school.

Afternoons following lessons mechanically.

Afternoons walking vaguely through Spanish streets.

Afternoons when you arrive back at Aldergrove Airport, and it is raining.

Hours spent listening to David Bowie records.

Moments watching The Man Who Fell To Earth.

Moments daydreaming in class, gazing out the window, then being brought back to earth by an incomprehensible question.

Moments when you wonder how you got here and where you’re going.

Moments when you realise your coach leaves in an hour for some scrubland desert town.

Moments choosing what to eat at the ‘Say When’ casino in McDermitt, Nevada.

Those moments of possibility that show themselves while writing, or reading, or talking.

Moments dancing with your girlfriend in the kitchen.

Moments that surprise you with their intensity.

Moments hoovering: losing oneself, zen-like in the task.

Moments when you can’t remember if you locked the front door.

Days when you can’t remember what day it is.

Days when you still can’t remember what day it is.

Days when you no longer care what day it is.

Days filled with thoughts of other days.

Hours sitting at a desk in an office: typing, transcribing, redrafting.

Lunch hours when it’s raining out and you sit there with a sandwich, reading Species of Spaces.

Hours without conversation when you’re kept going by the anxious thrum of your thoughts.

Hours awake (there are more of these).

Hours asleep (fewer).

Hours between flights at Chicago O’Hare. You can see the city’s skyline, but don’t have enough time to reach it.

Hours when you have to be somewhere.

Hours when you don’t.

Nights when you spend more time awake than you do asleep.

Afternoons when you’re tired from lack of sleep.

Mornings when you wake to find a cow’s head poking through your window.

Mornings when you wake to find a horse’s head next to you in bed.

Mornings watching Homes Under the Hammer.

Mornings wasted.

Mornings cycling along the seafront.

Mornings sitting on buses, in traffic, watching pedestrians overtake you.

Mornings are like nights, but brighter; in fact, they’re more like days, light-wise.

But mornings can be dark during winter, that’s true.

Moments when things happen quickly.

Moments when time stands still.

Moments thinking up titles of essays you’ll never write, like “Joyce or U2?”

Moments when you notice the rifle trained on your car.

Dull afternoons at the Bibliothèque Nationale lit by the desk lamps’ glow.

Afternoons at the cinema.

Afternoons reading.

Afternoons writing.

Afternoons doing nothing.

Nights in Norway when it doesn’t look like night.


Hours spent walking around Dublin while Molly’s with yer man.

Hours tapped out on the clocks around the city. Who winds them?

Hours before you’ll be back in Eccles Street. You may as well have a sandwich.

Hours watching the Liffey ebb in and out, a throwaway little remarked upon.

Hours writing letters to your aunt, asking questions about the city you left.

The hours you’ve spent on this stretch of the North Circular Road, which lacks a tram service.

Hours you spent thinking, Bloom.

Hours you spent writing Bloom.

Hours walking the streets of Dublin on an empty stomach.

Hours surrounded by coffined thoughts.

Hours walking barefoot on the strand.

Hours in Trieste listening to the babble.

Mornings listening to the soft flop of porter gushing in the pub cellar.

Moments with your nose whiteflattened against the window pane.

Moments remembering the voices of the dead.

Days of rage.

Days when you look at the rising waters and think: this can’t last.

Days walking down Broadway.

Days when you sit on the slow train, looking out across the Meadowlands.

Days spent talking about the 1960s.

Days when you can’t tell wrong from right.

Days you spend as a maths teacher in New Mexico thinking about the Weather Underground.

Afternoons when you put everything off until the following morning.

Hours spent catching up with what you put off yesterday afternoon.

Hours you wasted trying to think of what to write next.

Hours that you can’t account for. What happened between the

Hours of ten and eleven on the morning of the twenty-seventh of February 2013?

Hours that you spent playing guitar.

Hours copying cassettes at double speed on a hi-fi.

Hours spent reading the NME.

Hours browsing through racks of CDs and piles of records.

Hours clearing the attic, throwing out the stuff you accumulated over the years.

Days listening to Joy Division.

