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PG O'Connor in Southword Journal

P.G. O'Connor is a native of Castleconnell, Co. Limerick, where he now lives with his wife and two children. He writes short stories, and is currently writing a novel and a screenplay for a short film. He was joint winner in 2009 of the Glimmertrain Best Start Very Short Story competition in the US. His stories have been shortlisted for the Seán Ó Faoláin Prize (2010), the Francis McManus competition (2011), and was twice winner of the Irish Writers' Centre Lonely Voice Competition. In 2011, he won the Seán Ó Faoláin Prize with his short story 'The Haggard'. He is involved in Limerick Writers' Centre Writing Group and gave a writing workshop at the inaugural Seán Ó Faoláin Weekend in Rathkeale, Co. Limerick this year. O'Connor is currently shortlisted for the 2012 Hennessy New Irish Writing Award and the 2012 Fish Short Story Prize.





Writing in Anam Cara




I’d never have thought of going to a writer’s retreatwould any ordinary mortal? But I was lucky enough to win a week in Anam Cara in West Cork as part of first prize in the Seán Ó Faoláin Short Story Competition, and the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. Imagine: a whole week, and nothing to do except write.

I arrived there on a dark winter’s evening, in heavy rain driven by a wind that nearly lifted the car off the road. It seemed like a nice, ordinary house, but if I could just get in out of the damned rain. The door opened, and Sue Booth-Forbes was there. She said “All righty, you made it.” Without any fuss. And that was the way it went for a week.

Due to the season and the weather, there was only one other person there, the best-selling crime writer Alex Barclay. I asked Alex what it was like to work here. She said: ‘I’m going to finish a novel here this week, that’s what it's like. It’s incredible what you get done here.’ Sounded good, because I was working on a novel myself. Alex knew what she was talking about, because in the library, where eight of the shelves are filled with books written in Anam Cara, I counted at least four novels written by Alex.

            I thought, I’ll get some tips from these two on how to get things finished. But you know the adage: Don’t tell, show. They didn’t tell me how to go about getting some writing done, they showed me.  After breakfast, the two gals said “All righty,” and bounced off in their writing fatigues, not to meet again (apart from the odd raid on the kitchen) until Sue caused a delicious aroma of lunch to waft throughout the place, smothering our creative juices and unleashing our gastric juices instead. Every day, haute cuisine appeared on time, which meant you could justify wrestling with the laptop for almost four solid hours. So lunch was served and there we were, eating delicious food (too deliciousI can see why Sue’s guests need the exercise stuff), looking out over fabulous, saturated scenery, talking nonsense, discussing literature and writing, and reporting the progress of our literary characters (I was the one talking nonsense). And then, when lunch was eaten, we said “All righty”, and bounced off optimistically to do our own thing, never to emerge for more than a coffee or sneaky snack, until a little bell announced that dinner was ready. And even after dinner (believe this!) Alex popped off yet again to extract a little more inspiration from the ether that permeates the place. Not me though. I was only a beginner. I poured myself a glass of wine, put my feet up on a pouf in the den and started reading a book I’d found on the shelves that I’d been meaning to read for ages.

Next day, we did the exact same thing, except the food was differently delicious.

And after a while I got into it: writing is the business there, and we were there to write. And I wrote. Nothing is allowed to disturb you and you don’t have to do a single thing else if you don’t want to.

            I could have spent the week staring at the scenerythe scenery is that good. There is a booming waterfall in the grounds, the ruins of an old watermill, and heaps of little places to explore if you like history or wildlife or a quiet, contemplative seat. I saw kestrels and sparrow-hawks from my writing desk, and in the near distance, islands and cliffs and headlands loomed in and out of the ninety-mile-an-hour mist. Sue has all sort of things like saunas and hot-tubs and exercise machines, and I thought to myself – yeah, that’ll be great. But it’s a place for writing, and in the end, I never used any of those things. The week went by in a jiffy.

            If life was like that all the time, I would get a great deal more writing done, it would be a lot more directed, and it would probably be a lot more polished than I often manage. But life isn’t like that: Anam Cara is a retreat, or a haven to get things done when you need to get things done. I got about three or four times as much work done that week as I would in a good normal week, I had the opportunity to discuss my stories and opening chapters with people who knew what they were talking about. Call it what you like: affirmation, a good rev-up, solidaritywhatever it was, it worked. I bounced out of there optimistically, and if I didn’t exactly say “all righty”, I was definitely thinking it. It’s a place you want to go back to.

Alex got her novel finished. It’ll be out around mid 2012. I’m looking forward to reading it.



©2012 PG O'Connor



Author Links


Anam Cara Writers' & Artists' Retreat

'The Haggard': O'Connor's prize-winning story in Southword

'Castleconnell author has the write stuff': article about O'Connor in the Limerick Leader

Announcement of O'Connor's commendation for the 2010 Seán Ó Faoláin Competition







©2009 Southword Editions
Munster Literature Centre

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