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 Events Programme for Creativity Month, March 2015

 
 

 Writer-in-Residence Blog

 

Welcome to this year's blog written by renowned author Eoin McNamee.

March 27
Antrim Library

​A hardworking group at the workshop in Antrim. They spread out around the library, working up stories to bring back to the group. A month long residency is not going to change the way people look at libraries, but the culture of having residencies, readings,  workshops and other events can help. I’ve been trying to get the workshop participants to work in the body of the library, to add to the energy that is already there, a low hum of work getting done, people using the space. Some excellent work comes back. I’m never sure about teaching writing - you learn to write by doing it, by sitting down and working. But you can help people to observe, to listen, allow the world to reveal itself and the Antrim participants take this to heart. It's gratifying to see people grappling with words and finding evocative and meaning fragments in the short period of time available. I drive away from Antrim with the sense of a good days work done.

March 27
Lisburn City Library

​The live tweeting session. I’ve never quite got the hang of twitter. Partly through fear. Like anyone who earns their living at a keyboard, the temptation to squander your time on social media is always present and I don’t want to add another outlet. I sit down with Joe and wait for the questions to come in. It is surprisingly relaxing. The character limit isn’t a problem. I find that I’m inclined towards cutting things short anyway. You can see how people lose the run of themselves and forget that the whole world is listening. I know tweeting is a communal experience but there seemed a slightly otherworldly quality to the whole thing. Lisburn City library as a Jordrell bank, waiting to pick up signals from distant galaxies, signs of life from another planet. It may be a fanciful way of looking at it but there is a sense of communality but also of isolation, people alone at their keyboards. Having said all that the questions were incisive and I hope my replies did them justice.

March 23
Holywood Arches Library

​Heavy traffic and rain on the way to Hollywood Arches but Ross Wilson’s The Searcher outside the library, brings me back to a quiet room in Kilkeel when I was a child, reading CS Lewis and discovering an appetite not just for reading but for the worlds that writers create. The library staff have put a lot of effort into the refreshments-including lemon drizzle cake which is becoming a theme! I talk about the Blue trilogy. The murder of Patricia Curran has become part of the folklore of Belfast. The dark undercurrents are a long way from the brightly lit civic space of the library. It can seem a little dramatic to talk about books being a bulwark against barbarism.  But as we head off into the night it is reassuring to know that somewhere one of us is opening a wardrobe door, poised on the threshold of another world, and that there are those who work to spread the news of those worlds.

March 23
Belfast Central Library

​A grand old building. I’ve read here before and used the newspaper library-notably when I found Judge Currans charge to the jury in the McGladdery trial. I felt a cold hand reach out to me from the past that warm August day. McGladdery was found guilty and hanged in December 1961. 
  No cold hand today though. There is a warm welcome from the staff and the first clinic participants arrive.  A broad range of writers, all with some experience. The talk is easy, and, I hope,  constructive. Not everyone will find their way into the literary pages of newspapers but there are more modest satisfactions and triumphs to be had which are no less important. Having said that there is the jolt of recognition with some writers when you feel the stirrings of a new and original voice.
  At the end of the day I make my way to the car parking at the back with Paula, going down through the unseen parts of the building, the solid utilitarian spaces.  There is a weight of history and consequence in these old libraries.  They are the anchor points that hold the city to its past. They are the compass points by which we set our bearings for the future.

 
March 20
Visit to Bangor Carnegie Library

​After a long drive on a wet morning, the weather lifts just as I reach Bangor library - a gracious modern building that fits well with the old library. A warm welcome from library staff and then time to get down to work. We’re talking about crime writing. A few years ago I sat down to codify an approach to the genre. I started to note down a few key elements, starting with atmosphere, tone, character. I was at the bottom of the page before I started to write down words like story and plot.  So much of what we like about good crime writing is in the atmosphere and characters and often when people start to write crime they strain to construct complex narratives and forget about the texture of the work. The participants in the workshop get stuck in and produce some great work. I hope that these events will help people to see the world differently - a prerequisite to good writing. The imagination demands that life be told slant, as John McGahern put it, and to tell it slant you have to see it that way.

