Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Show, don't tell - but what does that actually mean?

Writers who escape from the malign and clammy fingers of the English teacher and take to fiction are always being told that the way to connect with a reader is to 'Show, don't tell'. But what does it actually mean? If you say, for instance:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
is this showing or telling? I'll tell you what it is: it's telling. Because the reader is being given a nice big slab of information; you, the writer, are gracing that reader with your opinion and your viewpoint, and nothing's actually happening.
On the other hand, this –
He lay flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees. The mountainside sloped gently where he lay; but below it was steep and he could see the dark of the oiled road winding through the pass. There was a stream alongside the road and far down the pass he saw a mill beside the stream and the falling water of the dam, white in the summer sunlight.“Is that the mill?” he asked.“Yes.”“I do not remember it.” 
- is showing. But why?
This is why: in the first piece, the beginning of Charles  Dickens' stunning pageturner about the French Revolution, A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens is setting out the mise-en-scène, he's setting up the action first by telling the reader what to think.
In the second piece, Ernest Hemingway's filmic For Whom the Bell Tolls, we jump straight into the action. We have a hero – for Hemingway's characters are always heroes – and a wise old man – for if they're not heroes then they're archetypes – planning to blow up a bridge.
Not that Hemingway's averse to giving you his opinions, but he slithers them into your back pocket under the pretext of telling you what sort of explosives to use, or how thirsty his characters are, or – well, here he is describing his hero:

The young man, who was tall and thin, with sun-streaked fair hair, and a wind- and sun-burned face, who wore the sun-faded flannel shirt, a pair of peasant’s trousers and rope-soled shoes, leaned over, put his arm through one of the leather pack straps and swung the heavy pack up onto his shoulders. He worked his arm through the other strap and settled the weight of the pack against his back. His shirt was still wet from where the pack had rested.“I have it up now,” he said. “How do we go?”“We climb,” Anselmo said.
Very sneaky. But very effective. Not that it's the only only way to write. But it's the only way to write when you're starting to write fiction, because Show, Don't Tell is the magic spell that will free you from the cruel enchantment of those evil English teachers.
When you start to write, you're almost always delighted with all the gorgeous words. Wow! You can use words like 'evanescent'! And 'recursive'!
But you'll go badly wrong if you let the words get you into their net. Because the purpose of writing fiction isn't to show that you've eaten a dictionary. The purpose of writing is to change your reader, by causing an emotional reaction in him, by moving him, by making him see things as you do.
And to do this, you have to get him breathing in synch with you. You have to get the reader feeling that he's experiencing the action.
The best way to do this is to write in action, in scenes. You can give the reader information, but do it in a way that makes the reader control it. I don't know if you remember a film from the 1980s called Diva, about a Vietnamese courier in love with an opera singer who's visiting Paris? In the middle of an intensely complicated and arty and très très French series of twists and turns, the villains corner one of our heroes in a friend's warehouse, where he's hiding out.
We've met this friend, Gorodish, before – when we first meet him, he's chopping onions, wearing a snorkel and a mask to protect himself against the tear-inducing fumes. Later, as one of these same villains is smirkingly about to kill someone, Gorodish appears from behind him, cracks an ampoule of something magical, and the villain's eyes turn up and he folds up into unconsciousness.
Now, Gorodish reappears in the dark, and quietly swings the switch that controls the lights so that it's over the un-railed-off hole where the industrial lift comes up and down. The switch has a red bulb lighting it up so you can see it in the dark.
Teeth gleaming in anticipation, the villain reaches over for the switch, and "Aaaaaaaarrrrgggghhhhhh!!" disappears, and there's a crash below.
Now, that's good writing.
What do you remember from the books you love most? Almost invariably, it's a scene. You may love it for what it portends, like this scene from Pádraic Colum's The King of Ireland's Son
"Prince," said the old fellow looking up at him, "if you can play a game as well as you can sing a song, I'd like if you would sit down beside me.""I can play any game," said the King of Ireland's Son. He fastened his horse to the branch of a tree and sat down on the heap of stones beside the old man."What shall we play for?" said the gray old fellow."Whatever you like," said the King of Ireland's Son."If I win you must give me anything I ask, and if you win I shall give you anything you ask. Will you agree to that?""If it is agreeable to you it is agreeable to me," said the King of Ireland's Son.
- when you immediately know that this easygoing young lad, who'll go a bit of the road with anyone, is about to get himself into more trouble than he can easily get out of.
Foreshadowing like this is a lovely compliment to the reader: the writer gives the reader a bit of information that's going to come in handy, and the reader is delighted to guess what's likely to happen.
Colum could, of course, have simply told the reader:
"Now, little did the King of Ireland's Son know it, but the man who was asking to play a game of chess with him was a dangerous enchanter"
– and a less skilled writer would have done so. That would be telling.
Instead, he chose to show the unfortunate young lad as his inattention and sloppy good nature topples him from the indulged life of a spoilt boy into all the difficulties and sorrows of an adventurer. And because he showed it, the reader followed eagerly after.
What's your favourite book? What do you remember from it? You may, for instance, remember Jane Austen's famous first line from the comic romance Pride and Prejudice –
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

