Tuesday, 15 July 2008


I have to admit to being stumped, here. How the hell do you write a concise blog post about such an extraordinary week?

It was extraordinary on lots of levels. What it did for me as a writer - exciting, inspiring, supporting – was fantastic.

This writing ‘thing’ is a journey, people always say that. We pick our way along whatever path we are on. And it is coming to something like this festival that provides sustenance, not just at the time but for ages to come.

You feel, when you’ve come out of a seminar with someone like Matthew Sweeney, for example, that you’ve got ‘food’ stored up for a while. Keep you going. Or listening to Paul Durcan and meeting briefly later. Or Paul Fallon, Bernard O’Donoghue, Eleann Ni Chuilleanain.

Funny isn’t it? It’s the poets that come up first in my mind. And is that because their words carry on singing for longer, in some subconscious place?

(piccies, from top:Matthew Sweeney, Paul Durcan, Bernard O'Donoghue)

On to short stories: The joy of hearing Kevin Barry read, then having a natter later. He’s hilarious and then cracks the whip of sadness in his work. Really appeals to me. His collection There are Little Kingdoms, published by Stinging Fly, accompanied me all week, and I dipped in to read whenever I had a break. Get it. Just…get it. http://www.stingingfly.org/therearelittlekingdoms.html

Hearing a reading by Joyce Russell at the bookshop was unforgettable. And seeing how the bookshop filled until it was standing room only, round the walls as well as at the back! And Selma Dabbagh, whose work I know as we met at the Arvon course last October. And this year’s winner of the Fish Prize, Julia with her Harlem River Blues.

On to novels, and a highlight was a reading by Carlo Gebler (although actually he read a short story!) and Selma, after which Carlo interviewed her about her novel. (It’s currently with her agent, watch this space.) Selma is half Palestinian. And her novel will cause ripples. Wonderful characters, engaging. And funny too. And therein will lie the controversy, I think.

I ran a flash competition, in which all comers were invited to write the next 100 words each day of a story… I chose the one that fitted best, and it was unveiled every evening at an open mike event. I also did a reading during the week. It seemed to go down fine, to a full bookshop. My books, a pretty large pile of twenty or so on the Monday… had all been sold by the week end.

Other highlights: Meeting the playwright Veronica Coburn, and skipping off for a great meal at O’Connors one evening. She was taking the playwriting workshops during the week, and we discovered we had a lot to talk about.

Going to the talk by Colin Dexter, and laughing until my sides ached. (Writer of ‘Inspector Morse’)

Hearing a story read by Mia Gallagher, who was taking the workshop of public performance of your work.

Hearing the Irish tenor Ciaran Nagle and the violinist Tara Novak.

Meeting fellow short story writer Sean Lusk, who by coincidence, lives about ten minutes away from us. He was leading the short story workshops during the week. He also introduces, comperes and interviews the writers seriously well. I think he should be on telly.

Hearing Mia Gallagher interviewing David Mitchell, (Cloud Atlas), and hearing him read from the novel he’s writing now. And using us, the audience, as guinea pigs. He’d stop, take out a pen, and say ‘Hmmph. Well THAT sentence didn’t work, did it?!”

Just being with writers. Having writer-type natters in spare moments. Encouraging those who wanted to share work. Writing myself, only not much. I’d taken the novel to work on, and ended up writing poetry. Aaaagh, what’s happening?!

Staying in a great B and B in their converted garage, dubbed The Chalet, a B and B with amazing paintings by the owner everywhere, and models of cats. And Laurel and Hardy. And Thai puppets.

But the last word I will save for US poet /photographer Michael Thorsnes. He judged this year’s poetry competition, and was in evidence all week, recording the events for posterity, showing his photos every evening. Many will appear on the website in due course, I’m sure.

Michael gave a talk towards the end of the week, Poetry on the Theme of War. Illustrated with photos, and accompanied by the wonderful voice of Irish tenor Ciaran Nagle, this was a journey through conflict. Poetry from Ireland. From the World Wars. From America. Vietnam. Iraq.

But he ended it with his own poetry, his own war. A war he cannot win, against Parkinsons.

A privilege to be there, all week, and thanks to Clem Cairns and Lorraine Bacchus, organisers, for inviting me to be part of it all.


Women Rule Writer said...

It all sounds fabulous. I wanna go there!

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Book your place NOW. Contact Clem, do a reading, they'd jump at having you, I'm sure. Wowee.

SueG said...

It sounds too wonderful for words (so to speak!). It's so great that you got to go, and that you were a participant is even better!! It does seem like you are doing so much right now -- out there in the public eye so much. I really admire you, V!

Douglas Bruton said...

That's it. I am entering every bloomin comp they are running this next year... I want to go next time... should have gone this, but sometimes life just gets in the way.

Thanks for sharing, V.


Vanessa Gebbie said...

It all 'feeds' you as a writer, this sort of thing. It was hard work, buzzing about, and late nights, which for an old bat are unforgiving. But fantastic. And I cant wait for next year, when I intend to be a groupie.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Good on ya, D. You may sweep the board, and be a guest of honour!

Sarah Hilary said...

Absolutely it feeds you as a writer, Vanessa, you hit it on the head. I came back buoyant with confidence, ideas and focus.

How sad to hear about Michael Thornses' fight against Parkinson's. We all sensed he was unwell but who knew? To have travelled all that way, too. Amazing.

Tania Hershman said...

Well, I'd say you did a great job summing it up. I want to go too! Douglas, move over, I'm going in for all their competitions. Actually, entering them all probably costs as much as an airfare to Ireland :) But it's worth it, Fish do a fantastic job. Wow, I am inspired just reading your blog, V! So, you seem to be becoming a poet, eh?

Vanessa Gebbie said...

I take all my hats off to Michael Thorsnes. The theme of his own poem, read at the end of his lecture, was 'play your cards, and don't grumble'. Loved that.

Me, a poet? I think it must take a lifetime before you can call yourself that. But I'm trying, learning to crawl, then I'll learn to walk...

Ossian said...

Yes, sounds marvellous. I was there a few years ago.

I agree, There are Little Kingdoms is a superb collection, a good read.