Having coined a Pythonesque phrase, I could follow-up by providing a long list of positive pro-action on the part of the Irish Writers’ Union (IWU), but truthfully the most important service of the IWU is that hopefully it has never done anything for you! We are like an insurance policy and hopefully our members never need resort to our best services.
As a 20-plus years member and long-time Executive Officer, now serving alongside Phil Mac Giolla Bháin as Co-Chairman, my own view is that the IWU’s free service to members in assisting with contracts, negotiations and disputes is our most valuable asset. We are only volunteers, but the wealth of knowledge and experience between us is astonishing and our dedicated Disputes team help new writers with their contracts before signing about two or three times a month. Now that IS something we can do for you!
But on rare occasions our Disputes team find themselves helping members who have met difficulties with publishers, rights problems or breach of contract, and that’s something we hope will become even rarer. Many of these issues could have been prevented had we initially helped with the contract.
I am not one of the Disputes team, but I do man the switchboard and I see the same two or three amendments being suggested to almost every contract. Though easily rectified and corrected, we worry that these particular common issues get through the net whenever a new writer signs a contract without having it checked first. Not wishing to use this as a platform to encourage membership, I do have to say that annual membership for unpublished writers is €30 and for published writers €50 and I personally feel it’s great value for the contract help alone.
In the past the IWU successfully fought to gain Public Lending Right and continues its advocacy in support of Artists Tax Exemption. We are also proud to be the only nominating body in Ireland for the Nobel Prize for Literature.
As we are a not-for-profit organisation run by volunteers we were cautious about spending funds, but our AGM every March (23rd March 2019 in the Irish Writers’ Centre from 11am, open to all, non-members included) provides our members with a platform to say how their Union should be run and we are now responding to requests to do much more for our members.
We offer several bursaries and grants to members, including a one-week stay in Rome as part of a literary exchange with our Italian counterpart, FUIS. Our IWU member avails of free accommodation in the centre of Rome to work on a project, while we gift a week at Annaghmakerrig to a FUIS member.
We also offer a monetary grant of €300 to each of three members drawn at random, which can be used on anything to aid their writing, from a new laptop or software, to study, research or travel. More specifically, another bursary we provide, to four members, is a course of their choice at the Irish Writers’ Centre. This is geared to aspiring writers on a low income, who could not otherwise afford one of the excellent courses offered by IWC tutors.
Each month we email our newsletter, Final Draft, which notifies members of any relevant news, events, new publications and general matters of interest. We have members based all over the world, so as Final Draft editor I try to create a community and involve everyone. It’s my aim to carry more news of events outside of Ireland and Dublin, but I rely on members to write in to me. Some still need an extra bit of encouragement!
I also man the emails and I’m usually the first point of contact for new members, general enquiries from non-members and anyone contacting us with a dispute. I therefore find myself making lots of new friends and try to keep in touch with everyone. Again, we really want the IWU to be a family, a community uniting and connecting all writers. As an example, a member who had moved to a new area asked to be put in touch with other members locally. We put out the necessary call and we hope no IWU member ever has cause to feel isolated or lacking in support.
Writing is a lonely activity and we can be prone to enforced isolation, so I feel strongly that the IWU should be used as a sounding board, agony aunt, best friend and wise old relation to lean on. And once that next book is written and on the shelves, we’re also there to promote it, free of charge, on our website and in Final Draft. Book launch invitations are sent to every member.
If there’s anything else we can do for you, just ask!
(c) Lissa Oliver
Visit the website of the Irish Writers’ Union here.