Nicholas Mackey

Follow author Add as friend Message author Subscribe to updates from author Subscribe via RSS
I write. I take photos. Go figure.

The Sullen Wrestler Challenge

I don't know about you, fellow writers, but I am never satisfied with what I write. And this morsel about the Four Courts Dublin as per my previous blog is no exception. I am truly grateful for the time people have taken to read and even to make the additional effort in commenting on what I have written. It does lift my heart when I see that some thoughtful person has said something in response to my attempt at describing an event on a truly awful winter's day of nearly seven years ago in connection with the fairly mechanical operation of taking a photo - such comments really do 'add value' to my existence and I am buoyed up by them. Thank you. 
As an aside, I revised this article 19 (yes, you read correctly, nineteen) times before it became partly acceptable to me. More about this later. 

I agree entirely with the sentiments so ably expressed by Barbara Froman in her recent article about plagiarism in which she goes on to describe the challenges associated with the activity of writing. When reading this I said to myself, "That's exactly how I feel. Barbara has hit the nail on the head of the remorseless struggle when writing." If it reads well, then probably the author shed blood, sweat and tears in the creation. Other writers have talked openly and cogently about their battles to tease out the correct word, the well-formed sentence, the smooth-flowing paragraph and then the page that sits well within the tale being conjured up from the imagination. But the truth is that writing is a bit like a wrestling match with a sullen opponent who is of inexorable strength ready to cast aside your nebulous inspiration, your fragile dreams, your nervous first attempts at drafting those incomplete ideas on paper for the very first time. So easily our first endeavours into this magical world of the creative can be thrown off course and wrecked on the needle-sharp rocks that represent the repetitive reality of our daily existence. English teacher admonitions about mixed metaphors come to mind all of a sudden - I can't imagine why! 

And the above reference to numerous revisions relates to how I try to put down my ideas on paper as it were aiming for lucidity - not always successfully I hasten to add - but here goes: often ideas for writing come to me visually, a bit like a film or video that plays out a single short episode - often with dialogue and varied angled views - or even a complete story unfolds in the realms of my filmic imagination and I rejoice in its fluency, the scintillating precision of the story as it clips along at a fair pace and I enjoy the 'ride' so much. Then I awake from my (day)dream and very quickly the finely-textured fabric of my story begins to unravel. As fast as I can, I begin to write, often in vain, attempting to recapture the excitement and magic of the story I had swirling around so effortlessly in my head perhaps just moments before. So I write and I write and I write and I write endeavoring to recollect the finely-tuned clarity of my dreams where I hope a story worth telling can be brought to the attention of readers in search of a decent tale.

But the truth is that it takes real, honest-to-goodness stickability to see the whole process through from that first tentative draft to the ultimate nirvana of publication when your newly-minted book takes on a life of its own. You then embark on another journey - that of being a published author - but that's a future story to be told.  

Recent Comments
Ken Hartke
"... often ideas for writing come to me visually..." I fully understand this -- my primary "hobby" now is photography but I don'... Read More
Wednesday, 27 July 2016 16:33
Nicholas Mackey
Many thanks for commenting Ken - much appreciated.
Tuesday, 02 August 2016 22:16
Katherine Gregor
Yes, I remember that you're never quite pleased with what you write... but, Nicholas, sometimes that's an unconscious fear of fail... Read More
Thursday, 28 July 2016 10:54
949 Hits

A quick pic from my place of birth

Four Courts Dublin, November 2009

There was I wandering about on the Quays in Dublin by the River Liffey. It was sodden brass-monkey weather as I had to keep dodging the rain, like effing April showers that creep up on you and drench you with cold injustice. My camera was with me and I was holding a banjaxed umbrella in my left hand while attempting to snap away. I must have looked a sight in the dampened surroundings. All of a tic, I was resting against a wall on Merchant’s Quay opposite this well-known grand yoke of a building, you know, old and fancy-looking like them big places over the water in England. I was staring at this Georgian edifice when a well-dressed woman approached me saying “I think you need this more than I”. She thrust something into my hand and with that she was gone this fancy one with her confident Anglo-Irish tone to match her sensible, old-fashioned outfit. I glanced at my unexpected gift, a creased bit of paper that looked like it had been torn from a notebook with the date, 1937 inscribed on it. It read:

“To many an Irish person looking at this image of the Four Courts, it is redolent of ‘home’, of Ireland’s capital city, with the River Liffey flowing nearby. And yet the Four Courts (Chancery, King’s Bench, Exchequer and Common Pleas) based on a classical Palladian blueprint of James Gandon, a London-born architect who went to live in Dublin and designed a number of important public buildings in one of Europe’s largest and thriving cities at the zenith of British (colonial) rule there in the late 18th century.

