Author Archives: suehealy

About suehealy

Literary Manager at the Finborough, Sue Healy is an Irish playwright with a track record in stage and radio. Her most recent play, Imaginationship (2018), enjoyed a sold out, extended run at the Finborough and was later selected for a staged-reading at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough. Her previous stage productions include Cow (Etcetera Theatre, 2017) and Brazen (King’s Head Theatre, 2016), funded by Arts Council England. Her short plays have been performed at the Criterion (Criterion New Writing Showcase), Arcola (The Miniaturists) and Hackney Attic (Fizzy Sherbet Shorts by Women). Her radio work includes nine plays broadcast on BBC Radio 4 (Opening Lines winner), WLRfm and KCLR96fm. She has been an interviewed finalist for BBC Scriptroom 12, Eamonn Keane Playwriting Prize, Nick Darke Award and Old Vic 12 New Voices. Her screenplay was shortlisted for the Shorelight Award. Sue’s prose has won The Molly Keane Award, HISSAC Prize, Escalator Award, Meridian Prize and has been published in nine literary journals and anthologies including: The Moth, Flight, Tainted Innocence, New Writer, Duality, HISSAC, New European Writers. She has been writer-in-residence on Inis Oírr, Aran Islands, and at the Heinrich Boll Cottage on Achill Island. She has also benefitted from annual artist residencies at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, and at Ginestrelle, Assisi in Italy. She spent eleven years in Budapest, editing Hungary A.M. She has a PhD in modern theatre history (Royal Court Theatre) and is a UEA Creative Writing MA alumna. Sue is currently an Associate Lecturer in Playwriting at the University of Lincoln and the University of Portsmouth. She tutors Creative Writing at City Lit.

Never Forget

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My great-grandfather Lance Corporal Joseph Bohan O’Shea of the Royal Engineers died at the Somme 1916, and is buried at the Quarry Cemetery, Montauban.

My great-grandfather Lance Corporal Joseph Bohan O’Shea fell at the Somme, July 19th, 1916. He’d been in the trenches since war broke out. My grandfather John was four-years-old. Joseph’s death naturally cast a long shadow on my grandfather’s life, and that of his siblings. I wrote a radio play, ‘Cake’, a work of fiction (available to listen to on the right panel) based on events in my great-grandparents’ WWI experience – though it primarily explored the impact of the era on women. Our family has many stories about Joseph, my favourite fact is that he was a fine tenor and at the Christmas truce in 1914, he was elected by his battalion to go to the German trenches and sing for them.

A writer friend of mine who is familiar with my play, was recently researching 1916 newspapers in Ireland and came across an actual letter written from my great-grandmother, Josephine, to the editor of the Waterford News, informing him of her husband’s death in battle (the letter was written from Walthamstow in London, where the family lived for some years before returning to Ireland). Also printed in the paper, were two further letters, one from my great-grandfather’s Major to his Priest and another from a comrade. To mark the centenary, I’m sharing these letters in tribute to my great-grandfather.

But first, I must give some background to Ireland’s relationship with the Great War, which is complicated. The First World War is less of a contentious issue in Ireland now than it used to be, but it ought to be remembered that at the time of WWI, Ireland was revolting against British rule – the Easter Rising took place in 1916, violently challenging British presence in Ireland and changing Ireland forever. In 1918, Irish soldiers who were lucky enough to have survived the trenches of the Somme, came home to an Ireland entering war with Britain (the Anglo-Irish war (1919-1921), followed by a civil war (1922-1923) which was waged over the terms of the treaty. In the shadow of these two home-grown wars, the veterans of 1914-1918 were at best ignored, at worst viewed as traitors for taking the “Saxon Shilling”.

