A meet-up in Cork for emerging writers

Fiction at the Friary is a free monthly event, open to writers, readers and aspiring writers and even those who just want to go along and listen. MARY ROSE MCCARTHY tells us more
A meet-up in Cork for emerging writers
Danielle McLaughlin and Madeleine D'Arcy co-host Fiction at the Friary

FICTION at the Friary is a monthly Sunday afternoon event curated and hosted by award-winning writers Madeleine D’Arcy and Danielle McLaughlin. Both are from Cork and both also once worked as solicitors.

Madeleine won the Hennessy Prize some years ago and has a short story collection published. She is currently working on a novel set in Cork.

Danielle won the recent Windham-Campbell Literature Prize and is currently on the Sunday Times Audible short story competition shortlist, which includes fellow Irish authors Kevin Barry and Wendy Eskerine.

Danielle explains how it all came about.

“We started Fiction at the Friary because there was no regular monthly event in Cork focusing on fiction. Poetry was already well catered for by the wonderful Ó Bhéal. Fiction at the Friary is a free event, open to everybody: writers, readers, aspiring writers, the vaguely curious who come along and listen. It aims to promote and support the writing and reading of fiction in Cork city, to support emerging writers from a diverse range of backgrounds and communities, to provide a monthly meeting place where writers, both new and established, can provide informal, mutual support and friendship to each other.

“We’d both been regulars at The Lightning Bug run by Norma Burke, and after Norma moved away, we missed it, and we thought we’d start something to fill the void. Since January, 2017, on the last Sunday of every month, readers and writers of fiction meet at the Friary Bar on the corner of North Mall and Shandon Street. The events are free and feature readings and interviews with invited guest authors, optional writing exercises, an open mic, free book raffles, jelly beans, and plenty of good conversation.

“The events drew good crowds from the outset, but we noticed that our audience didn’t reflect the multi-cultural city that Cork has become. We knew that there were lots of New Corkonians and that their number must include writers.

“We applied for and received Arts Council funding for a collaborative project between writers living in Direct Provision in Cork, Fiction at the Friary, and the Department of English at UCC.”

In January this year, the project kicked off with Melatu Uche Okorie, who spent eight and a half years in Direct Provision, appearing as featured guest author. Melatu read from her acclaimed collection of short stories This Hostel Life (Skein Press, 2018) and also visited UCC where she spoke to students on the Masters in Creative Writing programme.

Danielle continues: “The next stage of the project consisted of a series of workshops which took place twice a month at UCC and we wrote towards a showcase event which was held at Fiction at the Friary earlier this summer.”

In advance of the showcase, Pat Kiernan of Corcadorca Theatre Development Centre facilitated a workshop on ‘Reading Your Work Aloud’.

The showcase event this summer was an afternoon of work from the following writers:

Muhammad Ijaz is from Pakistan. He writes in Urdu then asks friends in his hostel to translate his pieces into English. He’s a constant source of support to other people in Direct Provision, encouraging them to go out and engage with Cork people, even if they are scared and lonely. He is also an excellent chef.

Deborah Oniah is a Nigerian mother of four. She has a law degree and she is also a certified life coach, Deborah is a writer, speaker, and intercultural dialogue facilitator. Her positive attitude is remarkable and this is clear from her writing.

Miriam Shanti Counter is from South Africa. Ireland is now home to her and her family. She says: “It was a tough journey to get where I am. I’m grateful and thankful to God. Thank you Ireland for giving me the greatest opportunities and a place to call home.”

Zovi Zoni is from Pakistan. She is a beautician and works voluntarily in the accommodation centre. Zovi’s writing and poetry is published in two books published by Cork City Libraries namely, Here There In Between and A Journey Called Home. She is also part of Citadel, a vibrant musical band, consisting of asylum-seekers. She is a member of Fine Gael and wants to help create change.

Asad Mahmud is a lawyer and activist from Pakistan. Since coming to Ireland to seek asylum, he has been involved in activism relating to the rights of people living in Direct Provision. His writing has appeared in Here There and In Between and A Journey Called Home, published by Cork City Libraries. He is part of the band Citadel whose members live in Direct Provision in Cork, and he is Legal and IT executive at Fine Gael Intercultural Cork. He blogs at www.asadmahmud.ml

Senzeni Mpofu is 31 and from Zimbabwe. She came to Ireland in October, 2015, leaving her two children behind in the care of her mother. She describes living in Direct Provision as her ‘most challenging journey’.

Nqobizitha Vella was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. She came to Ireland in September, 2015 with her son, who is now aged 10. She’s currently writing Volume 8 of her Umendo So (Marriage Mysteries) novel series, published in Ndebele/English. Her work has appeared in the anthology A Journey Called Home.

The afternoon then culminated with music from Citadel, a band comprised of many nationalities, all of whom currently live in Direct Provision.

The writers who read at Fiction at the Friary event also recently got to meet Sebastian Barry. As part of West Cork Literary Festival, he met with writers living in Direct Provision Centres in Cork.

West Cork-based writer Tina Pisco curated the event with Barry at The Dome, Clonakilty Lodge. Those who read at Fiction at Friary event were delighted to meet with Barry.

Having read a little from his novel, A Long Way, Sebastian Barry, said his visit “was about making connections”. He described Direct Provision as an “evil designed to keep the Irish population separate from those living in the DP centres. Since its introduction 20 years ago what began as a temporary solution has now become big business for private service providers,” he said.

Those living in direct provision then spoke out about their experiences.

One woman said: “No one understands DP, not even the social worker who assumed, I was getting child benefit. People in the system are afraid to speak out in case it affects their application for asylum.”

Those living in the lodge in Clonakilty are supported by Clonakilty Friends of Asylum Seekers. Under Olive Walsh, and working closely with those in the centre, a community garden, play area and the Dome have been erected. As Walsh says, they are “places away from CCTV cameras where residents can relax and chat.”

“When I came here first,” a member of Clonakilty Lodge says, “everything was: don’t touch the kettle, don’t touch the iron, don’t touch the cooker. How can someone live like that? Then Olive got involved and things changed.”

Sebastian Barry was clearly moved by the readings presented and by the stories shared. He enjoyed visiting the community garden at The Lodge and seeing the children playing in the Dome on the floor as he read and conversed with everyone. He sincerely thanked everyone for participating and happily posed for photos with each writer.

Nokukhanya Dlamini from The Lodge shared the joyful news that a poem of hers has been accepted by Jessica Traynor, curator of the Co-incidences journal.

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