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Lawyers pen short stories to raise money for Ireland's homeless

They were gathered by writer Danielle McLaughlin, a former solicitor.

A GROUP OF legal eagles have come together to pen short stories in aid of the Peter McVerry Trust.

Their stories were gathered under the expert eye of Cork-based writer Danielle McLaughlin, and collected in Counterparts, published by the Stinging Fly. The book was inspired by her own legal past.

“I practiced as a solicitor for years before I moved to writing,” explains McLaughlin. “It was not a planned move – I became ill quite suddenly ended up stopping working as solicitor and started writing.”

She didn’t return to legal practice, but kept meeting other lawyers who were also writing. McLaughlin says that law and writing have more in common than you’d think.

“I had always loved the law reports anyway – we used have to study them as law students and they’re used all the time in legal practice,” she says. “I always found they were like reading stories, almost like a collection of stories, and they had the most astonishing details in them. They were just gripping. It didn’t feel like study or work at all reading them.”

When she is teaching writing, she always tells students to bring the specifics into it – that life is not about generality. That is borne out in the law reports: “They had the most amazing stories and the detail of them is fantastic. I think as writers we’re always looking for those specific details that will bring our characters and our stories to life and in law we have the evidence, and the facts of the evidence, and everything is centred around the specifics of people’s lives.”

Specifics are at the heart of a gripping story and law reports just have specifics in abundance because it’s just part of the system. The system is built around the specifics and questioning things, and an interrogation of fact, not presuming things, asking questions and looking at whether a word has more than one meaning – context, nuance, and tone.

“There are a lot of similarities I would say between old job as lawyer and my new job as a writer.”

Counterparts

Counterparts front hi-res

She had the idea a couple of years ago to put together a book like Counterparts in order to raise money for the Peter McVerry Trust and earlier this year joined forces with Irish publisher the Stinging Fly.

“Declan Meade form the Stinging Fly Press was very supportive of the idea from the beginning,” says McLaughlin. 

Each essay is paired with a legal report. “I decided to leave it wide open to people what case they would choose and as to how closely they wanted to work with the case,” explains McLaughlin.

Does she think the book will challenge people’s presumptions about people in the legal profession? “Sometimes I’m not sure how people perceive lawyers,” says McLaughlin.

“They may not know that there are so many lawyers writing fiction and writing poetry and drama and personal essays. On the other hand there are so many TV programmes where law features or that are built around courtrooms, that in a way I think people are interested in the cases anyway.”

I do think maybe that people will hopefully see from the range of the cases discussed that law is interesting in lots of different ways. And not just in maybe the big murder trial that we see on the news.

McLaughlin has a particular interesting in housing law, and is concerned about the homelessness issue in Ireland.

“It is such a huge problem and like the vast majority of people I want to see this fixed. I was very impressed with the work that Peter McVerry Trust has been doing for such a long time, for 32 years now. I also had a background myself in housing law. I worked previously in local government and worked as a solicitor in the public and private and voluntary sector.

“So I was interested anyway in the housing issues, so for me it’s a way of those two separate tracks of my life weaving back together again: the law and the writing coming back together.”

“Nobody involved in making the book is taking money from it. 100% of the profits is going to the Peter McVerry Trust,” says McLaughlin. To facilitate this, printing was sponsored by 10 legal firms. 

What this means is that it’s a very effective way for someone who wants to give money to Peter McVerry Trust they can know 100% of the profits going to the charity – and they get a really beautiful book as well.

Writing advice

What advice would she give would-be writers? 

“Read, read, read first of all. I know that sounds very obvious, but I would say that even though I am relatively new to writing I would have been reading fiction all my life and I loved books.

“I would also say join a writing group because I found when joined a writing group it was the turning point for me in my writing starting to make progress.”

Counterparts is available in paperback (€20), in hardback (€40) and a clothbound special limited edition (€195).  It can be bought directly from www.stingingfly.org and bookshops nationwide

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