Days listening to Warsaw because you’ve run out of Joy Division.

Days listening for signs of Joy Division in New Order.

Mornings when the wind whips wheelie bins along the road.

Mornings when you should have left the house ten minutes ago.

Mornings when your ears are ringing from last night’s gig.

Mornings when the afternoon creeps up on you.

Mornings when the night stays with you, as you piece together your half-remembered dreams.

Mornings spent avoiding the news.

Mornings watching oddly scheduled American sitcoms.

Mornings when the streets are empty and the city seems uninhabited.

Moments you have met before in a dream.

Moments spent thinking of things you’d like to have done, but can no longer do, like visit Seamus Heaney or go drinking with Brendan Behan.

Moments soaking conkers in vinegar to try and make them tougher.

Moments when you find out that soaking conkers in vinegar is pretty useless.

Moments when you swim without armbands for the first time.

Nights in the summer that never really get dark.

Nights when you watch the blinking lights of aircraft circling the city.

Nights worrying if the bogeyman is going to come and get you.

Afternoons when you’re anxious about your deadline.

Hours at airports, anxiously waiting for your flight.

Hours wasted.

Hours when you wish you hadn’t stayed up all night.

Lost hours.

Hours and hours and hours and hours and hours that you can’t account for.

Mornings: routine, unconsciously timetabled.

Mornings when you wake up feeling old.

Mornings that make you think of other mornings.

Mornings grinding coffee, making porridge, taking vitamins.

Mornings when routine collapses, and you’re resigned to being late, so you have another cup of coffee.

Days on the wagon.

Lobster days.

Days when my father returns from a trip to Dublin with Bewley’s fudge.

Last days.

Days chasing ghosts.

About the Authors:

Philip Terry is currently Director of the Centre for Creative Writing at the University of Essex. Among his books are the lipogrammatic novel The Book of Bachelors, the edited story collection Ovid Metamorphosed, a translation of Raymond Queneau’s last book of poems Elementary Morality, and the poetry volumes Oulipoems,Oulipoems 2, Shakespeare’s Sonnets, andAdvanced Immorality. His novel tapestry was shortlisted for the 2013 Goldsmith’s Prize. Dante’s Inferno, which relocates Dante’s action to current day Essex, was published in 2014, as well as a translation of Georges Perec’s I Remember.

Karl Whitney is a writer of non-fiction whose first book, Hidden City: Adventures and Explorations in Dublin was published by Penguin in 2014. In 2013 he received the John Heygate award for travel writing. He has a BA in English and History from University College Dublin, an MA in Modernism from University of East Anglia, and a PhD in History from University College Dublin. He is a Research Associate at the UCD Humanities Institute.

Five tips for getting published June 09 2015

As we're taking our Publishing Day series on the road this week as part of the Belfast Book Festival, we've put together a few quick tips for aspiring writers on how to get published: 


1. Google Is your Friend

Research each publisher and know who you're submitting to. Read submission guidelines carefully and note whether unsolicited manuscripts are accepted, what genres they publish and what authors are on their lists.

2.  A Clean Pair of Eyes

Find someone who will read your work with a keen eye and who is prepared to give you honest feedback before sending out your manuscript. Having a literary editor among your circle of friends isn't essential but is recommended!

3.  Spoilers Are Okay

Most publishers will require a synopsis. A synopsis is usually around 300 words and is not a blurb. It should let the editor or agent know about the main characters and how the plot unfolds.

4.  Nail your Pitch

An editor or agent may not have much time to spend on your manuscript so be sure to hone that cover letter and synopsis as best you can before submission.

5.  Keep the Faith

The path to publication can be tough but trust your own voice and don't give in to publishing trends.


Want to learn more? Join our industry experts like Patsy Horton of Blackstaff Press/Publishing Ireland, arts publicist Stephanie Dickenson and authors Jan Carson and Gavin Corbett who will discuss their own publishing experiences. 

Event details 

Date: Saturday 13 June 2015
Time: 10.30am–4pm
Venue: Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast
Cost: £30 / £25* IWC Members & Crescent Arts Centre Writing Groups

Book here