“The benign aesthetic appeal of this landmark belies a turbulent past where colonial domination, religious and political marginalisation, historical loss and national resurgence are part of Ireland’s cultural texture.

"After the disastrous fire in 1922 during the Civil War, the newly-installed Free State government of the time had neither the inclination nor the money to restore the Four Courts to its former glory imbued with the influence of a foreign power in occupation of Ireland for over 700 years. To this day you can still see evidence of Ireland's recent bloody past in the form of bullet holes in the fabric of the building." 

My mind was on other things so I stuffed the paper into my coat pocket and decided to take advantage of a dry spell as I stood there on the Quays. I took a photo of the reflection of the Four Courts in the slow-moving River Liffey. But instead of being satisfied with an upside-down image, I flipped the thing round to come up with a (right-way up) picture which was shown at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, London, in 2010 -  as attached to this article.

But as it happens, I've kept this weird, A5-sized battered manuscript gifted to me from this chance encounter with an unknown lady by the River Liffey and despite its air of stilted officialdom, this snapshot of history resonates with me as I lost something of great value - as did many other Irish people - in the catastrophic fire of nearly a century ago at the Four Courts. We Irish lost much of our (official) history. You see, the inferno took with it many of the nation's government records prior to 1922 and delving into our past is now made that bit more difficult because of the actions of some warring Irishmen fighting amongst themselves - not that of a foreign power, mind you.

The quirks of Irish history that make us, er, Irish, I suppose.




© Nicholas Mackey

Recent Comments
Katherine Gregor
Very interesting, Nicholas.
Monday, 25 July 2016 11:10
Nicholas Mackey
Thank you, Katia for reading and your comments are always appreciated. By the way, 1937 (the date written on the document mentio... Read More
Tuesday, 26 July 2016 09:49
Rosy Cole
A powerful story of how a chance encounter can bring so much revelation into the lens and crystallise it . I think the spirit of W... Read More
Monday, 25 July 2016 13:30
861 Hits

A Secret Book and Record Store

I was in Dublin, Ireland recently and paid a regular visit to one of my favourite haunts, the Secret Book and Record Store.

It's a treasure trove of books and vinyl records and every time I visit, I always leave with something of interest. The owner, Dermot Caroll is a mine of information related to the field of books. It is fondly reminiscent of bookshops from childhood where you can easily lose yourself as you come across a wide variety of fascinating material. Located in the heart of Dublin at 15A Wicklow Street, it is well worth a visit. For further information, please see






607 Hits

Discovery Day

Discovery Day

Foyle’s Bookshop, London

Meeting Curtis Brown


Conville and Walsh

Saturday 27 February 2016

It was an eagerly-awaited email from a certain auspicious institution called Foyles that stopped me in my tracks late that Monday afternoon in January. I ripped it open with suitable theatrical disdain – if you can say that about an email. In a detached but informative tone, I was told that “Discovery Day 2016 – Confirmation of allocated time. Please find below your allocated time for your one-to-one pitch session with a member of the Curtis Brown team …….” the rest of the missive faded away momentarily from view as I tried to take in the magic of what had been written. Zero hour was 12.45 – 13.15 with the cryptic reference akin to an Enigma code, DDA5. 

I felt as if I had been granted an opportunity to meet an agent that I had only dreamt of previously but was determined to derive maximum value from this experience and my wife reassured me that it was not a job interview or even a first day at school. But something exhilarating from deep inside had been unleashed. A recurring ditty established itself in my waking brain as Discovery Day got closer and it all revolved around those ‘six golden minutes’ of displaying one’s wares as an aspiring writer to best advantage during the one-to-one session. Set within the edifying setting of an iconic bookshop, way up on the 5th floor, six minutes, one tenth of an hour or 360 seconds that could spell ‘death or glory’ about one’s storytelling. No pressure then. 

The big day arrived and thankfully a dry, fresh winter’s day beckoned. It added to the frisson generated from within as I began mentally rehearsing those six minutes. I journeyed across town on the tube turning up a little too early at the exalted address in Charing Cross Road with the unholy zeal of someone who is a reformed latecomer. In Foyles, following the signs I drift upwards rising beyond the floors of books devoted to art, languages, philosophy and even fiction where I become tail-end Charlie of a long queue of other budding authors, I presume. People bearing all manner of manuscripts talking in examination-type hushed tones with an aura of restrained anxiety are the giveaways. A young woman appears with a friendly smile and a clipboard and my presence is checked off. My forthcoming six minutes of literary performance, my so-called pitch, dances into my head again. Adrenalin flows and excitement laced with terror rises to the surface of my consciousness. 

