The Irish Writer’s Centre. Have you been? Tomorrow would certainly be a good day to pop down; the centre will be hosting a Guinness World Record attempt, namely, ‘‘Most Authors Reading Consecutively From Their Own Books”. It starts tomorrow at ten, and runs right through until 2pm, on Saturday the 16th, Bloomsday, a timely date for such literary endeavours. The invitation is for the public to drop in as they fancy – to see their favourite writers as and when they’re on, stroll down after tea time, or even come and show their support for the brave souls reading into the wee small hours of Saturday morning. Two of the organisers, Carrie King and Jack Harte, Founder of the Irish Writers’ Centre, explained the master plan for tomorrow’s event, along with detailing the role of the Centre itself.
So what’s the story with the Read for the World Event?
JH: Basically it’s a marathon reading starting at ten o’clock on the Friday the 15th, running right through the day and the night, until two o’clock on Bloomsday, which is the Saturday. We wanted it to be recognised as an important Bloomsday event, but as it finishes at two o’clock, it won’t clash with the major events that night. When people think of Dublin, their first thought, if they’re literary people, is Joyce and Beckett and Yeats and Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, etcetera – all these major writers who all came from Dublin. They might be inclined to forget that there are great contemporary writers. Part of the UNESCO City of Literature designation, is the idea is to recognise a living literary environment and not just a theme park. There is so much happening in Dublin for people who are interested in literature and so many contemporary writers who are absolutely brilliant. So we’re trying to showcase this contemporary writing to the world, and we’re picking to do it on a day which is almost a church holiday almost for officinados of the great Irish writers, especially Joyce. When we thought of doing something catchy like this idea of trying to create a new world record – we researched it, and found out that the current record was 75. Sure in Ireland, we could multiply that by ten you know! So we decided we’d have a go at it.
CK: Thank God you didn’t decide to multiply it by ten!
JH: Yes, that would have been a difficult one to organise. And we didn’t want to turn it into a Mickey Mouse exercise; we wanted it to be a good showcase for Irish writing.
So it’s intended to be a showcase of Irish writing and writers, which is great, but what about the stints at two and three in the morning? Are you still expecting a big crowd?
JH: Yeah, I think its quirky enough that people will drop in actually. It’s a Friday night, they don’t have to get up on the Saturday morning so it’s quite likely that they will turn up. We’re also streaming it live, so it will be viewed all over the world. At two in the morning here, people will be coming home from work in America and putting on their computers and they’ll be able to watch it. And we’ll be broadcasting the fact that it is live all over the world, so that people will tune in and look at it, and listen to it. So we’re hoping that right throughout the 28 hours that people in America, Australia, New Zealand, China, India, wherever, that we’ll have a worldwide audience. So even the writers at two three and four in the morning will be reading an audience, of hundreds – thousands hopefully.
Whereabouts was the last record attempt?
CK: At the Berlin Literature Festival, 2010, but they had it in a few places.
JH: Yes they had only half of them in the one location in Berlin, 75 speakers all together, and some of them came in online, so basically their reading was almost totally online – they didn’t have anybody up at two or three in the morning.
CK: Yes, there’s a benefit of such a small country, you can get almost everyone all together in the same place pretty quickly.
JH: It was a cop out by the Germans I’d say, you know, they like to go to bed at ten o’clock(!)
CK: Yes a reasonable hour – we can stay up all night.
And how many speakers are taking part?
JH: There’s a hundred and eleven all together, about half are poets. Mostly, Irish or Irish based. We thought of opening it up, but then it would have been more difficult to keep it tightly organised and then we decided at some stage that it was to be a showcase of mainly Irish writing.
How long has it all been in the planning?
JH: About two weeks I’d say.
CK: (laughs) It has all been properly stitched together, I’d say in the last month, but Jack has been tossing around this idea for a good while.
JH: Well I’d had it in my head for a while but before Christmas I’d been thinking about this and Carrie had these two kids in, doing transition year, getting work experience, and she said to me, “Have you got anything we can get them to do?” I said “So, sixteen years old, you know all about the internet, go and research this, so they did. “
CK: They did, fair play to them, they did a good job.
JH: I said by the time they left at the end of the week, I wanted to know what the record was, what we needed to do to break it, and some recommendations etcetera. I said I don’t want to hear about it, I want your report – so fair dos to them, I had their report at the end of the week.
CK: At this point as well, I didn’t know that you were tossing around this idea of a Guinness Book of Records attempt, I just thought that he was just giving them something to do! Just like, “this’ll keep them busy for a week.”
JH: Oh no, we never trivialise anything! It’s a bit like when twenty five years ago, I said I’d to organise, first of all a writers’ union, and then this writer’s centre, and you know, I mentioned it around, and People were saying, “Jaysus yeah, tell me another one. Writers? They’ll kill each other.” And then one person said ‘Writers? They wouldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery.” And I thought…hmm. So I was straight up to Guinness’s, and I said look, I’m organising a Writers’ Union, and I want to have a big night in Guinness – this was before the hop-store or anything like that, so they said, “Yeah, grand” and they put on a big meal, so when I was sending out letters to everybody I could say that for everyone who joins before such and such a date, we’ll have a night out in Guinness’s. So of course, I had a couple of hundred people inside, in a few weeks.