March 19
Visit to Kilkeel Library

​Kilkeel library. A kind of homecoming. Familiar faces among the library staff although some friends have retired in the last year or so. The new library manager, Gary McCullough is able and innovative. There are old friends among the regulars as well - I run into local music supremo George Callaghan on the computer upstairs. The new library is beautifully designed and the axis of the town had altered subtly to accommodate it.
  The workshop is aimed at 16-19 year olds and two groups arrive with their teachers, Ruth and Brenda, from Kilkeel High and St Louis. The students are articulate and attentive - even on a Friday afternoon. They grasp what is required of them and their work is superb. It is easy to be pessimistic, but hard not to feel that the future of this community is in good hands.
   Eileen White reminds me that she has seen my fourteen year old son using the library when he is visiting his grandmother. There is a pleasing sense of continuity about this and when I think about libraries, the idea of continuity appeals.  All libraries are tributaries of the great libraries of the world. In one sense this is a small, hardworking institution in a provincial town. In another sense it is part of a great movement of books and knowledge stretching back over two millenia and when you realise that, there is something majestic about it.

March 10
Visit to Strabane Library on Thursday 5 March

​The second event of the residency and we’re talking about screenwriting. Something I drifted into almost by accident,  writing the screenplay of my own novel, Resurrection Man, in 1997. I hadn’t written much for the screen for a few years, but have returned to it recently so the timing was good. I talked a bit about the process-money into light as John Boorman said-and moved on to the basic shape of the screenplay, the three act structure. The idea was that the participants would dig out a story from that days newspapers and work it into a film structure. Then my eye fell on the local newspaper archive-impressive green-bound volumes on a table adjacent to the room we were working in. I’d used these in libraries before and knew them to be mines of information and intrigue, so they were brought into the process as well.
   I was hugely impressed by the work produced. The participants grasped the idea of structure straight away and zeroed in on strong dramatic stories. They presented them to the rest of the class with skill and humour. You can’t learn a trade in a few hours, but I hope everyone got a sense of what was involved. From my point of view, I got to meet a warm and intelligent group of people and work with them for a few hours. The library staff, welcoming as always, went out of their way to make sure everything went smoothly. And I re-discovered another invaluable library resource in those intriguing green-bound volumes.

 
 
 
March 09
Introduction to Libraries NI for Creativity Month 2015 by author Eoin McNamee

​They say that writers are often shy people and that often it is that reserve which leads them into a profession which on the face of it doesn’t involve much contact with the public. Certainly when I started to write I didn’t envisage how much of the job would involve getting out there and talking to people-and I would have been horrified at the prospect. Not any more though. One of the unexpected blessings of the job is the discovery that I like meeting people and sharing aspects of the work. And no better place to do that than a library.
   My writing career has always been bound up with libraries. I can pick out books which influenced me and the libraries I borrowed them from. Dusty school libraries, late nights in a college law library, libraries in Kilkeel, Newry Dublin, London, New York…no matter where they are there is always something inclusive and democratic about a library. If you like books, then you’re among your own.
   In putting a programme together for the residency I realised that it was a good opportunity to make use of a broad range of writing experience. I hope to be meeting those who are  scriptwriters, poets and crime writers as well as those working at literary fiction when I conduct clinics in three different locations. In the past thirty years I’ve written seventeen novels. Six of those were young adult. Three of them thrillers under the John Creed pseudonym. I’ve written film and television and hopefully have learned a few things I can pass on.
  I’m not sure that you can actually teach someone how to write. Or even if you should. I don’t think it is my job to lecture another person about how they engage with the world, and how they render that engagement in words. But I can use my experience to point out pitfalls,  to encourage and to respect the effort it takes to sit down at a desk and start to put words on a blank page. And I have been dodging and weaving through the publishing industry for a few years as well, so some people may find something useful in what I have to say about that.
   And then of course there are those who just want to come along and listen to what a writer has to say and what he or she has made of the world. I’m looking forward to meeting them.  
   It is a cold evening in Enniskillen. Sleety rain blowing in from the lakes as people make their way home. I pull into an empty carpark beside the library and wonder who would come out to a reading on such a night. But I needn’t have worried. Tea and lemon drizzle cake in the library staff room set me up for the evening. When I go downstairs there is a good audience, and the reading and talk is well received. The audience is interested and alert-the questions are intelligent and challenging. Adults engage with me, as do students.  An American writer is there, an old classmate of my wife who moved to Fermanagh, a group of schoolboys from St Michaels with their teacher. I come away from it with a renewed sense of what a library is for. Not just a place where you borrow books, but a centre of civics, one of the few places left where community is formally encouraged.

