*Disclaimer* I was a YWD, and before and after I volunteered at the IWC so obviously I am slightly biased, but I still think this can only be a positive experience. I wasn’t asked to write this by anyone, I just had a positive experience and think you should go for it too!
The thing about being an artist and particularly a writer is that you have to take a lot of chances. It’s never a straight path to get to where you want to go and you have to seize opportunities when they crop up, if they ever do – at least that what I told myself when I signed up to be a Young Writer Delegate for the Irish Writers Centre. I was convinced I wouldn’t get it but I thought going through the process of submitting would give me practice so I did it anyway. I’d never been published anywhere, had a BA in English but no Masters, didn’t have a polished novel or short story to my name, and had never been to a literary festival. But it was a new initiative I figured I had nothing to lose. As it turned out, I had quite a lot to gain though.
So, some basic questions that probably need an answer first:
What is The Irish Writers Centre? In short, the IWC is a place that offers resources and opportunities to writers in Ireland and Northern Ireland. They are a registered charity and get funding for a lot of their schemes, including the Young Writer Delegate scheme. They offer classes and seminars, rooms to rent for book launches, memberships and space for those members to write in a beautiful Victorian building in the center of Dublin.
What is Cúirt? Cúirt is one of the oldest and most recognised literature festivals in Europe, annually held in Galway. Stocked full of writing, reading, music, literature, poetry, and plays, there’s something for everyone. Each year they have a diverse list of writers and artists participating and there’s always a chance to meet the best contemporary writers of the day.
What are the Young Writer Delegates? The YWD programme was set up last year in an effort to champion young emerging writers and bring more of an interest to younger artists both for literature in Ireland and to the IWC as well. Offering a unique opportunity to take part in multiple festivals accompanied by a professional writer as their mentor, participants are offered a free festival pass, insider industry knowledge, and a chance to see what professional writers do when they aren’t actually writing. After the festivals, they have a connection to the professionals they met and hopefully a new relationship with the Irish Writers Centre.
The week for us basically consisted of going to as many events as possible, as a group, and as individuals. Our mentor was Alan McMonagle, writer of many things but notably his 2017 novel ‘Ithaca’. Alan would introduce us to anyone we thought could give us insight, he got us a spot talking on a radio show, and even at an open mic in the Róisín Dubh to read our work. That was my first time reading it out loud and boy did I learn a lot about editing from those five minutes. In the evenings there are social events to mingle with not just writers but also readers and people from the publishing industry. The only qualm you could really have is the stimulation to write and then not having much time to.
Being completely inexperienced as I was with festivals and professional writer life in general I was blown away by the experience. For anyone who is unsure what being a writer entails or has doubts about their abilities, going to something like Cúirt makes everything a lot more tangible. You can see writers like Sally Rooney and Sebastian Barry, speak to them even, and get a sense of how they got to where they are. It makes it all seem possible and for me, it definitely spurred me on to finish my novel manuscript which is currently being looked over by a publisher. I can’t say it wouldn’t be finished right now if it weren’t for the motivation I got just being in that atmosphere. And just to point out, the other YWD participants we’re all published in some way and had masters from Trinity but it was still a worthwhile experience for them.
Writing can often be, and indeed is sold as, a lonely art form but it doesn’t always have to be. The difference between locking myself in a room and forcing myself to write around everything else and everyone else in my life, in comparison to just hanging around other bookish people and really getting an urge to write, is staggering. Being in the right environment and connecting with other writers can make all the difference.
And since Cúirt 2018, I’ve been determined to return as a published writer. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m still determined and battling chronic procrastination. We’ve been invited to book launches and events, and even to meet the second round of YWD mentored by ‘Red Dirt’ author E. M. Reapy at the Dublin Book Festival a few months ago. And we even got our faces in the IWC brochure. Sure, it’s something to put on your writing CV but it’s also shaping up to be a small community of emerging writers sharing a great experience.
There’s still time to sign up for a potential free ticket to an historic week long literary festival. If you are between 18-26 and writing in Ireland, this is an opportunity not to be missed. At the very least it’s an excuse to be in Galway for a week, and I dare you not to feel the inspiration to write with views like this.
As a side note, if I can swing it this year, I’ll be back at the festival myself on my own time. I’m like a junkie for artistic atmosphere these days.
You can find more information here on the Irish Writers Centre website, and take a look at the Cúirt website here. And you can check out the Young Writer Delegate Instagram page to see what previous participants got up to here.
Do you plan on submitting for the YWDs this year? Have you submitted before? If I can answer any questions down below, I’d be happy to.