Panel Discussions 2018

Three 45-minute panel discussions and one 15-minute information session form part of the day-long #WomenXBorders18  programme of events at the Irish Writers Centre on 10 March 2018. Panels are made up of writers from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Please note: due to space constraints, events on 10 March are only open to programme participants.

PANEL 1.  Writing Through Darkness: the Literary Remedy [11.30 – 12.15]
This panel will discuss the therapeutic value of writing.

The purpose of reading, and many would also say writing, is to feel an emotional connection, to experience the ‘other’ and to feel understood, in seeing the familiar made unfamiliar on the page. When we have experienced traumatic life events, the retelling of those events can be helpful and necessary. We relive the experience through the telling, and, in part, give ourselves distance. What can writing about the self offer us? Recognition, acknowledgement, and bearing witness to the lived experience.

Sharon Dempsey [chair] Sharon’s debut crime novel, Little Bird, was published by Bloodhound Books in 2017. She has also published four health books. She is a therapeutic writing facilitator working in Cancer Focus and Stranmillis College and is also a creative writing tutor for Queen’s University. She runs Young Scribblers in the Crescent Arts Centre. Sharon has also worked as journalist. She is currently working on her second novel and a collection of short stories.

Emma Kelly, originally from Newport, Co Mayo, is a PhD candidate in the School of Arts, English and Languages at Queen’s University Belfast, where she holds a Department for Employment & Learning postgraduate research studentship. She holds a B..A. (Hons.) in English and History from Maynooth University and an M.A. in Irish Writing from Queen’s University Belfast. Emma has published articles on contemporary Irish cinematic and literary trauma narratives and will publish a chapter titled ‘The Piercing Breach of a Border’: Irish Cinema as a Mediator of Modern Trauma’ in a forthcoming interdisciplinary collection of trauma studies essays published by Brill Press. Her research interests include trauma and memory in contemporary Irish cinematic and literary narratives, Irish literature and the Irish constitution, and the interdisciplinary study of contemporary Irish culture.

Author Paula Matthews has worked extensively in the field of arts and mental health. Trained in three different models of using literature for wellbeing, she is passionate about the subject. Paula improves and safeguards social wellbeing as a social worker and also runs inclusive writing for wellbeing courses.


Caroline Johnstone now lives in Scotland. She’s a published poet, and her poetry ranges from life affirming to poems responding to life events. She’s just finished her first book, an introduction to the magic of journaling.

Her background in HR and her passion for people means she was a lay magistrate for a while, and she was a board member on an addictions charity. 

She’s been running courses on journaling for the past 10 years and now runs a variety of journaling workshops that dare people to be happier, nurture themselves, manage change or learn self-compassion. Some of these courses are for those referred from mental health or addiction organisations.

PANEL 2. Development Routes for Writers : a lively exploration of the different options open to writers to develop their writing skills.  [12.45- 13.30]
Join us on our whistle-stop tour of the literary learning menu: from post-graduate degrees to one-to-one mentoring, from day-long workshops to term-long short courses, and from writing groups to collaborations. We’d love to hear about your experiences and recommendations too, so do come along and add your voice to the conversation!

Sheena Wilkinson [chair] Described in The Irish Times as ‘one of our foremost writers for young people’, Sheena Wilkinson writes both contemporary and historical fiction. Her most recent publications include the BGE Irish Book Award shortlisted novel  Star By Star, about the struggle for female suffrage, and the story ‘Let me be part of all this joy’ in the anthology Female Lines.


June Caldwell has an MA in Creative Writing from Queen’s University Belfast. Room Little Darker, her acclaimed collection of short stories, is published by New Island Books and forthcoming from Head of Zeus. Her story ‘SOMAT’ was published in the award-winning anthology The Long Gaze Back, and was chosen as a favourite by The Sunday Times. June’s fiction has been published in The Stinging Fly, The Moth, Winter Papers, The Lonely Crowd and The Broken Spiral anthology. She is a prizewinner of the Moth International Short Story Prize and has been shortlisted for many others, including: the Calvino Prize in Fabulist Fiction, the Colm Toíbín. International Short Story Award, the Lorian Hemingway Prize, and the Sunday Business Post/Penguin Ireland Short Story Prize. Her first novel, Little Town Moone, is forthcoming from John Murray. [Photo by Will Govan]

Alex Catherwood has a French degree from Edinburgh University and lived in Paris and the French Pyrenees before working at three London banks; NatWest, Tokai International and Guinness Mahon. Alex first attended a creative writing weekend with Greg Mosse at West Dean in Sussex in 2011. In 2012 she attended a three month course at Faber Academy, London, following which she won the Writer’s Retreat Short Story Competition with L’Allumeuse (5000 words). Competition judge, Richard Skinner, Director of Faber Academy, invited Alex to read at his Vanguard Salon in Camberwell, then to join his six month Writing A Novel course.

