DWF Venue #5: Irish Writers’ Centre (Valerie Bistany, Director)

What (and where) is the Irish Writers’ Centre?

Front door IWC

The Irish Writers’ Centre is an organisation that supports writers at all stages of their development. We also promote writing in general and Irish writing in particular. We are a national resource centre for Irish literature and welcome all those interested in Irish literature to our beautiful Georgian building at 19 Parnell Square, on the north side of the square facing the Gardens of Remembrance.  We are flanked by the Dublin Writers Museum on one side and the Hugh Lane Gallery on the other.

What happens there? IWC Giro

Lots!  We run a diverse programme of creative writing workshops, seminars, lectures, readings, and other events, such as a lovely one last Friday in our Dublin City Writings lunchtime series called City Bike Tales as part of the Giro D’Italia events; audience members were invited to share cycling-themed stories and poems in an Open Mic setting, hosted by Alan Clarke, who had illustrated his selected poems beautifully.  The atmosphere was fantastic, made all the more special because each reader had taken the trouble to write a bespoke (no pun intended!) piece and delivered it with passion and aplomb.

Our year-round creative writing courses are led by established writers across a range of genres, forms and styles and many of our students have gone on to publish and lead successful careers as writers –  we’re pleased that many come back to the IWC as facilitators and so the cycle (!) continues.

IWC HallWe are open to all literary enquiries and our building is a creative space for writers’ groups, publishers’ meetings, book launches and other literary endeavours at subsidised rates or for no cost. We also rent out our rooms during the day to keep the wolf from the door. Our members can avail of rooms during the week to simply come and write, or to hang out with a cuppa and read a book from our library.  Sometimes, members of the public drop in simply to view our wonderful contemporary Irish art collection belonging to Frank Buckley which is on permanent display at the IWC.

A new strand of our programme is the area of professional development for published writers.  Entitled Mindshift, it attempts to answer some of the needs expressed by authors.  In fact, to address the burning issue of money and how to find it, we are running our 3rd Mindshift event in the IWC entitled “The Business of Being a Writer” which focuses on all aspects financial.  We’ve invited Sarah Bannan of the Arts Council and Ray Yeates of Dublin City Council to speak about funding opportunities, Jane O’Hanlon of Poetry Ireland will unpack the Writers in Schools scheme, Mia Gallagher will share her experiences of being a Writer-in-Residence and tax expert Gaby Smyth will speak about the nitty gritty of managing all aspects of taxes and finance with the professional writer in mind.  It takes place this Saturday May 17th as part of the DWF and is really a must for any writer looking for the latest information on finances.

Who is the centre for?

The Centre is primarily for writers and the majority of our programmes are created with the writer in mind. However, we encourage those who are curious about writing.  For instance, a new initiative is the New Irish Communities Workshops aimed at those who are not native English speakers, but who want to write creatively in English.  We are also welcoming to readers, not only as audience members, but as inquisitive learners – earlier in the year we ran an excellent course led by Harry Clifton on Reading Modern Poetry which was very popular.

Anyone can drop in with a literary enquiry and we will endeavour to answer it.  Much information is already on our website and we send a comprehensive newsletter every Wednesday (to anyone who signs up) with sector information on events, competitions and opportunities, as well as our own news of course.

What is your role and how did you get there?

I’m the director of the IWC, (though CEO may be a more accurate description). My background is as a professional arts manager, producer & events coordinator having worked primarily in professional theatre and dance but also with young people in Ireland, England and the USA.  I’m also a creative facilitator and a mediator, and am particularly motivated in supporting artists’ creative processes. I have done much work in this area with artists directly, but also with arts organisations and their Boards in vision planning.

What is your favourite  of all the events the centre has hosted since you took over as Director?

2014 Novel Fair winners

2014 Novel Fair winners

I think the Novel Fair is certainly the most well-conceived and exciting IWC event that I’ve attended.  It is a brilliant opportunity for any aspiring novelist to meet a whole rake of publishers and agents at once, and to have those contacts forever.  The Novel Fair was launched in April and if anyone is thinking of entering, you have till October 24th to hand in your 10,000 words.  Have a go!

