Anita Shreve Shines at Smock Alley Theatre

Anita ShreveIn the intimate setting of the Smock Alley Theatre, Anita Shreve sat down in conversation with Sinead Gleeson. The writer began proceedings by reading a very brief extract from her new book, The Lives of Stella Bain. As she read aloud her own words we viewed the world through the eyes of the protagonist as she awoke in a field hospital in 1916 France to the realisation that she has no notion of her own identity.
After that tantalising snippet from her new novel, Anita chatted about her past and her work. She shared her memories of her early days as a teacher and her short story writing, her winning of the O. Henry prize in 1976, through to the publication of her first novel, Eden Close. Then we heard of her breakout success with The Pilot’s Wife, which was featured as part of Oprah’s Book Club, and her continued success up until the release of her newest novel, Stella Bain, which went through an incredible 9 drafts and a period locked in a drawer.
There were some standout moments, including an epic Oprah Winfrey impression and an anecdote in which it transpired that Anita only realised her novel, Resistance, had been adapted into a movie when a passing stranger happened to mention watching it on Netflix.
When it came to the Q&A the audience offered up some great questions. Here we learned, amongst other things, that Shreve does not try to imbue any particular ideology into her work and that her focus is on the story. She also revealed that she doesn’t talk about a book while she’s working on it, likening a story to a bottle of soda. She wants to keep all the fizz in the story so keeps the lid on tight until it’s time to drink it.
As the evening drew to a close everyone decamped to The Gutter Bookshop, across the street from Smock Alley Theatre, where the writer met fans and signed copies of her book. And so ended the second and final of our DWF-Off The Page preview events. There are now only 6 weeks left before the festival itself returns on May 17th, with a huge range of events in a host of venues over nine days. Full festival details will be announced very soon so keep an eye here and on the events section our website.

To learn more about Anita Shreve and her novels you can visit her website.

V is for Volunteers: Valued, Vivacious and Vital to our Vitality

Over the years we have been very fortunate to attract a huge number of helpful, dedicated volunteers who devote their time and their energy to make sure that each of our events run successfully and smoothly. They’re the folks who greet you with a smile, check your ticket, hold the mic for Q&A’s, and look after a dozen other little details to ensure that a positive experience is had by all in attendance. Anyone who attended the Emma Donoghue event in The Printworks last Saturday would have been greeted one of three volunteers: Elizabeth, Dorothy and Philip. Their professional and courteous conduct helped to make the afternoon’s event a great success. Afterwards they very kindly agreed to answer a few of our questions to let us know why it is they choose to volunteer and what attracted them to the Dublin Writers Festival specifically.


DWF: Had any of you volunteered before at other festivals/events?

Philip: 10 Days in Dublin, Dublin Theatre Festival, Dublin Beatles Festival, Bram Stoker Festival, Dublin Book Festival, First Fortnight, Temple Bar Tradfest, Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

Dorothy: At the Dublin Theatre Festival last year.

Elizabeth: I was a volunteer bookseller at the Dalkey Book Festival last year for the Gutter Bookshop. It was just one day, but I sold books at one event and then in the pop up bookshop after that.

DWF: Had you volunteered with us at the Dublin Writers Festival in previous years?

Dorothy: No.

Elizabeth: I have never volunteered for the Dublin Writers’ Festival before this year.

Phillip: 2014 will be my third year volunteering at DWF

DWF: Why do you choose to volunteer?

Philip: I find that volunteering has been a great way for me to catch up with what’s happening in the Arts. DWF is a great opportunity to get up close with writers and their work.

Elizabeth: I don’t volunteer for many things; I volunteer when I am interested in the event, campaign or issue. I think it’s important to be involved in what’s going on in the city, whether that is a book festival or something else. To be connected to the heart of the city, its culture and heritage is important for a sense of belonging, for both the volunteer and the attendees. So I volunteer for cultural events like the DWF to ensure that we don’t lose occasions like this and in the hope that with more people attending and talking about Emma Donoghue or Anita Shreve, more people will venture into their local bookshop and peruse the fiction section or, dare I say it, the non-fiction corner.

