In my first semester of Creative Writing at NUI Galway (a real BA degree), I had the chance to listen to a variety of different established writers talking about their own personal trials and tribulations as a writer. Hearing their work was highly beneficial as they have been writing for far longer than I and shared their wealth of experience in writing with myself and my fellow classmates. A wide variety of styles were showcased such as novel extracts, short stories, and poetry. Each writer also brought their own personality into the spotlight and gave valuable tips as for how to do well in the industry.
Of the nine writers who came in, I will be talking in detail about John McHugh, Elizabeth Reapy, Kevin Higgins. Elaine Feeney and David Rigsbee as it was these writers who left the strongest impact on me as a writer. This isn’t to say the other writers weren’t as good as their counterparts I’ve selected, I just felt that it was these five writers whose teachings will impact my work most.
I begin with John McHugh. More so than any of the other writers, John gave me hope. For someone so young, he has already achieved so much. A prestigious Master’s degree from the University of East Anglia (which boasts famous alumni such as Kazuo Ishiguro, author of international bestseller “Never Let Me Go”, one of my favourite books) and the Maeve Binchy UCD Scholarship for Travel Writing. It was this UCD Scholarship which really caught my attention and gave me something to aspire to with my writing. As someone who loves both history and travelling, the prospect of retracing Lenin’s footsteps from Switzerland (the country I was raised in my early childhood) to Russia is one which almost had me green with envy. Before John came in, I hadn’t even known scholarships for travel writing existed and it sparked my interest to find out more. Furthermore, his job at Dubray Bookstore in Galway prompted me to hand a CV in and talk to the manager that very day as I realised how complementary it would be to work in the store during my time in Creative Writing at NUI Galway. Furthermore, I also admired John’s work itself, as it was bold, daring and comedic. The fact he wrote a short story based on having a hangover on one hot summer’s day is something unique and intriguing. Perhaps it is due to John’s age and eccentric style of writing that allows me to relate to John’s work and keep the subject matter interesting. His humble background also makes his achievements all-the-more inspiring to me as a writer. In regards his work, “Pure Gold” is a piece that has lasted in my memory since its first reading. Its conversational style is one I may try incorporate into my own writing.
Next up, Elizabeth Reapy. Never have I met someone as talented so insecure in their own abilities.What I loved most about her presentation was her honesty about life as a writer. It was important to hear the downsides to following her ambitions. This included the double-digit rejection count of her debut novel, living off forty euro a week, and working in a factory packing fake tan whilst living with her parents in her thirties; Elizabeth’s honesty set my expectations as a writer to a far more realistic level. I also found debut novel, “Red Dirt”, and the subject matter of it, to be an exciting way to make travel, and your experiences from it, into engaging fiction. More recently, I was pleasantly surprised to see Elizabeth makes her way onto my TV screen as she won the “Sunday Independent Newcomer of The Year Award” at the Irish Book awards which goes to show the extent of her recent success. Another thing I found interesting about her work was her use of the title “E.M Reapy” so that her work is not judged by her gender. I thought this interesting but would not do the same as I feel there’s nothing better than seeing your own full name on your work but I can understand why Elizabeth chose to go down that route. I’ve also bought the book today as when I checked on Kindle for reference, I noticed the Kindle price to be only 99p! I plan on reading it very soon.
Kevin Higgins was yet another writer whose work and presentation really made an impact on me. In my opinion, he was by far the funniest writer who came in and I loved his eccentricity which shone through his poetry. His poem about Brexit, “Exit”, has stayed with me ever since the reading. This piece made a bigger impact on my writing than any other for many reasons. For one, I had very little interest in poetry before it, I didn’t know poetry could be used as a medium for political satire but Higgins made it work and made me think: maybe I could too. This led to me writing two poems in the aftermath of Kevin Higgin’s reading. His poem was the first time a poem made me laugh out loud. The concept and the execution of it were simply amazing and I wanted to try something similar almost as soon as it had begun; the style hooked my interests instantaneously.
“There’ll be no more thunderstorms
sent across the Channel by the French,
no acid rain floating in from Belgium.”
