The only complaint I have about the West Cork Literary Festival
(WCLF) this year, is that I couldn’t get to every event I wanted to, because the programme was so jam packed. The spectacular week saw all kinds of writing showcased, and brought together the cream of Irish talent, new and established, alongside international names, including: Rob Cowen, Rachel Cusk, Michel Faber, Tessa Hadley, Belinda McKeon, Lisa McInerney, Neel Mukherjee, David Nicholls, Ruth Padel, Anthony Sattin, SJ Watson and Niall Williams.
This year saw a new director, Eimear O’Herlihy, take the reins. Eimear’s previous roles have included managing the Everyman Theatre in Cork and working on the Cork Film Festival.
A full programme of workshops was available and well attended, for every kind of writing; ranging from poetry, novels, short stories, memoir, travel, investigative reporting and writing plays. Alongside this ran workshops designed specifically for teenagers and children. Workshop leaders included: John Boyne, Nick Davies, Carlo Gebler, Magi Gibson, Tessa Hadley, Deirdre Kinahan, Dave Lordan, Leanne O’Sullivan, Anthony Sattin, and Sarah Webb. There was a talk on “Writing and Publishing in Ireland Today”, by Declan Meade, editor of Stinging Fly Press and previously of The Stinging Fly magazine, one of Ireland’s foremost literary publications. Also included were Editor in Residence sessions with Anna Kelly, who is commissioning editor at 4th Estate, an imprint of Harper Collins publishers.
Along with all this, there was the opportunity every evening, to read your own work in the friendly atmosphere of the Open Mic session at the Maritime Hotel. This is ably chaired by Paul O’Donoghue, of Bantry Writer’s Group, who also provides the opportunity for writers to talk briefly about the piece they have read.
Attending Leanne O’Sullivan’s five day poetry workshop, took up three hours each day. The events I did attend were so good and varying that it is near impossible to choose a specific highlight.
Leanne’s workshop was full with attendees from various backgrounds, all at various stages in their writing life. Four of us, including Leanne, had attended Dermot Healy’s workshop at the WCLF in 2012. This set the scene and also gave me the feeling that she is continuing where Dermot left off too early.
Leanne is from the Beara Peninsula herself, has had three collections of poetry published by Bloodaxe, has won numerous awards, and is currently writer-in-residence at University College Cork. She is a patient, kind tutor, exacting in the right way, able to bring out the best and steer work in directions that sometimes even the poet didn’t know it could go in. She struck the fine balance of airing work brought in, with giving exercises that would generate new work and introducing us all to new influences. Though my primary interest is poetry, one of the exercises gave me an idea for trying a first piece of flash fiction.
Nuala O’Connor (Nuala Ni Chonchuir) gave a gorgeous reading of her new book “Miss Emily” – a historical fictional tale of Emily Dickinson’s Irish maid, Ada. Nuala has published fiction, poetry and short stories and mentors students at NUI Galway. Bantry Library was packed to the rafters and Bantry Bookshop even made sure there were advance copies available for purchase, ahead of the UK publication date in August. I can’t wait to read mine.
One of the events I couldn’t make, due to workshop, was Jessica Traynor’s reading of her debut poetry collection “Liffey Swim”. Jessica has already won two major awards. The reading at Bantry Bookshop was full and all her books sold out. “Liffey Swim” is an engaging collection, written with a mythic eye, covering topics such as family life, Ireland in the early 1900’s, and touching unflinchingly on subjects such as the Madgalene Laundries.
Rob Doyle gave a powerful reading of his book “Here Are The Young Men” at Bantry Library. This is the story of young men, good friends, who have just left school, into a good economic climate and an Ireland that hasn’t changed in essentials for decades, except for the internet. This uncompromising novel has been called an Irish “Trainspotting” and promises to be a blistering read, not shying away from subjects such as suicide and the disenfranchisement of Irish youth.
The launch of the 2015 Fish Anthology at the Maritime saw writers travelling from as far as Australia and New Zealand to read. Twenty five writers read poems, short stories, and flash fiction. The standard this year was incredibly high, and this collection of such diverse work is also testament to the hard work of the Fish team. Names new on this side of the pond, such as Chloe Wilson, alongside emerging names such as Sighle Meehan and Frank Farrelly, provided a rich smorgasboard of the written word.
