Shamim de Brún : Lost in Music

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A Timeless Playlist

So I’m hammering away at these keys in Dublin’s best smoking area. The IFI. In my opinion anyway. It’s a bit chilly but their wifi works great even out here so I can’t really complain. I punch my earphones into my compact laptop, switch to Spotify and play my “Ryan Gattis: All Involved” playlist. A playlist I’ve just spent a whole hour compiling. It’s as close to the soundtrack of Ryan Gattis’s Lost In Music event that I can get. My head bops, the playlist soothes me while I light a cigarette and think about Gattis. He spent two and a half years researching his latest novel “All Involved” and I’m trying to write about it in only two days. It’s a paralizing thought. So I … scroll through twitter. I follow Gattis. He’s an interesting guy. From REM albums to Hamlet auditions I feel like I learned a lot about him in his one hour nine minute talk in the Liquor Rooms on Saturday. There’s nothing else to tweet about except Gattis. So I do. I tell the world what I’m doing but in a vague way. It’s a tweet, no space for superfluous detail.

The Supremes “Run Run Run” is still playing when my hands get too cold to be typing. There’s only a light but crisp summer breeze to complain about but it’s enough to drive me inside. I pause Ms. Ross and co mid chorus and I rock inside in search of a warmer spot to chill with my playlist, notes and this little blog post.

I find an empty table right near the entrance to that bathrooms. It’s not ideal but hey at least it’s warm. The waiter comes over to me in my new spot and I notice my stomach trying to claw its way into my consciousness. I haven’t eaten since breakfast and it’s almost 4. The waiter, Saleem, he speaks to me over the music in my ears. I take one earphone out and I know I’m being rude but Kid Frost’s Mi Vida Loca is on and it’s almost finished. I listen as its soothing sample peters out and ask Saleem how he is getting on, in French, ‘cos why not. As the song finishes I pop the other ear bud out, slap the pause button and order myself nibbles and a coffee.

My body has warmed up after nicely as I’ve snacked and bopped away to More Than a Feeling and Rock Around the Clock and so I go back to my laptop. I can’t quite remember where I was going with my sentence so I delete it and go back to my notes from the evening. And I am so thankful for mobile phones. Smart phones, man, they make it easier. I have everything I need to write this in my pocket if I wanted. That thought makes me pensive. I think about how riots today are fueled by social media. How Twitter and Facebook get the blame for horrific events. The London Riots in 2011 are a prime example. I guess it must work the way Gattis said the media fueled the 1992 LA riots, the setting for “All Involved”. People know the places and what’s happening and they just join in. We’re all just opportunistic sheep. The image of a sheep in a riot makes me laugh. It shouldn’t but it does.

When you think realistically though…Scary thoughts. Gangs. Rioting. Civil Unrest. It’s all over my Facebook. Ferguson, New York, Baltimore. I can read about it if and when I want to, but I can also not. I can just ignore it. I’m hit in the face by my own privilege as I type this. I think about the themes in Gattis’s bestseller and know that “All Involved” is timeless. Gattis is so right. When things don’t change, when cities and inner cities in particular don’t have access to jobs, education and healthcare it’s always gonna happen. It’s inevitable. We never learn. Do we even listen? Generation to generation? We mustn’t. After all I hadn’t even heard of the LA riots and I was approaching my first birthday when they happened. I mean they happened in my lifetime and if there wasn’t an amazing fiction book written about them I think I’d still be plodding along in my ignorance and I lived in LA for six month. Smack. There’s that privilege again.

Then just to hammer that thought home 5446 comes on. I lament that I couldn’t find the live version Gattis treated us to on the night. I enjoy the remastered version anyway. And I think about him, about Gattis, about how much he enjoyed his work and his reading, how hard he worked on such a mamoth task, how into it he got, how he managed to create 17 distinct, clear voices, and how he had to clarify there were, in fact, no snails in the book. He had tripped over the word snares. It was absolutely hilarious. It makes me smile. One of those broad toothy smiles that if a someone caught it they’d think I was mad. But snails! Hilarious.