March 31
The Last Chapter!

And so, Creativity Month comes to an end. I’ve had a great month, visiting various libraries across the North and meeting readers and writers alike, all of whom have contributed to the success of the month’s events.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Elizabeth, Paula and Jane in Libraries NI who organised and facilitated the programme for the month, Victoria and Joe who had updated this blog throughout March, and to the staff of all the libraries visited for their hospitality and support. Most importantly, thanks to everyone who turned up at events, asked questions, submitted manuscripts and helped create The Next Chapter. I hope they had as much fun at the various events as I had.

Finally, here is the completed Next Chapter story. The plan for this was that the process rather than the product would be the important element, giving all those involved an insight into the planning and plotting involved in a crime story. I’m delighted, though, that the product is super too. Each group had around 4 hours to read the previous instalments, plot and plan the next chapter, and get it written and redrafted! Thank you and well done to all those who helped write this story:

Banbridge:

Martin McAlinden, Judith Morgan, Anne Mullan, Marion Clarke, Laura Hackett, Ashley Peel, Geraldine Foley, Andrew Watson, Linda Parkinson-Kelly, Briony Widdis, Una Lynch, Richard O’Leary.

Ballymena:

Rob Pelley, Colette Dunton, Mark Allen, Josephine Barr, Adrian Steele, Michael Kelly, Amy McDowell, Rosa Stevenson, Rita Doherty, Brigid Black, Mary Waldron, Michael Bell, Maureen Donaghy

Derry:

Niamh Shields, Niamh Nesbit, Dessie McGilloway, Philippa Robinson, Mary Bonner, Hilary McClean, Kathleen McMonagle, Sean Moloney, Nina Mukherji, Leanne Toye

Omagh:

Annie King, Kathy O’Donnell, Pheme Glass, Alexander Groves, Lorna Martin, Irene Lowry, Fiona McLaughlin, John Baxter, Moyra Brown.

 

The Next Chapter – The Whole Story

Prologue

The rain set in early, leaving the streets slick by the time the crowd poured out of the cinema. As he emerged out into the night air, John felt a momentary disorientation. When they had gone in to watch the movie it had been dry and bright. Now a fine miasma draped itself on the city, haloing the streetlights that stretched the length of the Strand Road.

‘Will we go for a drink?’ Kate asked.

John felt her small hand manoeuvre around his forearm, linking his arm and pulling him closer to her. She leant her head briefly against his shoulder, the fresh scent of her shampoo still detectable over the smell of stale popcorn lingering on their clothes.

He heard the sudden thud of feet, the splashing as someone behind them ran through a puddle towards them. John turned, his shoulders already rounding as he crouched slightly, his hands balling into fists.

A jogger, the white cord of his iPod earphones dangling in front of him, swung in a wide berth past them, nodding his head in acknowledgement of their presence, his eyes always on Kate. He smiled lightly at her as he passed. Winked.

‘Tosser,’ John spat in the man’s wake.

‘It’s alright, John,’ Kate said.

‘He was eyeing you up.’

‘He was just some guy,’ she said, taking his arm again, feeling the muscles still tensed.

They moved on, towards the pub. They heard more splashing now, the scuffle of feet on the ground. Presumably more joggers, John thought. He was slower this time in turning, reluctant to appear too jumpy.

As a result, he did not see the figure coming towards him until it was too late to arrest the approaching man’s movement. He ran into John, full force, the two of them tumbling to the wet ground in a tangle of limbs.

