Pandemic Prose: The Closing

Here’s the second of my ten pandemic prose poems. It also featured in the lineup of the Modwordsfest spoken word festival on 11-12 July – thanks to Anna Jordan for that. I don’t think any of us will ever forget where we were when we heard that we were locking down. It’ll be a ‘where were you’ conversation for years to come. I was in a school, and my piece aims to capture the strange joy of that moment.

If you have a spare two minutes, I’d love you to take a look. Many thanks.

Here’s a video of my latest piece of pandemic prose, The Closing.

Words Are All I Have: Some Pandemic Writing

I’ve written ten prose poems inspired, if you want to call it that, by the COVID crisis. I’ll be posting them up as videos over the next ten weeks and sharing them on this blog.

This first one, Words Are All I Have, was a response to how helpless I felt as the crisis began to unfold. It was published on the Pendemic website, and also featured as part of the Modwordsfest spoken word festival in Waterford on 11-12 July.

If you’d like to hear Words Are All I have, you’ll find it here.

Announcing the WriteWords Online Children’s Writing Course

Every summer, I run a creative writing course for children. And I don’t see why this summer should be any different. Last week, I told you about my online writing courses for adults. Now, I’m going to do an the same for children. I’m going to run an online children’s writing course for children aged between seven and ten.

Inspiration for Writing Course

It was actually two boys I know who inspired me to take my writing courses online. Their mother asked me to give them some writing classes over WhatsApp during the height of lockdown, and they went really well. At first, it was strange speaking into a screen, but the boys took it in their stride, and given that I wasn’t in the room with them, they concentrated really well.

I’m going to run five one-hour sessions. The first four sessions will each cover a different creative writing skill. The final day will be a feast for the senses, as we let ourselves be inspired by what we hear, what we see and what we taste. The sessions will be highly interactive, with lots of laughter and chat, and they will feel like real-world writing classes.

What Will Happen During the Camp

On the first day, we’ll concentrate on language. The children will make up their own words, play with the alphabet and write about summer without using the word summer. The second day will be all about creating characters, both real and imagined.

On the third day, the children will create worlds. This is always a popular session. They create their own countries, name them and draw a map of them. They’ll also travel back in time, to imagine what their house might have looked like in the 1920s. This class will teach them about the value of setting, the place and time in which a story takes place.

Photo illustrates that the online children’s writing course will be just as enriching as a real-world course

Children writing at a big table during one of my previous writing courses. The walls behind them are white and there are paintings on them.

The fourth day is all about what happens in stories: in other words, the plot. The children will devise their own newspaper, filled with exciting stories. On the final day, as the children explore their senses, they’ll create their own disgusting recipes and list and make their favourite sounds.

If I’ve managed to whet your appetite, my online children’s writing course will run from 13-17 July, from 10-11am each day. The price of the camp will be €40 per child, with concessions for two children or more.

If you’d like to book a place for your child, call me on 087 6959799 or email derbhile@writewordseditorial.ie.

What You’ll Learn in an Online Writing Course

I was delighted at the response I got when I announced to my social media networks that I was giving online writing courses. I had written a blog post telling people what sorts of online courses I was offering for adults and children, Now I’m writing another one to tell you exactly what you can expect when you sign up for these online courses.

A question will naturally come up in your mind. What will an online writing course be like?

Answer: the same as a real-world class. Or at least as close to a real-world class as I can get it. That’s why I’m delivering interactive classes via videoconferencing rather than posting a series of videos and notes. That’s the way courses are organised on an online educational portal such as Udemy or Coursera.

I want my online writing courses to feel like the real thing. You’ll do the activities in real time and I’ll give you feedback in real time.

I will write a separate blog post about what my children’s writing camp will be like, but for now, I’ll talk about my adult writing course. You’ll have six two-hour writing sessions and each one will focus on a different writing technique. Then I’ll ask you to write your own piece, based on what you’ve learned during the course.

Getting Started

I’ll ease you in gently with lots of icebreaking activities aimed at helping you break free of your inhibitions. You’ll learn that your writing is not as crap as you thought it was. You’ll also discover that when your mind is set free, it comes up with amazing ideas. We’ll also do language activities that aim to help you describe your world in fresh ways.

Three Pillars of Storytelling

The next three sessions will be devoted to each of the three pillars of storytelling: character, setting and plot. Character will come up first. You’ll learn how to create a character and make them come alive.

In the character class, you’ll create a profile for this crazy creature. Photo Description: He’s an old man with a long, pointy bears and a thin face.