Thankfully, there have been recent moves to acknowledge and remember the more than 200,000 Irishmen who fought with the British forces during WWI. Their reasons for joining up were varied and complex. Certainly, poverty was rife and a soldier’s wage offered steady income. Many others believed that their service would be rewarded by Ireland being granted home-rule. More were convinced by the ‘save small Catholic Belgium from fearsome Protestant invaders’ narrative, which was really pushed in recruitment drives in Ireland. And, at that time, Ireland was part of the UK, so there were some who saw joining up as a patriotic duty. I don’t know my great-grandfather’s own reasons for going to war, and indeed this question was a through line of my play.
However, these men, such as my great-grandfather, should not be forgotten. I would also like to remember here the youngest soldier to die in WWI, 14-year old John Condon, was from my home city, Waterford.

Here are the letters from my great-grandmother, to the “Waterford News” (some words are unclear due to age of paper):

10 Cornwallis Road,
Walthamstowe,
London,
NE

August 17th 1916

To the editor “Waterford News”

Dear Sir,

Would you kindly make mention in your paper, this week if possible, of the death of one of your fellow citizens, my husband, Joseph Bohan O’Shea, son of Joseph Bohan O’Shea, late Relieving Officer, of 42 Grattan Terrace, Waterford.

Deceased was a pupil of Mount Sion Schools, and was only 30 years of age. He leaves myself and four little children to mourn his loss. His death is a very heavy blow, as he was one of the kindest and best husbands and fathers. But the burden is light when I know he died such a noble death – in fact a hero’s death. He was killed as he was carrying an officer off the field under heavy fire, and I am sure his death is an honour to the city of Waterford and that he will be deeply regretted by his very numerous friends and companions. He was employed with Sir William Arroll and Co., Bridge Erectors, from the age of 17 years, when he started on the Barrow and then the Suir bridges, and had been on the Blackfriars Bridge, London where he was awarded a medal for a life-saving in 1909. He joined the Royal Engineers in April 1914 and had been through the Battles of Loos and Mons, and in fact, had never been out of danger. He was made Lance-Corporal in May 1916. He was killed on the 19th of July.

I am sending you some of his companions’ letters and also one of his major’s letters to our priest here. I am also enclosing his photo, and would you kindly let me have letters and photo back at your earliest convenience.

Trusting, dear Editor, it’s not imposing too much and thanks you in anticipation,

I remain, yours sincerely,

Mary J. O’Shea

August 7th 1916

Dear Father,

I was not present when Corporal O’Shea was killed, but it occurred as he was helping to carry one of our officers, who had been wounded in a trench which the enemy was shelling at the time. It was a brave action, because it was done under fire.

Corporal O’Shea had been in the company under my command for nearly two years. He was a quiet man and a good workman, one of many who have sacrificed themselves for the honour of their country. It is owing to the quiet sacrifice of men such as he that we have raised an army which even the Germans now respect, and which contains many individuals such as him, whose quiet heroism has excited the admiration of the nation and their comrades will not be forgetful.

I am glad to think that I was able to let Lnc Corporal O’Shea get home to see his wife and family before the action in which he fell. If I remember right, I was able to help him in this matter on his request.

With sincere gratitude for the prayers you are making for our safety, and I assure you we need them.

Yours very sincerely,

R. Hearn

August 5th 1916

Dear Mrs O’Shea,

It is with feelings of sorrow and deepest sympathy that I now write these few lines to you. I know one of our chaps has written but I feel I must express my sympathy towards you for the loss of your dear husband. We are all sorry to lose him as he was such a good, genuine (Pal) ??? and one of the best men I have ever worked with. I went on my first route march in Bordan with him and I was in the same section until about three months ago. We have shared blankets and parcels from time to time and I can assure you, although I am a single chap, I used to admire Joe for the love he had for his wife and children and few men thought more of home than he did. I went for a (wash/watch)??? to an old post with him the same morning as he passed away that night, but he was doing his duty when he died as he was helping one of our own officers that was badly wounded.

We read it is God’s Word that “No greater love hath no man than that man who lays down his life for his friend.”

