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Cavan Writers’ Forum – from B301 to Babble!

Article by Site Editor © 8 August 2013 Maria Smith .
Posted in the Magazine ( · News for Writers · The Big Idea ).

In autumn 2011, I found myself tutoring a 10 week night course in Creative Writing at Cavan Institute. The course began on a Tuesday night in early October. We started out as eight people in a nondescript third floor classroom (B301) lit by fluorescent beams.

We differed in ages, genders and professions but introductions made it clear that we all wanted to write. We shared a passion for literature and more importantly a creative desire to do something more than our day jobs. Significantly, the group, though diverse, expressed a common belief that “there had to be something more out there than what we presently had or did” and as the tutor I admittedly felt much the same.

It was the period of that post-recession comedown. I suppose we were all feeling a bit unfulfilled in different ways and that quest for ‘something more’ had thrown us together and led us to the same room on the same night. Looking back, we say that there must have been something in the ether that night as things started happening from there on in.  The classes took on a life of their own as we shared life stories, philosophies, work, feedback, methods and later explored various styles and genres. Narratives, poems, short dramatic pieces and screenplays were written, voices were found, ideas fleshed out and characters came to life.

From the outset, we established a class etiquette that involved constructive criticism and honesty. That made it easier for new writers to read their work aloud and to accept a communal reception of their writings. It also enabled emerging writers to hone their own instinctive skills. Critiquing your own work is difficult; the criticism is usually too harsh or too gentle. Listening to feedback and giving opinions on other works helped to right that balance – it helped develop that ear for words and soundscapes.  As the poet Ted McCarthy told students at a recent poetry workshop we held – “Good writers are firstly good listeners. Always remember that a child listens for months or indeed years before it speaks a full sentence. Sometimes writing is like that too.”

The following summer (2012) I decided to continue the classes as a non-profit initiative outside of the college term. The group had now been joined by class members from a subsequent FETAC course. We put up a few posters around town and got a mention on local radio.  Much to my surprise, our ranks quickly swelled with new members who added to the creative mix. As the weeks passed we grew from being a writing class to becoming a writing group wherein a collective ownership was fostered and consequentially Cavan Writers’ Forum (CWF) was born.

Unable to afford the rental costs involved in acquiring a regular space outside of the college season, we became a nomadic band of scribes who frequented the local library and welcoming hotel lobbies before setting up more permanent fixtures in The Moth Studio/Writer’s Salon and subsequently Blessings Bar in Cavan town. In all these venues we were lucky to met people who were interested in what we did or in joining us. Without realising it, we had found a niche in the market and exploited the absence of open writing community in the greater Cavan area. Our membership whilst locally based, currently includes writers from Monaghan, Meath, Leitrim, Fermanagh, Dublin, Antrim, Derry, England, Scotland, Germany, and the United States. Again the diversity of origins adds considerably to the amalgam.

Cavan Writers’ Forum now meets weekly on Thursday nights at 7pm. We have in excess of thirty members and our group ranges in age from 14-80 yrs.

Combined interests range from a past time scribbles to getting novels published, from poetry to screenplays, from the Bible to Beckett and on to Bukowski. It’s the mixture of personalities, talents and tastes that feeds the group dynamic. At the best meetings ideas fly, words spark random associative memories, new concepts are bounced off one another, new works are shared, feedback is forthcoming, good reads are recommended and bad ones critiqued.

In regular group sessions we write, we workshop ideas, we discuss writing, methods and inspiration, we do exercises, give feedback, we discuss pieces of writing and study what makes them work – we explore this via critical analysis and gut responses. We debate critical theory, philosophy and all things from arts to science that interest members or add to the research methods for a story, drama, poem or novel. We sometimes invite local poets, authors and dramatists to hold workshops on specific topics.

Mostly, we motivate one another through a sharing of knowledge and insights. This is crucial as the writing life is often a solitary one. When writer’s block comes calling like a breeze block through the imaginative window you need alternate voices, ideas, fresh perspectives to help surmount, bypass, tunnel under or simply blast the blockade.

We support each other. Whilst the objective is to work as an umbrella style grouping of individual writers we are proud to say that lasting friendships have been formed. Writing is a therapeutic process. The purpose of our group is not a therapeutic one but it would be foolish to deny that cathartic episodes of bleeding onto the page or free styling co-exist alongside professional writing endeavors.

