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Writer in Residence Spring Update April 2021

In her 1929 essay A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf turned her attention away from writing to examine the material conditions of women’s lives and how this shaped her ability to create art. Using a blend of personal experience and historical analysis, Woolf dissected the economic systems and cultural traditions that “made one sex so prosperous and the other so poor.” Without the security of independent means and a space from which she could retreat from the world, she concluded, women are “locked out” of the life of the mind. (Coincidentally 1929 was also the year when Lucia Joyce, the subject of my novel in progress, gave one of her greatest performances as a dancer. Like many young women of her generation, Lucia lacked the material resources to match her ambition. Although that is only a small part of her story.)
I reread Woolf’s essay this winter, as life ground to a halt again, and I, like many women  around the country, struggled to accommodate a working life with childcare and homeschooling. I have swapped the word women for parent many times as I write this, but short-term studies have already proven how women have borne the domestic burden more than men have in these long isolated months. Almost 100 years have passed since Woolf made her argument, and yet her conclusions in A Room of One’s Own still sting. Although patriarchal attitudes have shifted and society has become a more equitable place, the lingering inequalities (of pay, of parental leave) mean that when it came to the Covid-crunch, men’s jobs took precedence over women’s, and the domestic load fell upon the female parent. This reality was compounded for those whose work is creative, an area of work that is not well financially rewarded, and artistic practice suffered greatly. A survey conducted last year by the Mothership Project, an Irish parenting artists network, found that with the closure of schools because of coronavirus 45% of respondents were achieving between 1-5 hours of work on their practice a week; 17% managed between 6 -10 hours of art practice; with 11% not getting any work done at all.  
All of this is to put in context the importance of schemes like the DLR Writer’s Residency, and it has been a lifeline for me during this challenging year. To quote Woolf it gave me “independent means and a room of one’s own”, in which I could maintain a commitment to my writing despite circumstances that seemed determined to hinder it. Confined as we all were to our houses, where our computers became the centre of our children’s educations, an empty room was a liferaft! 
While my own particular situation stopped me from keeping normal resident hours, the Arts Office ensured I had access to the Residency Office, and it was there, on the fifth floor of the readerless library, where I managed to create short bursts of time and space to take all the ragged notes made in crayon stacked up on the kitchen table beside my children’s workbooks and turn them into something greater. With lockdown lifting, the Easter holidays drawing to a close, wide-scale vaccination drawing closer and the prospect of life returning to normal, I hope to be able to share some of that work with the DLR community in the coming months.

Writer in Residence Winter Update Jan 2021

Lockdown levels lifted briefly in December, allowing me to meet with three local authors to discuss their work and how the area has impacted upon their writing. We wanted to create something different from Zoom, so we chose sites significant to the setting of the author's work, with the aim of further illuminating the relationship between place and literary inspiration. As someone who works exclusively with written text, it was a challenge to adapt my ideas about the editing process to a visual and audio-led form, but thankfully I had an experienced filmmaker, Richard Lennon, on hand to help.

The short filmed pieces were in Jaunary and February 2021 and hopefully provide some interesting context for contemplation as we face into another period of local confinement. The first video was an interview with Liz Nugent. Next up was Caelainn Hogan, who tells us about the dark history of Mother and Baby homes in the local area, and poet Lucinda Jacob, who shares some of the random conversations with locals that inspired her poems.

Local Voices: Liz Nugent in Conversation with Sara Keating
Best-selling crime writer Liz Nugent grew up and was schooled in DLR, and we met at the LexIcon library, where she spoke about the crucial role that libraries have played in her life as a reader and a writer, from childhood to the early days drafting manuscripts. Liz plans her work meticulously, creating detailed character studies for all of her books, and she can "tell you every house where my stories are set." She read two short extracts from two of her novels, Our Little Cruelties and Lying Wait, where the South County Dublin setting is significant, revealing an intriguing relationship between privilege and entitlement in these two books. She also spoke about how the literary culture in Dun Laoghaire - Maeve Binchy was an alumnus of her school! - allowed her to believe that a writing life was possible for her.


Local Voices: Caelainn Hogan in conversation with Sara Keating

On a December morning, I met Caelainn Hogan in Rockfield Park off Newtown Park Avenue, where the journalist grew up. It was a dark and icy day; you can see her hot breath in the freezing air as she discusses the local beginnings of her book Republic Of Shame, an investigation into the "shame-industrial complex" that sanctioned the establishment of more than 100 institutions for unmarried mothers throughout Ireland in the twentieth century. As we struggle to come to terms with the recent findings of the Mother and Baby Home Commission, and the continuing disenfranchisement of the children adopted from those institutions, Caelainn's interview for this Local Voices project is particularly pertinent now.

In the short video she reveals a different side to the salubrious suburbs, where the privacy of privilege masked secret worlds unseen by locals who lived side by side with the women and children living in a network of institutions across the county. She talks about the Daughters of Charity in Blackrock, who ran several orphanages and mother and baby homes in the city, as well as Neptune House, a so called hospital that was a holding place for the babies of unmarried mothers before their eventual adoption. We only had time for a short chat that morning, but Republic of Shame reveals this hidden local history in moving detail, and how each institution was merely a small cog in a far greater wheel upon which the unmarried mothers of Ireland and their children were punished. It is essential reading.


