• West Cork Literary Festival 8-15 July 2022

Messing About With Words: A Writer-in-Residence Writes by Declan Burke

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Declan Burke

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If I’m honest, I felt like a bit of a fraud when I was appointed a UNESCO/Dublin City Libraries writer-in-residence in October 2017, and not just because, as a writer, I’ve always felt like a bit of a fraud – at least, I do when I’m not actually at the desk writing, and certainly when saying aloud the words ‘I’m a writer.’

Worse still, from the point of view of being a Dublin Libraries writer-in-residence, I was born in Sligo – not just outside the Pale but almost as far outside the Pale as it’s possible to get and not be obliged to apply for an Icelandic passport.

But Alison Lyons, the Director Dublin UNESCO City of Literature, saw fit to appoint Elizabeth Reapy and I as Dublin City Library writers-in-residence, and who would ever dare argue with Alison Lyons?

I grew up in Sligo Town, where the library is an old Protestant church on Stephen Street, complete with stained-glass windows and a reverential hush. When you spend every Saturday morning of your formative years haunting a library like that, it can only end one way, and to this day I experience something akin to a religious thrill when I walk into a library – any library – and wander through the book-lined silence.

So you can imagine how delighted I was to be chosen as a writer-in-residence for libraries. At the time I believed myself conferred with an honour and a privilege; nothing in my experience of the residency has changed that belief, although I could never have anticipated the extent to which the library writing groups with whom I worked would impact on my own writing, and my own sense of well-being, both of which, as every writer will know, are inextricably linked.

Here I’d like to thank all the library groups with which I worked, in Pearse Street and in Kevin Street, in Donaghmede and Raheny, for being so welcoming. And I’d particularly like to thank the group facilitators: Sheila Keegan, Geraldine Moroney, Summer Meline and, at Kevin Street, first Orla Ni hAonaigh, and latterly Dean Johnston. Of course, the job would have been impossible without the guidance and support of Alison Lyons and Anne-Marie Kelly, the Divisional Librarian who co-ordinates so much of the Dublin City Libraries events and activities.

I honestly don’t know if I was of any use to anyone. One of the things that impressed me most during the residency was that all the library writing groups were possessed of their own dynamic. They had their own way of doing things, each one generating a distinctive spirit of mutual support and creative cooperation.

I know that I came away from every meeting feeling – as I imagine each participant must – invigorated, recharged and thrilling to the endless possibilities of messing about with words. For that I will always be grateful.

There is a danger, when you spend too long as a writer, of forgetting the reasons you first wanted to write, the impulse that first drove you to deface perfectly good blank sheets of paper with your scribbles, chief among them that simple pleasure – that simple but profound pleasure – of messing about with words (when Rat informs Mole, at the beginning of The Wind in the Willows, that there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats, I wish him well in his nautical endeavours, although I find it hard to believe that Kenneth Graham didn’t have words in mind instead of boats).

Shortly before I took up the writer-in-residence position, I’d started a book which I was really enjoying writing, but which seemed to me as if it would never be published. The residency experience, and spending time with a bewildering variety of writers (some of whom have no idea of how talented they really are) was a huge help in allowing me to keep faith with the book I wanted to write; and earlier this month I had a meeting with an editor who seems to believe in the book as much as I do, and who will publish it later this year.

Of course, the residency wasn’t supposed to be about me – I was supposed to be helping where I could, advising where possible, and making myself available for comment, critique, feedback. I hope that I did help, and that my inputs weren’t too intrusive, that I didn’t get in the way too much; and I fervently hope that everyone in the groups enjoyed the writer-in-residence experience as much as did

(c) Declan Burke

About The Lost and the Blind:

The elderly German, Karl Uxkull, was either senile or desperate for attention. Why else would he concoct a tale of Nazi atrocity on the remote island of Delphi, off the coast of Donegal? And why now, sixty years after the event, just when Irish-American billionaire Shay Govern has tendered for a gold prospecting license in Lough Swilly?

Journalist Tom Noone doesn’t want to know. With his young daughter Emily to provide for, and a new ghostwriting commission for Shay Govern’s biography, the timing is all wrong. Besides, can it be mere coincidence that Karl Uxkull’s tale bears an uncanny resemblance to a thriller written by spy novelist Sebastian Devereaux, the reclusive English author who has spent the past fifty years holed up on Delphi?

But when a body is discovered drowned, Tom and Emily find themselves running for their lives in pursuit of the truth that is their only hope of survival.

“Burke has a real knack for dialogue and phrasing.” —Publishers Weekly

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Born in Sligo, Ireland, Declan Burke now lives in Co Wicklow. A freelance writer and journalist, his novels have been described as ‘Irish screwball noir.’ He is a regular contributor to The Sunday Times, Irish Times and the Sunday Independent, and hosts a website devoted to crime fiction called Crime Always Pays. In 2012, he won the Goldsboro Last Laugh Award with ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL.

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