My Creative Writing Workshop Rituals

Giving a creative writing workshop is exciting. But it can also be draining if you let it. In spite of my best efforts, I sometimes feel tired and wired for hours afterwards. It’s exciting to hear people share their stories, sometimes for the first time. It’s stimulating to discuss books, words and ideas. And it’s a little anxiety-making to know that people are putting their trust in you to help them tell their stories.

Naturally, it can be a little overwhelming at times, so I’ve put a system in place to help me deal with the pressure, so I can give the best classes possible to my students, and so I can be civil to my poor beleaguered mother and husband afterwards.

1. Before the Workshop

I leave myself plenty of time to get to the venue, so I can set up. Someone will always come early, so it’s good not to leave them out in the cold. It means I can start the class in a calm frame of mind. While I’m travelling to the venue, I play what I consider to be my lucky song, Unfinished Sympathy by Massive Attack.

2. During the Workshop

I write along with the class. I write little scraps of ideas for stories, I join in the exercises I’m giving them, and I sometimes write thoughts about what’s going on around me. It releases the pressure valve. I also drink plenty of water, and relish my tea and biscuit at the break.

Writing Image

3. After the Workshop

This bit is particularly important. After all the excitement, I need to decompress. My favourite ways to decompress involve either trash television and a sugary treat, or light conversation with a good friend over a glass of wine. But sometimes I don’t get to decompress in the way I want. When that happens, I just spend some time writing about what happens, so I can saviour the memories of the workshop and let myself feel the satisfaction of a job well done.

Feel free to share some of your own writing rituals, whether you’re a writer or a giver of creative writing workshops.



Book Review: TomAYto TomAHto by Adrian Millar

You know that age-old debate about what pronunciation to give to the humble tomato? Journalist and writer Adrian Millar has decided to take it to a whole new level and use it as a metaphor for marriage, in his witty, true to life novel.

And I’m not just saying it’s witty because he sent me a signed copy in the post, although I do love the smell of jiffy bags, It’s an honest portrayal of a marriage between two people who are at odds: one is the TomAYto, the other the TomAHto.

Eileen is an acerbic school vice principal who’s doing her best to keep the ship afloat. Mark, her husband, gave up the priesthood to marry her, and is now burning with resentment, feeling that his family are a noose around his neck. It’s a story that shows the extraordinary lives lived by ordinary people, and the possibility that redemption is around the corner.

Following a recent family tragedy, the cracks in their marriage are threatening to become permanent. One day, Eileen decides she has had enough and books into Sanctuary, a silent retreat where she will unravel the truths of her life with the help of Zen master Father Edward. And Mark will get a rude awakening of his own, as he’s left adrift in a sea of domestic chaos.

From the moment this novel starts, you’re smack bang inside the characters’ heads. You see the world, and their lives, the way they see it. Millar skillfully uses the characters’ actions and words to show you that all is not well. The dialogue is authentic, and riddled with one liners that will make you chuckle.

My criticism relates more to issues of layout than of content. Millar self-published this book using the Internet publishing platform Lulu. Unfortunately, the result is a giant wall of unbroken text, whcih is quite a strain on the eyes. Millar also edited the book himself and given how hard it is to edit your own work, he did a remarkably good job.

Millar’s own story weaves its way into the book. He was in the priesthood, as Mark was,  and worked in Japan, as Eileen did. His background as a psychoanalyst shows in his portrayal of his characters, which is full of empathy and emotional insight.

Adrian Millar is passionate about telling stories. He tells his own story in A Dad’s Life in The Irish Examiner’s Feelgood Supplement. He gives other people a chance to tell their stories on the site The Beauty of Every Day Life, where people celebrate the extraordinary moments in their ordinary lives. You can buy the book via Amazon – just click here.




The Writing Studio

I just thought I’d tell you that I’ve found a lovely new home for my writing here in Waterford. It’s called Southpaw Writing Studio and it’s in the heart of Waterford City. It’s intended to be a space for writers and for people involved in the physical production of books – printers and bookbinders.

It’s also a gallery space, with an emphasis on exhibits of printed materials: photographs, screen prints etc.  I’m going to use it as a place to give writing workshops, starting on October 19th with a one-day workshop for adults. We will sit at an artist’s table, surrounded by beautiful pictures. Should provide us with some inspiration.

If you’re in Waterford City, drop in between 12 and 5pm.