Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Collective Sound Reading Performance - Sant' Agata dei Goti

Here are the Irish writers, and many Italian writers, taking part in an experimental sound performance in Sant' Agata dei Goti, Italy in June 2014, at Palazzo Rainore Mustilli. We all read what we wanted until we were brought to a spectacular close by the wonderful Seán Hardie. Good times :)

Wednesday, 11 June 2014


The Italo-Irish Literature Exchange made national Italian TV last night... including our spontaneous improvised group jam. We're about 18 mins in. Link here.


Aula magna del complesso di Santa Caterina in the University, Bologna
Our day 7 blogger is Noel Monahan

Monday 9th June - evening event & Tuesday 7th June, morning and home

Mia, Afric, Valerie and Noel at Via de Poeti, Bologna
Sounds of Words/I Suoni della Parola is the final event of the Italo- Irish Literature Exchange 2014. It is hot and the evening sun is relentless. Instinctively, we head for the water-hole outside the Aula Magna, Rita pours cool glasses of water for us and we are informed Bologna University is the oldest in the world. The hall inside reeks of final examinations going all the way back to the twelfth century.

Refreshments before the reading, Afric tucks in
The programme for this evening is presented differently. On every chair you find a paper-wallet full of information relating to the Irish and Italian writers and poets. I am taken by its presentation, the detail right down to green ribbon. By now we are familiar with the proceedings, the translations are ready to go, the running order is set, Tanya, the interpreter leans over and the sounds of words ring out in Italian, English, Irish and Roman dialect.

Writers Silvia Secco, Afric McGlinchey, Gino Scatasta, Alessandro Dall'Olio and William Wall
Questions and answers at the end of the readings lead to a lively exchange of ideas on education and the role of the poet. Back at 77, the Italian Writers’ watering-hole, we drink beer, wine, nibble on cheese, bread, prosciutto … They are a lively bunch and there is real integration. We should stay in contact with 77.
Liz Kirwan and Valerie Bistany
Not only do we talk about DISPLACEMENT, we live it. We get lost on the way back to the Ospitalita. Tuesday we return home. Last minute shopping and we head to the airport. Back in Dublin, I run off with someone’s ham, wine .. and think it’s the after-shave I bought for the boys. What was that theme again? DISPLACEMENT.

Our interpreter Tanya, with all of us and Grupo 77, the Italian wrtiers we read with, outside 77 Wine Bar
Since this is the final report on the trip I feel I should comment on the generosity of spirit of all. We hardly knew each other at the beginning. I certainly feel I was enriched by the experience. Our thanks to Valerie and The Irish Writers’ Centre for making it all happen. When will we meet up?

Monday, 9 June 2014


Our Day 6 blogger is Nuala Ní Chonchúir

Monday 9th June

The day started with us leaving lovely Lugo and three of our party taking the wrong train and ending up in a town called Wethorse - in Italian, 'Bagnocavallo'. Luckily, the side-tour to Bagnacavallo took all of 10 minutes and the trio (yes, I confess, I was one of them) were safely on the Bologna train before long.

Nuala and Valerie, trying to make pasta sensuously
We just had time to drop our bags at our final accommodation for the trip, the Collegio San Tommaso, before we were collected by Rita Mattioli, who walked us through beautiful Bologna (with a stop-off at a market for cheese, cherries and peaches) to her home.

The adorable Rita
There she made her family bolognese (minced pork and beef, sausage, wine, onions, celery, carrot, garlic, rock salt, pepper) and fed us organic red wine. Rita left the bolognese cooking in its clay pot, quoting Neapolitan poet Eduardo de Filippo: 'Now we have to leave the ragu alone, he has to think.' She then taught us how to make tortelloni and tagliatelle, and had us dancing to sultry music while we made our own pasta dough. Rita urged Afric to make her 'soul take fire' as she kneaded the dough. We laughed and danced and made passable pasta.

Rita makes magic with tagliatelle
Our tortelloni, which we stuffed with ricotta, parmesan, nutmeg and parsley, looked a little sad but they tasted fine when we sat in Rita's beautiful dining room afterwards to eat lunch, sip organic prosecco and gorge on cherry cobbler and homemade ice-cream. Life is hard in bella Bologna :)

Our funny looking tortelloni
Hungry writers waiting for lunch
The day was book-ended with stray writers: we got lost in Bologna that night after our event, but I will leave it to Noel Monahan to recount that particular adventure.

