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Space to Think, a new book celebrating ten years of the Dublin Review of Books More Information 

Beyond the Centre

Writers in their own Words
New Island


From By Way of an Introduction...

In the summer of 1995, at the age of twenty-four, I came to live in Dublin for the first time, equipped with a degree in European Business Studies and German from the University of Ulster at Coleraine. This course with its focus on international marketing and languages was supposed to prepare students for glittering careers in the new Europe. The European Economic Community had only recently become the European Union, introducing free movement of capital and labour. There were untold fortunes to be made.

I wasn't much interested in making a fortune — and so when I moved to Dublin after a year spent working in a bookstore in Atlanta for under six dollars an hour, I didn't turn to the shiny new International Financial Services Centre for employment but rather to the FAS office on D'Olier Street. I wanted to work in the arts sector and that meant one thing back then: enrolling on a Community Employment Scheme. These schemes were set up to provide the long-term unemployed with training and work experience but many of them had been set up within otherwise under-resourced arts and cultural organisations and were populated by graduates like myself. Within a month of arriving in Dublin, I had a place on the CE Scheme at the James Joyce Centre, where my initial role was as bookkeeper and office assistant.

I worked nineteen hours a week and got paid eighty pounds. I was also entitled to a small training allowance towards personal and professional development and I used this to pay for a ten-week evening class at the Irish Writers Centre. It was a class in writing for television and radio and I selected it on the basis that it sounded at least halfway practical and career-orientated. Really, I just wanted to write short stories and this is what I was trying to do with the rest of my free time.


The Irish Writers Centre on Parnell Square is about five minutes' walking distance from the James Joyce Centre on North Great George's Street. Once I'd discovered it, up beside the Dublin Writers' Museum (more dead writers!), its presence in the city meant a great deal to me. I remember picking up a copy of the Centre's printed newsletter and scouring it for information — and for affirmation. Yes, I made note of upcoming events and of competition deadlines, but much more importantly the newsletter, taken as a whole, and item by item, provided proof of a busy and robust literature scene. There was a lot going on and an invitation to be part of it.


By the end of the ten-week course, I'd written a radio play and I sent it to RTE. I'm not sure that I ever heard back from them. I don't remember what the play was about.



In October 1997, the late David Marcus spoke at a book launch in the Centre and decried the lack of outlets for publishing short stories. By this time I'd met a good many fellow aspiring writers, many of whom were there with me in the audience that night, nodding in agreement. Within six months, emboldened by Marcus's speech, I was back in the Centre to launch the first issue of The Stinging Fly.


My last attempt at writing a short story was in 2004.


Late last year, I said yes without hesitation when Valerie Bistany asked me to commission and edit this anthology of personal essays to coincide with the Centre's celebration of its twenty-fifth anniversary. The remit given to writers was a fairly open one. They were asked to write about whatever aspect of the last twenty-five years interested them most. They could explore changes in the political, the social or the cultural landscapes, or they could choose to examine the period through the lens of their own work. Writers were also given the option to address matters of concern to them in the here and now.

The broadness of the book's remit is in keeping, I believe, with the open spirit that animates and informs the Centre in its approach to serving the needs of different writers at different stages of their writing lives. The essays that the remit has yielded up provide the reader with an experience equivalent to a fly-on-the-wall documentary, the subject being not just the Irish Writers Centre itself - its achievements and some of the struggles it has endured through the years - but also members of the diverse community of writers that it seeks to represent. We hear first hand from them of their experiences, living and writing through the last quarter century.

Declan Meade, 2016