- but you only remember this nice piece of cattiness because of the action that starts almost immediately -
"My dear Mr Bennet,'' said his lady to him one day, "have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?''Mr Bennet replied that he had not."But it is,'' returned she; "for Mrs Long has just been here, and she told me all about it.''Mr Bennet made no answer."Do not you want to know who has taken it?'' cried his wife impatiently."You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it.''This was invitation enough.
And what you remember from the story that follows, with all its satisfying misunderstandings and star-crossings, is almost certainly not Austen's superb prose, the epitome of a well-informed maiden aunt's murmurings, but the action: Mrs Bennet's efforts to get her daughters married to wealthy Mr Bingley and other good prospects; sensible, ethical Elizabeth's dislike of high-nosed Mr Darcy, the schemings of the seducer Wickham, and Elizabeth's turnaround when she discovers that Mr Darcy has secretly paid Wickham's debts so that he can marry… well, you know.
What do you remember of A Tale of Two Cities? Certainly most of the rest is lost to you, while that scene where the worthless Sidney Carton changes place with his heroic lookalike Charles Darney and steps onto the platform of the guillotine with the words "It is a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done…" to save his life and give him to the woman Carton loves.
What do you remember of The Call of the Wild? Every word of Jack London's book is action – and you'll remember the scenes where the dog Buck is rescued after long episodes of brutality, when Buck saves his rescuer from a river, and the end, where Buck, now free, returns to mourn his master.
Romeo and Juliet? There's plenty of resonant language, which you remember because it's woven in with the emotions: if you're asked to recall any scene, it'll be the balcony scene and the death of the two lovers through misunderstandings.
Every good writer does this: brings the story into the consciousness of the reader. Look at Chekhov starting a story:
It was said that a new person had appeared on the sea-front: a lady with a little dog. Dmitri Dmitritch Gurov, who had by then been a fortnight at Yalta, and so was fairly at home there, had begun to take an interest in new arrivals. Sitting in Verney's pavilion, he saw, walking on the sea-front, a fair-haired young lady of medium height, wearing a béret; a white Pomeranian dog was running behind her.And afterwards he met her in the public gardens and in the square several times a day. She was walking alone, always wearing the same béret, and always with the same white dog; no one knew who she was, and every one called her simply "the lady with the dog.""If she is here alone without a husband or friends, it wouldn't be amiss to make her acquaintance," Gurov reflected.
You know immediately what kind of person Gurov is, from just this short passage. Even when Chekhov goes on to give you some information about the character – 
He was under forty, but he had a daughter already twelve years old, and two sons at school. He had been married young, when he was a student in his second year, and by now his wife seemed half as old again as he. She was a tall, erect woman with dark eyebrows, staid and dignified, and, as she said of herself, intellectual. She read a great deal, used phonetic spelling, called her husband, not Dmitri, but Dimitri, and he secretly considered her unintelligent, narrow, inelegant, was afraid of her, and did not like to be at home. He had begun being unfaithful to her long ago -- had been unfaithful to her often, and, probably on that account, almost always spoke ill of women, and when they were talked about in his presence, used to call them "the lower race."
- he does it in such a way that it's causing you, the reader, to form your own opinions, slyly making you feel a sharp dislike of Mr Gurov.
Even in Tipperary man Laurence Sterne's hilarious 18th-century romp through France, A Sentimental Journey -
They order, said I, this matter better in France. - You have been in France? said my gentleman, turning quick upon me, with the most civil triumph in the world. - Strange! quoth I, debating the matter with myself, That one and twenty miles sailing, for ’tis absolutely no further from Dover to Calais, should give a man these rights: - I’ll look into them: so, giving up the argument, - I went straight to my lodgings, put up half a dozen shirts and a black pair of silk breeches, - “the coat I have on,” said I, looking at the sleeve, “will do;” - took a place in the Dover stage; and the packet sailing at nine the next morning, - by three I had got sat down to my dinner upon a fricaseed chicken, so incontestably in France, that had I died that night of an indigestion, the whole world could not have suspended the effects of the droits d’aubaine; - my shirts, and black pair of silk breeches, - portmanteau and all, must have gone to the King of France; - even the little picture which I have so long worn, and so often have told thee, Eliza, I would carry with me into my grave, would have been torn from my neck! - Ungenerous! to seize upon the wreck of an unwary passenger, whom your subjects had beckoned to their coast! - By heaven!  Sire, it is not well done; and much does it grieve me, ’tis the monarch of a people so civilized and courteous, and so renowned for sentiment and fine feelings, that I have to reason with! -
while Sterne is chattering like the chattiest friend you've ever had, you're getting lots of info from the music of what's happening, from what you're being shown, not told.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Violent prologues