Sunday, 8 June 2014


Day  5 is recounted by William (Bill) Wall

Sunday June 8th - Lugo di Romagna
Travelling between Bologna and Lugo in 35C, in an un-air-conditioned local train, we began to think longingly for the first time of the cool of an Irish day, and this song came to mind. It's very famous in Italy and indicates the love affair between the Italian people and the Irish landscape, which they see as a kind of antithesis of theirs:

Daniele Serafini
We were met at the Lugo railway station by the poet and translator Daniele Serafini, who had organised our reading there. Lugo, is a small town by Italian standards, but still manages to have a medieval citadel and renaissance-period porticoes, an ancient open-air market, and a hotel with exhibitions of political cartoons and a literary programme that many an Irish arts centre would envy. We had dinner that evening, at the invitation of the City Council, under the porticoes in glorious shade, eating typical local food and drinking Sangiovese, and afterwards read at Caffe Letterario.
William Wall reading in Lugo at the Caffe Letterario
It was the evening of a closely-contested local election, taken much more seriously in Italy than Ireland perhaps because local councils have real power, and they were worried that there would be a small turnout, but they needn't have been. Afterwards, in a bar in the mediaeval castle, the Italians anxiously awaited the results of the final count. Just before midnight word came that the candidate of choice of the literary and artistic side of the city had won and after that we simply had to go celebrating the victory.
A local woman in traditional dress
The piazza was busy and noisy, crowds milled around the PD/SEL headquarters, sparkling wine in every glass, cheering and clapping. At one point the owner of the caffe next door handed out glasses saying, 'I've found the glasses but I can't find the wine'. The new mayor, a young man of 29, was introduced to the 'Irish delegation'. He looked dazed. I doubt he'll remember a few random Irish writers, but it was good to be there to see it. The atmosphere was electric in the piazza. I don't know where the losing candidate's supporters were, but it seemed like a sea of happy faces.

It was our second-last reading. Onwards tomorrow to Bologna and the oldest university in the world, the Alma Mater of all Alma Maters.

Saturday, 7 June 2014


Day 4 in Napoli is recounted by Mia Gallagher

Saturday 7th June - Naples

Caffe Gambrinus coffee break in Napoli - Sean Hardie on the far right
Today is our last day in the Mezzogiorno. So what better way to spend it than in the glorious sprawl of Napoli, a place I love. Plenty awaited us in the New City (from Neapolis, the original Greek name). Afric got photos of a demonstration that might have been about workers’ rights – though it was hard to tell. Nuala spotted shedloads of police, drummers and bluegrass musicians in the shopping district. I came across some teenage kickboxers and a strange soprano singing on the seafront.

Buskers on Via Chiaia
En route it was great to find out about the layered history of Naples, its development and reconstruction under a who’s who list of famous European rulers. We split up and I got lost somewhere on one of the hills, appropriately enough for a literary exchange exploring the theme of displacement. I felt like a character from a Richard Scarry illustrated book.

Mia's gattolina
Up one winding street, down another. I followed a zigzag of terraces up to the ramparts where I made friends with a gattolina (Italian cat) who followed me onto a desolate hilltop, bounded by wire fences, crumbling buildings, Keep Out signs and graffiti promising murder by gunshot if you parked there. I looked back: the gattolina had disappeared. Not a soul around, not even a mugger – though it would have been the perfect place to play Rob the Silly Tourist. And in that spark of dangerous solitude I had one of those odd, everlasting moments of feeling utterly at home. Grazie, Napoli.

Now it’s 5.20pm. Open Mic in half an hour. I’m going to try out my Italian & read a translation – bit nervous but why not?
The Bay of Naples

Paola Mustilli, our host, enjoying the open mic

Friday, 6 June 2014


Day 3 is recorded by Afric McGlinchey

Friday June 6th - Sant' Agata dei Goti and Telese, Benevento

In beautiful, medieval Sant' Agata – palazzos, jasmine, bougainvillea, marble floors, the perfect setting for a film set – and there is a film being made here right now! – eating al fresco on a terrazzo overlooking a dramatic escarpment, wine. Day 3 starts with another blue sky, sunshine, and  breakfast at the Palazzo Rainone-Mustilli.

The talented writing students of Telese

Then a mini-bus to the Telesi Institute di Istruziane Superiore, where some students perform their work. Mia responds with an extract from one of her stories. Some students who run a journal ask us questions: whether Liz’s political career influences her work, and if she feels compelled to write with socio-political awareness. Liz replies that as we are all political citizens, she feels as free as anyone else to write what she wants. Translation is discussed, and Nuala says in her opinion, translation from Irish to English is  always going to leave some nuance out, and the best you can hope for is a version of the original, rather than a translation.

Noel and Afric listen to one of Sean's wonderful stories on the terrazza at Café Miro

We have an alfresco lunch back at Sant’Agata, overlooking the escarpment, accompanied by an orange tabby, treated afterwards to a cherry cognac by the cafe owner. On the way back to our private apartment (part of the palazzo), I pause to watch a film crew shoot the scene of a period film. The locals are out in full force, hopeful teenage girls in all their finery.

