May 2024

Author Michael McGirr brings his experience to Writers’ Workshop

Michael McGirr has worn many hats over his lifetime, including priest, editor, book reviewer, husband, father, teacher and now Manager of Community Engagement at Caritas Australia, but the one hat which has been a steady presence through all of those experiences has been that of writer.

Michael, who will facilitate The Good Oil Writers’ Workshop in Sydney on 29 May, said writing had always been an integral part of his life. “Writing is very, very close to my spiritual practice, and always has been,” he said.

Author Michael McGirr. Image supplied.

Growing up in Sydney, Michael attended St Aloysius’ College in Kirribilli, where he was both a writer and editor for the student newspaper, The Weekly Waffle.

“I had a very strong sense even then that writing was about a relationship, which was a revelation because I wasn’t always that good at relationships,” he said.

“But I found that in writing I could connect with people, both other students and teachers, whom I didn’t always know, but they would comment on something I’d written, and so relationships would be created.”

When he joined the Jesuits after school, he found writing was once again central to the experience.

“Writing was a part of the Jesuits’ way of life,” he said. “It started out that they would have us young ones contributing to writing the Daily Prayer for Madonna Magazine, which I enjoyed.

“And then in the early 1990s two things happened which were real breakthroughs for me.

“The first thing was that Eureka Street magazine was launched by Jesuit Communications, and that gave me an opportunity to write more extensively for publication, which was a sheer gift. And the second thing was the launch of Australian Catholics magazine, which provided access to the broadest possible audience.”

From there, Michael started writing short fiction and had three of his stories published in The Age after finishing in the top three of the newspaper’s short story competition over successive years.

“That captured some attention and led to my first book,” he said.

“I went overseas on a trip with my mother, and I wrote up my travel journal into a book as a gift to her.”

That book, Things you Get for Free was published by Picador and went on to become a best-seller.

Since then, Michael has written many books, including Bypass: the story of a roadThe Lost Art of Sleep, Ideas that Saved my Life, and Finding God’s Traces.

Image: Garratt Publishing.

His forthcoming book is Every Day is New: Prayers and Reflections for Ordinary Time, to be published by Garratt Publishing on 20 May this year.

Michael has twice been a recipient of a senior fellowship from the Australia Council for the Arts and has also been a HG Coombs creative fellow at Australian National University. He has been the chair of judges of the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and the National Biography Award and reviewed more than 1000 books for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

His stories, essays and opinion pieces have appeared in numerous places, both in Australia and overseas. He continues to be a regular contributor to Jesuit publications, including Eureka Street, Australian Catholics and Madonna.

Michael was a member of the Jesuits for 20 years and a priest for seven years before leaving the order in 2000.

He now lives in Melbourne and is married to Jenny. They have three young adult children.

Apart from his own writing jobs, Michael has also been a teacher in English, Literature, Religion and Philosophy.

“All of those subjects involve writing and teaching kids how to shape a sentence, listen to their own words and learn how to inhabit their own words, and I found great pleasure in that,” he said.

His current job, working as Manager of Community Engagement with Caritas, is also based around story-telling.

“One of the things I enjoy about Caritas is the challenge of telling the Caritas story. It takes sensitivity, listening and an awareness that in helping to tell the stories of the people Caritas is working with around the world, we’re not taking the stories from them. So, there’s been a lot of learning about the right way to tell those stories.”

Michael said he was delighted to be asked to facilitate The Good Oil Writers’ Workshop, which will feature presenter, author and educator Ann Rennie and ABC Producer Noel Debien from the Religion and Ethics Unit.

“I was very honoured to be asked to take part,” Michael said. “The story of the Good Samaritan is one of the best-known and most formative stories in the history of the world, so, as a story-teller, I think to have a congregation named after a story is a really great thing and it tells me that good story-telling is at the heart of the Good Samaritan character.”

Michael said that in a world of tightly monitored scripts and messaging, where people exchange slogans rather than have real conversation, the workshop will look at how we can we create vibrant, engaging and honest writing.

“How can we commit to words what most matters to us and what will most feed others?” he said.

The workshop will include the sharing of ideas and also allow participants to refine their skills in practical ways.

“It will be suitable for writers of a wide range of experience, from beginners to old hands! I’m looking forward to it,” Michael said.

Every Day is New: Prayers and Reflections for Ordinary Time, Michael McGirr (Garratt Publishing, 2024). To order your copy, click here.

The Good Oil Writers’ Workshop is an initiative of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan in partnership with Garratt Publishing. There is no cost to attend, however, places are strictly limited. Registration closes on 17 May 2024. For more information, click here

For more information, click on the image.

Debra Vermeer

Debra Vermeer is a freelance journalist working in both Catholic and mainstream media.

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