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Narrative Journalism Course, Cork Oct 2012

Narrative Journalism

Kinsale, Co Cork

Running from Oct 2 2012 (ten weeks)

This class will aim to interrogate and understand the art and practice of what is known alternatively as ‘long-form journalism’, ‘narrative journalism’, or even, ‘narrative non fiction’.

In some ways, these different descriptions of what is not exactly journalism, or indeed, not exactly literature, but some form of hybrid version of the two, understate the difficulty of defining this particular kind of writing, which is probably most well-developed today within the pages of the great US periodicals, such as the New Yorker, and Harper’s, but which also hearkens back to the non-fiction writing of authors such as George Orwell, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote and WG Sebald.

Indeed, this form of writing is so broad that it eschews easy definitions. It can incorporate areas such as the essay, and the personal narrative, and even some kinds of travel writing. Meanwhile it also allows space for the kind of slow, painstaking research that might be undertaken by a professional journalist, or an academic, while the writing of a narrative non-fiction piece might be equally slow, and equally painstaking, taking weeks and even months to fully develop.

What narrative non-fiction is most definitely not, however, is fiction, even if it adopts a myriad of the techniques employed in writing fiction: narrative voice, characters and character development, attention to detail, description, montage, scenes and story.

Instead, narrative journalists, in the way of the documentary maker, look resolutely outward: at the world, or at people’s experience within the world, and attempt to formulate a response to that world through the medium of writing, without resorting to the powers of the imagination. Compare perhaps a narrative journalist to a sculptor, who starts with a block of stone at which to chip away, rather than to an imaginative painter who starts with a blank canvas, onto which he or she places layers of paint.

Over a ten-week period, starting on October 2 2012, we will consider the craft of the long-form journalistic essay. We will look at the masters of the form, including writers such as George Orwell, Truman Capote, Joan Didion, Martha Gellhorn, John McPhee, James Agee, and others. We will also consider the development of a piece of long-form writing from start to finished product, we will discuss subjects and themes, writing style and approach, and we will consider the markets (in Ireland and elsewhere) for this kind of writing.

This course is for those who like to write and who like to write thoughtfully, no matter what the medium. Students can also expect to actively begin involvement in the generation and crafting of a piece of long-form narrative writing, one that could conceivably be published in the real world.


Rachel Andrews writes long-form narrative journalism for the Dublin Review and elsewhere. She is a former journalist and theatre critic with the Sunday Tribune newspaper and has broadcast with RTE Radio 1 and BBC Radio 4. She teaches journalism and literature at Griffith College Cork and UCC.

Any queries can be emailed to: [email protected]

Start date: October 2, 2012

Tuesday nights 7-9pm

Venue: Kinsale, Co Cork

Price for 10 week course: 200 euro. For details on how to pay, please contact [email protected]

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Mankind still has a delicate ear

A reminder of why the arts matter, and never more than in these difficult times. The Gigli Concert, produced by Druid, written by Tom Murphy, just recently at Cork’s Everyman Palace, now onto Galway.

Once, during an interview, Tom Murphy was asked what his plays were about. He responded that they were all, in a sense, about his life. And, in a sense, they are about all of our lives. This is why they have meaning for people.

The Gigli Concert is a multi-layered, epic piece of work, and not necessarily an easy play. But it is an exhilarating experience, primarily because of the humanity at its core. Like Beckett, Murphy has seen the dark side of life. Like Beckett he has grappled with its fundamental meaninglessness. And, like Beckett, he has come to the conclusion that one of the few things we can do to counter this is to be kind to one another, to take care of each other.

The Gigli Concert is, among many things, about the connection made between two lost, vulnerable souls: the Irish builder unable to look himself in the mirror after years of cheating and backhanding his way to materialistic success and the hapless English dynamatologist (the man who believes anything is possible) adrift in a foreign land, yearning hopelessly after unrequited love. That these imperfect beings, who remain as flawed at the end as at the beginning, are nonetheless allowed to attain a kind of grace – something that the crudely-spoken but heroic Mona (the play’s third character) also has within her – is testament to Murphy’s warmth and sympathy for ordinary human beings. Murphy urges us to care about these people, or at least to wish them well. This is important, particularly in an age when popular television, and the commercial media, so often encourages us to mock and slight others, with Mr Nastys such as Simon Cowell elevated because of their ability to cut strips off people.

Of all the wonderful lines in Gigli – and there are many – my favourite is the last. Preparing to step out into the unknown, dynamatologist Jimmy proclaims to the now absent Irishman: “Do not mind the pigsty Benimillo, mankind still has a delicate ear…that’s it…that’s it…sing on forever….that’s it.”