With the Dublin Book Festival kicking off tomorrow, Sean Finnan speaks to some of those involved about creative writing and UCD’s strong literary tradition
If meandering through Temple Bar every weekend filtering for hours through the book stalls is your idea for fun, then one of the highlights of the year will undoubtedly be the Dublin Book Festival.
The fourth Dublin Book Festival runs for five days that will see over 80 of the country’s best-known authors, journalists and poets giving readings, interviews, workshops and debates that pay homage to Dublin’s status as a UNESCO City of Literature.
Yet while events such as these can be the catalyst in sparking the flame of creativity, there is never a guarantee that those taking their first steps into this world will emerge the other side as the next Joyce or Roddy Doyle.
As with all people who write either professionally or for pleasure, the question remains. Can you really teach someone to write? The mantra of reading and writing a lot to improve still holds true but is it a skill that you can learn through constant practice and effort? Or is it the domain of the naturally talented and gifted, those who can produce lyrical and engaging pieces within a moment’s insight?
To look for an example close to home, UCD itself is home to a strong writing and literary tradition and this is reflected through their creative writing course. It has a substantial representation at this year’s festival with the launch of the anthology of new creative writing by the MA students from last year’s Creative Writing class.
The anthology entitled Platform 44 is a diverse selection of writings and the high standard of all involved in the anthology ensures UCD’s literary tradition is in safe hands. Lecturer in Creative Writing, James Ryan, spoke about the anthology as a gateway for these writers to cement their place in the literary world.
“It’s a very fine anthology and we’re very proud of it. The students largely do the work, in fact they do all the work from the very beginning to the very end including promotion, circulation and so forth,” says Ryan. “It’s a very fine document for publishers who are scouting for new writers or who have a particular speciality, they can see it there in the printing.”
Ryan spoke of how a background of tradition and high standards can only help foster the minds of new writers and attracts high standards. “The very fact that they [the creative writing students] are there in the first place and got through to take the course is an achievement as the competition is very intense,” explains Ryan. “UCD has such a strong literary connection that it’s not surprising that people are drawn to the college for this sort of work.”
One of the advantages of the Creative Writing MA is the exposure to publishers and agents during this process. “There’s no actual link but they would come into contact with publishers,” says Ryan. “There are writers here who’ll talk about the experience of publishing and the way in which to go about publishing. Publishers do look at the work, no question about that, and a number of students would have agents and novels ready to go.”
Like the Creative Writing course, the festival offers the platform for prospective writers to learn about the publishing industry and also gives workshops for those with an interest in writing to establish a starting point in their careers. Spokesperson for the festival, Zoe Faulder, refers to the many workshops and events that would enlighten those interested who always wanted to get started but needed that push.
“I suppose a lot of students who would be interested in either careers in publishing or in how the industry works [would attend the workshops],” explains Faulder. “There’s also quite a lot of writing events about how to go about writing… [as well as] a workshop in writing popular fiction and it’s for any student who would be interested in writing careers or writing paths.”
As Ryan would acknowledge, there are no rules or set paths to becoming a writer or making a career from it. The success of these individuals lies not only in their hard work, but their willingness to take that first step into this world.
Writing is about self-expression and creating something that is shaped by your mind and as Sylvia Plath once said: “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” Be sure to keep that in mind when you’re writing the next Harry Potter.
For more information about the Dublin Book Festival, visit www.dublinbookfestival.com.