Tag Archives: writer

Waiting for fame

My reading group has chosen The Member of the Wedding, by Carson McCullers. To the 12-year-old protagonist, the world is her oyster and she prepares for her entry into it by changing her name from Frankie to the vastly more impressive  F.Jasmine.

She also takes time out to sign  herself F.Jasmine Esq. Why she uses the title Esq is unexplained by the writer which adds to the telling since we are left to work out for ourselves that F.Jasmine has probably seen letters addressed like this to her father who runs a jewellery business.

When I was 12, I wrote letters home from boarding school addressed to M.P.Russell Esq having also observed that was how letters were addressed to my father. ( The Esq bit seemed fitting enough as he was a civil servant, or rather a senior civil servant as my mother always corrected me.)

“Why do you put Esq on the envelope,” a girl at school asked. “Does he own land?”

I was non-plussed. People in Dublin didn’t own land. Not the ones I knew. They owned houses alright, if they had the money. But of course, if you came from out of Dublin, in that place called the country which was everywhere except Dublin, you most likely did own land, fields and fields of it. But those people didn’t have Esq on the envelopes, just plain Mr and Mrs. Of course, with the Esq business, my mother was left out of the equation altogether.

I am now half way through The Member of the Wedding and it’s getting very tense for our twelve year old heroine as she is soon to leave home and enter the wide world. And she would then  become famous. For what, she didn’t know. Reading the news  perhaps or participating in a dramatic event of some sort. But definitely famous.

I’d known that almost-famous feeling when I was her age which was why I practised my signature in different ways: neat and careful, artistic with lots of curlicues,wildly adventurous with enormous flourishes. I worked away on them all during one particular exam when I had finished early and had nothing else to do. Mary Russell  I wrote, over and over again. Mary Russell,Mary Russell mary russell, MARY RUSSELL. Then, calming down: Mary Russell


And when the bell rang to indicate the exam was over. I bunched up the sheet of paper and threw it in the waste paper basket. Except that I had been observed.

“What is this,” asked the head nun, known to us as Quack, holding out the A4 page she had retrieved from the basket and smoothing it out so that my sin of pride ( was it one of the seven deadly sins?) was revealed over and over again.

“Who is it written for and why,” asked Quack and I stalled. How could I possibly explain I was practicing my signature for when I became famous.

Yep, F.Jasmine and I had a lot in common. Though while she actually chose the Jasmine bit of her name, I concealed from everyone that my confirmation name was Fatima.That would have ruined the whole famous thing. Mary was bad enough. As the song went:

For she was Mary, Mary,

Plain as any name can be.

Maybe that’s why I never became famous – though I’m still practicing.



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Got something new to say about James Joyce?

The VIII James Joyce Italian Foundation Conference in Rome

by jjqblog

Italian JJ Foundation

The James Joyce Italian Foundation will hold its 8th Conference in Rome from February 2-3 of 2015.  The conference invites unpublished and in-progress essays and asks for 250-500 word abstracts with a short biography by November 15, 2014.  Because this year’s conference coincides with the Yeats’ 150th birthday, organizers are encouraging paper proposals to engage with Joyce, Yeats, and topics focusing on the Irish Revival.  They provide a list of possible paper topics but encourage others as well:

– Joyce and/vs Yeats
– Joyce and/vs Synge
– Joyce and/vs A.E.
– Joyce and/vs Lady Gregory
– Joyce as a revivalist
– Joyce’s drama/Yeats’s theatre
– Joyce’s poetry and the Revival
– Rewriting the Revival in Joyce’s notebooks, drafts, and completed works
– Joyce, genetic studies and the Revival
– Joyce’s Triestine journalism and the Revival
– Joyce’s writings as Revivals/Counter-revivals
– The Revival and autobiography: Writing the self/writing the nation
– Joyce’s translations of Synge and Yeats in Trieste
– Yeats’ Joyce
– The state and status of Yeats and Joyce Studies 60 years after their deaths
– Writing “Irishness”
– Joyce and the Irish Language
– Yeats, Joyce, and the idea of the Irish “race”
– Yeats, Joyce and Irish alterities
– Mangan or Ferguson? Who to revive from the nineteenth century.

