Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"Bridging the Gap: The Power of the Story" by Eileen Casey

March 1 to April 28

A Q and A Session with Eileen Casey - must reading

  Eieen Casey is an Irish writer. Originally from the Midlands (Co. Offaly), she has lived in South Dublin County since the late 1970’s. She is a fiction writer, poet and journalist. Her many awards include a Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship (Poetry) and a Sunday Independent, Hennessy Literary Award (Fiction).

A debut short story collection ‘Snow Shoes’ was published by Arlen House, 2012.  She holds a B.A. in Humanities (Hons.) from Dublin City University and completed an M.Phil in Creative Writing at Trinity College, Dublin in 2011 where she was awarded


Her debut poetry collection Drinking the Colour Blue was published by New Island in 2008.  Collaborative works with Visual Artist Emma Barone  are Reading Hieroglyphs in Unexpected Places (2010) and From Bone to Blossom (2011) with an introduction by Grace Wells.  

Bridging the Gap: The Power of Story
By Eileen Casey

Thanks to the Grundtvig Foundation’s Lifelong Learning Programme, I’ll shortly be travelling to Copenhagen and Odense, Denmark as part of a ‘story’ team led by educationalist, broadcaster and writer Carmel Maginn.  As far back as early 2,003, Carmel, founder and cornerstone of the ‘Bridging the Gap’ project, had an interest in promoting ‘story’ as an empowerment tool in terms of personal and educational development.  Based in South Dublin County, there are currently eight groups involved in promoting pilot programmes which are relevant to educational institutions and community groups.
    ‘Story’ is already nurturing, encouraging and enabling people at both ends of the generational scale. It is being used to assist teachers working with cultural themes in primary schools in disadvantaged areas and also in promoting personal expression in older people through storytelling and song.  Listening to music and the stories of others in a group scenario, promotes a connection which reduces isolation and provides a trigger for memories to surface.    
    Children and young adults are also catered for.  For example, team member Kathleen Toner facilitates a project called ‘Little by Little’ where the concept of  expressing personal stories surrounding family life is aligned to formal learning programmes. One of the main benefits of this process is that a shared learning exchange takes place between parents and siblings. At present, negotiations are underway with the Graphics Department of a local Technical College to use the stories of the children involved as the basis of a graphic novel/comic.

    Carmel Maginn and members of the ‘Bridging the Gap’ team have just come back from Estonia where, over a period of a few days, seminars and workshops were held with local groups also involved in promoting learning and social inclusion through ‘story’.  Finding teaching strategies which are effective and enjoyable appear to be the main challenges facilitators regularly face, together with funding deficits.  
    From my point of view, as a writer, it’s fascinating to see the broad range of skills that facilitators bring to the ‘story’ table in order to help participants achieve confidence and learning abilities through self expression. Arts and crafts, music and dance, traditional telling of folktales, folk games, the employment of drama techniques, all of these ensure that participants can express themselves in ways that comply with their current competencies.  The value of visits to other countries (the Denmark trip is part of a year long itinerary) is to exchange ideas and to learn from other cultures how best to move forward.
    My own input in  the ‘Bridging the Gap’ programme, is that of writer and creative facilitator.  I devise creative workshops, delivered over a period of ten weeks,  for the various professional facilitators.  The workshops focus on the holistic elements of creativity itself.  I’ve always believed in the power of  play and that anything is possible if you follow your star.   My workshops, among other elements, develop the connection between place and emotion/how both are intrinsically connected.  Also, ‘Story’ comes from first hand or second hand joys as well as sorrows so exercises around these dual emotional poles ususally sets off a trail of ‘what ifs/if onlys’, eventually culminating in the opening of the storehouse door.  In an introduction to an edition of William Blake’s ‘The Tyger,’ Yehudi Menuhin talks about the child’s world being full of symbols, shapes and sizes until that dismal day when it is taught to put a label on each and everything it has felt, touched and smelled, thereby forcing it to shrink it by a name.  Exploring shape and size from childhood can bring an amount of wonderful memory stories from a very simple, non invasive trigger.

    Over the years, as an editor, I’ve devised a number of community based anthologies and I continue to employ their basic premises.  One of these, Flavours of Home (supported by The Social Inclusion Unit, South Dublin County Council)is a collection of memories based on family meals around the kitchen table. The family is a microcosm for the global community.  Sourcing ideas from Joyce’s Dubliners
and Isak Dinesen’s Babette’s Feast gives a solid literary precedence for accessing stories of this nature.  Using examples from literature broadens the scope of an individual’s personal ‘story’ frame.  
    I find the use of a storyboard a tremendous entrance to the gathering of family memory.  Because of its portability, I generally use a roll of wallpaper with various photographs, newspaper cuttings from specific timeframes, words which are personal to my own family (Paul Muldoon’s wonderful poem ‘Quoof’ features in this regard).  The storyboard builds up to present a personal profile of each participant, a visual journal to share with others.  It’s a tremendously powerful way to find a starting point and frame a personal story.

    At present, I’m working on a pilot scheme in a local Community School whereby traditional myths and legends will be revitalised through the prism of first year students/transition year students who have their own vast and colourful ‘story’ experience.  I know I’ll be learning a lot from these young people.

‘Bridging the Gap’ as a project continues to grow, mostly through the efforts of Carmel Maginn and her team of dedicated facilitators who are constantly finding new and invigorating ways to explore and express the power of ‘story’.  Grateful acknowledgement of support is owed AltEnTs Arts Group, Rua Red, Tallaght and The Grundtvig Foundation’s Lifelong Learning Programme.


Webpage of Grundtvig Foundation

Short stories can do more than just entertain or edify us and I am proud to be able to let my readers know of the wonderful work of the Grundtvig Foundation and Eileen Casey.  I am a total believer in lifetime learning, in fact one of the big reasons I have my blog is that it is has evolved into a fabulous life time learning experience for me.  We will hear more from Casey in May, I hope.

Mel u

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