I had lots of fun at Fighting Words meeting a group of brilliant young authors who gave up their Saturday morning to come and talk about ideas, writing and creating stories.
It was all arranged by the amazing Louise Melinn and Mark Davidson and the team of volunteers in Fighting Words in their bright and welcoming head -quarters in Dublin’s Russell Street. Writer Catherine Prasifka author of ‘None of this is Serious’ was there to help moderate what was a lively session. We all had such fun with the young writers getting out pen and paper to write a new story.
Fighting Words is a creative writing organisation which was the brain child of Writer Roddy Doyle and Sean Love. It was set up in 2009 to encourage children to write and create stories of their own. They hold workshops for both primary and secondary school students and summer camps which they run with the help of volunteers.
The Creative Ireland Programme has partnered with Fighting Words to help it expand and they now have 12 branches in towns and cities across Ireland. Volunteers play a huge part in its operation and there are over 400 wonderful volunteers and mentors helping young writers to harness their imagination and develop their creative writing skills.
It was a great honour to be asked to take part in the memorial tribute for my friend and publisher Michael O’Brien in Dublin Castle as part of The Dublin Book Festival. Friends and family and colleagues from the book world gathered in the Print Works to remember this extraordinary man who had done so much to grow and develop Irish publishing over the years. He was involved in setting up so many organizations that would encourage reading, writing and publishing.
O’Brien Press growing from the small beginnings of just two people working there to becoming one of Ireland’s foremost award winning publishers. Michael had huge energy and drive and a vision for Irish publishing that he lived to see fulfilled. His achievements in terms of publishing were enormous as found gaps in the Irish book market and set about filling them as well as regularly attending the huge book fairs and selling translation rights to so many books by Irish authors.
His son Ivan O’Brien and Editor Ide O’Laoghaire and designer Emma Byrne all shared their memories as a montage of photographs of Michael’s rich life was shown on screen.
I told of my first meeting Michael in O’Brien Press in Rathgar in 1989, when he gave me the good news that he was going to publish my book ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree.’ This was the start of a long friendship which stretched over many years, with O’Brien due to publish my new children’s book Fairy Hill in spring 2023.
Playwright and author Frank McGuinness was a long -time friend of Michael’s but unfortunately at the last minute was unable to attend but Ivan read out his words about the high regard he had for Michael O’Brien.
President Michael D Higgins also spoke of their enduring friendship over many years and how he looked forward to meeting Michael and the lively discussions that ensued. Michael was always an innovator, full of ideas ready to try new things.
Michael O’Brien was huge figure in Irish publishing and will be missed by all of us who had the good fortune to know him. However he has left an abiding legacy and O’Brien Press continues to thrive under the good care of his sons Ivan and Eoin O’Brien and all the publishing team there.
Dublin Castle with Ivan O’Brien and the wonderful Alice Leahy
On a balmy November’s evening in Dublin it was great to be able to get along to two busy book launches after such a long time of having no launches.
Ally Bunbury’s fun Christmas read ‘All Wrapped Up’ was launched in The Little Museum by Anne Doyle and then down the road to Hodges and Figgis Bookshop for the launch of my friend P.J. Lynch’s beautiful new picture book ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ which is based on the famous Robert Frost poem. Eoin Colfer did the honours and it was great to meet up with so many friends. Both are perfect Christmas books
One more book I should mention is by talented young Ukrainian writer Yeva Skalietska whose wonderful book ‘You Don’t Know What War Is’ has also only been published.
Twelve year old Yeva recounts what happened when Russian forces began to bomb her home town of Kharkiv, at first they shelter but as things worsen she and her grandmother Irina have to flee, moving to another part of Ukraine. Yeva keeps a diary recording what is happening all around her and her fears and hopes. She and her grandmother make the long journey to Hungary where a journalist sees her writing it and helps them until they eventually come to Ireland. There are maps of her hometown and of the long journey she and her grandmother made I met Yeva months ago with Irina and she is already trying to make the best of things, settling into her new school and life here.
It was a real pleasure to be back in Strokestown Park House on Saturday for a very special event ‘Archive to Arts’ which marked the launch of Treasures of the Strokestown Famine Archive Virtual Exhibit.
Strokestown Park’s collection of records and documents is a real treasure trove with over 50,000 documents and items which will help provide huge information about the parallel lives of tenants of Strokestown and its landowners, the Mahon family during a turbulent and tragic time in Irish history.
As a writer I often spend a huge amount of time researching and using archives so it is great to mark the start of an exciting project which will over time make parts of the collection with its valuable letters, petitions and eviction and emigration lists available digitally to all those with an interest in Strokestown Park House and the Great Irish Famine.
It was also a great opportunity for me to see the redesigned National Famine Museum which only recently reopened after a huge upgrade and tells the Strokestown Story in a hugely immersive way. Set in a bright new airy space with a lovely café it is well worth visiting.
The day was spent discussing the varied aspects of artists using archives to inspire their work, be it in theatre and performance, literature or art or music and how using archives can not only inform us but be a catalyst for something new. Other speakers included Anne -Marie O’Sullivan of Enchanted Croi Theatre, Professor Mark McGowan, Professor Kevin Whelan and singer and writer Declan O’Rourke.
With Anne-Marie O’ Sullivan, Declan O Rourke and Carolin Callery of Strokestown Park House
It is a real treat to be invited to return to Strokestown Park House and the National Famine Museum in Roscommon and to take part in a very special event focused on Archives to Arts and Bringing the Strokestown Archive to life on Saturday 24th September.
The Museum itself has only recently reopened with a new look after having a wonderful five million euro upgrade during the necessary Covid closedown, with an international panel of Famine experts overseeing the project.
To have an archive of over 50, 000 documents available that provide an insight into the parallel lives of tenants and the landlord is a real treasure for all of us with an interest in the past. As a writer having access to archives is invaluable and plays a huge part in the creation of my work and enriches it often sparking new ideas and stories and books that I simply have to write.
Among the panelists are singer and writer Declan O’Rourke and Anne-Marie O’ Sullivan of Enchanted Croi Theatre and there will be a screening of ‘Treasures of the Strokestown Famine Archive in the National Library’ presented by Professor Mark McGowan.