Additional Highlights from Listowel Writers’ Week 2013

There was so much in the programme this year it was impossible to get around to all the events, but from the feedback we’ve received it was a resounding success and the weather held up beautifully, with sunshine everyday. Here’s a quick snapshot of some of the other events which took place.

Salon 1New Writers’ Salon

Our inaugural New Writers’ Salon was a tremendous success and took place over two nights, Friday and Saturday, at Scribes Coffee House in Church Street. This was a largely informal event with featured writers Madeleine D’Arcy, Cal Doyle, Neol O’Regan, Kerrie O’Brien, Eimear Ryan, EM Reapy, Brian Kirk, Victoria Kennefick, Jennifer Matthews and Stephen James Smith.

An open-mic session allowed non-featured writers to take the floor also, and many of our Workshop attendees gathered at the event. Writer, Noel O’Regan organised the event along with Victoria Kennefick, and I asked him where the idea for the New Writers’ Salon came from and his thoughts for the future of the event.

“Well it started with myself and Sean Lyons meeting for tea about seven or eight months ago, when he suggested I join the committee. Sean is verySalon 2 interested in bringing new ideas and fresh impetus to the festival and the idea of an emerging writers’ salon is something that came out of that. This idea of bringing new voices and providing a platform for them is something that was integral to Sean’s idea of what he wants for the festival.

“One of the things I heard repeatedly over the last few days were people proclaiming their surprise that something like this hasn’t appeared at literary festivals before.

“In terms of audience numbers, we were absolutely flabbergasted at the amount of people who showed up both nights. They couldn’t all actually fit into the venue and there were queues going out the door and down the street, particularly on the Friday night. An awful lot attended from the Workshops, and unfortunately we weren’t able to fit everyone in. It was great to see such a variety of talent and the general standard was surprisingly strong.

“The venue was everything we had hoped for in terms of atmosphere and had just the right feeling. It was just perfect. The only issue was that we could have fitted another fifty people in had we had the space. However, we think the feel and the atmosphere of Scribes is so integral to what we want to do that we feel Scribes will be the venue again next year. Also, there is a further area within Scribes that we may be able to utilise next year to give us more space. So next year the hope is that we will feature a different group of ten writers and the following year a different ten and so on.

A big congratulations to Noel O’Regan and Victoria Kennefick for everything they have done to make this event such a success.

FamineMapping the Irish Famine was a huge success on the Friday night at The Plaza Centre.

The panel included Australian Booker prize winning author Thomas Keneally, John Crowley and Mike Murphy from UCC, who discussed their award winning Atlas of the Great Irish Famine, and Listowel historian Kay Caball spoke of the many famine connections in Listowel.

Earlier in the day over 100 people turned out for the morning walk – Walk in the Shadow of the Famine, and which, to everyone’s delight, Thomas Keneally also attended.

Máire Mhac an tSaoi Celebration and Tribute

On Saturday evening Louis de Paor, Director of the Centre of Irish Studies atMaire NUI opened the Celebration & Tribute to an appreciative audience in the Arms Hotel Ballroom on Saturday night. (Máire is pictured here with Margaret Broderick just prior to her Celebration)

Marina Ni Dhubhain read from Máire’s autobiography and her thirteen year old daughter, Siobhan Ní Neachtain sang Le Coinnle na nAingeal. Guest poets Biddy Jenkinson, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Gabriel Fitzmaurice read from her poetry. Máire launched her new book, The Duineser Elegien by Rainer Maria Rilke, a masterpiece written by the poet as he approached his final years, dealing with questions of life, death and eternity, and which has often been compared to TS Eliot’s Wasteland.

We were delighted that Máire could attend in person and she spoke at length from the stage and later signed copies of her new book.

Gene KerriganJournalist and Crime Writer, Gene Kerrigan.

Journalist and crime writer, Gene Kerrigan was interviewed on Sunday at The Arms Hotel by Mary Dundon, Senior Lecturer in journalism at the University of Limerick. Mary opened by saying that Gene is a man she has admired for many years and it was a great treat for her to interview him. As well as talking about Gene’s new novel, The Rage, she started off by talking about journalism in general, and asked him how he first got involved in journalism.

