Monday, August 30, 2010

Sunday Business Post

Many thanks to Adrian Weckler and Tommy Collinson of the Sunday Business Post, who in their back-to-school technology feature in yesterday's paper (including lots of good advice about hard- and software for students) made generous comments about this site and our friends over at the Frog Blog:-

"SCC English: For students who want to engage in their English curriculum, this is a must-visit website. Maintained by the English department of St Columba’s College in Rathfarnham, Co Dublin, it provides notes, interpretations and even tutorial podcasts on curriculum texts. The award-winning website also has Twitter feeds and sections optimised for smartphones.

The Frog Blog: This is another superb website from St Columba’s College secondary school in Co Dublin. This contains downloadable material on preparing for Leaving Cert science exams. It also has a new story every day about different aspects of science or the environment from the outside world."

The other sites recommended were, Scoilnet, Wikipedia and


Number 17 in the series: Campaign for the Removal of English Errors in Public.

Some unaurthorised spelling in a carpark in Smithfield, Dublin!!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Publishing Pupils' Work

As we prepare to head into another school year, and, for SCC English, our fifth year of blogging, here is a post reflecting on one (or rather two) of our most pleasing achievements. We have published two books put together from writing which was originally posted on this blog - Going Places (2008) and Outside the Frame (2010). Going Places came out of a realisation that there was a lot of excellent writing from both pupils and staff that was disappearing into the depths of the site, and deserved another outing in a different medium.

Internet self-publishing, using a company such as, now means that individuals and small organisations (such as our English Department) can produce smart publications with little or no advance financial commitment. Neither of our books cost any money to set up or produce, since the model is that you pay for what you print.
You can read more about the rationale behind the books in the prefaces, which can be read online as part of Lulu’s preview facility (click above on the titles). The pieces of writing were already on the blog, so it was a matter of copying and pasting these into a special Microsoft Word template (provided by Lulu). You choose your own fonts (fond-nerds: for us, the Garamond family).

We then broke up the text by highlighting our own pupils’ artistic excellence: we provided a list of possible subjects for line drawings, and our art teachers encouraged their pupils to have a go at providing the illustrations. The best of these (from all ages) were scanned and inserted into the text at appropriate points. For Outside the Frame, we featured more of our pupils’ excellent photography, some of which had been already posted on the fine Art Department blog.

Covers: We also wanted to use our own pupils’ work for these. The quality of reproduction on the cover of both books is really excellent, first of Mikeila Cameron’s dramatic orange and blue painting for Going Places, and then the photographs by Patrick Faulkner and Jack Cherry used in Outside the Frame. Again, designing the cover is easy on Lulu.

: we’ve published two very smart books on Lulu without any direct contact with a human being. You can get help via chat or email but we never needed it. You just have to have basic knowledge of Microsoft Word and of course the web. If you’re not particularly technical, you might have to get some advice from your Best Techy Friend when it comes to uploading the final file (likely to be huge) via FTP. Otherwise the whole process is remarkably easy. It seems miraculous that you can click ‘go’ in Dublin and one week later get the books from North Carolina (the printing model also means that you can/should send for a single ‘proof’ copy before ordering in bulk).

Cost: Lulu sometimes changes its pricing model. When we published Going Places, each copy cost the same amount, and the p&p cost, rather eccentrically, meant that it was cheapest to order three books at a time. By May this year this had changed for Outside the Frame - definitely to our advantage, since there were substantial discounts for 50+copies, and the postage cost was considerably less than before. The bottom line: a fine 165-page book with superb colour covers for about €5 per copy. Try to get that in a bookshop...

: we hope this post might encourage other schools to publish their own books. Your pupils get the thrill of seeing their work in a ‘proper’ book which they will have for the rest of their lives, their families share in this thrill, and teachers can look back with pleasure over the years as (we plan...) the volumes build up on their shelves...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Poetry Foundation app

No 8 in a series of reviews of iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad apps useful for English literature and language learning and teaching.

The 'Poetry App' from the excellent Poetry Foundation is a fine free addition to your mobile device. You 'spin' it by tapping or shaking, and perm your poem from two different categories, such as (pictured) Grief and Love - or, say, Nostalgia and Love. Then tap on one of the poems' titles. You can share the poem via Twitter/Facebook/email and save favourites. You can also browse by mood and subject

Some of the poems are from the Poetry Foundation site, some are older out-of-copyright ones. All are high-quality.

A neat facility for English teachers: you could ask pupils to choose their own 'flavour' of poetry, or even trust them to spin the device by shaking it and reading out one of the results.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Blake Morrison's 'The Last Weekend'

Our former colleague John Fanagan is an occasional guest blogger on SCC English. He has recently read Blake Morrison's latest novel, The Last Weekend, and here is his review:

Blake Morrison, who teaches creative writing in London, is a fine writer himself.

His memoirs of his father and mother, especially 
And When Did You Last See Your Father?, are first-rate. This is the first time I have read his fiction (it is his second novel) and I read it at a sitting. The writing is not of the same quality as his autobiographical books, so why was it so completely compelling?