The Reader by Derek Kinzett
Fashionable thrillers of the 2000s have an editor-driven trope: the violent prologue, involving someone dying horribly, killed by an unseen villain or a villain who appears only peripherally as a figure of evil in the rest of the book. I find it a pain in the ass, frankly.
It seems to have been brought into the mainstream by the Scandinavians. You know the kind of thing -

Nothing for two thousand miles but snow. The only light: a blood-red seeping of lamplight from the windows of a wooden hovel. If someone is screaming, no one is around to hear.
If you could go inside, you would see a child, strapped to a bed stolen last year from the Ásgeir Haraldssen Hospital for Unfortunate Mites. She is unconscious, yet one wrist still strains at the bindings made from antique Rolex straps. Blood falls slowly and sinks into the ice. Below, somewhere deep below, the ice fish sense the scent of cooling human corpuscles…
Editors love this kind of thing. "That's it, bring the reader into the story with a bang," they say, rubbing their hands. "A good strong opening. Involve the reader. Get the heart pumping."
Yet some of the most wonderful book openings in the world, that drag the reader in by the hair of the head and make it impossible to put the book down, have no violence at all. Looky:

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.
The hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats. At one end of it a coloured poster, too large for indoor display, had been tacked to the wall. It depicted simply an enormous face, more than a metre wide: the face of a man of about forty-five, with a heavy black moustache and ruggedly handsome features. Winston made for the stairs. It was no use trying the lift. Even at the best of times it was seldom working, and at present the electric current was cut off during daylight hours. It was part of the economy drive in preparation for Hate Week. The flat was seven flights up, and Winston, who was thirty-nine and had a varicose ulcer above his right ankle, went slowly, resting several times on the way. On each landing, opposite the lift-shaft, the poster with the enormous face gazed from the wall. It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran. (George Orwell: 1984)
Or the opening of The Man in the High Castle, Philip K Dick's dystopian multiple-parallel-futures novel, set (mainly) in the Japanese-run San Francisco of a world in which Japan has conquered and occupied the United States in World War II:

For a week Mr. R. Childan had been anxiously watching the mail. But the valuable shipment from the Rocky Mountain States had not arrived. As he opened up his store on Friday morning and saw only letters on the floor by the mail slot he thought, I'm going to have an angry customer.
Pouring himself a cup of instant tea from the five-cent wall dispenser he got a broom and began to sweep; soon he had the front of American Artistic Handcrafts Inc. ready for the day, all spick and span with the cash register full of change, a fresh vase of marigolds, and the radio playing background music. Outdoors along the sidewalk businessmen hurried toward their offices along Montgomery Street. Far off, a cable car passed; Childan halted to watch it with pleasure. Women in their long colorful silk dresses . . . he watched them, too. Then the phone rang. He turned to answer it.
"Yes," a familiar voice said to his answer. Childan's heart sank. "This is Mr. Tagomi. Did my Civil War recruiting poster arrive yet, sir? Please recall; you promised it sometime last week." The fussy, brisk voice, barely polite, barely keeping the code. "Did I not give you a deposit, sir, Mr. Childan, with that stipulation? This is to be a gift, you see. I explained that. A client."
"Extensive inquiries," Childan began, "which I've had made at my own expense, Mr. Tagomi, sir, regarding the promised parcel, which you realize originates outside of this region and is therefore-"
Or what about the opening of Marian Keyes' first book, Rachel's Holiday?

They said I was a drug addict. I found that hard to come to terms with. I was a middle-class, convent-educated girl whose drug use was strictly recreational. And surely drug addicts were thinner?