Dorothy: I was interested in the possibility of working in a more creative field and I thought of it is a good way of getting an idea of how these events are run. My main reason though is the social aspect of the events.

DWF: And why did you choose to volunteer at the Dublin Writers Festival specifically?

Philip: After I retired in 2012, DWF was literally the first volunteering opportunity I became aware of – I think I read a small piece in the Irish Times Weekend magazine – and I thought, why not? That proved to be a very enjoyable experience – I even got to meet author Jeanette Winterson at Brooks Hotel and walk with her to the Gate Theatre for her reading there.

Dorothy: One of the volunteers at the Dublin Theatre Festival said he had volunteered at the DWF last year, and it was very enjoyable and excellently run, so he recommended I volunteer this year.

Elizabeth: I was at an event last year, at Smock Alley (Kevin Powers and Ben Fountain), and I really enjoyed it. I was looking out for the festival this year and when I saw that the festival needed volunteers I thought I would put myself forward. I work in publishing at the moment (part time) and like to get involved in cultural events in the city, and I would also like to hear the authors speak about their books and careers and the inspiration they need in order to sit at their laptop for months on end to finish their manuscript. Volunteering seems like the perfect way to do just that.

DWF: How did you find volunteering at the Emma Donoghue event on Saturday, any favourite moment(s) that you’d like to share?

Philip: I thought this was a very good pre-Festival taster and I have no doubt the standard will be maintained throughout the Festival. I enjoyed the event on Saturday – Emma Donoghue is an excellent and very engaging speaker and the Q&A session was particularly lively.

Dorothy: I can’t pick any particular favourite moment. I enjoy dealing with the public and am always happy to help with the roving mikes, so I enjoyed the whole afternoon.

Elizabeth: I really enjoyed the event on Saturday. I enjoyed hearing Emma Donoghue talking about her writing process and her previous books. I haven’t read any of her books yet, but I would be inspired to pick up a copy of Frog Music after hearing about it. I thought the Q&A was wonderful. The questions covered a range of topics and the author was quite happy to go into detail about whatever was asked.

DWF: Would you recommend volunteering at the Dublin Writers Festival to other people?

Philip: Yes indeed! One gets to know other volunteers and recommendations are passed back and forth. I know that two of this year’s volunteers have signed up on the basis of my recommendation.

Dorothy: Maybe too early to say from my own point of view, but I am doing it on someone else’s recommendation and I was delighted to hear it is well run.  Easier to volunteer with a well organised festival.

Elizabeth: Would I recommend someone volunteer at the festival? Absolutely. Someone who has an interest in books (of course) and the writing process would benefit from participating in the festival. It wasn’t a very stressful event for me and the attendees were lovely. And I got to hear a very successful writer speak about her writing process. It was perfect.

DWF: And finally, what books are you reading now or what was the last book that you read?

Dorothy: Last book I read was David Norris’ A Kick Against the Pr**ks. Very interesting to learn about his early family life.

Philip: That’s a bit complicated as not so long ago I had several books on the go! I’m currently involved (as a volunteer) in a Trinity College History Project called Letters of 1916 (if you’re interested in learning more about this project, click here) which involves uploading and transcribing letters written circa 1915/1916 and donated by the public or certain archives. This work has given me an appetite for history so I have been reading up on WW1 and the 1916 Rising. My current reading is All in the Blood by Geraldine Plunkett Dillon and next up is 1916 What the People Saw by Mick O’Farrell.

After that it’s back to Midnight in Sicily by Peter Robb and The Boys by Christopher Fitz-Simon.

At last Saturday’s event I bought a copy of Emma Donoghue’s Frog Music for my wife as a Mother’s Day treat – I hope she finishes it quickly because I think I’ll slip it in to the queue ahead of some of the others!