Gaja Cenciarelli & Federica Sgaggio read at the festival
At 6pm, it’s time for the ‘festival’ (as it’s called here) highlight: readings by the Irish contingent and  a number of Italian writers, including a talented 15-year-old from this morning, with video addresses by Catherine Dunne and a couple of absent writers. A great event, followed by dinner – numerous courses of divine food, ending with fresh cherries. We have begun unbuttoning and unzipping, and will clearly have to resort to treadmills when we get home! A late night walk for some, to aid digestion. And now to bed, to dream of Naples...

The proprietor of Café Miro gave us cherry liquor after our meal

Thursday, 5 June 2014


Our day 2 blogger is Sean Hardie

Our home for three days - Palazzo Rainone Mustilli - an agriturismo in Sant' Agata dei Goti, Benevento
Beautiful Sant' Agata dei Goti
Thursday June 5, 2014

Ah but a writers life is hard, no-one understands. We are always working. As dawn breaks over the eternal city Nuala is already at her desk thumbing through her thesaurus for acronyms for aurora; at breakfast Noel scribbles another ode, already he is onto his fourth napkin. As we drive south along the Appian way – working, always working – Mia studies the driver’s  body language, the way his nicotined  finger reaches out to touch the sat nav. As we pull our suitcases along the narrow cobbled streets of Sant’ Agata  I’m already plagiarising  Merchant Ivory and Henry James, or perhaps The Leopard.  Liz has fallen silent, a new metaphor forming, we are all jealous. Bill – working, always working – eats constantly, searching for the perfect words to match the tastes and textures of Italian cuisine. It is hard, this life, exhausting. Poor Afric is in despair, crossing out the adverbs, gazing into space while poor Valerie attempts to herd her mice on to the next cross roads. And this is only day two and already the clichés are running out...

Wine made by the Mustilli family (with apricots!)

Wednesday, 4 June 2014


Our day 1 report comes from Liz McManus:

Wednesday the 4th June 2014

5am, Dublin airport, Here we are bleary-eyed and decidedly not bushy-tailed: six writers and Valerie, our intrepid guide, setting out on our great adventure.  Bill is arriving separately via Amsterdam. Three hours later we are negotiating a taxi, gathering up our bags and discussing the burning question as we travel to our hotel : to rehearse or not to rehearse.  In the end some do and others are already word perfect and don’t need to but we all scrub up well for our big night at the Irish embassy.

Ambassador Bobby McDonagh
Our Italian sister, Federica Sgaggio
And what a night it is!  The embassy is housed in a stunningly beautiful building, the Villa Spada, which used to be the Irish embassy to the Vatican but has been put to good use as the Irish embassy to Italy. The Ambassador and his wife overwhelm us with hospitality. The guests are a mixture of academics, arts practitioners, business people and old friends like John McCourt who runs the excellent James Joyce School in Trieste.
Sarah Cooney, Second Secretary, William Wall, writer, Valerie Bistany, Director of the Irish Writers' Centre
We all read magnificently as the only the Magnificent Seven can, The audience clap. Valerie opens proceedings with a neat explanation of what the IILE is all about,  Federica - looking like a film star from La Dolce Vita – gives an emotionally charged speech and then we all retire happily onto the terrace to drink and talk into the night.

Writer Mia Gallagher in the Villa Spada
Liz McManus, reading at the Villa Spada

Sunday, 1 June 2014


Fourth year of Italo Irish Literature Exchange is celebrated by three publications

Next week (4–10 June) marks the fourth year of the Italo Irish Literature Exchange (IILE). Organised by the Irish Writers’ Centre and its Italian counterpart, ònoma, the IILE enables Irish and Italian writers to take part in readings, workshops, discussions, educational visits and other cultural events in both countries. This fourth year is significant in that it is the first time that publications will emerge as a result of the exchange:
30 May, marks the launch of Inkroci, a new online magazine that showcases works by the participating Irish authors
Ugo Guanda Editore will publish an Italian version of the works of Irish and Italian participants in book form (2015)
New Island Books will publish an English language version of the works of Irish and Italian participants in book form (2015)

The make-up of both the Irish and Italian groups is designed to showcase a mix of emergent and established writers in a range of genres, including novels, short stories, poetry, drama, screenplay, non-fiction and political satire. Among the themes to be discussed with Italian IILE writers and audiences will be the importance of place and identity; migration; the role of writers and writing in responding to the political and economic crises facing Italy and Ireland; the challenges and opportunities facing publishers and writers in both countries in the digital age; and the establishment of further cultural links between Ireland and Italy.

