By Ursula Duddy
They say that everyone has a book within them and now with the help of an award-winning Derry-based author and playwright, local people have a chance to tell their stories.
Dave Duggan, was born in London but returned to his parents’ hometown of Waterford where he grew up before marrying Diane Traynor, a librarian he met in The Gambia, and settling and making Derry his home in 1981.
Mr Duggan recently penned his own memoirs, Related Lives, which was published by Guildhall Press. He has a wealth of life experience to draw upon having gone to the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo as a volunteer teacher for two years immediately after graduating from University College Dublin in Physics.
He then went to The Gambia for two years as director of a volunteer programme where he also met his wife and when he returned to Ireland, completed a post-graduate qualification for primary school teachers at St. Patrick’s Teacher Training College. During this time he also worked as a barman, van driver and fork-lift truck driver - and wrote poetry and short fiction along the way.
He also worked as a primary school teacher, a youth worker, a conflict resolution facilitator and a bookseller.
And in 1994 he decided to dedicate himself to writing full-time.
Mr Duggan, whose work includes a number of award-winning stage plays and film scripts, will run a programme beginning in January, with the support of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, to help other people start writing the stories of their own lives and the lives of family members.
He said: “Readers of my own memoir and many others said they’d like to do something like that and the breakthrough work of Derry man, Tony Doherty’s memoirs, with two books now published, supports the idea that many people could consider something similar in some form.
“It could be a book, or articles in a newspaper or magazines or on-line. It could be a blog. All those options can be explored.”
Mr Duggan said that people’s interest in both reading and writing memoirs simply comes from our love of stories and people.
“The yarns and anecdotes brothers and sisters tell about the generation before them, that’s what armed me with material to write stories and to bring people to life in a book,” he said.
“I know people who have diaries, some of which they want to make more widely available. That’s sensitive and the programme will look at ways of handling those sensitivities. It will also look at forms and outlets. Where do you go when you reckon you’ve done it?
"A mate in Manchester gave me the book he made of his father’s diaries, including episodes of being taken prisoner of war in Tobruk. It’s fascinating.
"Then the recent breakthrough books of Tony Doherty from the city show the interest significant publishers have in this kind of work. There are memoir blogs on-line, some better than others, and we’ll look at those too."
“We like stories. We like people. Most of the time. Put the two together in a memoir and the past comes alive in the details, the characters, the atmosphere, the language and the wit of loved ones, even in the midst of tragedy. I asked a friend why he wanted to write such stories and he said he wanted to leave them for his grandchildren.”
Mr Duggan said that writing your life story and sharing the tales of your family life is a ‘gift to yourself’ as well as a ‘gift to the wider public’.
“When you write your own story and the story of family members you are making a gift to yourself, to people around you and to future generations,” he said.
“You may also be making a gift to a wider public, if that’s what you want to do. The major tip I have is to get started, then to keep going, knowing that you will re-write before you finish. That’s why this programme is called Kick Start Writing (KSW).
“The old writer’s joke applies: How do you write a book? One word after another. Ideally in a lively and varied environment, which this programme will provide.”
When asked about the arrangements for the programme, Dave added: “It will start in January. You could think of it as a project for 2018 and this programme will help you stick to this New Year’s resolution. It is a mix of group sessions and one-to-one mentoring.”
Gerard Deane, Director at Holywell, added: “We’re delighted Dave is running this programme here. We’ve known Dave’s work since he wrote stories for early editions of Fingerpost.
“His idea of kick starting the process of writing family stories fits well with our interest in stories and histories rooted in this city and district.”
There will be four group sessions in January and February 2018, followed by one-to-one mentoring sessions, concluding in September 2018.
There are 12 places on the programme and the fee is £30 in total. The group sessions will take place in Holywell Trust, 10-12 Bishops Street, Derry.
For more details about how to apply to Kick Start Writing Your (Family) Story, send an email to [email protected], putting KSW in the subject line.
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