You want to write an opening that your reader can't put down? Bring the reader straight into your protagonist's life. Slap the protagonist with the central problem of his or her story. Now you've got your reader. Keep talking.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

State murders of children in Ireland's early years

The 1922 government run by the immediate successors of Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith was responsible for the murders of children, members of the republican boy scouts body called the Fíanna.
These murders started just before the sudden deaths of Collins and Griffith - Collins killed in a gunfight on August 22, 1922 in his native Cork, Griffith of a heart attack 10 days before, and continued until after the end of the Civil War.
The epicentre was their Criminal Investigation Department, the sinister group based at Oriel House on the corner of Fenian Street and Westland Row, which assassinated a series of anti-Treaty republicans in 1922.
Kevin O'Higgins, the Minister of Home Affairs, a nephew of Parnell's sidekick and betrayer Tim Healy, had unleashed them with the cool statement "what was needed to put down the 'Irregulars', were more local executions, and we should just kill them anyway". The 'Irregulars' was what the Free State government called the anti-Treaty republicans, carefully moulding the language.
The CID began with the killing of Harry Boland on August 1 1922; a week before his death he'd said "I know too much about Mick [Collins]; he won't let me live."
Three days after Collins' August 8 1922 death two Fianna boys were picked up at Newcomen Bridge - the bridge where James Joyce sets the beginning of his paedophile story An Encounter, in Dubliners. They were shot dead in front of witnesses in Whitehall, near what's now Dublin City University, in what was assumed to be a reprisal for Colllins' killing. The killings continued, at the rate of one or two a week.
One of these long-forgotten dead was 17-year-old Edwin Hughes, who, on October 7 1922 was picked up by the secret police based at Oriel House, along with two friends, Brendan Holohan, also 17, and 16-year-old Joseph Rogers.
Edwin had grown up in a respectable civil service household headed by his father Mark, a temporary clerk in the Public Record Office, and his old uncle Martin, a former assistant clerk in the Education Office.
In the 1911 census there were four boys in the house: Edwin, then six, and his brother Gerald, eight, and his cousins Martin and William, aged 16 and 18.
His friend Brendan Holohan was the son of a telegraphist in the GPO, and was one of a stepfamily of six children.
The third lad, Joe Rogers, was the youngest of a commission agent's long-tailed family of five children - his eldest brother was 26 years older than him. A 'commission agent' was a bookie; his father was the popular Dublin bookmaker Thomas Rogers; Joe was already a promising apprentice mechanical engineer.
A pal of the boys, Jennie O'Toole (probably the child who appears in that 1911 census as Mary Josephine O'Toole, daughter of a railway auditor living in nearby Richmond Road), was pasting up republican posters and received some abuse from another neighbour. This shouter was Captain Pat Moynihan of the Irish (Free State) Army, who lived on Clonliffe Road, and whose home had been one of Michael Collins' main typing depots. As a postal worker, Moynihan had been Collins' inside man fingering mail deliveries that could be raided. Now he was the senior officer in Oriel House…
To free Jennie from being shouted at, the three boys took on the postering with her, and were arrested. They were taken into a lorry at Clonliffe Road in Drumcondra by Charlie Dalton and Nicholas Tobin, G-men from Oriel House and also from this same neighbourhood.
Charlie Dalton was just 19. He lived a coupe of streets away from his victims, in St Columba's Avenue. Son of an American father (now the manager of a laundry) and an Irish mother, he was second of a family of five. His brother was Major-General Emmet Dalton, now aged 24, head of intelligence for the Free State, who had been at the side of his adored friend Michael Collins six weeks before when he died in a republican ambush on August 22.
Nicholas Tobin wasn't much older; he was 23, son of a hardware clerk from Cork; the 1911 census has the family in Kilkenny - the parents plus William (soon gaelicised to Liam) Tobin, who would be Collins' chief profiler of assassination targets during the War of Independence, and Nicholas, and their sister Katherine, along with two boarders, a literature teacher and a cycle mechanic; life is full of interest and variety.
The CID men Emmet and Charlie Dalton, Nicholas Tobin and Pat Moynihan had all been members of Michael Collins' 'Squad' – the group of assassins who carried out the targeted killings of British agents in Ireland, most famously wiping out the British intelligence network known as the Cairo Gang, who had been sent to kill the Irish leaders, on November 21, 1920 (an account from the British parliament's record, Hansard, quotes Charlie Dalton's own book on the events of that night http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/lords/1931/may/06/with-the-dublin-brigade-1917-1921).