My address is Sar. R. Baines, 34th F. T. McCoy. ??? I have his diary that one of our chaps gave to me as it would have been destroyed. So, I will send it along as soon as I have the opportunity. I left a photo he gave me ?? home when I went on leave in May, and if I live through I shall treasure it more carefully and I know someday I shall meet him in a better world. I pray that God may support and sustain you and yours in your hour of sorrow and trial. But Joe was loved by all who knew him and we are all very sorry to lose him, yet we do not know who the next might be, so may God bless you and sustain you. I do not forget you all in my prayers to the One above. With deepest sympathy, I remain your sincere friend.

R. Baines.

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No Space for Displacement

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Sit at computer, bring up blank page, make a cup of tea. Sit at computer, look at blank page, do the washing up. Duration: 1 hour. Word count: 0

If this sounds like your typical writing pattern, you’ve got company. The sudden urge to do housework, rearrange books, check your bank statement- when you really ought to be writing is known as ‘Displacement activity’.

Displacement activities are all the stuff you do that are not the the thing you are SUPPOSED to be doing. It is the bane of a writer’s life. Avoidance is probably a more readily understood term, but doesn’t sound half as writerly. What happens is a little ‘displacement monkey’ in your mind distracts you from the task at hand, by urging you to ‘make another cup of tea/check the TV guide/your bank account/ebay/post on this blog : ) rather than crack on with that difficult piece of dialogue you’re trying to get down.

I don’t believe displacement activities are wholly bad. They sometimes happen for a reason. Perhaps what you’re working on needs time to settle, or percolate in your mind and, after you’ve bought those gloves on ebay, it will all come together. However, I think I’d get a lot more writing done if I didn’t have an Internet connection in my office.

Still, I know a few writers who keep their displacement activity on hand – as another creative hobby such as painting, and they believe one such activity complements and feeds the other. So, they may start painting and then half way through THAT activity they’ll turn back to their writing as a displacement activity for their painting and so on…

As with everything in writing, if you find your displacement activity works for you, then go knock yourself out with it. If it is a hindrance, then find a way to stop it distracting you such as getting a room with no internet connection. I recently heard of an app called ‘Freedom’ which will block your internet connection for an hour, making you get on with that section you’re meant to be finishing today… maybe I need to try it out right now… bye…


Finding Time

 

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It is said that the closer the brain is to the sleeping state, the more creative it is. For this reason, many writers keep their notepad by their beds and make sure that the very first thing they do when they open their eyes each morning, is write.

The resultant notes are called “morning pages”. Morning pages might contain what a writer remembers of their dreams or perhaps the writer will simply jot down the very first words that come to mind that day. Some writers say that this exercise helps them ‘slip’ more easily into what writers’ call the “rapture” when a writer feels ideas are pouring into their mind from elsewhere.

Just as the waking moments are a bridge from the sleeping state into sober reality – the hour before you go to bed is often a creative time with the brain slipping into that semi conscious state.  Hence there are plenty of writers who write late at night.

And just to show that there are no rules, there are other writers who find their most productive hours are in the middle of the day when all of life’s busyness is in full swing (the Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling is a good example. She wrote her first book in a busy Edinburgh café).

So, I guess the point is that different times of the day work for different people and it is really of no consequence whether you are a morning, day or night writer. What is important is that you write and that you find your ideal writing time. Experiment. Find what works for you and then set an hour aside each day at that time and write. Likewise, writers have very personal tastes regarding an environment conducive to writing. There are those who like music or TV buzz in the background and those who can only write in silence. Find whatever works for you.


Short Cut

Moving Forward by Writing and Staging Short Plays

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Big n’ little

As Literary Manager at the Finborough Theatre, I’m often asked by early career/emerging playwrights what is the best path to a full production in a London theatre. There’re lots of opinions on this matter, but getting your work on at the various scratch and shorts nights in your local area is commonly thought to be a good way to start, for the following reasons:

A) A short allows you to see how a concept/technique/form works with an audience, before you commit it to full length form.

B) Your work may be seen by industry figures such as theatre scouts, agents and producers.