A beat of a specials song bumps into my head as I stifle a giggle and I think about how many of these songs I actually know. Considering I was only a baby at their peak popularity. I sip my coffee. Only adults get to sip coffee. A Message to you Ruddy fades out and the playlist is played through. The melody is gone. Just like the final narrator in the brave book I don’t hear anything but background noise. Cafe sounds, a lot better than the cracking fires that consumed most of LA over the course of the 6 day riots. And I rebuild the scene from the Liquor Rooms in my mind before pressing repeat. Mixtapes might have died but the playlist lives on. This playlist is perfect. I think I’ll be listening to these tunes for a while. Thanks Gattis.

By Shamim de Brún

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Inspirational Authors – Alan Walsh

MarkTwain

He had a dream and it shot him.

Mark Twain once said he went into writing because it was the easiest job going, and adding it up after fifty years, he hadn’t worked a minute the whole time as it had all been play. He told the story of his brother Orion, who would cool his head by kneeling in a bathtub filled with cold water and immersing himself to the neck for as long as he could hold his breath. One afternoon the maid happened in through the unlocked bathroom door and ran to alert the house, screaming “Mr. Orion is drowning!” begging the question from his wife; “However did you recognise Mr. Orion?”
It’s probably comments like these that landed Twain in the place we know him at now, jokester, satirist, children’s author, but one of my most cherished moments with a book and one which still resonates, is reading the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in the back-seat of a long-distance bus trip across Southern Spain and alternating between actually laughing out loud and feeling chills over the horror at the human condition. The unfortunates trying to sleep must’ve hated me. Vonnegut brings on a similar impression but I always felt less shaken by his juxtapositions of Dresden and aliens and time travel maybe because I was never handed his books in school. It was Twain’s inversion of Homer’s old Greek myth that hit so hard, I think. Odysseus, the lone beacon of reason and civilisation, traversing his vast ocean of monstrous wilderness and drawing a curtain on the age of gods and giants looks down into the water to see the horrible reflection of a young boy and a runaway slave acting anything but civilised and beset on all sides by the nightmare of a society crumbling to pieces under the weight of the social lie. Scylla, Circe and Calypso can only watch as the new world sails right up to pass them by, but there on the banks of the Mississippi, the King and Duke, the Shepardson/Gangerford feud and the convenient fantasist outlook of Tom Sawyer all thrive in a sophisticated society dependent completely on exploitation and fear. The only sanctuary is the raft itself, where a person’s moral compass is within and the brotherhood of man only has a shot the further two disenfranchised souls can get from the shoreline.
The proposed re-edit of the book (not to say prohibition in some places) to remove words considered unpalatable today is both a Pandora’s box and an interesting reflection on a society where the question of racial inequality is so doggedly side-stepped that it asks the actual murder of black children by police before anyone thinks to discuss it. To dwell on a detail like this is to miss the whole point. Homer’s myth chronicles the march of intellect and logic over chaos, Mark Twain’s children’s story records a civilisation’s descent into despair, corruption and scenes of officially endorsed public brutality of the kind we’ve grown familiar with on American news channels.
It’s a strange but common assumption that a book making these kinds of points ought to be impenetrable and scholarly. Literary social critics are so often at pains to come over wounded, isolated against their society down to their biology. What I like about Mark Twain is his ease within it while remaining at odds. I’d venture only someone graced with an outlook like his could have turned out a book as complete.

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Interactive Fiction: Read it, write it, share it!

Anyone who attended the excellent “Writing for Games” talk last Saturday as part of the Dublin Writers Festival will remember the writers (Rob Morgan, Antony Johnston and Joe Griffin) onstage talking about the rise in literary games. While “literary video games” may seem like an oxymoron to the uninitiated, personal experience attests that they really are out there, and one tiny branch of this mighty tree holds the games classified as “interactive fiction.” On this delightfully sunny day in Ireland, I’d like to open a window into the world of interactive fiction for you:

So, what is interactive fiction?
In the struggle for a definition, an easy gateway is to think of interactive fiction today as the evolution of choose-your-own-adventure books that many children of the 1980s will remember. That is, interactive fiction tells a story that changes depending on the choices you make during your reading of it. This makes interactive fiction a fertile ground for many types of experimental writing and intensely personal explorations in which themes of sex and identity feature strongly.