Local Voices: Lucinda Jacob in conversation with Sara Keating

It felt particularly fitting to meet Lucinda Jacob outside the LexIcon library in the heart of Dun Laoghaire, where she has lived for most of her life. Lucinda is a writer whose work is steeped in the local: in random encounters with local people, in overheard conversations at local landmarks, by the sights and sounds of local parks. Her collection for children Hopscotch in the Sky abounds with imagery that will be familiar to readers throughout the catchment. She sings a song of the mountains in Lead Mines and an ode to the verdant greens of a favourite amenity, Cabinteely Park.  In this, our final video in the series, Lucinda reads from some of her favourite poems and traces the route of their inspiration across the county. Keep your eyes peeled for the mermaid helpers who help animate her reading of The Library Beside the Sea.



Writer in Residence Autumn Update

Listen to Sara Keating, our writer in residence chat about her residency and her current writing.


Sara Keating, our writer in residence ponders life and literature within her 5k

"This month, as part of my role as Writer in Residence, I was supposed to film interviews with several local writers about the influence of the local environment upon their work. As plans for filming fell foul of Level 5 restrictions, I satisfied myself instead with a literary pilgrimage within my own 5 kilometres, an area rich with ghosts of the poetic past and living literary heroes. 

Inspired by Flann O’Brien, who wrote The Third Policeman while resident on Carysfort Avenue, I made my journey by bike, to take advantage of the new cycleways throughout the catchment. I am, in O'Brien's words, “one of the number of people in these parts who are nearly half people and half bicycles.

As I careened down the steep hill towards Monkstown Village, I flew past the house where Marian Keyes grew up, and the terrace where poet John Kelly writes poems and records his nightly radio show (from his attic). Along the seafront, I considered Karl Geary’s melancholiccoming-of-age tale, Montpelier Parade, and the subtle suburban satire of Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends. Riding through Blackrock Village, I turnedmy back to the sea and to Blackrock College, the private school immortalised in Paul Murray’s comical campus novel, Skippy Dies, and where, ironically, Liam O’Flaherty learnt how to be a socialist writer. 

I made my way up Carysfort Avenue instead. Past the corner house where James Joyce used to live, the lions roaring on either side of the door. Past the majestic terrace house where Flann O’Brien transformed himself into Myles na gCopaleen for his newspaper columns in The Irish Times.

At the crossroads I threw my eyes towardsStillorgan, where Marita Conlon McKenna still works with enviable prolificity. Across the N11, the Dublin Mountains loomed, and I thought of John Boyne writing his bestsellers for adults and children in their shadow in Rathfarnham, and of Samuel Beckett roaming the wild hills further south, close to his childhood home in Foxrock.

Freewheeling through the residential streets between Newtownpark Avenue and Deansgrange, I passed the spartan big house of Daughters of Charity, where the memorable opening chapters of Caelainn Hogan’s Republic of Shame is set. I made a brief stop at Deansgrange Cemetery to pay my respects to short-story master Frank O’Connor, before turning towards the sea again.

On Marine Road in Dun Laoghaire I thought of Lucinda Jacob’s “flying grannies” billowing beside the buoys; of Declan Hughes’ detective Ed Loy, stalking the wrong side of the marina in The Wrong Kind of Blood; of Joseph O’Connor’s spectral JM Synge, strolling the seafront with his lover Molly Allgood in his dying days; of Anne Enright parking her buggy on the slipway at Sandycove, and jumping into the sea while her babies slept, as she described in Making Babies.

In a coincidence fitting of fiction, I see Enright in real life, walking her dog around Joyce Tower. 

Here in Dun Laoghaire, even within the limitations of our local 5 km, literary inspirations abound. Of course, there are journeys we can make in our own imagination too.

And as my legs rotate the pedals and the wheels of my bicycle spin towards home, I am thinking of my own Work in Progress, which explores the fraught family life of one of the area’s best-known writers, James Joyce, who lived for a memorable spell in the Martello Tower at Sandycove. 

My book-to-be is set for the most part in Europe, but, in what is perhaps its most important chapter, Joyce’s daughter Lucia makes an epic journey along the coastline, tracing her father’s childhood backwards from the grubby streets of Dublin through Ringsend, Sandymount, Blackrock, Dun Laoghaire, and out to Bray, where her father spent his formative years as a child.

I look forward to sharing some of that crucial chapter in Lucia’s life with local readers later in my residency."

Sara Keating is dlr Writer in Residence 2020-21. She is a writer and cultural journalist from Dublin. Her work has been published inThe Irish Times, the Business Post and she has contributed to a wide variety of arts programming on RTE Radio One. She has spent the last 10 years researching and writing her first book Fall and Recover, about the dancer Lucia Joyce, much of whose story has been excised from official histories.  During her residency Sara will work on completing Fall and Recover which engages with issues of feminist history, motherhood, mental health, and stages a debate about art on the canvas of a young woman’s body.Also during her residency look out for her upcoming interviews with authors about places in the County.


Information on the current writer in residence can be found HERE


Writer in Residence Brief 2017-18