New stories — in a Cork accent

Writer Roddy Doyle visited Blackpool recently to launch Fighting Words Cork. MARY ROSE MCCARTHY chatted to him about the discipline of writing, social media and nurturing new talent, as he took part in workshops, photo shoots and signing autographs.
New stories — in a Cork accent
Pupils of Blarney St Boys CBS, Thomas Mortu, Sean Donovan and Diego Barrett with Sean Love and Roddy Doyle, co-founders of Fighting Words. Picture: Denis Minihane.

AUTHOR Roddy Doyle says it was ‘the old teacher in him’ that was interested in starting Fighting Words in Dublin — a creative writing centre which helps young people to explore and develop their writing skills.

“You never stop being a teacher,” he said.

He felt that energy and creativity was missing from the Irish classroom, due to pressures of the exam system.

Writing is, by nature, a solitary experience and the workshop style of Fighting Words is a lovely introduction to the writing experience.

Doyle describes himself as a very disciplined person who works eight or nine hours a day. He divides the time between various projects he is working on.

His 11th novel Smile, which tells the story of a middle-aged man confronted with the ghosts of his past, is due out in September. That is now gone from Doyle’s desk and work has begun on his 12th novel.

A play based on Two Pints will open in the Abbey in June, before going on tour nationwide. Doyle is constantly working and feels it is important that as one project finishes he has another in the pipeline.

The amount writers are paid was in the news this month, with author Donal Ryan announcing his return to his civil service job. Doyle says his own career has been incredibly lucky and he always acknowledges that.

He was a full time teacher and parent of young children when he wrote his first four novels. He stresses he does not want patronage for his writing. This is what he’s chosen to do, he does not expect entitlements or privileges.

He said writers in the UK and the US teach on creative writing programmes to supplement income raised through book sales. Ireland is a small nation and there is finite amount of books bought each week from which an author earns a certain percentage.

It cannot be expected that the Arts Council or any other source of government funding is used to pay writers. A writer writes because they feel the urge to do so, but they must also balance the need to pay bills and other responsibilities to family.

Doyle does not bother with Twitter as he feels it is too big a distraction. It is also an instant platform and, he says, often instant responses are not his best ones, as it is an immediate reaction without thinking.

He is on Facebook, however, which provided the inspiration for Two Pints. He says social media is what you make of it and it is always interesting to read other people’s posts.

Speaking at the launch of Fighting Words in Cork this month, Niall Cleary, of Graffiti youth theatre, addressed guests and young authors gathered.

He said: “It’s hard not to fall in love with Fighting Words.”

The response to the project was one of warmth and support, said Cleary, who emphasised that the creative writing workshops for young people, are only possible because of the volunteer tutors who give so much energy, time and passion.

He thanked Roddy Doyle and Sean Love for travelling from Dublin to be with them on the occasion.

Roddy Doyle then addressed the assembled crowd and the students of 4th class Blarney Street Boys National School who had participated in that morning’s workshop.

During the workshop, the boys wrote an amazing story together. Doyle said the aim of the workshops is to continue to create as many stories as possible.

To do that more support and more volunteers are needed. “Spread the word,” he urged the audience.

That morning’s story, written by the class involved Skeldrick, the skeleton whose best friend is God.

Speaking directly to the class, Roddy said he is amazed that all the stories he hears from the workshops always contain something new.

Doyle said he thought the best line in the morning’s story was ‘And God ran away’, “What you did this morning was the best thing,” he told the boys.

“Look at how much was done in two hours. Sometimes it’s easy to take things for granted after eight years of Fighting Words.

“Coming to Cork was great and it’s lovely to hear stories in a Cork accent.”

Everything Fighting Words does is free. The challenge is to get more people involved so the programme can expand.

People can contribute directly in cash or with labour or skills.

Niall Cleary thanked Cork City Council and Cork City Libraries for generous funding of the programme.

Doyle then distributed the children’s story, in published book form, to each student.

“You should be on your second or third book by now,” quipped Doyle.

Author Louise O’Neill took time out from editing her third novel to attend the launch and to support what she describes as “a great project.”

Arts Officer, Ian McDonagh, said he also welcomed the new writing initiative for the region and is delighted to have a branch of Fighting Words in Cork.

Graffiti board member, Jim O’ Donovan said it was a great opportunity for children to develop their creativity and writing skills.

Co-founder of Fighting Words Sean Love said: “We think creative writing is an important part of every child’s education.

“Our aim is to reach every child in Ireland and it’s great we’re now in Cork.”

To offer support or volunteer with Fighting Words Cork contact Niall Cleary at Graffiti Youth Theatre, email niall@graffiti.ie or call 087-1278962, or telephone 021-4397111. See fightingwords.ie

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