Wednesday, 1 April 2015

I went to Ireland and it was great.

More details? Well, I was invited - by Margaret and Nollaig of The Story House Ireland - to co-tutor - with the wonder that is Julian Gough - a first ever course, a 'pop-up' pilot event one might call it, at A Place in Waterford, near Colligan Falls.  The last time I was in Ireland I was about to turn 4, and I have lots of 4 yr old memories of the size of the rooms of the little hotel we stayed in (I didn't travel there alone, my parents and older brother were along for the trip) but I can't remember where exactly it was.

Anyway. The Story House set up is along the lines of the Arvon courses which inspired it. It's a residential course. There are usually about a dozen participants, two tutors, morning workshops, individual tutorials, readings, a guest reader mid-week (we had the amazing, lovely Donal Ryan, whose The Spinning Heart I suggest you buy right now, and read his comments in that link.)

 There are conversations, discussions, lots of laughter, some tears (and that's all good).  Dinners each night are cooked in teams by participants themselves, and the week runs from 4pm Monday to 10am Saturday, by which time everyone has formed a kind of clan, which is one of the beautiful side-effects (main purposes) of the whole notion.

Shall I spell it out for you? It's that we are all writers, there.

All at different stages, and all willing to take the risk of sharing stories and experiences and apprehensions and joys with our comrades, fellow-outsiders, fellow questers and questioners.

This week, 23-28 March 2015, was about the Short Story - but, of course, it's about all writing, and we talked about what you'd imagine was pertinent, and lots that wasn't but which arose out of the necessity to express our individual needs or concerns or vehemently held or tenderly nurtured feelings about writing and what it's for and why and so on and so forth. And about compression. All this in a yurt, by the way. All this fuelled by porter cake with butter and tea and wreathed (almost to a wo/man) in colourful scarves and cosy jackets and boots of varying glamour.

I'm not writing this as an accurate accounting for posterity, and I don't want to log names and facts, as my feeling is that everyone's experience is their own, and that sometimes telling it to Those Who Were Not There defuses the energy created by the thing itself (ie this is not a story I'm creating, where I'd edit it for heightened tension, just a sort of diary jotting, unedited, and if you're intrigued, then follow @TSHIreland and sign up for whatever their next course will be, and support them in making that possible).

I liked all the people I met, and by the time we said goodbye I liked them all even more. I enjoyed every tutorial, and every workshop (even the ones where, due to a migraine, I was speechless). It was a privilege to have their company, and to try to earn - very important - their trust, and to hear whatever people brought to those encounters.

It was also an extremely useful reminder to me of what I forget in my own writing, the necessity from time to time of having someone else say 'your work is interesting, keep doing it, and how about this, would this help', which - as a hermit in pajamas, at home, writing in a vacuum (a Dyson, actually) - is not often to be found.

So I was very lucky to have great feedback, not only from those who listened when I read aloud all three (hey, it was an encore, my arm was twisted) of my BBC Radio 4 Portrait stories, but also from Margaret and Nollaig, throughout the week, with hugs and niceness and smiles and all the nitty gritty detail of keeping us fed and warm and free from pneumonia; but also from Julian, who is a fantastic co-tutor and good friend, and makes a fine bowl of microwave porridge too.

And maybe now, if I go back into a dream state, I will see myself as that 4 yr old, in her birthday dress, in a hotel somewhere in the soft Irish countryside, and remember more about it, and use it as something to prompt a bit of a story. Maybe.

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