Sometimes we forget that input is as important as output, and that inspiration and energy can come from working in creative places and spaces set up exactly for that purpose. So I thought I’d give the wordspark writing prompts a break and concentrate for a little while on finding out more about some of the excellent writing and creativity centres that we have in Ireland. This week, I speak to Claire Hennessy from the Big Smoke Writing Factory…
What does Big Smoke Writing Factory provide and who is it for…?
We mostly provide creative writing courses for adults, taking place in the evenings or at weekends – so ideal for people who are working or have other commitments. We also offer an online programme and our Dublin Young Authors programme, which is specifically for young writers (covering different age groups from 9+ up to college-age students).
A lot of our workshops are for beginners – for people who’ve always meant to start writing but feel they need a bit of guidance, structure or motivation; for people who haven’t written anything since school but want to get back into it; for people who have a story they want to tell or an idea they want to convey but aren’t sure how to go about it. We also offer specialist courses for writers at later stages of development – e.g. workshops in poetry, memoir, children’s fiction, speculative fiction, flash fiction, the novel, etc – and advanced workshops where the focus is on improving and developing your work to the point where you’re ready to send it out.
Finally, we deliver publishing seminars – some with the mighty Vanessa O’Loughlin of this very site, who is an absolute wealth of information about the publishing industry and delivers a brilliant session each time. Apart from these on-site programmes we deliver workshops to festivals and schools, and organise writing-related events that showcase new writing. We’re about supporting writers from beginner-level onwards, basically.
Back to the roots: How it all started…
Once upon a time in a galaxy far far away…ha!
Big Smoke really emerged out of conversations about the teaching of creative writing and the benefits of collaboration. Very often when people teach creative writing they’re on their own (coming in and delivering a programme and then leaving) – every writing teacher will have their own approach, which is a great strength but also reduces the opportunities for trying out new strategies or bouncing ideas off other people. And every writing teacher has their own specialty – the field or fields they write in themselves, so as students progress and need more specialised expertise, it’s useful to be able to say to someone, ‘right, this is not my field, but my colleague over there is brilliant at it, I’d recommend that workshop for you if you want to continue with this.’
It’s also really useful to have people who are used to teaching classes be the ones making decisions about things like length of courses, minimum numbers etc – sometimes other frameworks (e.g. basing class size on secondary school classes of 30 or lecture-hall sizes) don’t fit with creative writing workshops.
The brains & brawn behind the creativity…
Big Smoke is currently run by two of its founding directors, Nicole Rourke and Claire Hennessy (that’s me). Nicole’s background is in theatre – she writes and performs her own stuff as well as being a hugely experienced facilitator. She originally trained in theatre and facilitation in the Middle East and has given workshops in the Chester Beatty library, the Gaiety School of Acting, the Irish Writers’ Centre, and St Patrick’s Psychiatric Hospital. My background is in fiction – I’ve written and published a number of children’s and YA (young adult) novels as well as a handful of short stories, and have given workshops for schools and festivals as well as teaching at the Irish Writers Centre, the Centre for Talented Youth Ireland at DCU, and the Church of Ireland College of Education in Rathmines.
We also have a range of facilitators that deliver workshops in their specialist fields – poet and editor Dave Lordan works with us on the Dublin Young Authors programme and teaches other courses for us as well, short story writer Eimear Ryan teaches on our online programme, novelist Paula McGrath teaches with us online and has taught in the evenings, writer and journalist Claire Coughlan has been working with us for the past few months on journalism and memory-based fiction courses, playwright and novelist Mia Gallagher teaches an intensive workshop for people revising their work, writer and editor John Richard Kenny teaches speculative fiction, writer and storyteller Dave Rudden teaches fantasy workshops, poet and critic Adam Wyeth has a very cool one-day workshop and will be teaching with us online this year… to name a few.
Everyone who teaches with us has experience in their particular field as well as facilitation expertise – it’s really important to us that everyone working with Big Smoke is committed to the teaching of creative writing and is interested in working with students to develop their work (rather than just delivering endless speeches about their own work!).
How to find out more & book your space…
Plans for the future…
More workshops! This year we’re continuing to expand our Dublin Young Authors programme, as well as offering more specialist courses for adults. In the summer we’ll be holding another reading to showcase new work but our main priority is always ensuring that our workshop programme continues to provide a wide range of options for writers and that the quality is maintained.
Advice for people who are trying a workshop for the first time…?
If you’re not sure about whether you want to take a workshop or not, start out small – we offer an hour-long Monday evening drop-in creative writing class which can serve as a nice taster for a longer course, as well as half-day and day-long workshops on Saturdays. If you’re taking a beginners’ class, it’s okay – it really is for beginners; you don’t need to come to the first class with half a manuscript tucked under your arm. If you’re not sure about what workshop will suit you, ask us – we really want to make sure you’re in an environment that’s the right level and genre for you. And finally – go in with an open mind and try everything. There are no magic formulas for writing, but if you give everything a chance, some of it will work for you – and it’s okay if other things don’t. You’ve still learned something valuable.