Elizabeth: At the moment, I am reading American Rust by Philipp Meyer. His second book The Son was nominated at last year’s Irish Book Awards. This one, American Rust, is equally as wonderful and bloody. I can see why he is being compared to Steinbeck. The situations the characters find themselves in are painfully desperate. The American Dream certainly is dead.

After that, I will start Dave Eggers A heartbreaking tale of staggering genius‘. I can’t wait!


Well, Elizabeth can’t wait for her next book and we can’t wait until the festival kicks off on May 17th, which is only 6 weeks away now! Anyone attending any of our events over the nine days will be greeted by Elizabeth, Dorothy, Philip or one of our many other faithful volunteers. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the volunteers through the years for their commitment and also those who will be dedicating their time at this year’s festival.

If you are interested in volunteering for this year’s festival and would like to get in touch then you can send us an email to

Emma Donoghue – DWF Preview Event – A Review

Emma DonoghueEmma Donoghue has been on my must-read list since her début novel Stir-fry (which interestingly she tried to have pulled just before publication) in 1994. She is a fantastic writer, full of surprises in terms of subject matter and setting and that is what makes her such an enduring author. Who wants to read the same novel written ten different ways? I know I don’t.

frog musicEmma’s eighth novel, and twelfth book of fiction, Frog Music, has just been published and it is a delicious prospect: in the sweltering summer of 1876 in San Francisco, a young woman called Jenny Bonnet is shot dead. The survivor, her friend Blanche Beunon, is a French burlesque dancer. Blanche determines to bring Jenny’s murderer to justice provided the killer doesn’t track her down first. The blurb says: ‘The story Blanche struggles to piece together is one of free-love bohemians, desperate paupers and arrogant millionaires; of jealous men, icy women and damaged children. It’s the secret life of Jenny herself, a notorious character who breaks the law every morning by getting dressed: a charmer as slippery as the frogs she hunts.’ This is classic Donoghue territory; as The Guardian said, her historical novels ‘kindle imaginative worlds from the embers of forgotten lives’.

On Saturday in Dublin Castle’s Printworks, in a preview event for the Dublin Writers’ Festival, journalist Edel Coffey interviewed Emma Donoghue about Frog Music and about the writing life. Donoghue is a wonderful interviewee: pleasant, intelligent, articulate and interesting; she has plenty to say and has no difficulty in saying it. She has an open honesty about her that makes her compelling to listen to.

The author read first, a passage from Frog Music, featuring Blanche’s less than motherly relationship with her baby son. After her hugely successful novel Room, Donoghue said she wanted to write a truly awful mother and she has done that with Blanche. She says the novel asks the question: ‘Can mother-love bloom under difficult circumstances?’. She also described Frog Music as ‘a murder mystery’ – a genre new to her and, she said, ‘in some ways the most appealing genre’.

She spoke with enthusiasm about the research process: ‘It’s your job to take the research and turn it into living material. The process is fascinating – facts are suggestive and stimulating.’ She said in her research she is always looking for ‘oddity’ and that the move back and forth between being researcher and historical fiction writer is ‘very fiddly’. But she also said she gets a ‘forensic excitement from using fact’.

Donoghue described Blanche as a terrible mother – ‘She is irresponsible, slutty’ – but that she wanted the reader to empathise with her nonetheless. She posited that Blanche ‘proves the power of perspective’ in that the reader is ‘forced to empathise once other characters start shooting at the main character’. Donoghue said she was inspired to write unlovable characters by Baltimore-set TV series The Wire. ‘It’s about lowlifes but we care about them.’

