Joyce, Wild, Swift, or Yeats – It is strange to imagine that for such a small-scaled island its literary influence has been so profound. On the pedestal next to Guinness, Kerrygold and Halloween, writing has become one of the most considerable brand successes in the country. Struggling out from under that, however, has left big shoes in need of filling.
As an aspiring author, setting sail to new horizons can be a fearful and uncertain adventure, especially when one is unaware of where the wind will lead you. What is important, however, is a system of support that will deliver that first initial push out to sea, or an abetting companion that embarks on the journey alongside you.
Jake M.M. Griffin, is a young poet from Cork, Ireland. All by himself, he took on the journey of becoming an author and letting the world in on his deepest thoughts and creative streams.
“My interest in poetry developed through secondary school as an outlet for complex ideas and emotions, more as a tool for regulation and expression before I began to tell stories through words. Rhyming came easy as I was raised on Hip Hop and Reggae so over time, I began to develop a style and develop narrative work,” the poet shares.
During the Covid pandemic, Jake tried to cope by posting daily poems. Accumulating messages and followers turned the period of isolation into a valuable source of creativity and exploration of new areas of his mind. Describing his work as ‘Pensive’, ‘Dark’, and ‘Eerie’, Jake channelled those adjectives and turned them into his first collection of poems. In December 2020 he independently published ‘Lost Frequencies’.
Even though the poet did not always want to be one, he did find comfort and inspiration in the complexity and language of hearing and telling stories.
“The detail and attention you need to bring to create a good poem keep my mind focused and ticking over. It allows me to truly enjoy language and words and to appreciate the work of other writers better (…) I dreamt about having my own book as a kid because it’s practically all I would spend my money on,” Jake expounds.
The dream of becoming a great writer one day and thus continuing the Irish legacy is not a rare dream. The Irish Writers Centre, however, was founded to support this dream every step of the way. Since its origination in 1991, the national resource centre for Irish literature is engaged in providing professional and creative support at any stage of a writer’s career to help their professional development.
Irish Writers Centre Ambassador Anne Enright explains, “Irish writing is one of the great brand successes of the country internationally, and the idea of a Writers Centre makes so much easy natural sense.”
Irish Writers Centre Ambassador Ciara Ni É adds that it can be “quite isolating as a writer, being alone all the time but the IWC supports us in many different ways.”
From writing for radio and podcasts to nurturing creativity and crafting LGBT characters, the literature organisation offers a plethora of courses and opportunities that have the writer’s best interests at heart. The most prominent writing event, however, is the Novel Fair. An annual event for emerging authors held by the IWC. According to the ICW website, it is an “initiative which allows unpublished writers the opportunity to break through to the Irish, UK & international publishing world.”
In the writer’s realm, winning this contest is considered the golden ticket. For aspiring authors, this means getting the chance to be recognised and pitch their manuscripts to publishers and agents. This year’s winners have already been drawn and feature a broad palette of talents from different backgrounds with different literary orientations.
Apart from the Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair, Ireland hosts various kinds of arts and literature events all year around giving new talents a stage to showcase their craft. Jake M.M. Griffin can remember his first festival performance all too well. A chance that came his way thanks to an invitation from a fellow poet.
“My first time performing as a guest was scary. There weren’t that many in the crowd, but it was set up next to a busy street with people going past. I performed a couple of poems from my Instagram account and my first collection. One of my fears was that I wasn’t sure if people would like me or like my work, but I chose to do it anyway.”
Being pushed into cold water may be scary, the poet, however, can only see the positive sides of it.
“I also feared making a mistake or stuttering but I grinned through it and did it anyway. Now I can get up in front of a crowd with no problem and perform poems from memory. I think this aspect of the writing world is just as important and involves a set of skills that cannot be bought, that must be earned through experience and honed.”
Summarising the results of The Global Publishing Industry, 1,773 new books were published in Ireland in 2020. With the growing interest in becoming an author, and the abundance of books published each year, does Ireland’s readership reciprocate this interest?
According to data from The Irish Times, Ireland’s print book sales have increased by 60% since 2014 and have reached almost €170 million in 2022 alone. Global media market researcher Nielsen claimed that despite the end of COVID-19, which saw a spike in book sales of all genres, and despite the increasing cost of living, the fiction business held up.
Published on Nielsen’s anonymously written blog, “Readers are no doubt seeking for plenty of escapism and comfort, paired with the TikTok impact that has made fiction novels the thing to talk about again.”
Besides infamous ‘It ends with us’ author Colleen Hoover, Irish-born writers are still claiming a phenomenal performance.
Especially Sally Rooney has been getting a lot of praise for her literary work over the last few years. Her last novel ‘Beautiful World, Where Are You’ was even voted the Irish bestselling novel in 2022. It follows four characters, Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon, as they go about their millennial lives in Ireland, with friendship and relationships entwined. Set against the backdrop of the Brexit/Trump era, the novel is about human connections and the messiness of living and loving in the twenty-first century.
Her breakout novel ‘Normal People‘ has gained wide praise not only for her literary craft but exploring themes like Ireland’s housing and cost of living crisis. The novel eventually got picked up and turned into a BBC Three special starring Irish-born actor and Oscar nominee Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones gaining international acknowledgement.
Even though being a poet was not initially in the books for Jake, he has come so far already and even further by sharing the news of his new upcoming collections that he has been working on since January of last year. According to him, it is “a deeply personal book, different from my first, and largely therapeutic,” and set for publication in the summer.
Having dared the step to becoming a published author, Jake reflected on the beginning of his literary journey and shares his personal tips to support any aspiring authors.
“Write something every day no matter what even if you lose a limb or someone dies. Get ready to take some hits. Not all criticism is directed at you, your work is likely, not great starting off, but it can only improve when you take on board constructive criticisms. Also, have fun. During the creative process write whatever comes to mind you can always edit later or discard it – Failure is necessary.”
It is safe to say, that Ireland has been a trailblazer when it comes to literature. It was not without reason that Dublin was named a UNESCO City of Literature in 2010, thanks to its astounding literary heritage.
However scary the first step may be, taking that initial leap forward makes everything that follows a piece of cake, and before you know it, you’ll be publishing your first book and if not, you keep it as a good experience.
With Sally Rooney, Rónán Hession, Jake M.M. Griffin and many more emerging writers, the legacy and future of Irish literature seems to be in good hands.