C) Writing shorts will further hone and polish your craft.

D) You’ll build up your portfolio of writing credits.

E) Writing credits give you an edge when applying for bursaries, residencies, funding etc..

F) Having a short on the go, as you write your main project, provides a healthy displacement activity.

G) It facilitates networking opportunities and allows you to build relationships with theatres/directors/performers and theatre people in your area.

H) Having a short accepted for such an event, encourages and motivates.


Are You Going to Scarborough…

OK, not Scarborough Fair… but even better, a Scarborough theatre! The Stephen Joseph, to be precise, an institution closely associated with Alan Ayckbourn.

My most recent play, Imaginationship, will be showcased on August 16th. It was one of five selected for a reading at the this celebrated institution over the summer. I’m traveling up for the event. I’ve never been to Yorkshire, not to mind say Scarborough – so I’m very much looking forward to the show. Do come along if you can.


What’s the story, Rory?

I’ll tell you a story about Johnny McGory.

Will I begin it?

That’s all that’s in it.

Irish nursery rhyme.

What’s the story?

Story trumps all. The toppermost bough of the literary elite tree may disagree and say literature is about language, the perfect sentence, la mot juste. However, for most writers in today’s economic climate – if you don’t have a sound story, you don’t have a publishing deal. Having a well-constructed plot and a good story means you’ll be forgiven all sorts of other failings (blingy adverbs, oddball syntax, clichéd characters). It’s simply today’s reality.

Firstly, in order to have a story, you have to have some sort of conflict. These conflicts usually fall into one or more of the following categories:

man vs. nature

man vs. man

man vs. the environment

man vs. machines/technology

man vs. the supernatural

man vs. self

man vs. god/religion

Examples of good conflict ridden plots can be found everywhere, in the Bible, Greek mythology, Shakespeare, ethnic folk tales and even jokes.

Structure

A typical story structure might be plotted thus:

Stasis – the status quo. The reader is introduced to the character and setting.

Disturbance. Something occurs which upsets the normal run of things. For example, a stranger arrives in town.

The main character is affected by the disturbance.

The main character decides on a plan of action to rectify or improve matters.

Obstacles stand in the way of the plan of action succeeding.

Complications occur in the guise of choices/new characters/new ideas/discovery.

These lead to a crisis, when the focus of a play comes together in an unavoidable way.

The crisis usually leads to a climax or the major confrontation.

Finally comes the denouement or resolution which results in a new stasis.

The above will often feature a character development arc whereby the protagonist is changed in a fundamental way by the events.

 

A good exercise in plotting is to take a book or a film you’ve really enjoyed and try to break it down into a series of plot-steps, like the ones I’ve outlined above. Now, change the setting, the gender of the protagonist, the era, the goal and the type of obstacles that stand in the way. Yet, stay true to the plot template. When you’ve finished you’ll find you have a completely new story. Don’t feel as though you’ve stolen another’s plot. In truth, there are no new plots, each is a retelling of an older version. You’ve simply adapted and updated a classic plot line and in the process have created a unique story.

That’s all that’s in it.

 


Rolling with Rejection

It’s World Cup and Wimbledon; hopes are raised and dashed within hours. England, where I currently live, lost a semi-final match last night. I’m encountering a swathe of disappointed English people as I make my way through the day. It’s got me thinking about dealing with rejection. I could run an entire course on this (in fact, sometimes, I think I will). It’s part and parcel of a writer’s life and you need to be robust enough to deal with it. A writer who can’t do rejection is like a boxer who refuses to take punches. Learn a way to handle it, or get out of the ring now.

Some years ago I had a room-mate, lets call him Robert, who was an exceedingly talented writer and a super bright individual. Robert had come from a north of England working class family and had won a scholarship to a top college at Oxford to study law, and then proceeded to get a 1st. In a class ridden society such as England is, this is quite a feat. He then went on to barrister pupilage in London. So far, so successful. He struggled in London however, his working class roots a subtle bar from invitation to the glossiest circles, and he let it get to him. Robert decided to jack the law trade in and devote his time to his hobby, writing prose.

