Abigail Rieley

Writer and Author

Tag: Dublin Book Festival

A Change of Pace

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the National Library recently.  It’s a completely different place to work to the Criminal Courts of Justice and the work I’ve been doing has been different too.  The courts are all about immediacy, making sure you get the quotes right and into a cohesive article that’ll read fresh when people flick through the paper over their breakfasts.  In the library I’m dealing with old, dry facts, digging through brittle pages to find that glint of a story.  It’s proper old fashioned research and I’m loving it.

The National Library itself is a wonderful place to work. Quite apart from the fact it’s an incredible resource with a dedicated and helpful staff, it’s also one of the most stunning buildings in the country.  Coming into work every day and going through the iron gate, climbing the steps to the colonnade that surround the entrance, walking across the wonderful mosaic floor.  Even the toilets are like something out of a more civilised, genteel time.  Have I mentioned that I’m loving the work?

But I’m not giving up on my genre in the least.  I’ll be back down to the courts in a few weeks, business as usual, and later this week I’m going to be taking part in a panel on True Crime as part of the Dublin Book Festival.  It’s on Thursday March 3rd at the lovely Gutter Bookshop in Temple Bar and should be a good night – it’s also free, so if you’re in Dublin, come along.  It should be a good night. 

It’ll be great to talk about True Crime with my colleagues.  It’s a fascinating genre, strong stories, strong emotions, all the ingredients to make a compelling story.  It’s also one of those genres that people tend to have strong opinions about. Some people love reading the stories I tell, other people don’t like me digging into other people’s pain.  I’m fascinated by the different perceptions of what I do, just as I’m fascinated by the trials I cover.  Some people think it’s seedy, some think there’s a kind of glamour there…personally I tread the middle ground. The courts are too starchily academic to be one hundred per cent seedy, but it’s hardly glamorous either.  I tell people’s stories, that’s all.  I try to tell them as vividly and compellingly because I’m not a lawyer or a garda, I’m a writer and telling stories is what I do.  But it all makes for a lively discussion so roll on Thursday, it should be fun.

Is there a future for Irish publishing?

As I’ve written already this week this week saw the second annual Dublin Book Festival at the City Hall.  It’s organised by Cle, the Irish Book Publishers Association and will hopefully become a fixture of the Dublin cultural scene over the next few years.

Yesterday I went to a seminar on the future of Irish publishing.  Obviously, as a writer with a book published by an Irish publisher it’s something I have a vested interest in but, as a reader, it’s something I’ve always had a keen interest in as well.

Ireland is a country where it’s quite hard to avoid bumping into an aspiring writer. I’ve lost count of the times friends and acquaintances and in some cases total strangers within a few minutes of meeting have brought up the subject of the book they’ve either always wanted to write or that has been sitting in a box under the bed for years.

Don’t get me wrong there’s nothing wrong with being an aspiring writer – I’ve been one for years – but I’m not talking about the serious obsessives.  The saying that “everyone has a book in them” has been taken to heart in Ireland and there are a lot of very peculiar people out there.  I’ve read a lot of publishing blogs over the years and I know every agent or editor has their horror stories about slush pile rejects but we do seem to have more per head of population than average.

With this in mind it’s always surprised me how little there is for the aspiring writer in Ireland.  Once you’re published it’s grand, there’s the Artist’s Tax Exemption, Aosdana and the Arts Council for starters, but in terms of places where you can rub shoulders with the publishing elite we’re a bit under stocked.  The Book Festival aims at setting this right.

I’ve already posted here about the Forum on Copyright issues that was held on Friday.  As a journalist I’d always been aware of copyright but it’s such a huge subject and when you can publish your words online in seconds these days it’s a massive issue for anyone who wants to make a living from writing.

There’s been a lot of discussion online about the future of publishing in the current economic climate.  Like any other business it’s been hit hard but there are also plenty of new opportunities as technology changes on an almost daily basis.

Yesterday, the Seamus Brennan Memorial Seminar on Irish Publishing tackled the issue from an Irish perspective.  I’d gone along expecting to find it depressing listening but the four speakers all shared a bullish attitude to the rocky seas.

I tweeted the talk live as much as I could, although using a mobile phone isn’t the most efficient way of using Twitter in Ireland.  Apart from anything else I kept getting distracted by the points being thrown up.  For example, there are around 100 publishers in Ireland at the moment.  For such a small country that’s a massive amount.  A lot of them would be virtual cottage industries dealing with a very niche market but it still represents a bewildering amount of choice for the writer with a manuscript to pitch.