Three of Ireland’s brightest lights were brought together for an evening at the Maritime Hotel. Colin Barrett read from his debut book of short stories “Young Skins”, Sara Baume from her debut novel “Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither” and Kevin Barry a short story “Ox Mountain Death Song”. The range of their combined talents on stage was tremendous to witness and was another clever piece of programming, bringing us moments of tenderness and raucous laughter.
A new anthology, “Young Irelanders” was launched at Bantry Library, edited and introduced by Dave Lordan. Dave is the author of three books of poetry, a book of flash type fictions called “Frags”, a play and much more besides. This new anthology brings together the new wave of young Irish writing talent in short story form, invigorating the form with readings that were energetic and eye opening.
Another jam packed reading at Bantry Library was the pairing of Dave Lordan and Leanne O’Sullivan. This was another astute piece of programming and everyone I spoke to after the reading said how wonderful it was. Both hail from West Cork, both teach and have differing styles of poetry. They each brought their own specific, unwavering, bird’s eye view, making for a unique reading and excellent introduction to their work.
Irene O’Mara ran a two hour workshop: “Reading in Public” at the Maritime Hotel. Irene has an MA in Voice Studies from the Central School of Speech and Drama, and works with many professions. This very well attended workshop focused on reading in public for writers. Much of it involved body work to loosen all the structures involved in breathing and speaking. This included pulling some very funny faces, which in itself would combat anyone’s self-consciousness! It also covered ways of separating words out, in order to deliver them most effectively. This was an excellent taster which sent us away with something helpful.
“Mo Pheann Ag Rince” was the Irish language feature. An IMRAM collaborative project drawing on Sean O’Riordain’s recently published diaries, translating as “My Pen Dances”. Louis de Paor read O’Riordain’s poetry beautifully to music played by Enda Reilly, while Liam O’Murthile engagingly read selections from the diaries. This was set against a backdrop of images by Margaret Lonergan. The performance had an otherworldly quality about it, enhanced by the well chosen music, but also by listening to a language that is at once your own, but not presently fluent to you.
On Friday afternoon, the “Words Allowed” workshop for teenage writers performed their “end-of-term” show on stage, in the perfectly sized venue at the Mariner. Led by Dave Lordan, this year’s group included three repeat students, one of whom was doing the workshop for the third time; confirmation of the workshop’s popularity and necessity. We were treated to poems, short stories and a song, ranging from the freaky to the rebel. Newspapers by the students – the “Bantry Bugle” and the “Bantry Independent” were passed around, including incredibly creative alternative news items and visuals. The song included three guitars and a 16 year old girl on jazz saxophone and was a super piece.
Louise O’Neill, also from West Cork, gave us a sneak preview at Bantry Library of her forthcoming young adult novel “Asking for It”. This is a real world examination of the consequences of the terrifying treatment women can suffer during and after an assault, compounded by living in the age of the internet and smartphone. Louise’s important work gives voice to young girls and women everywhere and looks set to lead the way in young adult fiction.
Graham Norton provided the Friday night entertainment in person at the Maritime. This event was booked out months in advance, and the large room was packed to capacity. Graham was interviewed by Bishop Paul Colton, of the Church of Ireland, which provided the perfect jumping off point. Graham opened by apologising to all the “real writers” in the room, and went on to keep us all in complete stitches. When asked what it was like to be famous, Graham gave us a reply which was guaranteed to endear him even further to his native West Cork – “It’s like living in Bantry – everyone knows you!”
Dervla Murphy held us all rapt with tales of her life and travels, at a literary brunch in the beautiful setting of Bantry House
Library. Interviewed by Anthony Sattin and chaired by Eimear O’Herlihy, this unique opportunity to hear Dervla was one that I wished wouldn’t end. Dervla told us she always wanted to write, even before she could actually write, and had a Sikh penfriend at age 10. There was extensive discussion of the situation in the Palestinian territories, through which Dervla travelled in 2009 – 11 in her seventies. Dervla spoke eloquently, concluding by saying she would like to encourage everyone to visit the area, to see what daily life under occupation is really like. Bantry Bookshop did their usual brilliant job of having a range of Dervla’s titles available on the spot to buy and get signed. Much of Dervla’s back catalogue has been reissued by Eland, and any of her books are well worth a read.
At times I think that perhaps I ought to try and get to other literary festivals, especially here in the UK. But with programming such as this, it seems like no other festival would quite match up. I’m already looking forward to WCLF 2016 enormously.