Robert was blessed with a wondrous poetic use of language and could craft very beautiful, visual prose. He also had an instinct for story. Within a year, a short story by Robert, had won a prestigious national prize. The way seemed set for a glittering career as a writer. Robert sent out his first novel manuscript to an agent of his choosing. It was rejected. Robert was speechless and sunk into a depression for a few months. Eventually he rallied round, spent another six months moving commas around pages and plucked up the courage to send it out again. And again it was rejected. This process was repeated a third time, after which Robert hit bottom and decided to never write again – and I learned a valuable lesson by proxy.

Robert’s book was slow-paced and poetic and not to everyone’s taste, but there’s no doubt it was good. It would eventually have been published, had he persevered and found the right agent/publisher. However, Robert could not take rejection, so he didn’t persevere. Following a lifetime of over-achievement, he had unreal expectations and the sense of privilege and entitlement that often accompanies high success at a young age – yes, even for those from working class backgrounds. If Robert had had the skills to roll with the blows, he would have no doubt become a barrister and a published and acclaimed author – but he did not know how to handle rejection, so he gave up. Dealing with the turn-downs is the most important skill a writer needs.


Writers’ Residencies

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A window at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre for Artists, Co. Monaghan, Ireland.

For most, finding time to write is one of the hardest aspects of writing. Unless independently wealthy, one normally has to juggle a day job and family responsibilities with writing time – not an easy feat. Thankfully a solution is out there, focused writing time is possible with a writers’ residency at a dedicated artists’ colony. I’ve benefitted from a few over the years and cannot stress how fruitful and inspiring my time in each has been. The most sought after are ‘residencies‘ which often offer free board and accommodation and sometimes a stipend, for blocks of creative time that can range from a week to year. Sometimes, there may be a fee involved but at a ‘residency’ it would be heavily subsidised to ensure a stay is affordable for the artist. All such prestigious residencies entail an application and selection and approval process. The more generous the offer, the more competition there will be to gain a place obviously, and they tend to cater for published writers/produced playwrights with a track record only. These residencies are very well regarded by industry and acceptance is an asset to your C.V.

Then you have ‘retreats‘. These are usually privately owned affairs run as a business, often by people passionate about the arts. Or they may, like Arvon, involve creative writing courses that are highly respected, delivered by leading industry professionals.  Normally with these retreats, the writer/artist self-funds (though there are occasionally one or two grants available if you check the website).  As a rule, they cost the same as a stay in a regular hotel or B&B in the same area, but you have the added bonus of being in an environment dedicated to creativity and your fellow guests are also keen creatives. As you’re self funding, there is not normally a application process involved (at least not anything rigorous) – usually just a straightforward booking process, so retreats are the best solution for writers who have yet to publish or have their work produced. Retreats do not have the same prestige as the aforementioned residencies however, though some may straddle both definitions due to occasional grants or fellowships they may offer.

Ireland

Residencies:
Heinrich Böll cottage
Cill Rialaig
Dublin Writer in Residence

Tyrone Guthrie Centre

Retreats:

River Mill

Anam cara

Molly Keane Writers Retreat

France

Residencies:

Chateau la Napoule

Centre Culture lrlandais

Aerogramme Studio Brown’s

Retreats:

La Muse Inn

Great Britain

Residencies:

Gladstone’s Library

Hawkwood College

Hawthornden Castle

Cove Park

Retreats

Arvon Foundation

Urban Writers’

Germany

Schwarndorf

Switzerland

Jan Michalski

Italy

Ginestrelle

USA

Residencies:

Albee Foundation (New York State)

Anderson Centre (Minnesota)

Art Croft (Kentucky)

Atlantic Centre (Florida)

Caldera Arts (Oregon)

Djerassi (California)

Dorland (California)

Exeter (New Hampshire)

Hambidge (Georgia)