On that note, could you perhaps expand on the role of The Irish Writers’ Centre, and what else you’ve got coming up?
CK: Oh we’ve got lots of things coming up – we ran our first Novel Fair competition last year, and once this is all over, we’ll be launching straight into that. People can submit the first three chapters of their first novel and we narrow it down – last year it was to twenty, but this year II think there’s going to be ten finalists, and they get to have a day where they meet publishers and agents and get to pitch directly. This will be the second year running now – we’ll be launching that on the 27th of June. We’re also going to be launching online mentoring services and online distance learning classes as well probably autumn. And we’re teaming up with the American College Dublin to run a MFA in Creative Writing, it’ll be mostly based over there, but we’re in an advisory role for it.
JH: Yeah, there’s loads, though the summer is kind of the quiet period, but then in the autumn, we get back into reading and book launches. We have events here every night of the week. Then, we’ve special events as well, recently we had a night to celebrate the poet Brendan Kenelly, and these kind of events are very nice because its an opportunity to show people how much they’re appreciated. We’ve had about one of them a month over the last year. As to the Writer’s Centre itself, we have basically two major functions. One is to promote Irish Writers and writing. This event will very much be in the remit of promoting Irish writers, and via the broadcast, brought to the world. Obviously, Seamus Heaney doesn’t need to be brought to the world, but on the back of Seamus Heaney, we’ll have a hundred and ten other writers that people might look in at. It starts with John Boyne, and the last reader – well the last reader is me, but the one before me, is Roddy Doyle; there’ll be lots of interesting ones. So we promote writers and writing, in the country – trying to keep stimulating an interest in writers and in books. Then, also outside the country, trying to promote new writers that aren’t all that well known. So we do as much as we can. The other major concentration is development. So for total beginners, every Saturday there’s a free open workshop, if people want to just sample, what we do, they come in for that – it’s called Ink Slingers. They’re given some fun exercises and do them, and then if they get the feel for it, and get interested, they can come back and do say a beginners creative writing course, and then maybe, poetry or fiction or short stories ; whatever it is. We organise a whole range of workshops, starting at beginners going right through to helping people to finish off their work. Apart from the workshops, we have seminars, for example, ‘Publishing Days’, where we get publishers, agents and editors to come in for one day and to explain to people what their function is so that the writers will understand how the whole machinery works in the publishing industry. And then they’re told what’s expected of them – how you get your novel placed with an agent, or a publisher. It gives them that bit of extra edge to what they’re doing so they have a better chance of success. So development is the other side of our remit; development and promotion, basically those two words – that’s what we do.
In terms of the event, how did you go about choosing the speakers?
JH: Guinness has laid down certain rules. Berlin set the perimeters for this one, just as we will have set the perimeters for the ones that follow on. Every writer had to be reading from his or her own book, and we had to give the title of the book, and the ISBN number, so as they can check it. There can’t be a break for more than three minutes between any two readings, and no speaker can speak for less than five minutes. So we had to work within those. We have a huge database of people, so we lobbed out an email to about two hundred people…
CK: And we got a really quick response actually – we have a subs bench as well, in case someone doesn’t show up, we have people to jump in.
JH: Say of the two hundred, I’d say the only people who weren’t prepared to do it were people who were tied up, on holidays or wherever. But some people are travelling to do it – one guy is coming from Paris to do it, another is curtailing his holiday and coming back early from Italy. The response has been good.
Is there anyone in particular you’re looking forward to?
CK: Jack Harte! He’s who I’m looking forward to!
JH (Jack Harte): Full marks! It starts with John Boyne and goes back to Jack Harte, so it must be downstream all the way! Loads of people, and fantastic writers, some of the young writers will be great – Kevin Barry is a young writer, he deserves a lot of attention. A fantastic writer; he won the Sunday Times short story competition recently.
CK: He’s really great at reading his work too.
JH: We’re a team here, and people have been throwing in names of writers that they’d like to hear, so there will be lots of variation. Everybody who looks in, I think will find that there’s somebody there who really excites them. The younger ones, reading in the middle of the night will be very interesting. We’ve spaced them out, there might be a poet, and then a short story writer, then a novelist, whatever. Then there’s the obvious ones too: John Boyne, Seamus Heaney, Roddy Doyle. John Boyne has a new book out, it’s great – he’ll be reading from that. I think I worked out that we’d need three writers to all drop out at the same time for us to fail.
CK: Don’t say that!
JH: But you know, that Patrick Kavanagh quote – that the standing army of Irish poets never falls below ten thousand – we should be alright for reserves!
The Read for the World Event, begins tomorrow, Friday the 15th at 10am, at the Irish Writers’ Centre, on Parnell Square. It will be screened live, by liveoneveryscreen.com
For a full schedule of the writers speaking, go to http://www.writerscentre.ie/index.html