I am vaguely comforted but not sure why as the thin line of hopeful writers grows behind me skirting a busy restaurant as we gradually edge aloft to the top floor. Under a giant skylight revealing a sunless afternoon, I see many tables in action in this large penthouse space (the gallery, perhaps), where a dozen agents are locked in earnest conversation with authors seeking an outlet of reward for their creative labours. People are being guided back and forth and all of a sudden it’s my turn. Now, where’s that carefully-prepared spiel? 

With ease, I am ushered towards an agent by the name of Abbey and as a nifty device to gather my racing thoughts, I proffer some hardcopy: a CV, an ‘elevator pitch’ for my novel, “How Life In Two Squares Inspired Bo Wilkinson” and the first page.

Our conversation starts and I try to convey what makes my story worth reading. Abbey is very reassuring and gently coaxes me to what I should do to ensure the ‘hook’ or unique quality of my book is revealed early on to capture the reader’s imagination. I feel that my pitch strikes a chord and when reading my first page, Abbey remarks on the mention of Stockwell, a south London neighbourhood familiar to her and which is also where my main character lives: an unexpected connection is forged with a smile. All of a sudden my six minutes are history but I am made feel welcome as a writer. This is something to be treasured. 

Next, a group of seven or eight of us are grouped in a tight circle under the benign tutelage of Matt Marland from the Conville and Walsh agency, who invites our questions and he carefully dispenses sage words about covering letters, synopses and other relevant guidelines around the topic of submitting one’s manuscript; such wisdom is readily lapped up by this gathering of willing disciples.

This initial part of the Discovery Day concludes and I feel that I have learnt so much in these exchanges from those close to the reality of the publishing world. I have been given a decent glimpse as to the importance of the next part of the process where agents act as the lynchpin between the writer and the publisher. 

Because of the crush of writers vying for attention, we are given to understand that 700 of us have shown up for Discovery Day and the next element of the timetable, the panel event slated for 4pm actually starts half an hour behind schedule so that everyone can be accommodated. While waiting I fall into easy conversation with a woman specialising in the genres of memoir and erotica, as you do. But I digress. The large room at the top of the building which had been previously used for the pitching sessions has now been skilfully yet discreetly adapted for the next event. The venue fills up but the wait has been worthwhile as Emma Healey, renowned debut author of ‘Elizabeth Is Missing’; Karolina Sutton, agent at Curtis Brown; Venetia Butterfield, publisher at Viking and Anna Davis, agent at Curtis Brown treat us to a fascinating discussion on how a story progresses through the various stages of production from writer to agent and on to publication with various areas of interest explored. A tale of literary success that inspires. 

As a novice to such an exciting universe, this magical day was drawing to a close and I savoured it to the last knowing that for a very brief moment I had been privileged to have brushed up against some leading figures in this rarefied world where creativity dwells at the core. My six-minute pitch had been an eye-opener to future fulfilment as a novelist and now that that the lotus flower of the publishing world has been tasted …… 

Many thanks to Foyles, Curtis and Brown and Conville and Walsh for putting together such a memorable, instructive and motivating experience.




Recent Comments
Katherine Gregor
Glad you enjoyed the experience. I went to the Discovery Day about four years ago. I was told my opening page "has that sweep". ... Read More
Tuesday, 01 March 2016 14:31
Nicholas Mackey
Thanks Katia for commenting. I found the experience a very positive one and will persevere. In light of your experience, have you ... Read More
Tuesday, 01 March 2016 22:07
Rosy Cole
Thanks for sharing, Nicholas. Whatever is inspiring to writers has to be good news!
Tuesday, 01 March 2016 16:00
976 Hits

Latest Comments

Katherine Gregor A Few Thoughts About Lent
13 March 2019
Now I didn't know that! Thank you!
Stephen Evans A Few Thoughts About Lent
13 March 2019
The word itself as I understand it comes from the Middle English term for Spring - which fits right ...
Katherine Gregor The Hour of the Book
08 March 2019
Well, that's Europe for you (while it lasts for the UK!) – everything small and close together. Mor...
Katherine Gregor The Hour of the Book
08 March 2019
You're very kind, Rosy. Thank you.
Stephen Evans The Hour of the Book
07 March 2019
How wonderful to have a bookstore you can walk to! They are few and far between in my area. The clos...

Latest Blogs

  Image courtesy of the Academy of Classical Design, Glendale Springs    Mystic moon, riding voiles of dusk earth hangs deathly st...
  Bridal Procession on Hardanger Fiord - Hans Gude (with a little assistance from Adolph Tidemand).     Lift thine eyes, O lift t...
As the Dean traced the ash cross on my forehead and said, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  Turn away from sin and be faithf...
    At Independence Pass perched on the scythe edge of a predicament did you discover the landscape formed a route to Independence? Or...
The day is drawing in and I'm rushing to finish translating a page.  I need to look up a word and that slows me down.  I don't like to stop mid-page b...