Over the past few years, the global game development community has latched onto the potential of interactive fiction, especially as a “gateway drug” into game design. We can find visual novels, hypertext fiction and more complex forms that use player text input to determine the next steps of the game … and all of these can be classified as interactive fiction. To ease our way in, we’ll focus on hypertext fiction for today. As I’ll show you later, the most popular tools for creating hypertext fiction are free and so simple that a novice user can create and publish their first game within a day.

I’d like to read some interactive fiction, where should I start?
My interests skew experimental, so I’m going to point you towards three of my favourites in that arena (all are free and playable/readable in your browser without the need to download anything):
Howling Dogs” by Porpentine
Sacrilege” by Cara Ellison
Even Cowgirls Bleed” by Christine Love
Of course, there is so much out there across all genres, that the pieces that speak to me may not resonate with you at all, in which case you can take a look at Emily Short’s comprehensive list that will help you to find a piece that speaks to what you personally are interested in.

OK, I like this! How can I get started and make some interactive fiction myself?
The most popular entry-level tool is called Twine. It’s free, open-source, works on both PC and Mac and is relatively simple to use. By simple, I mean that if you are familiar with using Microsoft Word and have any experience at all with HTML/code, the learning curve is not steep. You create branching stories in a diagrammatic way, and when you are ready to publish, you can upload your game or story as a simple HTML file either to your own website, or for free on Philome.la.

Once you have a basic grasp of Twine and are bitten by the interactive fiction bug, there are many other established formats for creating more complex interactive fiction, including Ren’py, Inform and ChoiceScript. There’s also a wonderful new way of creating graphical interactive fiction called Fungus, created by Irish designer Chris Gregan who has put the time into creating some seriously helpful learning resources to help newcomers.

If you need a bit of help getting started, I’ll be teaching an interactive fiction workshop at the Circa Words experimental writing festival taking place on June 15th, so get in touch with the Irish Writers Centre if you would like to attend. After that, my friends and I held a day-long Twine-based game jam last year in Dublin and it was so much fun we are likely to run another one over the summer, so if you try Twine out and enjoy it, let me know and I’ll add you to the contact list for the event.

Can I adapt something I wrote already to interactive fiction?
Absolutely! By doing this, you can learn a new way of presenting your work in addition to increasing the chance of your work being read by others. Creating interactive fiction is free, easy and brings immersive, experimental writing to many people who would never buy a poetry chapbook, even if the contents are exactly the same. To show this, check out the contrasting experiences of Dan Waber (who wrote “A Kiss“), between the response he got to the same work via literary journals versus the viral promotion of it through the interactive fiction community.

I hope I’ve convinced you that giving interactive fiction a try is well worth the effort. If you do go ahead to make something in Twine, please do send it to me, I’d love to be immersed in your story!

 

 

Artist Date

G_W_Russell_BathersI first came upon George William Russell on a sunny June day last year. I was reading The Artist’s Way, which recommends that participants take themselves out on an “artist date” each week, something that will help them to further their own work. Something beautiful, something alone.

On that day, I was struggling, finding it hard to drag my creative energies and desires into the material world. I had recently left an all-consuming and high-responsibility job within the tech industry in order to spend a few months on pursuing “my dreams”. Such as they were, these dreams involved putting pen to page with laser focus and finishing the novel I’d started the year before.

I thought I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t really. I just launched in on day one and Continue reading

The World of Self-Publishing: First-Hand Insights

books upstairs windowWhy self-publish?

A number of years ago I wrote a book of fifty essays about various different aspects of life in Dublin. I sent it to a relatively small number of publishers and was somewhat surprised by the feedback…

While a lot of positive insightful comments came back, nobody wanted to run with the book. A writer I knew suggested self-publishing as an alternative.