Donoghue said she began her career wanting to ‘put women back into fiction’ but now she is more inclined to take ‘long forgotten nobodies and give them a name again’ and it just happens that many of them are women. She said her publishers ‘never quite know what I am going to throw at them’ but she is in a happy position because they are ‘very tolerant of that’. She went on to say that the idea for Room ‘fell into my lap’ and that it was ‘the easiest book I ever wrote because it was high concept’. Edel Coffey pointed out that it has sold 2,000,000 copies to date.

Donoghue is currently working as executive producer and co-screenwriter with Element Pictures on the film version of Room, telling us that director Lenny Abrahamson flies out to her home in London, Ontario in Cananda, and they ‘sit around swapping ideas’ about the film adaptation of her novel. She said that Abrahamson is ‘very brilliant and tasteful and his films always have heart in them’.

Film of course is very different to novel writing and Donoghue said she is deliberately working with a small Irish company because she wants the collaboration that Hollywood might not offer. Of the process she said: ‘You draw on the director’s knowledge and you try to think visually.’ She also said: ‘I love the discipline of seeing which lines from the novel can stay and which don’t need to.’

She told us a little of her life in Canada – a country that ‘suits her very well’, she said – because it is ‘diverse and civilised’. When asked by Edel Coffey about her writing process, she revealed she has, for the last 18 months or so, been writing while walking on a treadmill because she realised she sits too much. It’s working for her but she said she sits at her desk if a scene requires a slow pace. She is also writing a children’s book which she is nervous about but is enjoying. ‘I have to be fascinated by a topic in order to write it.’ She also said she allows herself, to quote Ann Lamott, to write ‘shitty first drafts’, a relief to many writers there that day, no doubt.

When asked in the Q&A to give advice to writers Donoghue said: ‘Take it up at 70 or 12. You only need yourself. Go ahead and do it. Don’t let any paralysing self-consciousness get in your way. Plunge in and have a go.’ Down to earth advice from a very down to earth Irish writer. If she is appearing anywhere near you, go and listen. Emma Donoghue is a wonder.

For more on the new novel, please go to

 (Nuala Ní Chonchúir)

Emma Donoghue Wows Audience at The Printworks

ImageOn stage at The Printworks, Emma Donoghue had everyone enthralled with a reading of an extract from her new novel, Frog Music. With a spirited delivery her words transported us from a well lit room in Dublin to the sweltering and smallpox-riddled streets of San Francisco in the late 19th century, as seen through the eyes of protagonist, Blanche Beunon.

After this the writer sat down with Edel Coffey to share many insights and anecdotes about her life and work. Of particular interest was the revelation that she uses a treadmill writing desk to both write and exercise at the same time, the logistics of which I couldn’t quite wrap my head around. The room was then turned over to the audience for a round of Q & A, where many an interesting question was posed and answered.

Talking to people afterwards there was a real sense of engagement and enjoyment which was evident by the long line queuing to meet Emma and have their books signed by her. A number of our bloggers were in attendance so expect more considered thoughts on the event very soon. A huge thanks to the staff of The Printworks, our dedicated volunteers and, of course, to Edel Coffey and Emma Donoghue, for making this a truly entertaining afternoon.

If you wish to find out more about Emma Donoghue and all her books, including Frog Music, then you can visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

Update on Festival Events


We have a lot of exciting things happening this week.

Yesterday our Date with an Agent event concluded its first stage and right now all the submissions are being carefully read and assessed. The 75 successfully chosen writers will have the opportunity to pitch their books directly to leading literary agents on May 17th. Not only that but they will also be given invaluable advice and insight into how the publishing business works.

This week sees the start of our DWF-OFF THE PAGE series: two very special preview events happening before the main festival in May. Tomorrow, Saturday March 29th, Emma Donoghue will be appearing at The Printworks, Dublin Castle, and then on Wednesday, April 2nd, Anita Shreve will be at Smock Alley Theatre. These events should prove highly entertaining and informative as the writers take to the stage to talk about their lives and work. Tickets are still available for both events.

