The sun was splitting the sky, the birds were chirping merrily and the magic that is Listowel Writers’ Week was out in full force. It was Bernard Farrell who once compared Listowel to Brigadoon – the mysterious village that appears for only one day every hundred years and then, just as mysteriously, disappears again. Listowel Writers’ Week appears every year thankfully, and long may it continue to do so.
Thursday morning started with our traditional and much loved Morning Walk, with local historian Vincent Carmody. Gerbrand Bakker joined the walkers for a stroll through the streets of Listowel to admire the many striking and colourful shop fronts, many of which date from the late 1800s and early 1900s, created by plasterwork craftsman Pat McAuliffe and Paddy Whelan. Operation Education also got under way for 450 5th Year and Transition Year Students, with readings from John Boyne and Paul Durcan. They then took part in a Literary Odyssey through the streets of Listowel.
The Winners of this year’s Literary Competitions enjoyed their moment of celebration when they had the chance to read from their winning entries at The Boys’ School. The entries are included in the Listowel Writers’ Week Winners Anthology, and includes extracts from the five shortlisted novels for the Kerry Group Award.
I popped into the Seanchaí Centre where Willie Redmond was launching his wonderful exhibition, Turf & Surf. Willie specialises in acrylics, oils, pastels and mixed medium. The colours and detail are absolutely wonderful, and are very reasonably priced. Do pop in and have a look.
Stefanie Preissner was the talk of Listowel, wowing the audience with her performance of Solpadine is My Boyfriend at St John’s, as well as inspiring 423 teenagers attending Operation Education with her story.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Tishani Doshi at St John’s later in the day. She talked about her home city of Madras and read some of her wonderful poetry. She also spoke about the enormous influence the legendary Indian choreographer, Chandralekha, had on her life and her writing. Her novel, The Pleasure Seekers, was written as a love letter to her parents, and she spoke about how she dealt with the autobiographical versus the fictional element of what is essentially a reinvention of her family history.
Afterwards, I called down to The Boys’ School where a packed and appreciative audience listened to Hugo Hamilton, Jim Crace and Molly McCloskey discussing the art of writing memoir. The event was a collaboration with Bealtaine. Hugo Hamilton spoke about his latest book, Every Single Minute, the moving, fictional account of his final journey to Berlin with fellow Irish writer and memorist Nuala O’Faolain, and of how much of the chronology was truthful. He recounted how he and Nuala argued about how best to deal with memory, and how to forgive your father or your mother. He pointed out that a lot of the conversation in the book is about the conversation they didn’t have. He stressed the importance of being honest – from the heart.
Molly McCloskey spoke on how important it is to know what to leave out in the writing of memoir, and that the craft is not terribly different to fiction. She also spoke of how important it is to entertain, enthral, and to not leave out all the good things that you’d put in a novel.
Jim Crace quoted the great historical novelist Hilary Mantel, when she stressed the importance of not foisting 21st century ideas on an earlier period in history.
The John Moriarty event with Paul Durcan and Brendan O’Donughue was a great success, with standing room only at St John’s. O’ Donoghue discussed the sense of homelessness in Nostos. He spoke of Moriarty’s great love for the Greek myths, and how they acted like portents for insight into the ancient depths. Moriarty, he said, gave up a bright academic career to return to Inishbofin to identify his deepest yearning, and discover his ‘bush soul.’ He recounted how Moriarty often practised at going into the middle of a bog and standing like a stone for long periods, in a quest to build a profound rapport with nature.
He then discussed Moriarty’s psychic breakdown and of how he began to understand Christianity in a whole new light. He spoke of it being a perilous, but nonetheless joyful journey for Moriarty.
Paul Durcan then took to the podium and reminded the audience that this Sunday, 1st June would be the 7th anniversary of John Moriarty’s death. He spoke of how ‘official’ Ireland often mocked and belittled Moriarty, and the courage and bravery of Lilliput Press, who published nine volumes of Moriarty’s books. Durcan concluded by reading, to an emotional audience, the last letter he had written to the dying man.
Tishani Doshi interviewed Gerbrand Bakker to an appreciative audience at The Arms Hotel later on. Gerbrand comes across as witty and laconic, very much like his novels, the Twin and the Detour. He spoke of how he doesn’t like research and tries to avoid it as much as possible. Tishani and Gerbrand share a fondness for mood, or atmosphere, in their writing, and both share a love for the Welsh landscape.
Gerbrand spoke about the importance of the imagination and said the best part of being a writer, for him, is that he can invent anyplace he wishes to. Tishani asked him to discuss the theme of loneliness that keeps cropping up in his books. A book, he said, is always partly autobiographical, and he spoke of his deep yearning for security. He described himself as a little bit of an autist and recently discovered that he’d been depressed for most of his life. He now tries to find a balance between accepting his loneliness and being content with himself.
Tishani’s questions moved him to say that one of the aspects he loved about being interviewed is that the questions force him to think about his books. He then went on to say that no matter how much you love somebody, even in the most intimate way, you are always, ultimately alone.