Roddy Doyle: I read the work in Fighting Words and I stop worrying. Our future is in great hands

This is the time that our country’s future writers are living in. This is their material. This is their opportunity

Roddy Doyle: ‘The new time is hideous, terrifying and heart-breaking, but what a story!’

Roddy Doyle: ‘The new time is hideous, terrifying and heart-breaking, but what a story!’

 

Not so long ago, a group of Fighting Words volunteers met to decide on the contents of this publication. Not so long ago, but on what now seems like a different planet. We sat around a table and discussed the stories and poetry in front of us. There was no social distancing; I don’t think we’d heard the phrase. There were biscuits on the table, but no hand sanitiser. I think my elbow might have brushed against the shoulder of the man sitting beside me. I might have coughed – maybe even twice. I seem to remember a woman sneezing. I think she apologised. We now know, she should have walked into an empty room and stayed there for two weeks.

So much has changed since that afternoon in early March. If we were meeting today, we’d be on Zoom or FaceTime, or KidDodge. We’d be ludicrously cheerful. We’d all be agreeing on how great it is to be spending more time with our kids/spouses/partners/selves/dogs/cats/walls. We’d be trying our best to seem calm in this frightening, boring, lonely zone that is becoming the new normal. One thing would be the same, though; we’d all be in easy, honest agreement about the excellence of the work in this, the 10th edition of Fighting Words. That hasn’t changed.

Fighting Words – that is, the room on Russell Street, in Dublin, and the other rooms throughout the State and on the island – closed on March the 13th. The rooms closed but, actually, Fighting Words didn’t. We were ready, if not waiting, for the virus.

Immediately after the schools closed, the Fighting Words Un-School Club was launched, on our website – fightingwords.ie. The stories and poems from 6-12 year-olds and 13-17 year-olds have been rolling in since, in English and Irish, and they make glorious reading first thing in the Covid-19 morning.

At the date of writing this – it’s April 16th – there have been 50,000 engagements with the page, so far. There are workshop videos on songwriting and story writing. We are running an all-Ireland project for children aged 7-12 with Great Lighthouses of Ireland. The lighthouse – vital, bright, distant and beautiful: what a symbol! We’ve launched an online writing programme for frontline workers – healthcare workers, bus drivers, people working in shops, gardaí – and their children.

I read the work in this new edition of Fighting Words and I stop worrying, or I worry a lot less

The Fighting Words staff, all still working and all working at home, are linking to schools and teachers, to parents and guardians, to our volunteers, to other organisations and, most importantly, to the country’s young writers. It’s a whole new world out there – in there.

We don’t know what is going to happen. We don’t know how long this is going to last, or what our social and educational normality will look like in a month, in six months, in a year, in two. Fighting Words can keep going for now, but we’ll be needing support. We opened at a time of deep recession, in 2009, and survived. The new time is hideous, terrifying and heart-breaking, but what a story! This event that we’re trying to endure, this is the time that our country’s future writers – our novelists, poets, playwrights and film makers – are living in. This is their material. This is their opportunity. Fighting Words is helping them to find their rhythm, their stories, their words. And Fighting Words will need help.

I worry. I wake up feeling anxious, immediately, before my feet are on the floor. I worry about the future, my family’s, my own, the country’s. But I read the work in this new edition of Fighting Words and I stop worrying, or I worry a lot less. Because our future is in great hands.

Thank you.