How to Write the Great Dublin Novel

To hear a Londoner tell it, there’s no greater challenge facing an author than trying to capture the spirit of their great city. You’ll never match Dickens they’ll tell you.

Parisians will make a similar claim for their metropolis. Ooh, Zola. Ooh, Hugo.


You want a real challenge, consider the poor sod from Dublin who has to toil under the shadow of the mighty Joyce. Or Doyle.

But stop shivering, don’t despair. You, too, can write the great Dublin novel if you just follow these tips.

Would I lie to you?

First, you must create a cast of characters who are funny, quirky and hugely entertaining. Give us a nice range of ethnicities but make sure the Dubliners are pure Dub. This motley crew should make us laugh, cry and believe utterly in their existence. Give them some common purpose. Something like surviving a great strike might work.

Easy peasy.

Next you have to create your main protagonist. Careful here. He should be an everyman… but different. He has a clear vision of his city. He’s contemptuous but affectionate. Except when he’s not. Oh, and sometimes he’s a woman. Listen, the specifics don’t matter. He might be a Jewish Dubliner wandering the length and breadth of the city from Glasnevin to Chapelizod, or he might be a young chap trying to put a musical group together. Just make sure he has soul.

You must be sure to get his speech down pat. Which brings us to dialogue. There’s no fudging this. You’ll probably have to spend your days and nights in the city’s best cafes and pubs just listening to the voices of the people around you. I’m sorry but there’s no getting around this. You want to get it right, don’t you? So off to the pub with you. Don’t worry, no one will bother you. Dublin’s publicans are well used to their tables being taken by erstwhile novelists soaking up the atmosphere—and anything else there may be to soak up.

You can relax about the plot, though. The Great Dublin Novel cares more about the journey than the destination. Of course, it should offer conflict, an obstacle to overcome. It should give your colourful characters a chance to shine and reveal something important about the Dublin spirit.


The most important thing of all, of course, is depicting The City itself.

You must always think of Dublin in capital letters, even if that’s not how you write it. Your depiction of the Dirty Old Town must be larger than life. That’s true even if your depiction leans towards the negative side of things. In fact, the cities in the world depicted by great authors are always enhanced by a smear of grime. Give us the mean streets. Show us poverty, decay, corruption in high places. With humour, naturally.

It would help if you can accomplish all this while creating a new form of literature. Didn’t we give the world the shiny modernism? And when that got sullied, replaced it with post-modernism. We’re about due for the next wave of new wave. No pressure.

There you are, now. Everything you need to know in order to write the Great Dublin Novel.

What’s keeping you?

(G.J. Schear)


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