‘John!’ Kate shouted, pulling at the man to move him from where he lay on top of her boyfriend.

The man, apologising to Kate, managed to make it to his feet. He looked down at where John lay curled with his hands clasped around his stomach, as if winded.

‘Keith says hello,’ the man said viciously, kicking at John.

‘Get off him,’ Kate shouted, lunging at the man, but he had regained his balance now and shifted quickly away from her, leaving her flailing against the night air. Then he was off again, pulling his hood over his head, sprinting towards the corner of Clarendon Street, disappearing from view.

‘John, are you aright?’ Kate said, stooping to help him up from the ground.

John rolled onto his back, lifting his hands towards the light. The blood on his fingers was tar-black under the orange street-lamp’s glow. It was spreading on his shirt now, already blooming vividly against the white cotton he wore and in which, Kate could now see a jagged tear where the knife had pierced him.

‘John,’ Kate cried. ‘John? What happened?’

 

 

For the complete story see attached PDF

The Last Chapter!.pdfThe Last Chapter!.pdf

March 28
The Next Chapter – Derry

Thanks to the wonderful group who met in Derry last weekend, we have our penultimate section of the story. The authors of this chapter are: Niamh Shields, Niamh Nesbit, Dessie McGilloway, Philippa Robinson, Mary Bonner, Hilary McClean, Kathleen McMonagle, Sean Moloney, Nina Mukherji and Leanne Toye. They had the difficult task of trying to continue the threads from Banbridge and Ballymena, while having to set up the story for the final chapter. I think they’ve done a great job with it. Hope you enjoy Chapter 4! All that remains now is for the Omagh group on Saturday to wrap the story up for us…

The Next Chapter

Chapter Four

‘Shit John, we’re in trouble. Is it the cops?’ Kate spoke through gritted teeth. A queue of cars sat ahead of them.  She could see a figure in a high visibility jacket standing at the foremost, leaning down, speaking to the driver.

John swore. ‘Just drive on, Kate, for God’s sake. The bloody rhino horn, never mind all the money in my bag. We’re done for sure.’

Kate twisted, as if planning to reverse. Headlights behind them flashed. ‘Damn! There’s a car behind us. We’re hemmed in,’ Kate said. ‘There’s nowhere to go.’

As they inched forwards, towards the flashing blue lights, panic was setting in. Watching anxiously through the blinding rain, Kate suddenly realised that the cars ahead seemed to be simply turning and coming back the way they had come. No one was being searched.

John had released his seat belt, ready to make a run for it, when Kate snapped, ‘Sit still. I don’t think it’s the police.’

As they rolled forward they saw clearly now. A rain soaked figure, waving a bright lamp, approached their car. Kate wound the window down.

‘Good evening madam. I’m with the Water Service. There’s been a major burst ahead so I’m afraid there’s no access this way. Go back and take the first left.’

‘Is that way okay for Ballymena?’ Kate interrupted.

The man nodded as he stepped back to allow them to turn.

John sank back in his seat with a sigh of relief. As their car sped through the night neither spoke. Then a quick glance at each other and they both began to laugh.

‘Jeez! That was a close one,’ John whistled.  He thought a moment, then spoke. ‘It’s a pity we just couldn’t keep going Kate. To hell with Keith. There’s over a hundred grand in my bag. We could just keep going.’

He glanced across at her, trying to read her expression by the passing lights of the street lamps.

‘He’d find us,’ Kate said, grimly. ‘The way he found you.’

‘I’ve been thinking about that, “ mused John. ‘How do I know it even was Steve’s finger? We all have those rings. Keith has one too. It’s like a brotherhood, a sign, how we recognise each other.’

‘Well, it was someone’s finger!’ exclaimed Kate

‘Yeah, some random dead guy. Keith runs an undertakers. Not hard to sever a finger or an ear from the corpse before you close the coffin. Make it look like Steve’s with the ring.’

Kate cringed at the thought. ‘Regardless. He has my licence.’

John considered again her ‘lost’ purse. ‘You’ve really kept your cool in all this,’ he said.

