December Talks 2017

I am very pleased to have been invited to speak to groups of both teachers and also students again this December in the Marche region of Italy.

This includes two sessions in the Liceo Nolfi, Fano on December 18th. In the morning I will be talking with students as part of the l’alternanza scuola-lavoro and in the afternoon I will conduct a seminar for teachers entitled:  “The value of a humanities education: resilience, authenticity and employability – an Irish perspective”

In the Liceo Giacomo Leopardi, Recanati on December 20th I am pleased to lead a session with teachers on George Orwell.

For any further information please contact:

  • Liceo Nolfi, Valentina Foschi
  • Liceo Leopardi, Enrica Cerquoni

For a taste of what we may cover in the two Fano sessions, I’d suggest teachers and students might read my whimsical, but seriously-intended poem, Stemming the Tide. This deals with the value of culture and a humanities education against the background of the modern working world and was published in 2014.

Contemporary Italian Writing

Came across a really interesting survey of contemporary Italian writing on BBC 4’s Open Book programme recently. Struck me all the more as by chance I’m reading Eva Dorme by Francesca Melandri who was one of the contributors.

BBC4 Open Book programme

One point made was the in the last five years Italians are reading less when many other countries in Europe are reading more. Listen to the interviewers summation of one of the Italian contributors’ explanation about Italian’s fascination with technology (i.e. mobile phones!). Made me chuckle!

Talking the (Italian) Walk for Hospice

Recently Dr. Eric Haywood, Emeritus Associate Professor of Italian Studies in University College Dublin, most generously accepted my invitation on behalf of Our Lady’s Hospice & Care Services to deliver a lecture to promote the hospice’s wonderful charity trek along on the Amalfi Coast this October.

Eric OLH resized 270317 x

In a most entertaining and as also erudite talk, Eric brought us travelling with the Irish pilgrim who in 1480s Italy on their way to Jerusalem stopped off at an inn on the outskirts of Naples to indulge in an almighty “wine tasting” as they recovered from what they had just witnessed in Rome: the wedding of the Pope’s daughter!

It was a fun evening!

walking the walk

To learn about the hospice trek and how to sign up please check out


Seminar in Italy on educating humanities students for a more globalised world

It was a real pleasure to present an afternoon seminar on December 21st in the Liceo Giacomo Leopardi, Recanati on how a humanities education can help young Italian students negotiate such a “new” globalised and uncertain world.


Recanati, 21st December 2016

Many engaging questions and observations emerged during that day and I am most grateful to the approximately 50 teachers and educators from the Marche region of Italy who attended and especially to Enrica Cerquoni and Nicoletta Talevi for their excellent organisation of the event in the busy lead in days to Christmas last week.

More on the event here

And if you want a pdf copy of the presentation please just email me on

Arts and Literature

Given a topic I’ve been kindly asked to talk about this Christmas in Italy in a seminar for Italian “lingue and lettere” teachers, this recent article caught my interest. Arts Degrees: are they worth doing anymore?

Contrast this with the mantra of creativity and its value in the modern workplace which is mostly a myth The Plague of Compulsory Creativity

By the way – the title of the seminar is “Educating humanities and language students for a globalised world – an Italian/Irish perspective” Any comments of suggestions – please feel free to share!

Creativita’ in Leopardi’s hometown

Recanati 1About to head to the airport after another great family break in Ancona. Delighted to be invited by the Liceo (linguistico e scientifico) di Recanati to talk to some students last week on their Giornata Culturale about travel writing, culture and books. Most appropriate to be discussing those topics in Giacomo Leopardi’s hometown.

There was a great level of English among the students and most seemed very curious to learn about writing and the world outside.  Our wide ranging discussion included Pirandello, Anna Akhmatova, cultural patrimony, diaries/facebook and what culture and creativity mean for students today. I particularly enjoyed the emigration stories the students shared of grandparents and great-grandparents in places such as Argentina, America, Australia and Germany.

So thanks to all the students and the two teachers who invited me to talk – Ms. Nicoletta Talevi and Ms. Valentina Foschi. I also look forward to coming back later in the year to join a day being organised for teaching  staff from a number of schools in the Recanati area.

On a separate note – two very connected articles in today’s Irish Times on writing a first book and on the importance of creativity for people in education and the workplace.

Writing first book

Teaching creativity for modern workplace


Meeting the master – Paul Theroux


With Paul Theroux at the Lismore Travel Writers’ Festival – June 15th 2013

It might be several decades since I was a spotty adolescence, but for the first time in my life yesterday I was like a star-struck teenager. I didn’t quite get tongue-tied or blurt out that “I’ve read all your books” (although it wouldn’t be very far off the mark) but I certainly did gush and told him I thought his books were great.

And who was gracious object of this hero worship? None other than Paul Theroux who spoke at the Lismore Travel Writers’ Festival this weekend.

Why I like his books are that he says it as he sees it. He can be grumpy and he doesn’t hold back on his judgement through undue deference to the oddities of other cultures. Montaigne in “On the Cannibals” says “there is nothing savage or barbarous about those peoples (i.e cannibals or foreigners), but that every man calls barbarous anything he is not accustomed to; it is indeed the case that we have no other criterion of truth or right-reason than the example and form of the opinions and customs of our own country”.

I would have no doubt that Paul Theroux, as such an inveterate traveller, would respect this openness. But neither does he bend over backwards in the modern politically correct scourge of groupthink. If he reckons something about a foreign (or native) place is attractive and edifying or unpleasant and ignorant – he’ll say it. And back up his view. He also writes honestly about the uneven and often unsettling experience of travelling alone in alien places. He can stand over his out-of-kilter opinions because of his close-hand journeying through so many cultures and countries going back decades. He’s no slouch on the strictly writing side either.

I’ve relished his books for years. I quoted him too in “Travels with Bertha” (p25 for anyone interested) and mentioned him as the writer I might often read in my Irish Times “My Holidays” profile last year (see my 10 June 2012 blog).

So I was hardly going to miss out on the opportunity to attend the festival or to ask him a question from the audience (although I could easily have been greedy and asked a dozen such as – “why do travel and prison writings have so much in common?” or “what was it like to read to Borges”…almost like Beckett read to Joyce…and that too due to failing eyesight? or many another) but I restricted myself to one. Almost a technical one.

“When visiting a new place, does he read much about it before, during and/or afterwards? When does he flesh out his knowledge of the place when it come to writing his books?” His answer was that essentially he reads little before, during his journey he almost never reads about the place (favouring classics – such as Madame Bovary – complete unconnected to the country in question) and might then read about it afterwards to fill out his writing but with his main opinions and impressions of the country formed and informed by the journey.

That’s pretty much the manner I adopted in “Travel with Bertha”, though possibly different to the approach on my next book about my children’s great grandfather who escaped on a bicycle from a German prison camp and the oblivion of modern Italian history which requires up front research.

And when it came to the book signing….when I told him I’d quoted him in my book and enjoyed his writings very much he bowled me over. He shook me hand, asked was it possible for HIM to buy MY book and would I sign it for him! I felt like in meeting Elvis, Elvis asked me about a song I’d penned and to sing it for him. It was such a gracious way for him to encourage a younger writer in his efforts and I happily obliged. In a second copy he marked the paragraph where I’d quoted him and signed his name in the margin. That’s a book for me to keep alongside my collected Yeats signed by both the poet’s daughter Anne and son Michael.

Such encounters are what makes life all the sweeter. I left the event as happy as a child on a never ending summer’s day. No wonder the drive home was such a joy (see my earlier entry about the festival itself).