First there is the
Othello connection. The narrator is Ian, his wife Em (Iago and Emilia); their much wealthier friends, with whom they spend the fateful weekend, are Ollie and Daisy (Othello and Desdemona). There's even a (paper) handkerchief. I'm not sure why Morrison bothered. The parallels are pretty clunky and unconvincing at times and the story didn't need it. Ian was in love with Daisy when they were at university and Ian, his closest friend, stole her from him. The weekend takes place twenty years later, in a holiday house that Ollie and Daisy have rented. Ollie and Ian have challenged each other to golf and tennis matches; the progress of each is pretty tedious. The final contest, a cycle race, is more gripping. What keeps you reading are the unfolding relationships between the four and the flashbacks to their university days.

I think the main reason I liked it so much was the voice of the narrator, Ian. He is, by turns, reasonable and self-deceiving, passionate and unfeeling. He is not as evil as Iago, nor as interesting. He is a primary school teacher and it is pretty difficult to imagine him with young children. As the
Othello parallels gradually creep up on you, you can't wait to see how the weekend will turn out.

Read it quickly and move on to
And When Did You...  

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Leaving Certificate results 2010

Many congratulations to our candidates in this year's Leaving Certificate, whose results were released today. Overall, the year did themselves and their teachers proud, with an outstanding average of 459 points per candidate (out of a maximum of 600), beating last year's already superb 446. This confirms us at or near the top of all schools in the country. Go to the College site here for more details.

In English,
  • 96% of our candidates took the exam at Higher Level (nationally, 64%) :-
  • 12.7% of all our candidates achieved an A at Higher Level (nationally, 6.6% of all candidates achieve this).
  • 29% achieved a B (nationally, 17.2% of all candidates).
  • 40% achieved a C (nationally, 25.2% of all candidates).
Congratulations also to our two Ordinary Level candidates (one A, one B).

See previous results by clicking on the years for 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.


Number 16 in the series: Campaign for the Removal of English Errors in Public.

Many thanks to a Twitter friend, Des Fitzgerald (do follow him: @desfitzgerald) who sent in this picture from Blackrock Shopping Centre. Des's sharp eye spotted that the Centre's Sunday opening hours seem to be very liberal. Many, many more hours than you'd expect...We sympathise with the shoppers of South Dublin as they press their noses to the windows of this upmarket venue at 3am on a Sunday and wonder why it isn't open.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Instapaper App

No 7 in a series of reviews of iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad apps useful for English literature and language learning and teaching.

English teachers (and, we hope, our pupils too) are text maniacs: we want to read all the time. We've always devoured books - whether sitting down at night, lying in bed in the morning or standing in the bus queue. Now mobile devices can help quench this thirst, such as the Free Books app that was number 6 in this series.

One of the very best apps around is Instapaper, a superb way to save and read longer articles from the web. It's available in a free version for trial, but you can trust us and just go and splash out €3.99 for the full version straight away. Saving an article on your computer by way of a bookmarklet (or on your iPhone which, despite the maker's caveat, is easy enough to set up) means that the article appears on your iPhone in a readable text version (complete with tilt scrolling on the paid app). The process is slick and reliable, and you can store up to 250 articles in folders. 

No better way to catch up on good writing whenever suits you best, and when you don't have a book to hand, or when you want to read out something in class without sitting at a computer. Strongly recommended.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

'In a Strange Room' by Damon Galgut

Damon Galgut’s new book In A Strange Room has just been longlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize. This will come as a surprise to some readers, not because of its quality, but because it seems to be less a novel than some form of travel memoir, or memories of travels. (Galgut was shortlisted for the Booker in 2003 for a more conventional novel, The Good Doctor).

In this podcast interview with the Guardian, Galgut says that the Paris Review categorised the original pieces as fiction, and he was happy with that label, adding that memory itself is a form of fiction. He also makes it clear that all three pieces are definitely autobiographical, telling the stories of three real journeys made over the years by ‘Damon’, during each of which he becomes defined by his relationship with three very different characters. Each story is told in the present tense, in a third person singular that sometimes slips into ‘I’.

In ‘The Follower’, the keynote is power, as the narrator (the rememberer?) accompanies a forbidding German walker called Reiner through southern Africa. The second tale, ‘The Lover’, is somewhat ironically titled, given that Damon’s feelings for a young Swiss man hardly progress beyond yearning glances. The emotional intensity is cranked up in the final piece, ‘The Guardian’, which shows the psychic costs of looking after someone, in this case Damon's mentally disturbed and savagely selfish friend Anna in India.

This is a short book, at 180 pages, but it has a far greater impact than the long-listed The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, reviewed here recently, which has had huge press coverage and considerable sales. Galgut’s writing is on an entirely different level. In each of the stories the narrative drive is largely psychological (though ‘things’ do happen, particularly in ‘The Guardian’, which is often also bleakly funny). His hynotic accounts of these journeys at times touch on W.G. Sebald territory. It is a very fine achievement.

