Ann McEwan introduced herself to a group of six like-minded people last Wednesday, explaining to them that she gets fidgety if she doesn’t have a book with her.
“If I’m going on holiday the first thing I think about is what books I’m bringing, she told the group all sitting, with space between them, in the County Library, Tallaght.
She’s not the only person that feels this way. “When I’m packing my suitcase, the first thing that goes into it is the books,” says Kate Byrne, sitting with her back to the wall so she can speak to the rest of the group.
Byrne is sitting in front of McEwan, as rain trickles down the window opposite them outside. On the opposite side of the room sits Paul Dunne.
Only a few hours before the group met, Dunne had just finished a master’s in creative writing from Trinity College Dublin. “I want to write a coming of age fiction novel based in Tallaght,” he says.
Each person in the group continues to introduce themselves. Among the group are book enthusiasts, aspiring writers and active names in the poetry scene. They all come from different backgrounds but they share two things in common; a passion for literature and a connection to Tallaght.
It’s the first day of a 10-week seminar, Connection Reset 24: Attention Equals Life as part of the Red Line Book Festival.
Over the next few weeks, the participants will walk around Tallaght as part of the workshop making note of anything that catches their eye — shop fronts, cars, place names, and animals.
From there they will dig deeper into their chosen object through research in the library archives, and online.
At the end of the course, each person will write a story on their chosen item where it is planned to be published as a collection.
“The last census found that over two-thirds of the population live in an urban setting,” says Keith Payne, the organiser of the project and a Tallaght native.
“I believe that there is a wealth of life and community there to write about,” he says.
Validating the Suburbs
Payne works as a poet and a translator. He spends half of his time in Dublin and the other half in Galicia, Spain.
“It [the project] comes out of the idea that during lockdown you were limited to a 2km radius to your front door,” says Payne, speaking on the phone from his Galician home two weeks ago.
He speaks to the group in a soft, welcoming tone. The lockdown made some people focus on their own area and notice the flora, fauna, people, and history in their own area, he says.
Payne wants the participants to study the local history of the area by researching their chosen element in the library.
“[Then] you get to build up a really detailed knowledge of where you live,” he says.
He sees this project as a way to validate Tallaght through literature , as, he says, the suburbs aren’t the subject of much fiction.
Oh Captain, My Captain
In the library, Payne stands at the top of the class in a beige woolly jumper and circle framed glasses, pacing up and down in his hiking boots.
The group listens to a list of possible topics that they can write on over the next 10 weeks, including local history or the diverse culture of the area.
One starting point of inspiration, for the class, could be a look at where Tallaght originated from, he says.
“Many housing estates are actually built on old estate land,” Payne says.
Blocks of houses sit on land which was once owned by one landlord, he says.
These estates include Corkagh Park, Rathfarnham Castle and Willsbrook.
Payne lists local points of interest for the group to look out for; the river Poddle, species of birds in the area, cars, shop fronts, and even the grey squirrel.
Studying inanimate objects is a great tool for creative writing, says Payne.
“Each object has its own vibrations,” he says.
“Just look at some of the things that Seamus Heaney writes about,” he says, listing blackberries, boglands or peeling potatoes.
He then instructs the group to take a half an hour out of their week to think about what interests them about the area.
Providing Motivation for Budding Writers
“Something like this is exactly what I need,” says Kasey Shelley after the class.
Shelley has been involved in the open mic poetry scene for the last three years **but she’s been finding it hard to write recently, she says. Most literature meetups in a physical space were put on hold during lockdown, so tonight is the first real life creative writing session for Shelley since the start of the pandemic.
“It can be hard to motivate yourself,” she says.
The writing group is the motivation that she needed to write again, she says.
McEwan agrees with Shelley.
“It’s great to be out again,” she says.
This an opportunity for McEwan to start working on a project that has been on her mind for some time now.
“I’d like to start working on my memoirs. I was adopted. I’d like to put my own experience to paper,” she says.
But in the meantime, for next week, the group will head out into Tallaght and find something to write about.
“Look what you have on your own doo step. You need to go out into the community and have a look around. You need to see it, smell it, taste it or listen to it” says Payne.