Drumlin Hearths Cavan WritersSometimes, life story are shared and life’s ups and downs are narrated through the medium of literature. Indeed, that gave rise to the title of our first CWF 2012 collection – Drumlin Hearths launched by Clones poet Ted McCarthy in December 2012.

In early 2013, we applied for grant funding and acquired an EU Peace III grant. With this funding we organised a series of cross border events entitled – ‘Joined Up Thinking/Joined Up Writing’. We invited the Fermanagh Writers to join Babble journal cover 2013us for fieldtrips and workshops as part of the ‘Writing between the Borderlines’ series. Works inspired by these events were subsequently selected for our Babble Literary Journal, 2013. The journal will be launched at the Babble Literary Festival weekend (August 16-18, Cavan Town) which is the culmination of our literary exchange project.

Babble Literary Festival, 2013

Hosted by Cavan Writers’ Forum, Babble Literary Festival takes place this August in County Cavan and aims to showcase some of the established and emerging literary talents that this border region has to offer.

The concept behind Babble is to invite greater explorations of border voices and literatures, be they local, parochial, national and international. Critical theory lectures will discuss the concepts of border writings as bywords for bridges, examine a hybridity of discourses and encourage dialogues and discussions to – excavate the present to awaken the past and imagine a future.

Babble is a weekend of music, art, drama and literature, including readings, workshops, musical performances, slam poetry, art exhibitions, our Babble Journal launch and a new play by Tara Maria Lovett entitled ‘The Change’.

Our festival line-up includes guest writers and authors – Tom MacIntyre, Carlo Gébler, Ted McCarthy, Stephen James Smith, Dermot Healy, Tara Maria Lovett, Kate Dempsey, Orla McAlinden and many more!

Our musical line-up includes Mundy, The Flaws & Know Idea.

Admission free to all events – more info here.

Babble, what’s in a name?

The members of Cavan Writers Forum came up with the name Babble for this year’s literary festival. The name was chosen for a number of reasons. Firstly, we felt that water was the powerful and fluid connective between counties in our border area. The ‘babbling’ fluidity of the porous Lakeland region was seen as a byword for the more static and hackneyed emblem of the bridge, often referred to in peace building measure.  Water, we believe, has more kinetic power to flow, change and it transgresses most rigid or mapped borders between lands, people, communities and nationalities.

Secondly, we chose Babble for its slightly subversive and quirky quality. In many ways, all talk is nonsense – right back to our pre-verbal cries, gurgles and babble. Moreover, all talk, chatter and verbal exchanges flow in one stream or another gushing or pooling to shape the written words and sounds of literature.

Sometimes, art and literature can be seen as elitist, lofty and exclusionary (especially by non-writers). Therefore, in choosing Babble we decided to undercut that notion and dispel any notions of pretentiousness in a good humoured way – as satirical literary journals such as Blather (by Flann O’Brien et al) once did

You can follow us on twitter @cavanwriters or LIKE our Facebook Page – Cavan Creative Writers Forum for details about our class times, venues and updates on our upcoming Babble Literary Festival, August 16-18, 2013.

To provide a warm and friendly environment that welcomes writers of all levels, ages and writing styles.
We hope to enhance writing skills, to inspire new writers to pick up the pen and to encourage others to keep writing.
It is our intention to sustain momentum in what can often be a solitary pursuit and to actively promote the work of unpublished writers.
We liaise with and support local arts and drama groups and other writers’ groups nationwide.

maria smith 2(c) Maria Smith

Originally from Cavan, Maria Smith tutors in Creative Writing, English literature, literary criticism, Communications and languages. Maria has previously worked in media and public relations. Most recently she has taught Creative Writing (FETAC) in Cavan Institute and at The Moth Studios/Writer’s Salon, Cavan.

She holds a hons B.A in English Literature & Drama (UCD), a hDip in Journalism & Public Relations, and an MPhil in Anglo Irish literature (TCD). She is currently researching a dissertation in Anglo-Irish literature – ‘Writing Inside Out – Flesh Made Words: The Body in Irish Literature’ and working on a first poetry collection entitled – Murmur.

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