Poetic brilliance in my mind. The meaning is easily apparent which makes it engaging to the listener from the onset and doesn’t require intense mental deliberation. It remains one of, if not the best poems I have ever read. Its beauty lies in its simplicity which is something I always try to utilize in my own writing. Furthermore, I admired Higgins’ conviction to be a full-time poet, something very few would be capable of and it gave me inspiration that a livelihood in writing is possible if you give it your everything, despite the almost overwhelming difficulty of the task. I also found his brainchild, the “Over The Edge” readings to be a fun and interesting concept for getting new writer’s work out there and I intend on attending a reading in the near future.
The next writer’s work I will be discussing is Elaine Feeney. Elaine was very engaging and confident with her presentation, and rightly so, her poetry was witty and thought-provoking. I especially loved her poem “Mass” which went against not only the teachings of the school she works in but probably the beliefs of at least some of her coworker’s. I feel most writers succumb to social pressure in their work, to not go against their friends or family, or write something that might offend, even if it’s something they feel strongly about. Elaine doesn’t do this, rather she relentlessly attacks Catholicism and its teachings through poetry. As Elaine is employed by a Catholic school, her words are very brave, to say the least. Still, the poem is not only brave but brilliant. I loved the use of repetition, it was simple but very effective at getting her point across. I especially loved the change from “there will be mass” for all the benign subjects the church may vouch for, to “there will be no mass” for things the church condemns such as homosexuality, gender equality in priesthood and even “freedom” itself, going as far to say that the teachings of the church restrict people’s personal freedom. I agreed with every line and statement made, and I am glad she had the courage to say that about a subject matter so controversial. It’s one of those poems you must read twice to truly cherish the wit of it. I already have used the constant line repetition as a device in my poetry prior to this poem, but it reaffirmed to me how well it can work as a poetic device. I also particularly enjoyed her piece: “Ryan Giggs is a Ride”. I liked its playful manner and how it derived purely from poking the fun at her younger self who has a bedroom wall plastered with Ryan Giggs posters. I also liked the fact Ryan Giggs had read it. Elaine was a strong woman, but she also had character and a good sense of humour, something which left her work well-balanced.
The fifth and final writer I will be discussing is David Rigsbee. David was different in regarrrds the layout of his presentation. He didn’t talk about his own poetry, of which I have found out there is many, but rather he discussed a couple of his favourite poems and gave us a talk on what made them great. Although I wouldn’t like if everyone took this approach as I prefer hearing writers speak about their own personal work than that of others, David made it interesting. I loved his in-depth analysis of the poem “My Papa’s Waltz” where he dissected it’s meaning as precisely as coroner may dissect a corpse. I felt as though I really got a true sense of the poem from his reading and interpretation of it which was helped by him knowing the poet, Theodore Roethke, in real life and used his knowledge him to tell us things about the poem we’d never have been able to know ourselves. As a student of English Literature, David’s breakdown of the poem helped me in my own approach to poetry as I will now try to look deeper for answers as I was surprised that even a poem as short as “My Papa’s Waltz” could be so rich in meaning. I found the poem itself to be interesting for its deeply personal theme and made me ponder adopting a deep sense of the personal and private in my own work. Albeit, I’d find it hard to write a piece so personal for fear of offending others, and for the often-looked-over fear of looking deep into oneself. If David Rigsbee was to come back again, I’d love to hear some of his own poetry and his reasoning behind them as he seemed to have a lot to say about the poetry of others so I’d imagine he’d have even more to say about his own.
In conclusion, I feel privileged to have received such highly-acclaimed guests as part of my Creative Writing course. I feel every writer brought something new to the table and they were all very welcome to answer any questions so I never left a talk without getting as much from each speaker as possible. The only negative critique I’d have from it would be perhaps the sheer abundance of poetry. Although I do like a good poem, I would’ve liked to have heard more short stories and perhaps some screenwriters or novelists as that’d be more my kind of thing. Still, there are many more writers to come. I look forward to seeing the writers that will be visiting in semester two and hope that I’ll take as much away from them as I did from the many wonderful artists that have already graced our class.