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A Literary Enclave in County Wicklow…by Darren Darker

Writing.ie | Magazine | The Big Idea
Darren Darker

I recently attended the launch of Emma Hannigan’s tenth novel in Dubray Books in Bray and apart from having a wonderful evening; I got to thinking about the wealth of writers that lived in or around the town. For some reason it initially reminded me of Monet and how he was inspired by the seaside town of Etretat in Normandy, constantly returning to it to paint over 100 paintings. Is Bray Ireland’s author’s Etretrat? But what is it about the town that inspires writers to live there?

We all know that Wicklow is a beautiful county; after all it’s not called the Garden of Ireland for no reason. And Bray is its largest town is considered the gateway to that garden. It’s a town that is best known for its seafront and Victorian promenade which is dominated by a cliff head on its south end. From the cross looking over the town on top of the head, there are wonderful views of the Sugar Loaf, Wicklow and Dublin mountains and the sea from the cliff walk to Greystones.

Poet George Savage Armstrong wrote that ‘The great sugarloaf lifted above their eastern slope in colourful form was the most beautiful peak in all of the island’

Bray is also within easy travelling distance to Glendalough, Avondale House and Powerscourt to name only a few of the counties inspirational locations. As Bray is only 12 miles from Dublin giving any access to the city and any literary commitments that our towns writers may have.

Lonely planet author Etain O’Carroll told CNN after visiting Ireland that: “Its many layers of stone walls and hedgerows and its constantly changing light means that it unfolds as you walk, cycle or drive by.” While not directly talking about Bray, walking up through the trees to Bray head or along the sea front, colour and light certainly play a part in the experience. I certainly enjoy strolling along the seafront to clear my head and help me work through plot and character development as I eat an ice cream. Personally I think that there is nothing more soothing that sitting on the beach and listening to the waves lap the shore in summer or crash upon the rocks in winter.

Poet Mark Barnard describes the seafront in his poem – ‘Time and a day in Bray’

“Each wave that beaches…an eternity…

Is sprayed across these strands

Its return and continuity…

Fizzes around young feet and hands.

Current writers in residence include the aforementioned and courageous Emma Hannigan, Cathy Kelly, Julia Kelly, Audrey Magee, children’s writer Peter ‘chick’ Kelly, Ella Griffin, Cyril Doyle and Fantasy authors Ruth Frances Long, PA Shortt and O.R. Melling. Wicklow county boasts many more including Man Booker shortlisted Sebastian Barry and Paraic O’Donnell whose debut Maker of Swans has garnered great reviews.

An impressive collection of writers but even more made Bray their home for a number of years before moving on:

As a child Oscar Wilde lived for a while on Bray Seafront (now The Strand Hotel) not a hundred miles away from where James Joyce hung his hat in Number 1 Martello Terrace beside the Harbour. Joyce mentioned his Bray home in both ‘Portrait of an artist as a young man’ and ‘Ulysses’. The Joyce family were forced to leave their Bray home in 1893 due to financial hardship, moving to the north side of Dublin. Interestingly enough, his former house still has a literary connection as Liz McManus, former TD and award winning author of ‘Acts of Subversion’.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (one of the most influential writers of all time in my humble opinion) lived and worked in Bray for a number of years as a teacher. It was while living in Bray that he developed an interest in spiritualism before publishing the Coming of Fairies in 1922.

One Bray resident, Mr. Thomas Lefroy who wasnt a writer himself but who in the 18th Centaury apparently had a relationship with Jane Austin and is thought to have been the inspiration behind Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. Move over Colin Firth!

Another was Philip Rooney who wrote several novels including Captain Boycott which was turned into a movie with Stewart Granger.

James Plunkett Kelly lived on Herbert road and wrote Strumpet City which was a huge success and captured life in Dublin around the lock out – a personal favourite of mine. I remember watching the TV dramatization of it with my family. I recently bought in a box set and it still held up.

And let’s not forget Anne Enright – winner of the Man Booker prize for her 2007 novel The Gathering and the nation’s first laureate for fiction. You can’t get more illustrious than that.

But that only accounts for professional writers, the town has a long history of fostering emerging writers , poets and all sorts of creative people through groups such as the Little Bray Writers Group, Bray Arts and the Bray Active Retirement Association Writers group to name but a few. Some of the up and coming authors that you might not have heard of yet such as Alana Kirk, Sam Blake and Paraic O’Donnell with his wonderfully poetic first novel ‘The Maker of Swans’. However all of those writers pale into insignificance when compared to my literary feats!

Apart from the landscape, one of the most important elements to Brays literary success has been the opening of the first Dubray Books store back in 1972. It’s been a family business since day one, initially conceived and ran by the matriarch of the family Helen Clear. Over the generations various members of the family have served their time in the business helping it grow and flourish.

Early supporters for the Dubray brand were Marie and Seamus Heaney, Eamonn DeButler and Kate Cruise O’Brien. Apparently Helen championed Joanna Trollope – author of a large number of books including ‘The Rectors Wife’ which forced her publishers into visiting the shop.

Dubray have encouraged Irish publishers including taking a chance and stocking unknown authors such as myself. And for this I will always be indebted to them. But so is the town, even if it doesn’t always recognise it.

So the next time you are strolling down the promenade, enjoying the scenery as you eat an ice cream or are just people watching (one of my favourite pastimes) if you see something interesting –why don’t you use it in your next short story or novel.

(c) Darren Darker

Darren is the father of one son and lives in Bray County Wicklow. He owns his own business and is a real lover of adventure, having spent a number of years as both a volunteer fireman and later as a coxswain on a River and Inshore Rescue Team with the Civil Defence winning several certificates of appreciation from the Irish Government for his efforts among all his other activities.

He has written 2 novels – Under an Irish Sky & No End to The Lies. For more information on Darren and his novels, check out his website www.darrendarker.ie or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

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