This year’s group includes: - Mia Gallagher - Fabio Bussotti - Sean Hardie - Gaja Cenciarelli - Afric McGlinchey - Francesca Melandri - Liz McManus - Giulio Mozzi - Noel Monahan - Ivano Porpora - Nuala Ní Chonchúir - Federica Sgaggio - William Wall - Gianpaolo Trevisi - Fabio Viola
There have been three visits to date under the IILE banner, two by Italian authors to Dublin (in 2011 and 2012) and one return visit by Irish authors to Verona (in 2012) with the support of Culture Ireland and the Istituto Italiano di Cultura – Dublino. The 2014 trip to Italy represents the return journey of the second incarnation of the IILE, a venture which was spearheaded by writer and former board member of the Irish Writers’ Centre, Catherine Dunne.

The itinerary begins in Rome with a welcome reception and readings in the Irish Embassy, then moves onto the town of Sant’Agata de’ Goti (Campagnia) to meet and exchange with the ònoma writers under the IILE banner. Then, the Irish writers will move onto Lugo and Bologna for events and cultural interchange with translators and other members of the literary society. We are truly delighted to take part in this year’s Italo Irish Literature Exchange (IILE) and are grateful to all of our funders, particularly Culture Ireland, for this opportunity.

Saturday, 31 May 2014


On Wednesday morning, while the rest of you sleep, seven Irish writers will board a plane to Roma. We will travel from Rome to Sant' Agata to Lugo and Bologna. Yes, we are finally heading off and it is hard to believe the time has come. We are all very excited about meeting our fellow writers in Italy, as well as meeting students and reading for the Irish Ambassador to Rome, among other events.

In the meantime, we are featured in the Italian literary magazine, Inkroci. See our work here.

Monday, 10 March 2014


The IWC, Dublin
The seven writers travelling to Italy in June took part in a panel at the Publishing Day at the Irish Writers' Centre on Saturday. It is always hard to know if you are being frightening or encouraging when you talk at these events, but I think the aspiring writers present got a lot for their money on the day.

The morning session saw MD of Penguin Ireland, Michael McLoughlin, talk about what his company does and about what they like to receive. The good news is: everything! The better news is that the two commissioning editors in the company read EVERY script that comes in. There are no pre-readers at Penguin Ireland. That is pretty wonderful service from a top-notch publisher. In further good news un-agented authors are welcome to submit.

In positive news for literary writers, McLoughlin said publishers are more likely to invest time in a lit author. So, even if your first book doesn't sell brilliantly, they won't drop you. Whereas, commercial books 'have to work first time out'. He also said that commercial fiction 'enables Penguin Irl to publish literary fiction', a fact which some people feel unhappy about but which appears to be the truth of things.

Literary agent Sallyanne Sweeney of Mulcahy Associates, the most Irish of London lit agencies, spoke to the assembled about the dos and don'ts of pitching to an agent.

In good news, she is actively seeking début authors in fiction and non-fiction (including memoir). You can see what genres she is interested in here. She also stated that Mulcahy Assocs want to build long term relationships with their authors. Some of her advice to prospective clients included tips on writing cover letters:

Be polite!
Address the agent by name.
Keep it simple - one page letter only.
Don't mention illnesses or your age - both are irrelevant.
Mention comparative books and your genre.
Don't say your kids love your book - let the work speak for itself.
Don't be apologetic (no info on other rejections).
Proofread your letter carefully!

This session was chaired by Maureen Kennelly of Poetry Ireland, and featured Peter Fallon and Paul Lenehan, both of whom spoke eloquently on the business of poetry editing.

Peter Fallon says he takes on about one writer per year at Gallery Press. And receives enough mss for every day of the year, many of which are clearly not ready to be published. He urged authors to become critics of their own work.

Paul Lenehan gave excellent advice to would-be submitters to Poetry Ireland Review - send up to 6 poems, to give the editor a choice; don't get into a battle of wills if you are rejected; try not to send all 1st person POV poems - make an imaginative leap away from yourself.

Our panel was chaired by writer and editor Anthony Glavin. Each of us spoke for 5 minutes or so about something instructive from our own writing lives. I talked about the importance of finding the right agent for you. And how it took me 10 years after my first book was published to do that. Other topics covered included setting up your own small press; being your own best editor; self-publishing vs publishers; play writing; cultivating patience as a writer; contracts; earnings; using manuscript appraisal services, and much more besides.

The audience, for the whole day, were very forthcoming with questions, which was good and provoked lively discussion. All in all it was a very informative day, with good presenters, and I would recommend to aspiring writers to watch out for similar events coming up at the IWC.