Now, however, Charlie and Nicholas were on a different job: the killing of those who opposed the new government, including children.
The three teenager leafletters left the Hughes house in Clonliffe Road at 10.30pm on October 7, 1922. They were seen in Charlie Dalton's military lorry a little later; this was the last time they were seen alive. Their bodies were dumped near the Naas Road, where the Red Cow roundabout on the M50 is now, and were found the next day. Soon, Nicholas Tobin would be dead too, shot by his Oriel House colleagues as they attacked a bomb factory in Gardiner Street.
At the boys' inquest, Dr Frederick Ryan, who performed the post mortem, described the wounds that killed them.
"Joseph Rogers' overcoat was saturated with blood," he said. "He had 16 wounds altogether. There was an entrance wound in the back of the skull, about an inch and a half from the ear. There was no exit wound. It was possible for a man to inflict this wound while both were standing. There was no singeing. In the left upper jaw there was an entrance wound, but no corresponding exit wound. There were superficial wounds on the left side of the body corresponding to the nipple, on the left side of the abdomen, a punctured wound on the left side of the nose, an entrance and exit wound at the base of the left index finger, superficial wounds on the left arm, an entrance and exit wound in the middle of the left thigh, a large contused wound on the left shin bone, and an incised wound on the left knee, probably caused after death." In his opinion, the wound at the back of the skull would be sufficient to cause death; so would those through the right jaw or in the nose. There was no singeing in the head. His body had been identified by his brother Michael.
Brendan Holohan's father identified his body. The doctor reported that "Regarding Brendan Holohan there was a bullet hole through the peak of his cap, but no mark on his head. The coat was torn on the right elbow, and there was a wound through the flesh of the arm, corresponding with the perforation in the sleeve. There were two entrance wounds, four inches from each other, in the right chest, but he did not find any exits. They were clean cut, such as might be made by an instrument of the same diameter as a pencil. The clothing was perforated at the place corresponding with these wounds. There was a wound over the right shoulder blade, which was an old one. There was an entrance wound in the lower portion of the abdomen, and he found a bullet lodged in the surface over the left hip bone and the shin. There was a wound in the back of the skull in the occipital protuberance, which took a downward direction into the neck and severed the spinal cord. This was sufficient to cause death immediately. If a man was standing on top of a ditch he could have been shot in the head, otherwise he must have been lying down."
In the case of Edwin, he said, "The first wound, on the right-hand side corresponding to the second rib, took a horizontal direction and pierced the great vessels of the heart. There was no exit wound to it. There was no singeing. Another bullet pierced the overcoat on the right side, but there was no mark on the inner coat or vest. There were wounds in the abdomen and on the left thigh. On the right knee and right arm there were superficial wounds, such as might be caused by grazing bullets. The clothes were cut as if by barbed wire. The abdomen wound might possibly be caused by a prod of some instrument, but that was not probable." In his opinion, the wound to the chest caused death.
Edwin's body had been identified by his elder brother, Gerald.
A particularly tragic aspect to the killing comes from the Waterford Quaker diarist Rosamond Jacob, who wrote on January 25 1923:
 "[Mrs Kiernan] told us about Edwin Hughes & his brother too. He had an elder brother Gerald, who was offered a good job at Oriel House some time ago (he had been in the IRA & was still republican, but was engaged to a girl who said she wd have nothing to do with him if he didn't take this job). Against the wish of his mother & brother he took it, for the sake of the girl – not liking it at all himself. The night Edwin was arrested, Gerald passed by the lorry as it was standing still, & saw Edwin in it, in a navy light overcoat. He scarcely believed it was Edwin till he went home & found E not there, and learned from his mother that he had gone out in that overcoat. Then came the news of E's murder, & the investigation at the inquest. Gerald gave up the job at Oriel House, and seemed to lose all interest in life – thought of nothing but Edwin & his own late association with the CJD [Criminal Justice Department] - and in 3 weeks died of a broken heart – no illness apparent at all."