Author and publisher Steve McDonogh of Brandon press spoke passionately in favour of amalgamation which would allow Irish publishers to pool their resources to better confront the international scene.  He also spoke at some length about the challenges introduced by the new technologies.  The fact that digital rights are now such a hot issue is a fascinating subject and it’s one that Irish publishers are just as concerned about as their counterparts elsewhere.

Ireland has it’s own issues to deal with as well though.  Even though the majority of books taken out of the library here might be by Irish authors, the vast majority of books on the shelves of bookshops have been published elsewhere.  Irish publishers can’t compete with the UK houses if they decide to come and throw money at Irish authors.

As a writer myself I don’t think I’d refuse if someone offered me shed loads of money, any opportunity to spend all your time writing without having to worry about how the bills are paid.  But Ireland has such a rich literary heritage it would be a shame if Irish publishing couldn’t withstand the pressures.

The Arts Council came in for a lot of criticism.  Growing up in a theatre household I’m familiar with their work but I had never realised that there was such a major disparity when it came to funding for drama and funding for literature.  Theatre receives a third of the funding…Literature gets a mere 8%.

How is publishing ever supposed to move into the 21st Century if they can’t apply for state support for R&D, not to mention supporting us poor starving writers.  We might not have to pay tax on our earnings but to qualify for that you actually have to earn something.  Writing is not a very well paid profession (unless you are one of the golden few).  Advances don’t come along very often and when they do they arrive piecemeal.  Research takes time and funds and usually isn’t paid for at all.  It’s no wonder so many writers have a day job as well.

All in all though the mood yesterday was upbeat.  Jean Harrington, the MD of my own publishers, Maverick House, told us to “read our way through the recession” and to support Irish publishing by buying Irish.  It’s easy to be drawn to the latest blockbuster release but as the Book Festival showed there is a phenomenal choice of Irish writing out there.

Patsy Horton from Northern Irish imprint Blackstaff Press spoke about the possibilities for niche markets, especially in an environment as small as the one in the North.

Finally Michael O’Brien, the man behind O’Brien Press gave us the A-Z of Irish publishing.  There are a lot of strengths out there but the problems of negotiating the international markets kept rising again and again.

It’s was great to see the crowds of people wandering around the bookshelves arranged around the entrance hall of the City Hall.  Apart from the publishing bods, out in force, there were plenty of writers not to mention a gratifying number of members of the public.

It would be nice to see the festival grow in the years to come.  We do great arts festivals but there is very little in terms of a proper literary festival.  Yes, every so often there are opportunities for successful writers to give readings to their adoring fans but we have very little in terms of the kind of festival that offers master classes and seminars.  The Dublin Book Festival is definitely going in the right direction but it’s getting there and with luck it will only get better.

An Interesting Day…copyright, muffins and free pens!

The Dublin Book Festival kicked off today in the City Hall in Dublin city centre.  It’s the second year of the event and, since I had the day free I dragged the husband along.

DBF Leabhair Power!

When we arrived at the City Hall there was a pleasant buzz.  Hoards of school children trooped in and out to meet various authors and people were sitting around reading books they had picked up from the well stocked publishers’ shelves dotted around the main hall.

There’s a coffee shop and loads of stalls around the hall…I would highly recommend the free pen but to be frank, any opportunity to feed my stationary habit gives me a warm glow inside (yes, I know I probably need to get out more).

Sitting over a coffee and a muffin it was great to the hall buzzing with people, even without the festival getting as much publicity as it could have got.  As a country renowned for our writers, we are sometimes not very good at celebrating the fact and I’ve often grouched about the lack of festivals where a writer or wannabe writer could pitch up and learn something.

Today I had my eye on a seminar on copyright issues.  It might not be the sexiest topic under the sun but if you’re a writer of any kind it’s kind of a big one.  The last time I had actually sat down and listened to a talk on the subject I was in college and we were being told about the tendency of certain nefarious editors who would use our copy willie nillie especially on this new fangled Internet thing (it was quite a while ago).  The issue had got considerably more complex since then!

As I said it’s been a while since I’ve actually sat down and listened to anything about copyright.  It’s a day to day part of life nowadays but it’s only when listening to the information in one go that you realise how many assumptions you make and how many gaps there are in your knowledge.  It’s an important issue but one that it’s easy to gloss over and assume you know everything there is to know.

So the talk from the Irish Copyright Licencing Agency was fascinating.  It covered the basics of copyright law as well as Creative Commons, PLR and the Google Book Settlement.   It’s great to get a basic overview of stuff like that.

I’ve had copyright drummed into me from the very first steps I took into journalism.  It’s a complex topic but one any writer needs to know their way around.

I’ll be heading back in tomorrow – there’s a discussion at 1.30 on the future of Irish publishing (again rather pertinent).  I’d highly recommend a trip in to see what’s on offer.  Events like this deserve to get all the support they can get.


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