This post is a very special one because I get to introduce you to a very special writer. Many of you might have already heard of the fabulous Eileen Casey, but for those of you who haven't, you get to meet her here today.
A couple of months back I did a blog post on The Hennessy New Writers Literary Awards. As I might have mentioned before, in Ireland, winning a Hennessy Literary Award is like receiving an Oscar, because once you've joined this elite group, from that day onwards, you will always be referred to as a Hennessy Literary Winner.
Eileen, who is this year's Winner of The Hennessy New Writing Award for Emerging Fiction, joins us to talk about her writing and her winning story Macaw .
Firstly Eileen, can I start by asking you what was the inspiration behind this wonderful story?
The Inspiration for ‘Macaw’ came from frequent visits to The Mater hospital with my sister who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. I remember watching The Golden Globes on the t.v. set in the waiting room and looking at all these gorgeous women with quite an amount of cleavage showing. I thought it incongruous to say the least. Especially as I was also seeing such anxious expressions on the faces of the women sitting around me, of all ages. Waiting perhaps for life changing results. The story grew from that. I was interested enough in the subject matter, mainly due to worry for my sister no doubt.
In its creation, did it take many twists and turns, change in unexpected ways?
Once I had the idea, I needed to fictionalise it. After all, fiction and life are two different things entirely. I didn’t want it to sound like the diary of an illness. I wanted to make the story universal in that both men and women could read it and feel moved. I also wanted the story to be written to the best I could do so I knew I would have to find ways of introducing strong images and metaphors. I saw the head of a parrot on a billboard and it immediately struck me how alike it was to the shape of a secateurs which in turn brought the surgeon’s ‘blade’ to mind. Once I had that image and that train of thought, the rest followed. I’m also in awe of the Macaw bird, it’s so beautiful, its feathers and glorious colours, are so poignant in a way.
I know this is a very hard question to answer, but is there any piece of writing within your large body of work which is particularly special to you, whether because of the content, context or personal growth?
Do I have any special piece of writing? I really like Black Ball Gown , a short piece commissioned for a Per Cent for art project funded by South Dublin County Council. The piece was made into a short film by award winning artists Anne Cleary and Dennis Connolly and is beautifully read by actress Anne 0’Neill. It recounts my coming to
as a young girl and how difficult I was finding my new life away from home. Dublin
How did it feel to hear you had won the Hennessy Emerging Writer Award?
Winning the Hennessy Emerging Fiction Award is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. It means I’ve reached a standard, after all my years of hard work. It’s an acknowledgement and one I don’t take lightly. I was short listed twice before, Poetry (2004) and first fiction (2005). Everyone was great on the night and kept saying to me, ‘Third time lucky.’ The awards night was magical. The 40th year of the awards meant a gala night, with lots of my favourite writers in attendance, among them Dermot Bolger, Sebastian Barry, Joe 0’Connor and many more. President Mary McAleese was there too with her husband Martin. We were photographed with the President before the awards, a really nice touch. My sister came with me to the awards so you can imagine our joy when my name was called. I’ll be eternally grateful to Paul Durkin, Ciaran Carty and Derek Johns, the three judges who unanimously gave me the award.
Writing is often a very personal thing - we all bring bits of ourselves, the people we know, our surroundings and memories into our work – how much of your life to date do you draw on? Is there anything out of bounds, anything you wouldn’t write about?
I do tend to draw on personal history for my work, not all of the time of course, but I think the roots of my poetry and prose are not to far away from events that happen to me. I wouldn’t like to say there is anything out of bounds. After all, the more truthful the writing is, the more beauty it has. I believe that sincerely.
Along with writing I know you also teach. Indeed, it was through my first creative writing class with you a few years back, that the door was opened in my mind to the joy of writing. Tell us a little bit about your teaching career, and also your association with The Lucan Writers.
I’ve been facilitating creative writing classes since the late 1980’s. I taught at
, Templeogue and in most of the Community Colleges in Tallaght and its environs. I was very fortunate to have begun the writing journey of The Lucan Writers, a fantastic group who have measured up to and outstripped in lots of ways, the potential I saw in the group in those early days. I’m extremely proud of my association with The Lucan Writers. Ashfield College
You are obviously a very driven person Eileen, what sparks your creativity, what keeps you so determined, seeking further challenges with the written word?
I’m driven I suppose in that I take my writing seriously and it’s never far from the surface of my thoughts and actions. It’s as natural to me as breathing. When I get a good idea, I experience it in the body, a lovely feeling of excitement and energy. Life is constantly throwing up ideas. I feel I’m creative enough to be able to spot these quirks and foibles and I’m grateful that life, in general, is so rich and varied. I would always be curious about everything too and I believe that nothing is wasted. The worst piece of writing can lead to a really good piece of writing on another day.
You also have a love of books, which ones would you place on the special book shelf?
I love books. Having completed the M.Phil in Creative Writing,
School of English, Trinity College, , I’ve met lots of visiting writers. All of them are unique and wonderful in their own individual ways but….if I have a favourite at the moment, it’s Kevin Barry. I can’t wait to read City of Dublin . I was very fortunate to have had encouragement and support from high profile and much respected writers like Gerald Dawe (Senior Lecturer, The School of English, Bohane ), Deirdre Madden, Peter Fallon and Hugo Hamilton while completing the M.Phil. Trinity College
And finally Eileen, what are your plans for the future?
My plans for the future are quite simple. To publish a full collection of short stories. That’s my main focus now.
Thank you so much Eileen for meeting with us here today. You have been an inspiration to me, and to many others. I have no doubt, your short story collection will be published. Perhaps, when it is, you might join us here again?
Certainly Louise, I would love to.
Creative Writing Classes with Eileen begin in September in Old Bawn Community School (Tallaght), Adult Education.
From Bone to Blossom - a collaborative collection of pen/ink drawings and poetry with visual artist Emma Barone is currently available (Amazon). This collection features an introduction by Dedalus Poet and Writer Grace Wells and is published by Altents Publishing, Rua Red, Tallaght.
Drinking the Colour Blue (New Island) - Eileen’s debut poetry collection, is also available on Amazon.
The Jane Austen Sewing Kit - an anthology of creative writing, supported by South Dublin County Council, is available from Eileen via email @ firstname.lastname@example.org
Seagulls - a chapbook of poems which accompanied a poetry installation in Tallaght Community Arts Centre in 2006 is also available from Eileen.
South of the County: New Myths and Tales - an anthology of writings by over thirty of the finest writers working in South Dublin today, edited by Eileen, was published in 2010.
Eileen will be facilitating a creative writing workshop during Birr Vintage Week & Arts Festival, on 10th August in the new youth café on Main Street, Birr, Co. Offaly.