Kate smiled, but said nothing. As they drove down the now empty road, she thought about her brother, Bruce, who had been the one who taught her to drive. Kate remembered Bruce’s smile, his black hair, his dark skin and how patiently he had waited, without comment, through lessons as she ground the gears. She remembered the coffin, the tears.

‘Where’s the turn-off for the church?’ she asked, keen to dismiss the thoughts. Failing.

 ‘About a mile further up the road,” said John.

They were slowing now, on a bendy, narrow, downhill road, the tarmac slick with rainwater. Suddenly the inside of the car was lit up with the blue flashing lights from two emergency vehicles coming fast from around the bend.

‘Not again!’ John said, twisting sharply to see the car behind them.

Kate said, ‘Easy John! No panic.’

The cars stayed behind them, the bending road providing no opportunity for them to pass.

‘Do you think they’re looking for us?’ John asked.

‘If they were after us, we’d already be off the road,’ Kate muttered.

As they rounded the final bend, a mile from the Church, the road straightened out and the two police cars roared past them.  No sirens just flashing lights. In a hurry to get somewhere, but not wanting to alert anyone that they were on their way.

Kate slowed down as they both realised that the police cars were turning into the church grounds ahead of them. The road ahead was blocked. They would have to turn back, or turn in towards the Church where Keith had been waiting.  Where three Police carns now sat, their occupants spilling out into the church grounds. 

‘Turn back!’ shouted John as they suddenly saw two figures running across the car park towards their car. Neither could tell if one of them was Keith.    

Kate braked hard, twisting the steering wheel, bringing the car round, slamming into reverse to correct their angle, then shunting into first, speeding off back the way they had come once more.

She saw, in the rearview mirror, as one of the police cars peeled away from the others and set off in pursuit.

‘They’re-’ John began.

‘I see it,’ Kate said quietly and accelerated the BMW fast. The squad car kept pace with them and its blue dashboard lights flashing, indicating them to pull over, the siren blaring now.

The pair sat in silence, but where Kate’s eyes were on the road, John’s were on the rear view mirror, watching the police behind them, trying to pull past them as they headed back up the winding road they had just travelled.

The driving rain pelted down on the windscreen, but Kate continued to pick up speed. At each twist in the road, John’s stomach turned, hoping that they would pull away, but the blue lights were ever-present.  It seemed as though there was no escape.

As they rounded another bend the car began to slide. The wheels screeched as Kate steered in to the skid. John slowly turned his head to find blinding lights hurtling towards him, faster and faster. The police weren’t trying to overtake now. They were trying to hit them.

The collision itself was brief.

The force shunted the rear of the car out to the left, setting the BMW in a spin. It took only seconds for it to breach the wooden posts at the road’s edge and drop forwards, though the treeline, before coming to rest in a ditch.

John started suddenly with the overpowering smell of petrol. It took him a few seconds to realise that he was still in the car. He could see steam rising from the buckled bonnet. He gingerly turned his head, expecting to see Kate still in the driver’s seat; instead he found fragments of the shattered windscreen strewn across the seat.

John then looked to his own side door and reached out for the handle, but the door would not open. He furiously pounded on the door but despite his efforts, it would not budge.

He was startled by a sudden movement at the passenger door and turned to find Kate trying to lever the door open. Working together, the door creaked and groaned as they managed to pry it open.

He climbed out and fell to the ground. Looking up, he found Kate staring down at him. ‘Thank God you’re alright.’ John gasped.

Kate nodded, ‘We need to get out of here, before they make their way down to us.’ She grabbed his arm and helped him to his feet.

‘What about the rhino horn?’

She shook her head, ‘There’s no time. Leave it.  We have to go.’

They’d been on the run for fifteen minutes when John finally realised something. ‘My money!’ he cried. ‘It was in the boot, too.’

Kate flashed him a smile, reaching into her jacket pockets and pulling out a wad of notes. She smiled, breathlessly, then tucked the money away again.

‘Keep moving,’ she said. ‘I’ve an idea where we can go.’

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Author Eoin McNamee takes over from last year's Writer in Residence author Brian McGilloway. Eoin will be blogging about his experience during Creativity Month (March 2015)