Delighted to welcome Anna Fox to the blog today. Anna is the founder and director of the Dalkey Creates Festival, which is taking place in Dalkey, a seaside suburb of Dublin, from 19-22 October 2017. As well as lots of writing workshops there will be open mic events, music, readings and more. It promises to be a great event so I asked Anna to tell me all about how she came to start her own festival.
I put down the phone and stared across the hotel room. I was in Derry, producing one of the biggest touring shows in Ireland that year. My 10 year-old daughter was back home in Dublin, locked in the bathroom with the phone gripped in her hand, crying and refusing to come out because she hated the au pair. I felt upset, exhausted and depleted. Producing had left me drained and very far from the creative world of writing and acting that I loved. I needed something closer to home that would work around my children, and I needed to be creative again.
A few weeks later it struck me. I would start a writing course, in Dalkey, just a stone’s throw away from where I lived and where the kids went to school. It already had a thriving literary scene, famous writers had always lived and worked in the area, there was a book festival, a heritage centre, a writers’ gallery, the sea…it wasn’t just convenient, it was a bedrock I could build on.
I would start a course and take part in it myself. There was a one-woman play I wanted to write and I didn’t want to do it on my own. I wanted to write with others and I needed guidance: putting together a course felt like the answer.
To establish a local presence and hopefully find some writers, I joined the Dalkey Business Group. At my first meeting, there was a call for an additional festival that would encourage footfall in the town. I immediately had an idea ( I am easily distracted that way) and temporarily disbanded my plans for a course and my own writing to put together a proposal for a writing festival. I wanted something that focused on the creative process, that supported writers at different stages of their development and would provide a platform for their work. I suppose I wanted something for people like me. The proposal was accepted and a number of people volunteered to help.
We needed a name, a simple title that said what it was and where it was. We agreed on Dalkey Creates, which offered creative possibilities beyond writing in the years to come. For now though, we would concentrate on the writing, and a date was set for the following October.
I just about managed to kickstart my first writing course by calling friends and ringing through the school class contact list, but Dalkey Creates was taking more and more of my time. Our core offering was – and still is – a fantastic range of writing courses in small groups, facilitated by the best in the business across a number of different genres. Bernard Farrell, Eleanor McEvoy, Martina Devlin, Ferdia Mac Anna, Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin, Sarah Webb, Louise Phillips, Liz Nugent and numerous other writers would all run workshops over the next three years. Courses have ranged from creative writing to screen, radio, memoir, crime, song-writing, play-writing, writing for kids, getting published, and more.
Slowly, we became more established and last year we ran our first Short Story Competition. Wanting to make a serious statement, we decided to offer a prize of €1000. It was a fairly knicker-gripping experience: with a cut in our local funding the entry money had to cover the prize, and as a not-for-profit organisation with a very carefully crafted constitution, being in the red wasn’t an option. Happily, we just about made it and this year we have managed to secure a sponsor.
We have also added new options that allow non-writers to dip their toe into creative waters: creating stories in photos, making video on your mobile, creating an Irish cut-flower garden, storytelling, an introduction to acting and learning the gorgeous art of calligraphy.
And if you’re a writer? This year, we’ve got Man Booker nominated Mike McCormack facilitating – we hope! Because if the prize goes his way, it won’t go ours as the winner is announced the week before the festival! Either way, we have a fantastic line-up of experienced and highly-skilled writers and editors who are coming to share their knowledge, insight and experiences, to encourage writers to express their creativity and continue on their way.
We have asked our facilitators to share their stories as well – the personal, honest stuff that brought them to writing and creativity in the first place, which we’ve put up on our website. We wanted to do this because everyone has a story, and we hope that in sharing all of ours, you’ll feel encouraged to share yours, too.
The first half of this, for what it’s worth by the way, is my story. And while I continue to get distracted from writing and acting – planning the festival, running courses, producing plays and managing children – with the help of the courses and a bit of bum glue, I have nearly finished that one-woman play I wanted to write, and I’ve written a short story for publication as well.
And the festival I set out to create which was meant for people like me, is now becoming a creative festival for everyone. Which is better than I expected, and is definitely worth the distraction.
Thanks for coming to the blog, Anna, and sharing your story. I know every writer that reads it will relate to how hard it is to get the writing done when so many other things demand your attention.
Short Story Competition Deadline: 1st September
Dalkey Creates Festival: 19-22 October