Some years ago, Laurence McKeown languished in the Maze Prison outside Belfast on the verge of death after more than 70 days on hunger strike, a protest that had already taken the lives of 10 of his friends.
Now he is a very respected creative writer, having completed well-received plays, movie and documentary scripts, as well as obtaining both Masters and Doctorate degrees in sociology. He is also co-founder of the 'Belfast Film Festival.'
That’s why organizers of this past Autumn’s Session of the international ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ in September were delighted that Laurence was among several published authors guiding participants at the retreat keen to complete novels, memoirs, plays, scripts, poetry and short stories.
Laurence was joined at ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ by US-born Emily DeDakis who completed her Masters and Doctorate at Queens University Belfast in creative writing and is literary manager and dramaturg of the city’s ‘Accidental Theatre,’ as well as international travel and entertainment correspondent and novelist, Sean Hillen, whose latest suspense novel, 'Pretty Ugly' links Ireland with the USA on the theme of toxic chemicals in everyday cosmetics and deception by leading politicians and business leaders in hiding the truth.
Retreat participants received hands-on, practical training in various aspects of creative writing including dialogue, description, creative non-fiction and memoir, with every day assignment critiques. From places as diverse as Arizona, New Jersey, Lifford and Dublin, they were also immersed in authentic ‘west of Ireland’ Donegal culture to help inspire the Muse.
Highlights of the week’s activities included:
a personal guided tour of historic Glenveagh Castle and domain;
a talk by café owner, Kitty Gallagher, about local foods, including the history and use of the simple, yet highly multi-faceted potato, and a special evening food-tasting event;
a dramatic traditional Irish ghost story-telling session by talented seanchaí Sancho Galillei who works at a nearby organic farm in Killult;
an afternoon event at the 100-year-old thatched cottage, Teach Mhuiris, on the edge of the panoramic Bloody Foreland on the famous ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ where participants enjoyed organic desserts created from seaweed (carrageen) and learned about the history of the property and the area from Cathal Ó Gallchóir, Mairead Uí Dhugáin and Antoin MacAodha of An Crann Óg, a local community center;
a lively céilí dance accompanied by local musicians at the charming, boutique hotel, Teach Jack, where daily creative writing classes take place;
live concerts every evening;
beginners’ tuition in Irish taught by Anna Ní Bhroin of national language organization, Foras na Gaeilge.
ferry boat trip, walking guide and homemade lunch in native home on Gola Island, reputed to be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel, 'Treasure Island;'
a convivial farewell evening of music, food, drinks, song and ‘craic.’ September’s event, for example, included guitarists-cum-singers in English and Irish, as well as a special performance by Choctaw Native American tribal leader, Gary Issi-Tohibi (White Deer).
Those participating in next year’s two retreats – in June and September – are sure to enjoy practical writing classes and diverse cultural activities of a similarly high caliber.
“Proud of cultural traditions that date back centuries, we aim to create an authentic atmosphere in which writing skills of participants flourish,” said retreat organisers. “In this regard, input from local people was wonderful and we are now brainstorming about next year’s preparations.”
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