The conference has confirmed several speakers including Matthew Campbell, Erik Bindervoet, Robbert-Jan Henkes, Fritz Senn, and Carla Marengo Vaglio.  Some papers delivered at the conference will be invited for publication at a later date.  Direct abstracts and questions to joyceconference@gmail.com



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Have a brilliant idea for a radio programme? Here’s what to do with it:

The Society of Authors (SOA) organised a  session, in London’s Barbican, called From Page to Programme – about turning your book into a radio programme.

  The chair was  Patrick Humphries, a Bob Dylan expert – and prolific broadcaster. The speakers were Jane Ellison commissioning editor for BBC Radio 4,Susan  Marling whose production company is Just Radio and David Prest whose company Whistledown  Productions pitches mainly to Radio 4.

–          The way forward is to target a producer or production company, having sussed out what sort of programmes they do. ( Get the Radio Times for this.) An initial pitch should be about 200 words and should embue the recipient with  an insatiable curiosity to know more. Link your programme to a celebrity, if possible, and tie it in with an anniversary. The BBC loves both, it seems. Come at your story from an angle and begin in the middle. Check out any archives related to your story.Was it covered 50 years ago? Then find the report.Focus on the dark side of an upbeat story.

 Cyril Connolly wrote about the enemy of promise ( the pram in the hall)  but he also pointed the finger at journalism. Susan Marling disagrees. “ Forget you’re writers,” she said. “You need to bend your work.” Hmmm. As a journalist and a writer I thought I did this already but, let’s face it, I could be I’m wrong. Marling was energising, though, and full of practical ideas.

David Prest played a couple of clips from two programmes he produced and talked hard about the amount of work that goes into a pitch eg  checking facts, chasing up audio links and, here’s the rub, having original ideas.

Jane Ellison said that the BBC General Factual Programmes ( that’s her set up) plan a year in advance so start thinking now for 2014.

 What shone through was the huge commitment to and enthusiasm for radio. I came to the Barbican with two ideas I had been incubating and not only did both firm up in the course of the day but a third idea  moved in and took possession of my mind. Now I can think of nothing else.

Below is a list of useful websites:





To email bbc producers:  firstname.lastname@bbc.co.uk

Trade Mag for broadcasters www.broadcastnow.co.uk

The Radio Independent Group represents 2/3 of UK independent broadcasters  www.radioindoes.org


 The Society of Authors will check out contracts for its members. It has done for me in the past and was very helpful on one or two other related matters.




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Carol Ann Duffy nominated Syrian writer, Samar Yazbeg, for Pinter prize. Read my review of her book in The Irish Times

A Woman in the Crossfire Diaries of the Syrian Revolution

by Samar Yazbek Translated by  Max Weiss  Published by Haus 269pp £12.99 stg


Syrian novelist, Samar Yazbek, belongs to the Alawite sect but is vehemently opposed to Bashar Assad and his government. For that, she is ostracised by her family. Labled an “unveiled infidel, an Alawite apostate”, she is summoned for questioning, led away blindfold, slapped in the face and knocked to the ground more than once by army officers. “Isn’t it awful when that angelic face gets hit,” says one of them. But this woman with long blond hair and soft blue eyes is no angel as this book reveals. A Woman In The Crossfire is a collection of valuable interviews she did with activists, which are interspersed with a daily account of her life during those first fearful months of the revolution. Yazbek (43) is that unusual phenomenon – a single mother, living on her own, chain-smoking her way to survival. The threat of arrest and of harm to her teenage daughter is a living nightmare. What keeps her going is her political involvement in the revolution.

This is a handbook for non-violent activists. Co-ordinating committees are set up, internet contacts  made and maintained, posters printed, videos filmed and aired on the social media. The bleakness of her life, however, is on every page. When she requests permission to take her daughter out of the country, she must apply to a sharia judge even though Syria is ostensibly secular. She is aware of the  conflicts within Syrian society: “The murderers and I,” she writes, “are from the same city. Some of their blood flows in mine.” She maintains sectarianism is a red herring introduced by government supporters and counteracts it with instances when imams of different sects have walked hand in hand in demonstrations. Occasionally, we get a glimpse of another Syria when she writes wistfully of childhood visits to the town of al Tabka, on the legendary Euphrates.

Sometimes, her mood is lightened by those early mornings when she takes a quiet, pre-dawn smoke on her balcony overlooking the timeless city of Damascus. But in the end, the death threats in leaflets distributed among her own Alawite community get to her and, together with her daughter, she leaves her beloved country. She now lives in Paris where she wrote this book.

Mary Russell’s latest book is My Home is Your Home A Journey Round Syria.

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