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Dublin City Council arts funding

The deadline for applications for arts funding from Dublin City Council is November 4, 2013. The council's arts officers ran a seminar on Tuesday October 15 to help people to apply.
Four things to remember: that deadline is 5pm on Monday. If you get your application in at five minutes past five, it will be refused. There are no days of grace.
If you're applying for funding, this is not given for 'arts practice' - it won't fund you sitting at home and writing your novel or painting your picture, or going to London to research your history in the libraries there. It is given as a community grant, to help the arts in Dublin, so your project must have some outreach into the community.
The council prefers for at least 30 per cent of funding to be provided by other sources - so if you have a project, get a commitment from other sources to pay for a third of it, and you'll have a better chance of your grant succeeding.
And all applications need proof backing their claims: if you say that your community group is going to have a play put on in the Abbey Theatre, you need a letter from the Abbey management saying this. "The more you can give - backup letters of support from organisations you've worked with, the more we can see of your practice," the audience was told."
City Arts Officer Ray Yeates presented a seminar and question-and-answer session on these grants in the Wood Quay conference venue on October 15, with help from arts officers Jim Doyle and Sinead Connolly, administrative officer Victoria Kearney and Jonathan Ekwe of the arts office's administrative team.
There are three types of funding, Ray Yeates said: revenue funding, project funding and neighbourhood funding.
Revenue funds groups that have an ongoing relationship with the council; no more of these are being added, this group has been capped, and the groups being currently funded are being evaluated randomly.
So that leaves project funding and neighbourhood funding, each of which offer grants ranging from €2,000 to €10,000.
The arts staff said that there are much more applications for project funding - so neighbourhood funding might be a good place to target. 
Your supporting material for your grant application - letters from artists and theatres and community groups and so on - should fit into A4 folder
The applications are read by four people - arts officers or qualifiers - with the applications randomly distributed to lessen the chance of people being swayed by knowing applicants.
Dublin is small, so the arts officers probably know nine out of ten of the applicants, but with new applicants, everyone gets interested. "At the team meeting, we start to debate, if there are new things, if there's a change in a grant, differences or exceptions," said Mr Yeates.
At this stage a shortlist is made.
Arts grants are not given by arts office, but by the City Council, they stressed. There are two external examiners - for example, last year's were visual arts curator Cliodhna Shaffrey and a playwright from Cork.
If there is a governance issue - for example, a conflict of interest or a concept that's not filled out, these examiners will look at the application.
Then two councillors come & are given all of the applications. These councillors ask searching questions - "We sometimes have to advocate for a project". 
There's more than 100 years of experience going to debate your application, between the arts officers, the councillors and the external examiners.
This procedure can be sent to you in written form - it's public and transparent. (http://www.dublincity.ie/RECREATIONANDCULTURE/ARTSOFFICE/ARTSFUNDING/Pages/ArtsFunding.aspx)
The core criteria used for judging applications are: 
  • Quality of artistic work - innovation, imagination, deeper thinking, work that has reframed an idea into another idea - "Knock us out," said Mr Yeates.
  • Audience being served - is there an audience and what is it.
  • Feasible project design with realistic financial projections: "If you only give €2,000 and we have to raise €10,000, how can this be realistic? Proof, for example if you've had a funded project and it worked. Common sense - we're looking for if it'll probably work."
  • Accessibility for diverse audiences and participants in terms of location, cost, people with special needs.
  • Ability to secure other source of funding, including in-kind funding (such as a free theatre, or a fashion designer who has given costumes, etc) (see specific criteria relating to different grants). "We want to see the money going on this project. You can value in-kind funding yourself - for instance, if you get a week in Smock Alley that's worth €2,000."
  • Artists' fees in accordance with professional practice. "It is OK for artists to take shares, for example, in the box office, but we prefer them to be paid. We really don't want artists to be working for nothing." The context is very important. "But if we saw most of the money going on marketing, not on the artists, that would break the criteria."
  • Public presentation of work in the city - "We represent the public - though action research projects will be considered, for example, workshops, etc in neighbourhoods. We don't fund research." 

Research projects may be covered. "If you're at home researching the impact of 17th-century arts funding on today, we won't fund that; but if you're studying impact on different communities, and going to do an installation, then that's in the public area, involving more people than just you on your own - it's action research. You need to name this community - 'hope to', 'aspire to' don't work, and you need supporting documentation showing that they agree. Verify everything. Don't say 'we're going to play at the Abbey Theatre' - prove it."
Because this funding comes from Dublin City Council, the council is only allowed to fund things that happen in Dublin.
In the case of a non-Irish person applying, "We're entirely blind to where you're from; as long as it's happening in Dublin you're as welcome as flowers in May," said Mr Yeates, to a happy laugh from the audience. "We're doing our best to engage with others who are non-Irish, non-graduates, etc."
The arts office has done an analysis of the residential spaces; 50% have gone to non-Irish applicants - and about 50% of the non-Irish are north American, so non-European. Some of these are employed to live here for a year and work, for example in the Red Stables residential studios. 
The specific criteria for Project Grants:
  • A specific thing that you want to do that will start & finish at a particular time. 
  • Quality and artistic ambition.
  • Track record of the individual or team - "Tell us about it, we'll get help to understand it. If you're new, we have to judge. We have a tiny amount of money for an enormous number of applicants. You may, for instance, form partnerships. Track record is important. If you've no track record, you've never been to college, etc, it's difficult, so show you have help."
  • Feasibility of project within known and realisable resources: "We want crazy ideas, but we want them possible. Put the thought into the left brain: time, planning, numbers. Known and realisable, not aspirational."
  • Ability to secure at least 30% of your funding from other sources. "We're an investor. We're hoping to give you a stamp of approval."
  • Budget to include professional fees 
  • Public presentation of work in Dublin City. "We're all for making things happen, and there isn't a hierarchy," said Mr Yeates.
  • Project must have a start and finish date - three months, one day, etc; better if it's within one year, but not necessary. 
If you don't use up all of the grant - if the arts office give out 100 grants and 15 come back and have difficulties, the arts office may have trouble keeping this funding. "If you get into trouble with the project, don't suddenly change the project, come back to us. Change of date isn't too bad, but change of core details will have to go into an appeals project. Sometimes it's too much of a change and we can't do it."
Who should apply: "We realise that to make something happen in the public domain you have to apply - but you may need to have a team of people. Or if it's an individual, you have to tell us how it's going to happen.
"We're very used to visual artists applying as individuals; we're not after subsidy of practice, but after a specific project - show how you'll go into a particular venue, etc."
A question from the audience: "The 30% funding requirement from partners - how do you get over the problem of funding being related to possibility of other funding - for instance 'I've got a promise of money if I do the event'?" Mr Yeates said: "You just have to have it on paper. We want the application to help your project work. Think of it as if it were your own money you were putting in: what would you believe. And the 30% needs to be - at least some of it - in cash and not in kind."
Any individual arts organisation can only be funded for a single project per year. 
The response on funding comes in January, and the project can't start before January, because the project is for a particular year. "If we can be flexible we sometimes give an indication - but without the city council voting, sometimes we can't give the grant till February because of date of council meeting - we can't give the grant without the vote."
You can draw the fund down pretty quickly when it's announced; it depends on what time of year your project takes place. "If you get your letter saying you've received funding, just contact us and say when you're starting, etc. We do have a draw-down procedure, with reporting, etc."

