How We Made This: Collaborations

by Deaglán de Bréadún

The first time that I ever saw a writer in person was at the Royal Dublin Society where the annual Spring Show, now defunct, was taking place. Although still in primary school, I was devouring books night and day and writers had acquired a special mystique for me. As I ambled around the RDS, I overheard a woman being introduced as “Kate O’Brien, the writer”. Her novels, such as Without My Cloak and The Last of Summerweren’t on my boyhood reading-list, but a writer was a writer and it was very exciting to be in the presence of such an individual.

I experienced something of the same frisson at another venue recently with a similar title, the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, within whose grounds the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) is located. Kate O’Brien was not well-treated in the Ireland of her day and her 1941 novel The Land of Spices was banned because of a single sentence describing two men as being “in the embrace of love”. But, thankfully, attitudes have changed and it was great to see “A National Day for Writers” being organised by Words Ireland at IMMA.

Some examples of productive interaction between writers were on display at a session entitled, “How I Made This: Collaborations” where three different groups told us about projects they have been working on together.

First up were the poet Christodoulos Makris, cross-disciplinary artist Suzanne Walsh and writer of fiction and criticism Nathan O’Donnell, who were involved in the celebration and commemoration of Rosc (translated from Irish as “poetry of vision”), a high-profile series of art exhibitions that took place every few years between 1967 and 1988, when Ireland did not have a permanent museum of modern art.

In a lively presentation, the three speakers described how they were invited to create a new project for ROSC 50 in 2017, which took place at IMMA on the 50th anniversary of the first Rosc exhibition. Titled “Inflammatory Speech” – an alternative translation of the Irish word, “rosc” ­– their performance of a poetic script last year has been summarised as “a collaboration between three practitioners working at the intersections of contemporary art, poetry, and writing”. The group focused on people’s responses to Rosc, which was quite controversial in its day.

The second group to share their experience with us included Paul Perry and Karen Gillece who have jointly written novels under the name Karen Perry. Their book The Boy That Never Was, published in 2014, is now being adapted into a screenplay for a feature film. Paul spoke of how Karen and himself first met at Listowel Writers’ Week: “We became friends and, years later, I suggested to Karen that we write a novel together.” The storyline of the novel features a married couple, both artists, who move from Dublin to Tangier where they have a son who later dies in an earthquake. The pair move back home to Dublin where Harry, the husband, believes he has seen the boy. Also on the platform with Karen and Paul was Tristan Orpen Lynch from Subotica, a Dublin-based film and TV company whose previous productions include Song for a Raggy Boystarring Aidan Quinn. Paul described what it was like for Karen and himself to begin working on a screenplay for the first time in their lives: “What followed was two-and-a-half years of discussions which has resulted in what we hope is finally a draft ready to be packaged for investment.” Tristan described how the length of the novel is cut back drastically in the screenwriting process: “Your character-descriptions go, your scene-descriptions go . . . everything is about economy.”

Last but certainly not least, we heard from Freya McClements and Julieann Campbell, who make up fifty per cent of the membership of the Literary Ladies. This group based in Derry/Londonderry consists of four writers who are also friends or, alternatively, four friends who are also writers.  The other two members of the quartet are Lynne Edgar and Felicity McCall.

As well as being writers and friends, they provide “creative writing facilitation, editing, event management and PR and marketing services for the arts sector”.

Freya’s first short-story collection, The Dangerous Edge of Things, was published in 2012 by Guildhall Press in 2012. Formerly a staff journalist with the BBC she is a regular contributor of news reports and book reviews toThe Irish Times.

Felicity also worked as a BBC journalist, prior to becoming a full-time writer with an impressive list of published titles to her name, including fiction and non-fiction, plays and graphic novels.

Julieann’s first solo collection of poetry, Milk Teeth, was brought out by  Guildhall Press in 2015. Lynne’s debut collection of poems, entitled Trapeze, was published by Lapwing in 2011.

It was clear from the presentation that the Literary Ladies are a vibrant combination who are setting a good example of mutual cooperation to all writers.

Indeed all three parts of the session as well as the day’s events in general were living proof that the art and practice of writing are alive and well in Ireland. Kate O’Brien would be both proud and inspired.