Writer Susan Condon reports from the recent Writers Conference held at The Irish Writers Centre:
Dublin city is buzzing on Saturday, 27 June as I walk along O’Connell Street towards 19 Parnell Square and the beautiful Georgian building that is home to the Irish Writers Centre. It is nestled between the Dublin Writers Museum and the aptly named, Michelin star awarded, Chapter One, in the soon to be developed Parnell Cultural Quarter. I am attending the second day of Dublin’s first Writers Conference so I’m keen to see what it has to offer. Running from Friday, 26 June to Sunday, 28 June it promised sessions on writing craft and digital marketing for writers.
Along the way I hook up with a back-packed lady from Idaho who asks for directions. It’s already 9.55 am yet we are both compelled to stop and take a couple of photos as we battle our way through the throngs of colourful and good-humoured parade participants who congregate for the noon start from the Garden of Remembrance to celebrate the outcome of the Marriage referendum.
Once we reach our destination, she enters Jessica Morell’s session on The Sizzle: Tension & Suspense in Fiction while I attend Margaret Murphy’s, Dialogue in fiction: more than an exchange of words. Water bottles are at the ready and a little good-bantered humour is bandied about as some of the attendees reminisce about the previous night’s social evening. But once Murphy begins the session, the only noise to be heard is the scribbles of pens across notebooks as writers take notes to ensure they don’t forget any of the writing gems she imparts to her captive audience. With nine critically acclaimed psychological thrillers to her name and over thirty years teaching, she is perfectly positioned to deliver an interesting and informative workshop.
Referring to dialogue, Murphy advises us to think long and hard about how our characters speak, while also taking into account such popular culture as their social media and on-line gaming habits which can offer facets of their personality. Her PowerPoint presentation gives us plenty of food for thought with references to some of the writing greats and examples of how they used dialogue to push their stories along while developing their characters. A paired writing exercise enabled us to share a laugh and a joke as we write and deliver some riveting dialogue of our own.
By 12.00 pm as the session comes to a close, we have an opportunity to look down at the crowds below and snap a few shots before the parade begins to filter down towards O’Connell Street and on to Merrion Square. The sound system blasts hits from the past and present while the fizzle of excitement is almost palpable as it penetrates the walls. It’s the perfect backdrop for a lunch buffet in the Benedict Kiely Room on the ground floor which gives everyone an opportunity to mingle: sharing writing experiences from across the globe while forging new friendships.
At 2.00 pm Laurence O’Bryan brings a laugh as he decides to delay the start for a couple of minutes so that he won’t have to compete with the noise from the parade stragglers outside the window. And then the first session of Digital Marketing for Authors begins. O’Bryan won a writing contract after starting a blog and launching a Twitter account in 2009 – so who better placed to tell us how it’s done.
“As the tools of the last century, radio, television and the movie industry presented opportunities and challenges for writers, the tools of our new age also provide opportunities and challenges.”
Advice was offered on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Vine (among others) – with a caution to writers to keep up-to-date – what’s king today in offering writers the most return might be obsolete in a year or two. And yes, O’Bryan agrees when questioned, it is taking writers away from writing – but if we want to be successful writers we need to reach our audience, grab an agents attention and ultimately secure that elusive book deal!
What one site should we focus on today, is a common question? O’Bryan advises that you need to use these sites in tandem – one helping the other to get your message or your blog posts noticed – but admits that, for the moment, “Facebook is King”. We learn as much from the questions and answers session as we do from O’Bryan’s presentation which has everyone leaving at 4.30 pm full of enthusiasm and armed with enough arsenal to take on the marketing world.
Many of us meet up again at 7.30 pm in The Gresham Hotel for the conference dinner and awards. Gone are the rucksacks and pens and in their place smart attire and clinking glasses. It’s another opportunity to talk and share writing and editing experiences which could benefit the various writing groups we are all involved in. The after dinner speaker, is introduced as:
The Only Self Published Author ever endorsed by Rolling Stone magazine,
“…. a one of a kind literary offering . . .” – Kenny Herzog, RollingStone.com
Paul O’Brien enters the room and speaks about his writing career, sharing a journey which has led him from Wexford to LA to work on a TV show currently being developed from his ‘Blood Red Turns Dollar Green’ novels set in the world of wrestling. The passionate speech he delivers has the audience enthralled. We hear about the first play he staged in 1998 – a play, he tells us in his self-depreciating manner, which no-one wanted to produce – so he did it himself. And although, he admits it was badly written – people seemed to like it! Unlike many inspirational writing speeches, O’Brien’s advice isn’t about craft, character or plot but rather about independence. He advises writers to ensure that they are self-sufficient enough to be able to say no. He has seen brilliant writers who have made bad choices because they needed money – so his philosophy is to hold on to the day job. For him, this means, “I’ve never signed a deal I didn’t want to, and I’ve never written a single world that I didn’t believe in.”
O’Brien is definitely a rising star to watch – all that hard work, dedication and self-belief are paying dividends – as news just in that WWE legend Jim Ross announces to the wresting world that Paul O’Brien is onboard to help him write his autobiography.
The Writers Conference may be in its infancy but judging by the applause and chatter at the end of the night it’s sure to become an annual diary event to arm new and established writers with tips, tricks and inspiration for the year ahead.
(c) Susan Condon
Susan Condon, a native of Dublin, has written a crime fiction thriller set in New York City. Her short stories have won the Jonathan Swift Award, the Bealtaine Short Story Competition and the Sport and Cultural Council, City of Dublin VEC and she was thrice long-listed for the RTÉ Guide/Penguin Short Story Competition. Publications include Original Writing from Ireland’s Own, Anthology 2012; South of the County: New Myths and Tales and My Weekly magazine. Follow her blog at www.susancondon.wordpress.com or follow her on Twitter: @SusanCondon