Headlands (California)

Hedge brook (Washington State)

Jentle (Wyoming)

KFW (Kentucky)

Kerouac (Florida)

Kimmel (Nebraska)

Norman Mailer Centre (NY, Wyoming, California)

Montalvo Arts (California)

Macdowell (New Hampshire)

Millay (New York State)

OMI (New York)

Kulcher (Minnesota)

Lynchburg (Virginia)

Radcliffe (Massachusetts)

Red Cinder (Hawaii)

Rocky Mountain (Colorado)

Poetry Centre (Arizona)

Provincetown (Massachusetts)

Spring creek (Oregon)

Saltonstall (New York State)

Stanford (Connecticut)

Studio in the Woods (New Orleans)

Virginia Centre (Virginia)

Ucross (Wyoming)

Vermont Studio (Vermont)

Wild Acres (North Carolina)

Woodstock (New York)

Wurlitzer (New Mexico)

Yaddo (New York state)

 

Retreats (some also offer a limited grants/fellowships)

Nantucket (Massachusetts)

Ragdale (Illinois)

Dairy Hollow (Arkansas)

 

Canada

Banff

Saskatchewan

Australia

Varuna

This is by no means an exhaustive list. If you know of more, please let me know. If possible specify if it’s a residency (free or subsidised) or a retreat (self funded).


Ireland Says Yes

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A Proud Irish Woman Today

I am enormously proud of my country for voting an emphatic YES to repeal the 8th Amendment today.

There was broad agreement across generation and rural and urban demographics that change was needed. There was also a surge of support from young voters who travelled home from afar to kick Ireland into the 21st century. They will hopefully stay politically engaged for a time to come. I was (very positively) shocked by the extent of the support for this result – which contradicted many of the earlier polls.

We have shown the rest of the world that we are not a country of  two-dimensional cartoon social conservatism often lazily portrayed by international media and in art. We’ve been oppressed in the past but we have a relentless tendency to rise up against oppressors. Our yearning for freedom also has a tendency to win in the end. We are a modern, nuanced, complicated, determined nation – and I am very, very proud of us. In short – don’t mess with Irish women.


Yes

imageJames Joyce described ‘yes’ as the female word. The famous Irish writer bookended Molly Bloom’s soliloquy with it and ended his most famous publication, Ulysses, with this phrase: “and yes I said yes I will yes”. I’m urging those in Ireland who can, to vote ‘yes’ for female rights.

I’ve been out of Ireland for over twenty years and am no longer eligible to vote in referenda or general elections there. Tomorrow sees Ireland go to the polls to vote on whether or not women should have access to legal abortion in Ireland. As it stands, those who decide to terminate an unwanted pregnancy have to make a very lonely and scary and potentially dangerous journey abroad. Ireland needs to stop exporting its problems and to grow up and provide women with the rights enjoyed by pretty much every other western nation.

Here in the UK, where I live, whenever discussing this situation, my English friends will usually draw on the refrain, “yes, but I suppose you’re such a Catholic nation”. I find this understanding of Ireland wearisome, glib and uninformed (and to be fair to the English, some Irish liberals draw on similar reasonings). We are a nation which, I’m proud to say, delivered a resounding ‘Yes’ (62%) in a popular vote to legalise gay marriage in 2015. This is not the result a staunchly Catholic nation would provide. It is however, a result you might find unsurprising in a particularly patriarchal culture. Ireland is far more patriarchal than it is Catholic (the Catholic Church pretty much lost its influence in Ireland in the 1980s/1990s). Whilst in its heyday, Catholicism certainly bolstered the native patriarchal culture, it is important to not to conflate the two. It is patriarchy that remains prevalent and far reaching in Ireland. One needs to know what one is fighting.

The polls tell us this is too tight to call, if ‘yes’ succeeds, it’ll be by a hair’s breadth. I’m dreading a ‘Trump’ or ‘Brexit’ result here. If you care about the rights of women and can vote in this referendum, please do.