[Read a review by one of the very best travel writers, Jan Morris, here: ‘I doubt if any book in 2010 will contain more memorable evocations of place...extraordinarily readable’ and 'a very beautiful book, strikingly conceived and hauntingly written, a writer's novel par excellence without a clumsy word in it.' Read an extract from the final section here.

* Philip Womack in the Daily Telegraph says that the ‘ordered prose’ is ‘brimming with tension’.
* Eileen Battersby in the Irish Times calls it a ‘thoughtful, intelligent, cohesively human book’.
* William Skidelsky in the Observer calls it a ‘quite astonishing work'.]


Number 15 in the series: Campaign for the Removal of English Errors in Public. Previous examples have featured the famous intrusive apostrophe, but here's a familiar variation - that shy creature, the vanishing apostrophe, seen (or rather not seen) in Glendalough by our roving photographer, Professor H. Frog. Please do send us pics of interest...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

'The Slap' by Christos Tsiolkas

Above, a 5-minute 'Boo' of comments on the Man Booker long-listed novel The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. The novel has been hugely successful in this part of the world over the last couple of months, but has divided readers and critics, with Tsiolkas being accused of misogyny in particular. Read Sinead Gleeson's interview with the author in yesterday's Irish Times here.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Free Books App

No 6 in a series of reviews of iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad apps useful for English literature and language learning and teaching.

The Free Books app boasts no fewer than 23,469 classics for download (the app costs €1.59, the books themselves are out of copyright). An English teacher can have virtually ever imaginable classic on tap, and a pupil can carry around copies of texts being studied. It's very easy to use, with simple flippable pages; we'd recommend the sepia colour scheme. And of course tremendous value. Coming later in the holidays: the experience of re-reading Jane Austen's Emma (left) via this app on an iPhone.

Download it from iTunes here.


Continuing our series in the Campaign for the Removal of English Errors in Public, number 14 features a rare bird indeed, seen in Dublin: the letter 's' appears three times in a row, and in creeps (ha!) that nervous little apostrophe, nipping in just in case an 'e' gets there first.

Friday, August 06, 2010

The Company of Books

Here's the second of an occasional series on Dublin's good independent bookshops, following the first on The Gutter Bookshop.

The Company of Books opened on Ranelagh's main street last November. It's a small space, but perfectly formed, with an elegant frontage (pictured). The books are well-presented, mostly single copies which have clearly been selected by an informed and discriminating eye. We spotted two interesting new novels, Emma Donoghue's Booker longlisted Room (likely to make quite a stir over coming months), and Catherine O'Flynn's The News Where You Are (we previously recommended her first novel What Was Lost). A couple more interesting ones - Sybille Bedford's intriguing Jigsaw: an unsentimental education, elegantly reissued by Eland Books, and Joe Moran's On Roads - a hidden history.

You're spoilt for choice for good coffee shops and lunch places in Ranelagh; Eatery 120 is very good and very close to The Company of Books. Excellent places, both.

Thursday, August 05, 2010


It's unlucky 13 for Wicklow Town, in our series put together as the Campaign for the Removal of English Errors in Public. Thanks to Mr H. Frog for this image, seen on Station Road in the town. They speak funny down in the country.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Summer Reading Recommendation 3: 'Lean on Pete'

Willy Vlautin's latest novel, Lean on Pete, is a heart-breaker. The story is told by Charley Thompson, a 15 year-old boy who moves to Portland, Oregon with his father. Left alone to fend for himself, he becomes drawn to the Portland Meadows racetrack, a seedy venue for hopeless horses and even more hopeless jockeys and trainers. One of these is Del, who Charley starts to work for.

The book breaks your heart largely because of the narrative voice. Charley is no smart-ass Holden Caulfield, instead telling his story in the most plain manner, withholding his feelings as much as possible (except in the exceptional moments when he tells us he cried or was lonely). Vlautin has said: 'So his narration doesn't have music to it, it's closed and simple and strict because if he lets it out, he'll fall apart. He's hanging on just barely.' And Hannah Tinti's sentence in the blurb is right: 'Reading Willy Vlautin is like jumping into a clear, cold lake in the middle of summer.' There's no foreshadowing in this prose style: the most awful events come out of nowhere.

Charley's story is desperate. He comes to depend on the eponymous horse of the title, and eventually sets off to find a long-lost aunt, the only person who might save him. You might keep in mind Steinbeck's epigraph to the book : 'It is true that we are weak and sick and ugly and quarrelsome but if that is all we ever were, we would millenniums ago have disappeared from the face of the earth.'

It is an outstanding novel, being beautifully paced and restrained. It evokes the dismaying backdrop powerfully, and almost every character (some just briefly glimpsed) is captured memorably.

Read more reviews here from RTE and the Independent, and see Vlautin's recommended soundtrack on Largeheartedboy. Below, the Faber trailer.

Lean on Pete book trailer - Willy Vlautin from FaberBooks on Vimeo.