Tuesday, 21 July 2009


Sunday 5th July.
Flight to Cork, where I was met by local poet Lothar Luken and then driven in the company of visiting poet Richard Halperin, to Bantry and the comfort of The Maritime Hotel. (I ask you. What other festival provides a poet as a driver?) And a gloriously happy week at the West Cork Literary Festival.
In its eleventh year, this festival is simply terrific They all are, I’m sure, but this one holds a special place in my heart. The atmosphere is alive, inclusive, challenging, fascinating and fun in equal measure.
I hope I played my part in creating that atmosphere. I ran the Short Story Workshops each morning, from 9.30 to 12.30, up at the school on the hill. (Hill – hmm. Mountainside?) Fifteen buzzy, interested and interesting students. And we all worked our socks off. They created memorable characters, memorable prose, memorable storylines, and I am fascinated to see the results when they send them to me.
I didn’t force them to finish anything, (why? I don’t force myself to finish anything on a certain day…) nor did I force them to read their work out. (Why add in something scary? Somethihg that might stop them writing freely?) This way, everyone just concentrated on making their own stuff as well as they could with constant feedback from me if they sought it. And yes, plenty did want to share!)
I think both those things helped to create a really good non-anxious team spirit. After all, these workshop things are there to kick-start future writing, inject craft skills, future creativity – not just be an end in themselves.
On the final day, I spent time with every participant, planning the next steps with them, reading their work, and giving feedback and encouragement. This was billed as a workshop for beginner short story writers – well, I just wish I had been as focussed and gifted when I started!

What will I remember most from the afternoons and evening events?

Listening to Nell McCafferty, the Irish equivalent of Germaine Greer, slaughter an interviewer in the nicest way possible. Nell McCafferty has little profile in the UK, more’s the pity. Maybe because she was banned by the BBC at one point! Anyway… here is a review of her autobiography, Nell. And it gives a good thumbnail sketch of this powerhouse of a lady.
Listening to Annie Proulx reading a story from her latest collection, Just the Way it Is. The story took over an hour, and you could have heard a pin drop. (cliché!) She was good at answering questions, and spent a while on one asked by meself. About imagery in the story and whether it appeared first draft, or tenth.
“Tenth draft?” she snorted. “I work between thirty and forty drafts per story…each one is worked and worked. They take me a very long time to get right.” Wow.
It was wonderful to find that she started her fiction career at 56 or 58 depending which question you listened to!
A somewhat negative review of the book, Fine Just the Way it Is HERE. The story she read, Them Old Cowboy Songs, is long, and a masterpiece. A mon avis, of course.
I will remember for a long time the genius that is Lera Auerbach, Russian composer, pianist, poet, novelist. Lera had appeared at the West Cork Chamber Music Festival which immediately precedes the Lit fest, and she stayed on to be interviewed and to give a seminar, “A Dialogue with Time”. Guess who was lapping up every word of that seminar! There was a strange synchronicity in our work – same myths, same themes…only hers is music and mine is words. Lovely!

Meeting great characters like Rory Kilalea, who was tutoring the ‘Writing for Radio’ workshop. . Rory ended up compering the Fish prizegiving/launch of their 2009 Anthology, and also press-ganged me into doing a spot of radio acting one evening, the first ever production of the play his students had just written. (Fascinating – a real insight, albeit in a small informal event – how much you have to act with your voice alone!)
And meeting poet Richard Halperin, he of the journey at the beginning. Richard is the current featured poet in Stinging Fly magazine, and I can't find his photo. Go and read his work. It is terrific.
And lots of stuff. The Fish anthology launch was wonderful. Held in St Brendan’s Church on Wolfe Tone Square, Bantry. And there I was doing my bitty reading, and chose a particularly emotional section of my story… during which our hero says the words piss, shit and fucking in quick succession. It was only when I heard a sharp intake of breath from the back that I remember this was a church….oops.
And the best bit? Supporting one of my ‘students’ who wanted to read a story at the open mike event… his first public reading, and he was so nervous, but in the end really terrific. Good stuff Dave! (Dave has since been paid rather well for a few stories accepted by the Cork Evening Echo – eat your heart out short story writers all!)
Then, Saturday 11th, I was taken back to Cork, for an evening flight to Gatwick. 'And home?' you ask. Nope. meeting Chris there for a pizza, picking up ccar, and driving half way to my third country, Wales!

Another thank you to the organisers of the festival, especially the dynamic Sinead Collins, for inviting me to run the workshops.


Liz said...

Sounds terrific, Vanessa...has geared me up for future festivals!

Vanessa said...

Absolutely. Such a buzz... I left exhausted but invigorated.

Tania Hershman said...

It sounds wonderful!! I want to come next year! 30-40 drafts? Wow, I feel pathetically lazy in comparison. But then again, a story that takes an hour to read must be about 10,000 words, so me and Ms Proulx are working in slightly different ballparks, I would say!

Vanessa Gebbie said...

It was most interesting, I must say. And kudos to Wesdt Cork that they managed to get her. I know many festivals would love to!
I thought MM wass 10K...don't do yourself down Missis. Vx

Tania Hershman said...

MM is certainly not one story...!! Hmm, though I hadn't looked at it like that. Not doing myself down, I love the short short shorts, as you well know :)