My first visit to Writer’s Week about ten years ago was a bit of a disaster. I’d just had my first novel accepted for publication and I decided I needed to check out a literary festival I’d heard about that happened every year in the town of my birth, but the only pal I could persuade to come with me for a day trip didn’t drink or smoke, and consequently didn’t see the point of pubs. In retrospect, probably the least ideal travelling companion for this particular trip.
We mooched around the streets of Listowel for the afternoon, dropping in anywhere we saw a sign for a book launch or an art exhibition but not really following any particular plan. All around us people chatted; it seemed everyone knew everyone else except us. I felt as if we’d stumbled into a parallel universe but forgotten to bring our passports with us, so we were in some holding area till the residents decided what to do with us.
Finally I insisted on dragging her into John B’s pub, because whatever about her aversion to smoke-filled areas, I wasn’t leaving Listowel without a visit. It being about tea time, the pub was relatively quiet. We sat there for about half an hour, she nursing her Britvic orange with a face like a prune, and me trying to look as if I’d sat beside her by accident.
How things have changed. Since that disastrous first visit I’ve made the annual pilgrimage on my own, and I’ve managed fine thanks. I always sign up for a workshop, which guarantees at least a couple of like-minded souls who’ll join me for a sandwich or a Guinness afterwards. I visit Brenda in Woulfe’s bookshop, a mine of information on all things bookish. I queue up for at least one show at St John’s Theatre in the square. I attend the author events that take my fancy and leave the rest alone. I try to make all the book launches, remembering how glad I am every time one of my books comes out to see some supporters. I browse the art exhibitions trying to look knowledgeable, but knowing it doesn’t matter that I’m not.
I have at least one bowl of delicious chowder in Allo’s, and a glass or two of their excellent house red. I visit Martina and the girls in the library, and this year I’ve wangled a few storytelling sessions there, so do come along if you’re aged between 3 and 6, or responsible for same. I distribute my Guinness consumption between all the pubs, notably John B’s and the Horseshoe, which also serves up excellent lunchtime sandwiches, and the Listowel Arms, which starts buzzing at about midday on the Wednesday and doesn’t stop till late on Sunday.
Writer’s Week is sacrosanct in my calendar. To miss it would be unthinkable. Already I’m counting the days till June 1st.