Neighbourhood funding criteria:
  • To animate & support local arts activity in the city. Not to support community development primarily, though it may do that powerfully.
  • To contribute to enhancing/creating a sense of local identity. For example, consider, if you're working in Inchicore and you're doing something with no local relevance 'is it a mushroom or a parachute' - are local people growing up into it.
  • Connection and interaction of the arts activity to the neighbourhood.
  • Involvement of a professional artist or artists in the project. "This is important because local people can't just think 'let's all be artists' - we want a professional input."
  • Reaching specific populations (for example,  young people, old, underserved populations) - like a project that used Muslim women in dance project using the movements they use in prayer.
  • Ability to meet cultural diverse interest through inclusion.
  • Level of involvement of participating groups, eg input into project design.
  • Ability to secure at least 30% funding from other source.

"We're not getting as many applications for neighbourhood funding as we want," said Mr Yeates.
An artist can apply for neighbourhood funding by herself, if the project has relevance to a Dublin neighbourhood.
As many as possible should be met; "otherwise I get into picking which are more important".
Almost the same percentage of the available money goes to neighbourhood and project funding; "even though we get vastly more applications for project".
Applications involving sport, for instance, are acceptable, but the project needs to be something of quality.
'Neighbourhood' refers to a specific geographic area, but a group could be in a neighbourhood. If your group straddles two areas, for instance Dublin city council and SDCC, "it's ok, but we're going to debate it". 
If you apply and fall into wrong section - you apply for neighbourhood funding when you should have applied for project - "I just cannot get over how kind people are; I've seen people say tthey applied for the wrong thing' - so applications can get sent to correct one of neighbourhood or project if the application was wrong in first place."
The arts officers will go to Vimeo or YouTube to view links in applications - "but test your links, and also give an alternative in case one link doesn't work; and don't rely on your link to make the case for you; your case has to be made in writing. Think about us - there are five of us and if you've got an error, we really can't be calling you up to ask for elucidation."
In the neighbourhood category, "we often get excellent ideas but no proof of the quality of the artist you intend to work with, and that really weakens your application".
Also, you need to document the fact that the artist is happy to work with you, happy to work in the community, etc. "Get them to say, in a letter, that they are happy and involved. Evidence, evidence, evidence. Your vision must be based on reality."

Apply here: 
Dublin City Council Arts Office

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Chicken Normandy, a delicious winter treat

In the depths of winter, come home to this Norman treat, a chicken stew combining the rich meaty taste of chicken, the sweet of apples, the tart of dry cider, the salt of bacon and savoury of moutarde à l'ancienne, and the umami of mushrooms. This is the low-fat version; if you like fat, replace the yogurt with cream and don't skin the chicken.