Alex’s second short story, Sandman Of The Creagh (5000 words) was published in the Vanguard Short Story Anthology in 2013. Alex was invited to read her work at the inaugural Women Aloud NI gathering in Belfast in March 2016 and is an active supporter of this creative writing community group. Alex continues to attend Greg Mosse’s workshops at Southbank, Word Factory sessions, Creative Writing Weekends with Deirdre Cartmill in Belfast, and Sarah Salway Creative Writing days in Tunbridge Wells. Alex also studies books and online articles on creative writing and attends panel discussions on the subject throughout London. Alex is an enthusiast of Irish literary festivals and this summer attended a week’s travel writing course in South West Cork. Alex is currently editing her first novel: ‘A Different Kind of Peace.’

Jane Talbot is a writer, performance storyteller and the founder of Women Aloud NI. Her first collection of short stories, The Faerie Thorn and Other Stories, was adapted for the stage by Big Telly Theatre Company. As part of the creative team working on the stage adaptation, Jane collaborated with composer Garth McConaghie, co-writing songs for the production. A recipient of an Arts Council of Northern Ireland ACES award for 2018, Jane will work with Garth McConaghie to co-write a collection of songs to go with her next collection of short stories.

Jane wrote [and will appear in] ‘The Wonder Tales’, a two-person show for adults which features storytelling and song. The show starts its tour in June 2018. She worked as the writer on Big Telly Theatre Company’s interactive adventure, A Quirky Tale of Quality Streets – a piece of immersive theatre created especially for the town of Coleraine. She has also received a commission from Big Telly Theatre Company to write a piece of immersive theatre which is set to tour in August 2018. Jane is currently taking part in Tinderbox Theatre Company’s intensive 7-month theatre-training programme in Belfast.

INFO SESSION 1. The Literary Ladies: Making our Writing Work for us [13.40 – 13.55]
The NW-based writers and friends share ideas, experiences and anecdotes about how their business ventures support their creative practice. With Q and A

PANEL 3.  Writing Across Genres: Joys and Pitfalls [14.00 – 14.45]
Starting out as writers, many of us identify with one genre or age range – we are poets, children’s authors or crime writers. But what happens when we feel the itch to try something different? Does it make more sense to hone our craft in familiar territory or stretch ourselves trying something new? Do all writers have a ‘natural genre’ or can we be all things to all readers? And can we blend the best of our favourite genres into something unique? Join our experienced panel to discuss the pleasures and perils of writing across genres.

Debbie (DJ) McCune [chair] was born in Belfast. She read Theology at Trinity College, Cambridge but mostly just read lots of books. Her teen fantasy trilogy ‘Death & Co.’ was published internationally by Hot Key Books. She is a regular writer and broadcaster with BBC Radio Ulster and has taught creative writing to children and adults. She is still writing teen fiction alongside a fantasy crime series for adults. She lives in Portstewart with her husband, daughter – and two cats with seven legs between them.

Denise Deegan writes for adults, teenagers and children. Her novels have been published by Penguin, Random House, Hachette, Lake Union Publishing and Amazon Publishing. Writing under the pen name Aimee Alexander, Denise’s contemporary family dramas have become international best-sellers on Kindle. Her most recent Denise Deegan novel, Through the Barricades, won the SCBWI Spark Award 2017 and her pre-published novel The Accidental Pirate has been selected as the middle-grade finalist in Publishers Weekly’s Booklife Prize.
Ruth Frances Long writes dark young adult fantasy, often about scary fairies, such as The Treachery of Beautiful Things (Dial, Penguin (USA)), and the Dubh Linn trilogy, A Crack in Everything, A Hollow in the Hills and A Darkness at the End. (O’Brien Press). As R. F. Long, she also writes fantasy and paranormal romance. She lives in Wicklow and works in a specialized library of rare, unusual& occasionally crazy books. In 2015 she won the European Science Fiction Society Spirit of Dedication Award for Best Author of Children’s Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Based in Newtownards, Kelly Creighton is a novelist and short story writer whose books include: Bank Holiday Hurricane (Doire Press, 2017) and The Bones of It (Liberties Press, 2015). Runner-up for the McLaverty Award, Kelly has been shortlisted for numerous fiction and poetry prizes. She is the founding editor of The Incubator literary journal.