Setting refers to the world where your story happens, in terms of both place and time. In the session about setting, you’ll learn how to create believable worlds for your characters. And the plot session will help you structure your story and decide what happens next.

Other Creative Writing Skills

After that, we’ll have a session that’s a feast for the senses – literally, as you’ll be learning how to weave all five of your senses into your writing. We’ll explore how our senses can evoke emotions and unlock memories, which will give you inspiration for your writing. Our final class will deal with point of view, as in the point of view we choose to tell our story from. The viewpoint we choose will shape how your reader experiences the story and what opinion they form of the characters.

The Final Bit

After the six sessions are over, I’ll ask you to create a piece of writing of your own. You may have been inspired by one of the activities on the course, or you may have a piece of writing you were already working on. You send it to me and I will give you feedback that will help you develop it further, if you wish.

If you’d like to chat to me directly about how these classes work, call me on 087 6959799 or email derbhile@writewordseditorial.ie.

How I Rewrite Content

By Derbhile Graham

Here’s an example of content I have rewritten to make it more concise and more interesting to read. It comes from a blog called How DO I Open My Jar/Tin of Caviar, from Caviar Star.

All the perishable caviar products sold by Caviar Star come in vacuum sealed containers. Whether it’s our screw-top vacuum jars or pop-down vacuum tins, our containers are sealed tight to ensure that the caviar remains fresh and uncontaminated for the duration of its trip to the customer.

Although using air-tight containers to minimize air exposure and other contaminants is important, these jars and tins can really cause a headache, or hand-ache, when trying to get them open.

Best methods for opening vacuum jars and tins: Rather than using your hands, reach into your pocket and pull out a coin, or track down a tool like a butter knife or church-key bottle opener. Applying a little pressure between the lip of the lid and the threading of the base will break the seal and pop open your caviar jar or caviar tin quite easily.

And here’s what I’d do.

At Caviar Star, we pride ourselves on keeping your caviar fresh no matter how far it travels. We vacuum seal all our caviar jars and tins to prevent the from being exposed to the air. There’s just one problem with these vacuum seals – you may find it hard to open your jar or tin of caviar.

So, what’s the best way to get your delicious caviar open?

Just reach into your pocket and pull out a coin. If you don’t have a coin, try a butter knife or church key bottle opener. Slip your coin between the lip of the lid and the jar or tin itself. The pressure of the coin will break the seal and you can open and enjoy your caviar right away.

Article About Macular Pigment Study

By Derbhile Graham

This article originally appeared in The Irish Medical Times

A study conducted by researchers at Waterford Institute of Technology has found that using filtering lenses in cataract surgery reduces the risk of Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD).

The researchers at the Macular Pigment Research Group (MPRG) found that implanting lenses which filter out blue light increases the level of protective macular pigment in the eye.

The MPRG’s findings were featured in the October issue of Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science, a journal which is recognised as having the highest impact in the field.

During the trial, 42 patients who were due to undergo cataract surgery were implanted with either blue-light filtering or standard intra-ocular lenses (IOL). The density of macular pigment and the concentration of carotenoids were measured before surgery and several times during the following year.

The MPRG has already conducted a number of studies establishing the role of diet in preventing AMD. The recently published CARMA studies show that supplemental lutein and xeazanthin preserves vision in AMD patients.

However, this study has pinpointed the role harmful blue light plays in retinal degeneration and shown that filtering out blue light increases macular pigment levels. Mr Stephen Beatty, consultant ophthalmologist and researcher with the MPRG, believes that the findings of this study add an extra dimension to the group’s work.          

“It’s unique in that it’s the first time we have been able to demonstrate that this important and protective pigment can be augmented by non-dietary means” says Beatty.

“It tells us a lot about the mechanism of AMD because the blue-filtering lenses resulted in this protective pigment increasing in the eye, therefore implying that it is indeed the blue wavelength of visible light that do cause the retinal damage which results in AMD.”

The study shows that using blue-light filtering lenses will bring immediate and long-lasting benefits to patients undergoing cataract surgery, which will have a bearing on how these procedures are conducted. “Surgeons will be more likely to implant blue-light filtering IOLs if they know it results in greater protection against AMD down the road,” says Mr Beatty.

Article About How Dentists Treat Children With Special Needs

By Derbhile Graham

This article appeared in a 2008 edition of The Irish Examiner Feelgood SupplementBy, a health and lifestyle supplement.

People with special needs face greater dental health problems than the rest of the population and public-sector dentists are forced to deliver a high-quality service with limited resources.

