Fiction at The Friary, February 2017: guest speaker Eimear Ryan

It was another terrific afternoon at the second Fiction at The Friary event on Sunday. Having had a listening-only seat in the downstairs part of the bar last month, this time I was upstairs in the fancy seats, where I had a perfect view of all the speakers on the peculiar landing area between the two floors that serves as a tiny stage (though more of a pulpit, in truth).

This month’s guest speaker was Eimear Ryan, whose short stories have been published in The Stinging Fly, the Irish Times, The Dublin Review and that wonderful anthology of female Irish writing, The Long Gaze Back. She read from her short story ‘Idioglossia’, which has been featured in Granta. It’s a claustrophobic tale that explores individuality in the strange world of twinhood.

The Q&A that followed with organisers Madeleine D’Arcy and Danielle McLaughlin was extremely interesting. As well as being a writer, Eimear is also one third of the team behind Banshee literary journal, which has developed a reputation for publishing quality writing in its very short time on the block. Asked for tips on submitting to journals, she advised, “Keep your [accompanying] letter short. If a cover letter stands out, it’s usually for bad reasons.” In terms of standing out for the right reasons, she said, “A very strong voice will always grab us.”

 

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Huddled in the pulpit for the Q&A are (left to right) Madeleine D’Arcy, Eimear Ryan and Danielle McLaughlin

Speaking about her own writing, Eimear said that she generally starts by making copious notes on a theme or topic that interests her rather than approaching a story via the characters. She feels this is her default because of her background, having studied journalism at college.

There was also the inevitable question about offering tips to writers who are just starting out. “Finish everything you start,” she said, “even if you know it probably won’t be a strong story.” It’s an important part of the learning curve, along with recognising that you will “write a lot of crap before you write something good. Be patient with yourself, go easy on yourself.” As it can be hard to judge whether your writing is good, bad or indifferent, she also said that – no matter how experienced you are – it’s important to have good first readers who won’t lie to you.

This excellent first hour was followed by the optional writing exercise, for which everyone was given an object from a basket of randomness, a verb and a noun. A few people who volunteered to read what they’d come up with had produced enviably flowing pieces from their eclectic prompts. I have many questions concerning one piece about a fish and a rose.

The open mic section was also thoroughly enjoyable. As far as I’m concerned, it takes a lot of guts to stand up before such a room. I have yet to read publicly, outside of the odd workshop and the comforting hug of my writing group, and I find the prospect terrifying because I hate being in the spotlight. So I may have to psyche myself up to use the opportunity offered here in order to tick that rite of passage off my writerly list. Though daunting for the introvert, it is a friendly, encouraging environment.

 

My photos are shocking, as always, but hopefully they give a flavour of the afternoon. If you’re a writer in the Cork area, I really can’t recommend this highly enough to you.

Fiction at The Friary takes place at The Friary pub, 62 Shandon Street (by the North Gate Bridge), Cork, on the last Sunday of every month. The next event is scheduled for March 26, 3-6pm, with guest speaker Danny Denton, whose debut novel will be published by Granta in 2018. Entry is free. You can find out more via their Facebook page here, or follow them on Twitter @FictionFriary.

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