Chicken Normandy
Serves four people
One chicken
A pint of good dry cider
Four onions
Four apples
Four streaky rashers or some lardons
2 tablespoons grain mustard
One cup yogurt
Four large flat mushrooms
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups rice - I like Basmatti - rinsed and boiled till fluffy

Joint and skin a chicken. Fry off the pieces in good olive oil. Add four onions, peeled but whole, and four apples, peeled, cored and chopped, and a container of lardons from Lidl or four streaky rashers. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add two tablespoons of grainy mustard and a pint of good cider ('hard cider' if you're American). Cover and cook for an hour, giving an occasional stir, then take off a cup of the liquor and add it slowly to a cup of good yogurt (Lidl's Greek yogurt is good). Add this back in gradually to the other ingredients as they cook, and add four big flat mushrooms. Stir, cover and cook for a further 30 minutes. Serve over rice or with crusty bread.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

'Our nursery rhymes were English'

Dublin in the 1900s "was totally Anglicised... an English city... our nursery rhymes were English and we knew all about Dick Whittington, Robin Hood and Alice in Wonderland, but we never heard of Fionn or Cúchullain.
How has Ireland changed? Discuss.

Saturday, 11 May 2013


Where narrative is the roadway of a story, dialogue is the stream-fed pool where we stop to drink. For new writers, the fatal words their friends will always say is "Your dialogue is great - you're really good at it." This leads the unfortunate writer to neglect the story and plunge into long, self-indulgent runs of dialogue, to which their embarrassed friends respond: "[Oh no, do I have to read more of this stuff, but] your dialogue is really great."
Dialogue, delicately used, is a close-up of character. Here's Vronsky watching Anna Karenina, the first time he sees her, from that old sensationalist Tolstoy's book of doomed passion:

Madame Karenina, however, did not wait for her brother, but catching sight of him she stepped out with her light, resolute step. And as soon as her brother had reached her, with a gesture that struck Vronsky by its decision and its grace, she flung her left arm around his neck, drew him rapidly to her, and kissed him warmly. Vronsky gazed, never taking his eyes from her, and smiled, he could not have said why. But recollecting that his mother was waiting for him, he went back again into the carriage.
"She’s very sweet, isn’t she?" said the countess of Madame Karenina. "Her husband put her with me, and I was delighted to have her. We’ve been talking all the way. And so you, I hear ... vous filez le parfait amour. Tant mieux, mon cher, tant mieux."
"I don’t know what you are referring to, maman," he answered coldly. "Come, maman, let us go."
Madame Karenina entered the carriage again to say good-bye to the countess.
"Well, countess, you have met your son, and I my brother," she said. "And all my gossip is exhausted. I should have nothing more to tell you."
We see Anna through Vronsky's eyes - warm, impulsive, and, of course, resolute. Then we have his mother mischief-making - and Anna letting him know that she knows full well, and making a little intimacy with him against his mother.
And look at how Ernest Hemingway uses dialogue to describe love at first sight:
They were all eating out of the platter, not speaking, as is the Spanish custom. It was rabbit cooked with onions and green peppers and there were chick peas in the red wine sauce. It was well cooked, the rabbit meat flaked off the bones, and the sauce was delicious. Robert Jordan drank another cup of wine while he ate. The girl watched him all through the meal. Every one else was watching his food and eating. Robert Jordan wiped up the last of the sauce in front of him with a piece of bread, piled the rabbit bones to one side, wiped the spot where they had been for sauce, then wiped his fork clean with the bread, wiped his knife and put it away and ate the bread. He leaned over and dipped his cup full of wine and the girl still watched him.
Robert Jordan drank half the cup of wine but the thickness still came in his throat when he spoke to the girl.
“How art thou called?” he asked. Pablo looked at him quickly when he heard the tone of his voice. Then he got up and walked away. 
Nothing is said - he just asks her what her name is. But the sensual description of the simple meal, followed by that question - a question that is really a declaration - immediately tells the reader what's going on here. More doomed love.
Dialogue, if it's used right, shines a light into the character you're writing about. Dialogue is the lamp Diogenes carried: it reveals an honest man in daylight.
It should never be trimmed around with the author's instructive adverbs - we should never write:
"Oh, yeah?" he laughed sarcastically.
because if you write that, you're stealing from the readers, who should be discovering the character of the people whose story they're following, by the tone and content of their speech, not through a big authorial finger pointing down from above, saying: "Looky, this is what I mean."
And remember that dialogue doesn't have to be the truth. Sometimes the most powerful words are those your readers know to be lies. In Casablanca there is a scene where a naive English couple is approached by a helpful stranger on the street. He puts his arm around the man's shoulder and says:
I beg of you, Monsieur, watch yourself. This place is full of vultures, vultures everywhere, everywhere.
Naturally, when the Englishman pats his pocket, his wallet is gone. A wonderful piece of dialogue. A beginner would have had the earnest warning, but Casablanca's writers whip it around and give it a spin, by making the very man who's warning them be the thief. Fabulous.