Having spent three years at university immersed in the world of books (and booze, admittedly), it often bothers me that since I went merrily on my way – scroll in hand – life seems to have got in the way of reading. Obviously I read – I read Facebook like it’s the morning news, I read approx 1,000 emails a day – not to mention the fact that I do actually read and write for a living. But for me, life has got in the way of proper books. So when I was invited to Listowel Writers’ Week for the second time in as many years, I knew I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity – if anything I owed it to myself and my long suffering lecturers to remember what it was that made me fall in love with the written word in the first place (it was Roald Dahl, by the way).
With my flight from the UK costing little more than the average train fare nowadays, I touched down at Kerry Airport on a drizzly Friday (hey, it’s Ireland!) and hopped in a cab for the short distance to Listowel. Here’s the thing about Listowel Writers’ Week – if you’re expecting something half arsed; a bit of bunting here, the odd funeral style sandwich there – you couldn’t be more wrong. The whole town quite literally goes to town on the event. Shop fronts are elaborately dressed in celebration of books and art. Huge, hand painted maps and festival guides line the streets and every premises (often licensed) is bustling with people.
First stop was the Listowel Arms Hotel, the heart of the operation. The tireless festival committee set up shop in its lobby during the Festival, so I headed there to collect my pass and festival guide. Everyone (local or not) met me with that unmistakable Irish charm and it took but a few moments to slip from ‘head down, avoid contact with everyone London commuter’ to ‘I’ve got all the time in the world – will I buy you a drink?’
The days that followed were jam-packed with a cocktail (often quite literally) of friendly chatter (solo festival-ing is SO not a problem), looking, listening, celeb spotting, eating, drinking and a some bloody good books.
At Listowel Writers’ Week events are a mixture of free and ticketed. Purchasing a festival pass will get you into every event of the week and is excellent value – I’ve been known to (begrudgingly) part with more money buying a bottle of fizz in an overrated London club from a bartender with an ironic beard and man bun.
Some highlights for me included:
Richard Ford‘s captivating and witty talk, where he spoke candidly about life and death, before reading aloud from his latest book.
Alan Cumming (and his dog)’s interview where he had us rolling in the aisles as he told tales from his collection of photographs: You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams. You can’t publish a book that’s essentially an albums of selfies without anticipating the queue of selfie seekers that came with the post-talk book signing. I’m not ashamed to say I joined that queue (hardback in hand) and was very impressed by how dutifully and with good humour Alan snapped away with us (he knows ALL about optimum angles and lighting, the way).
Fergal Keane – local lad turned author and war correspondent spoke to a huge crowd about his experiences with war and read to us from his latest title. With such deep roots in Listowel (he’s a nephew of John B), hearing from Fergal was something very special.
Graham Norton – another local lad you might’ve heard of came home to headline the festival. Interviewed by his ex-schoolteacher, Graham talked (to what seemed like the entire local population) about growing up in Ireland and his life in showbiz before reading from his latest novel.
That’s another cool thing about the Festival- the venues. The festival penetrates every corner of the town and as a result, you can easily find yourself watching Graham Norton in the Community Centre, visiting an art exhibition in a beautiful church or having a swift one between events at Allo’s (try the food there – it’s VERY good). That’s before heading to the open mic poetry in the pub and watching some outdoor live theatre.
So, thanks to Listowel Writers’ Week, for a few days books got in the way of life – and I loved it. To see so many people come together to enjoy art in a non-pretentious, friendly way was something quite magical. Roald Dahl said: those who don’t believe in magic will never find it. Well, I’ve found it – it’s in Listowel.
Freelance Journalist and Copywriter
Listowel Writers’ Week will take place between the 30th May and 3rd June 2018