“There is a large amount of unmet need,” said Prof June Nunn, Professor of Special Care Dentistry at Trinity College Dental School. “Access to special services like general anaesthetic (GA), which people with severe impairments particularly need, is limited. Patients are often waiting weeks even for emergency access.”

Dublin only has one GA list for the country’s largest centre of population, but other services can be accessed whenever patients need it. “We have a comprehensive service in place,” says Berna Treacy, Senior Clinical Dental Surgeon for children with special needs in the HSE South Lee Region in Cork. “If someone rings up in pain, they can see a special needs dentist that day.”

The Department of Health has funded training in sedation techniques at Dublin Dental Hospital and Prof Nunn believes training for all public-sector dentists is the key to ensuring a high standard of service for patients with special needs. “We must ensure that the whole dental team are appropriately trained so that there is good access for all patients.”

Meanwhile, dentists on the ground have evolved their own techniques for dealing with special-needs patients. “We use a show-tell-do method, tell them what we’re going, show them what we’re going to do and then do it,” says Berna Treacy. “We introduce them slowly to it and they gradually get used to it.”

Marion Phelan’s 11 year old son David is autistic and uses the HSE’s special-needs dental service in Waterford.

“There’s no way you could give David treatment. He finds the noise level difficult. But we find the dentist very accommodating. She takes her time with him and takes him through everything step-by-step. He doesn’t have to keep his mouth open all the time; she gives him a break. Recently, he allowed her to use the air gun on his cheek.”

“He understands that if he’s calm and keeps his mouth open, he can go to the toy shop afterwards. They play games of dentist at school and the techniques he learns at school follow on in the surgery.”

Want To Try An Online Writing Course?

In the past, I’ve found myself in the disappointing position of having to tell people that I don’t have enough numbers for my creative writing courses. But now that disappointment is behind me, thanks to something I never would have considered before – an online creative writing course.

I thought organising an online writing course would be beyond a technophobe like me, that I would need fancy equipment and high-level editing skills. Then the pandemic came and I found myself giving creative writing classes to two boys via WhatsApp. And I realised I could offer online classes to others, using whatever medium they’re comfortable with.


Rows of square pictures of people taking part in a Zoom writing class. From Gotham Writers.

You would think that online creative writing courses would feel remote and stilted but they’re actually not. My own writers’ group has transferred well onto Zoom. And it didn’t knock a feather out of the boys. They’re so used to talking to people via a video screen already.

Of course there’s no substitute for the real thing, but the advantage of an online course is the level of attention I can give to the people who attend. That allows me to create a personal experience for them, even if they’re not in the room with me.

The online writing courses I’ll give will be in real time, so they’ll be interactive and you’ll feel as if you’re in the same room as the other participants.

So, here’s what I’m going to going to offer in terms of online creative writing courses.

I’ll have time to explore their writing challenges in depth and I can offer detailed feedback which will help them develop their stories. And because I have fewer overheads, I can run my writing courses at a more reasonable price.

Beginners’ Creative Writing for Adults

I’ll give six two-hour writing workshops via Zoom or whatever videoconferencing system you’re most comfortable using. Each class will cover a different creative writing technique, like language usage, character creation and managing points of view.

After the creative writing course is over, you’ll be asked to produce a piece of writing and you’ll receive individual feedback on it. The price of this course is €60 for six sessions, with a $5 discount if you pay for the classes in advance.

Children’s Writing Camps

Children are already used to learning online, as TV screens and computer screens have taken over from the classroom during the pandemic. I’ll do a five-day course for children aged 6-12, with a one-hour session each day.

These will be highly interactive sessions, and the children will travel through time, create their own worlds and bring objects to life. I’m widening the age range I work with two. The five sessions will cost €30, or €25 if you pay in advance.

One-To-One Coaching

This is ideal for people who have a specific idea for a writing project that they want to get off the ground. You’ll have your own exclusive mentoring session to help you develop your idea, whether it’s for a novel, a collection of short stories or a memoir.

I’ll give you tips for structuring your idea and you’ll also receive my tips in a report afterwards, so you won’t need to write like mad while you’re talking. You can also ask for advice if you’re in the middle of a project and you find yourself stuck. This service will cost €60, or €55 if you pay for it in advance.

You’ll find general information about my creative writing courses and my writing consultancy services on my website. If you’d like to chat to me directly about how these classes work, call me on 087 6959799 or email derbhile@writewordseditorial.ie.