As they were my creation, I am very invested in the Mindshift series and am keen to reach out to published authors. But to answer the question directly, last Friday’s City Bike Tales was simply brilliant and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Have you had any disasters?

It is quite a leap to be a first-time director in a new, unfamiliar sector and certainly my learning curve was steep.  No overt disasters yet, but rather, with every set-back my ability to change and adapt to a new set of circumstances increases.  Change in the fast lane!

If you could host one literary extravaganza, a major event with no budget or space restrictions, what would it be?

I would love to put on an international event which connects writers with philosophers, scientists, children, musicians, choreographers, educators, politicians (yes even them), and to have debates around really simple questions, the kind that a child might ask, such as “why do we write?” or “”can we really write down what we think?” or “do all artists need to be able to write to create art?” or questions that may not be to do with writing at all.  It would be fantastic to see more discussions around issues that are important to us all as a race but that tend not to be debated in the arts sector, because we are generally too inward-looking.  I can understand why this is, and am certainly a culprit myself, but as a converger my natural tendency is to bring things together, and to aim for more joined-up thinking.

There are big plans to develop the north side of Parnell Square as a Cultural Quarter: can you talk about those plans and how the IWC might be involved?

As I understand it, the Colaiste Mhuire site to the west of the Hugh Lane Gallery and no. 20 next to us, is to be developed as the new Dublin City Library.  The library at present, is bursting at the seams in the ILAC Centre site so it is high time for a change.  Work is underway at the moment to raise funding for this new site with a huge footprint that will be able to accommodate all of the library’s archives, a StoryHouse, a 200-seater auditorium, an intercultural hub and design and music centres. The stated target opening date is Christmas 2017. http://parnellsquare.ie/

This is an exciting development which will enhance the cultural development of Parnell Square and bring more footfall in our direction.  There is a direct and complimentary correlation with the library (for readers) and the Irish Writers’ Centre (for writers) sitting side by side and working together in producing programmes that will benefit both constituent groupings. For example, we are already planning a programme that links writers with library book clubs.

What do you love most about your job?

The freedom it offers to have an idea and then to make it happen – this is the creative part of a largely administrative role and it is a great thrill to see ideas made manifest. It is also scary and nerve-wracking because one can never be sure if it will work.  So an event or programme idea that receives genuine praise and is deemed to have been of value is a fantastic incentive and motivates me to keep my ear to the ground but to be brave in risk-taking. For instance, I’m really excited about our upcoming Experimental Fiction festival entitled Circa Words 2014 which is taking place over Bloomsday Weekend.  We’ve invited online magazines and journals to the Centre where we will share, chat, debate, read and workshop– and lots more besides.

Does anything about it make you cranky?

My greatest frustration is to do with my impatience at the pace of change.  If I had a magic wand I would wave it now and speed the world on. It takes time for any organisation to evolve and develop.  My own vision of an ideal IWC is constantly changing as I learn more, as we try different things, as we succeed, fail and try again. I am blessed with a fantastic team of people who are committed, enthusiastic and ambitious for the future of the Centre, and without whom none of the work could ever happen.

What makes me cranky?  Computers, phones and flaky projectors.

If it wasn’t what it is, what do you think the Centre would  be?

That’s an interesting question. I imagine that it could either be Chapter Two (a new version of Chapter One restaurant downstairs) or it could be derelict like next door, the old Ierne ballroom.  Two intriguing polar images.

What do you imagine will be here in the future?

The Luas coming to Parnell Square alone will change things for the better. If the Cultural Quarter takes off, then there is every chance that there could be a strong influx of new traffic to Parnell Square. It will rejuvenate existing businesses, attract new ones to the area and the Irish Writers’ Centre plans to be at the heart of the good news. The northside could do with a lift and this is the perfect opportunity.

The Irish Writers’ Centre: www.writerscentre.ie

19 Parnell Square, Dublin 1 IWC map




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