July 24, 2015

Bantry Literary Festival

I've just come back from a great week in the not so sunny south-west. But the weather outside makes no difference when there is such a breathtaking wealth of literary talent strolling the streets and doing readings in loads of venues in the town of Bantry. My friend Katie and I (an up and coming poet/writer) rented a lovely apartment right in the centre of town from Cait and had a great time. We participated in the Wild Women Writing workshop with the Scottish writer and poet Magi Gibson each morning until 12.30pm. The workshop was a very enriching experience. It was a great group of women who generously shared their stories, their writing and their experiences. There was a very special dynamic among the group and the workshops were expertly facilitated by Magi who exuded a lovely energy and empathy. One of the highlights for me was the daily free event in the library at 1pm which was an ideal stopping off point for us as we strolled (or ran in the rain) down to town from the architectural gem that is the Community School. (If only every school community in Ireland was lucky enough to have such a wonderful bright, airy modern building, but that's a topic for another post). At those events we enjoyed a poetry reading from Dave Lordan, a short story reading from Colin Barrett and, my own personal favourite, a reading from her new novel "Tender" by Belinda McKeon. If you haven't yet read her debut "Solace" you have missed out. In the evenings we attended some inspiring events. We went to an evening with David Nicholls who read from his latest novel "Us" and we also got to listen to Christine Dwyer-Hickey and Mary Costello. I especially enjoyed Mary's reading from "Academy Street." Her writing is so lyrical, full of wonderful imagery and every word has earned the right to be there. As we arrived at the last minute, Kate and I had to sit in the front row and during a quick exchange with Mary at the end of the event, she said she recognised our faces. We figured out it was from seeing each other's faces around the campus in St Patrick's College just a few years ago. It turns out that Mary was a year behind me there and we had some shared acquaintances who lived in Bangor residence and she recognised Kate from primary teaching circles and INTO events also. Ireland is indeed a small parish. Bhi an t-ádh linn freisin toisc freastal ar Oíche le Seán O Riordain. Louis de Paor read a selection of Seán's poems while Liam O Muirthile read extracts from his extensive diaries which are recently edited and published. It was accompanied by atmospheric live music and projected images. It was a magical evening that ended with us having a great chat with Liam, an old friend of Kate's from back in their student days, (over a cup of tea for the by now worn out and not so wild women) in the bar of the Maritime Hotel. The Bantry Bookshop is a little treasure trove. Even more exciting for me was the fact that the owner, Margaret O'Neill, took six copies of "Sweaters and Small Stuff" and had sold them all by Friday. And, what's more, she agreed to take in six more. What a thrill. In fairness, I then felt that I should buy six other books from her and, after much deliberation, I treated myself to "Tender" by Belinda Mc Keon, a collection of short stories by Michel Faber, a copy of John Boyne's latest novel "A History of Loneliness", a collection of poetry by Magi Gibson, Tessa Hadley's "The London Train" (I attended a workshop with Tessa in Bantry in 2012 and it was lovely to bump into her again around the town) and, finally, the 2015 Fish anthology. My goal is to get published in that before too long more. I'm so looking forward to drowning myself in these over the coming weeks before the 1st September looms large again. I am currently in the middle of my friend Carol Ann Copland's newest release "Scarred" which I am enjoying thoroughly. As an aside, we enjoyed two excellent evening meals in Keohane's Fish Kitchen and Carmel's Good Things Cafe in Durrus. We also had delicious lunches in the Stuffed Olive, Organico and Manning's Emporium in Ballylickey. So, a veritable feast for both body and soul was the week. An added bonus was meeting some great people. I loved meeting up again with Ita, Terri and Margey and of course my old friends Maeve and Barbara, all from my days in Rosscarbery. We also loved meeting Sean's cousin Marie, Kate's niece Cait and we thoroughly enjoyed our evening with Brian and Caroline. Already looking forward to next year.