Remember that the main festival will be returning from May 17th until 25th, which means that this year you can enjoy an extended nine days of fantastic events. There is already a huge deal of excitement and anticipation about Ray Davies’ upcoming appearance at the National Concert Hall on Monday, May 19th. The rock legend, and former front-man of The Kinks, will take to the stage not to sing or play guitar but instead to sit down in conversation with Joseph O’Connor, discussing his life and his new book, Americana: the Kinks, the Road and the Perfect Riff

AND WHO ELSE WILL BE PART OF THIS YEAR’S FESTIVAL STORY? Well, we’ll have the answer to that question very, very soon. In fact, all will be revealed on Thursday, April 10th, when the full line-up is announced. Remember, for the most up to date festival news, keep an eye on our website or follow us on Facebook and Twitter. The anticipation is really starting to build here now for what should be a really remarkable nine days in May of inspiring and entertaining events. We can’t wait for May, we hope you can’t either!


Frog Music and collaborative harmony: an interview with Emma Donoghue

ED2013bw“One very Irish theme I explore through this odd story (Frog Music) is the lingering, multi-generation effect of the neglect and abuse of children.”

Emma Donoghue discusses bringing Room to the big screen and how only obsessive dedication to research produces a thick enough texture, as the author becomes a reporter from another time and place.

With Lenny Abrahamson set to direct the movie adaptation of Room, how do you expect his vision of the book will translate to the screen and how have you been involved in that process?

I’m involved up to my eyeballs – as an executive producer with a say in everything from location to casting (which is already underway), but mostly as the scriptwriter. Working with Lenny is teaching me so much about film: a whole other art form. I think he’s got just the right combination of artistic purity and down-to-earth populism to make Room the film just as good as the book.  It’s also proving to be one of the most harmonious and indeed hilarious collaborative relationships of my career.  So far, that is – ultimately he’s the boss, so I may hate him by the time the final cuts are made! But I doubt it.

Having come from an academic background, bringing a great deal of research to your fictional works, how did you prepare to create the setting of San Francisco in 1876 for your latest novel, Frog Music?

I always do too much research, because only too much is enough.  Meaning, that I have to follow my curiosity down every little trail, and become a temporary expert in things that may not even end up being shown in the book.  In my experience, only that kind of obsessive dedication produces a thick enough texture – a sense that the author is a sort of reporter from another time and place.  What was new about Frog Music was that I used so many online sources (genealogical databases, local newspapers, ships’ passenger lists, census returns) that would have been almost impossible for me to access ten or twenty years ago.

Were you inspired or influenced by an actual murder case from that time in writing the book?

Yes, I drew on about sixty newspaper articles about the San Miguel Mystery, which was the term of the day for the unsolved shooting of a young cross-dressing frog catcher called Jenny Bonnet.

You’ve mentioned previously that you assume nothing about the people who will read your books and that “the real value of telling a freakish story is to illuminate the normal and universal”, have you continued with that approach with Frog Music?

Definitely.  Gender-benders like Jenny, for instance, show what it was like for everyone else to follow the laws of masculinity and femininity. One very Irish theme I explore through this odd story is the lingering, multi-generation effect of the neglect and abuse of children.

How would you describe the main characters and the crux of the story? Love gone sour, friendship wreaking havoc, bohemian fun leading to bloodshed and horror.

Do you feel you used your own life for fiction in any aspects of Frog Music? Oh yes: all my bad-mother moments helped me channel the narrator Blanche, a thorough selfish pleasure-seeker unprepared for motherhood. She was a particular relief to write after the heroic young mother in Room.

Are you currently working on any new plays or novels? I’m writing a children’s book – another new genre for me, right after trying the murder mystery in Frog Music.  (It’s very humbling, feeling like a complete beginner every time.)

Interview by Lynne Nolan

Emma Donoghue will be speaking at a special preview event for Dublin Writers Festival at The Printworks (Dublin Castle) on March 29. For further details and to book tickets click here