In those days I believed, as I still do, that the publishing industry works quite well (if you can get into it). You submit a manuscript, it is accepted and then goes on its own mysterious way out into the world. I like this idea because, unlike self-publishing, it doesn’t Continue reading

How to Write the Great Dublin Novel

To hear a Londoner tell it, there’s no greater challenge facing an author than trying to capture the spirit of their great city. You’ll never match Dickens they’ll tell you.

Parisians will make a similar claim for their metropolis. Ooh, Zola. Ooh, Hugo.

Codswallop.

You want a real challenge, consider the poor sod from Dublin who has to toil under the shadow of the mighty Joyce. Or Doyle.

But stop shivering, don’t despair. You, too, can write the great Dublin novel if you just follow these tips.

Continue reading

Take Your First Writing Step

Review stock photoI love festivals, those concentrated bursts of shared energy that set thoughts alight and creative engines humming. If you’re anything like me, events such as the Dublin Writers Festival leave you with twofold desire. Firstly, you’re craving more of the literary drug. Secondly, you’re hankering to cobble together some words of your own.

It’s easy to let that dizzy fervour fizzle out on the workaday Monday following such an event, your seed ideas (so carefully sheltered from the rain on the long commute) falling prey at the office door to that familiar refrain of “Sure, what am I doing? Nobody wants to read what I wrote.” Then, with a sigh and a shaken-out umbrella, it’s gone.

Don’t let that happen this time! Everyone has something unique to say. Today, I’d like to tell you about a few Irish literary journals and writing courses that could give you the impetus to nurture your seed idea into a finished piece that showcases your voice to an eager audience. So, after this year’s festival, you have no excuse not to sharpen up that those gathered words lurking in the back of your mind, waiting to be written. No excuse. NO EXCUSE.

Writing Courses

There are loads of writing courses out there. Check out Writing.ie for a complete list of all courses happening in Ireland over the next while. Here, I’ll just highlight two course providers that worked really well for me personally.

Irish Writers Centre
The Irish Writers Centre offer many courses, from one-off workshops to weekly classes for beginners, there’s truly something here for everyone. I’ve attended Dave Lordan’s course in experimental fiction for the last two seasons and cannot recommend it highly enough. From the quality of the instruction, the calibre of the participants and the intoxicating material, I’ve been inspired and entertained in equal measure.

Big Smoke Writing Factory
I loved the courses I took at Big Smoke Writing Factory. Claire Hennessy’s patient and supportive mentoring style is invaluable for nervous beginners and seasoned writers alike. With courses in screenwriting, playwriting, speculative fiction and more, the tough choice is which one to take.

Irish Literary Journals

In the interest of wordcount, I can only go into some detail on my absolute favourite few of the current journals, but there are so many great ones out there; from Wordlegs to Gorse to Number Eleven to The South Circular and on and on!

The Stinging Fly
A thrice-yearly print publication since 1997, The Stinging Fly seeks out the best new Irish and international writing. The launch for the latest issue was held in the Irish Writer’s Center last week, where attendees got hot under the collar for Dimitra Xidous’ poem “Ovum” before the incredible two-for-one tale from June Caldwell. I recommend everyone purchase it for the joy of the reading, and if you want to submit, they are open to postal submissions.

Colony
Colony is a new contender on the block. In just its second month of operation, there is great talent on show. It’s an experimental, online-only journal based in Ireland that incorporates translation, music and spoken word. Submissions are open now for their “Trans” issue. The latest issue features a clever and thought-provoking piece by Roisin O’Donnell called “Twenty-Four Hours In Tahoma”.

The Moth
A quarterly arts and literature magazine, The Moth features poetry, short fiction and art by established and up-and-coming writers from Ireland and abroad. Beautiful copies are available in print for only €5. The piece “Paperchase” by Thomas Maloney from Autumn 2013 still haunts me.

The Bohemyth
Run by Michael Naghten Shanks, The Bohemyth is an online-only literary journal based in Ireland that features short fiction, poetry and essays on a monthly basis. They are open to submissions right now. I was really impressed with their last women-only issue for March, especially the stellar pieces from EM Reapy and Lucy K Shaw.

(Charlene Putney)