Gene: I was a big fan of journalism and read a lot of American and British magazines. Then in the late 70s there was a surge in magazines like Hot Press and In Dublin and Magill. They were looking for people to write and as it happened I’d been on the dole for a year. I was writing a couple of pieces for Hot Press and Vincent Browne contacted me to write something for Magill. I thought it was great as he wrote me a cheque for £50 there and then. I thought it was wonderful to actually get paid for writing something.

Mary: You built up a great reputation with Magill and you did a lot of really good investigative pieces going around the country. I suppose in comparison to journalism now, you seemed to have a free hand to write what you wanted to write. Did you? It was mainly politics, corruption and the guards.

Gene:  There was a lot going on at that time and certainly no shortage of stories and I was blindly naive. I was asked to write, so I wrote and I got paid. Then I got a staff job and a friend of mine began working there as well. We didn’t know that the magazine was living month to month and eventually it succeeded financially. Because we hadn’t come up through the normal channels we didn’t see why you couldn’t write about anything.

Mary: In fairness to Vincent he gave you freedom to do it, and there were stories about libel and publishers in Ireland not being prepared to print certain stories.

Gene: Vincent is a very difficult man to work with. If you see his show on TV3 that’s what an editorial meeting was like. (laughter) But he’s a terrific journalist and I loved working with him and it was a great period. My best period in journalism really. I loved it. When the Kerry Babies story happened I was sent down to Tralee. I did nothing else but attend to this. It went on for months and then they moved it to Dublin and during that time I wrote very little for the magazine. These days that would not be allowed. You’d get word coming down from the suits upstairs that this guy’s not being productive. At the end of it I wrote a massive article which took most of the magazine and it sold tons of copies. These days the newspapers and magazines are so dependent on selling x amount of copies and being as productive as possible with as few people as possible. Those kind of things are not possible anymore.

Mary: It’s a pity, there’s a lot of dumbing down isn’t there?

Gene: Yes it is a pity. It isn’t even dumbing down. Journalists are over worked to produce x number of stories, just copy to fill the pages by as few journalists as possible. In the long run I think it will kill the newspapers because the quality deteriorates – not because the journalists aren’t good – but simply because  journalists are simply churning out stories.

HardingMichael Harding: The Dishwasher Wars

Michael Harding was next up at The Arms Hotel on the Sunday afternoon, where he gave a very humourous, entertaining and moving performance reading of his memoir Staring at Lakes to a packed house, which erupted into hilarious laughter at regular intervals.

He started off by saying, “I’m not a well man. I’m a confused man. There’s such a thing as an alpha male, and then there’s the rest of us. When I was sick in the hospital, I’d look at myself… the type of male that I represent, we’re the sort that get up in the morning and look in the mirror and say, you’re some f****** eejit. (laughter)

“I measure out my life in an accumulation of mistakes, and they just seem to get bigger and bigger.” (laughter) An engaging reader, (I then remembered he is also an actor), he read from the second chapter of Staring At Lakes.

I was fifty-two, and I was desperate to leave her. To get away. And it was all because of the dishwasher. She would fill it to the brim. She would squash the dishes in so tight, they got damaged. They chipped around the edges. She’d layer a further row of plates and pots on top of the ones that were in the allotted grooves. And then she would stuff cutlery in, and close the door and turn the knob. She said it wasn’t the dishwasher that chipped the plates. They got chipped because I didn’t put them in correctly. So I started turning on the machine when it was half-full. That way nothing would get chipped. She’d come home before I had emptied it, and she’d open the door and say, “You shouldn’t put the dishwasher on until it’s full.” So I decided to leave. (laughter) A man must have his own dishwasher. (laughter) A man must be free.

If you haven’t already done so, I would highly recommend you read this memoir of ‘love, melancholy and magical thinking.’ I read it in two days – a real page turner – hilarious and moving.