West Cork Literary Festival: day 1

This week I’m in sunny Bantry-on-the-Med for the West Cork Literary Festival, and I thought I’d attempt a daily update as it’s my first venture to a lit fest as a writer, not to mention my first time attending this particular one. My posts will be brief and probably incoherent because I’m exhausted. You have been warned.

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Market Square, Bantry. Shame about the weather

Today was the first day of the five-day workshop I’m attending as part of my From the Well prize, a competition that keeps on giving. I’ve chosen to do the novel workshop with Dean Bakopoulos. It’s pretty daunting, but I think it’s going to be a hugely valuable experience. Dean teaches at the creative writing faculty in Grinnell College in Iowa, and is very concise in his approach. Unsurprisingly, we covered beginnings today, and I already have some interesting new ideas floating around in my head. Dean also talked about the problem of writing that isn’t ‘messy’ enough, and this intrigued me – I think my own writing can often be too neat and safe.

Each participant has been asked to bring along a scene from a work-in-progress that they feel needs work, and mine is one of the ones that will be workshopped tomorrow. I made the possibly foolish last-minute decision to bring along something very old rather than the book I’ve almost finished and is possibly more worthy of attention, but this is my version of living on the edge. Let’s see how perky I feel after my turn under the microscope!

Most of the festival workshops are held at Bantry Community College, a huge new school built on the edge of town. It’s so new that Google Maps only gave general and very Irish type of directions (“Ah, sure, you’ll know it yourself when you get there.” And I did.). Be warned for future events that if you’re staying locally and getting about on foot, it’s a stiff walk uphill to reach it.

Inspiration

I also managed to pack in three events today.  The first was at Bantry Library, where Sue Leonard interviewed Dean and his wife Alissa Nutting, who is giving a short story workshop. They’re a pretty funny double act, and Alissa in particular had the full capacity crowd in hysterics with an excerpt from her novel Made for Love. A good chunk of the Q&A was given over to questions about what it’s like to be a writer in America at the moment (short version: worrying, depressing), which they handled very well given that they aren’t political commentators.

Then I attended the launch of the Fish Anthology at the Maritime Hotel. This was also heaving, the weather not putting people off in the slightest, it seemed. God, there was some great writing. A few standouts for me were a story about a baby of indeterminate gender, a clever love story told through the medium of Scrabble, and a memoir piece set in Northern Ireland. I’m sorry I can’t recall any names – it was all pretty speedy.

Purely on a whim later on, I attended An Evening with Sara Baume and Lisa McInerney. I’m so glad I went – talking about their respective second novels A Line Made By Walking and The Blood Miracles, they were wonderfully funny and self-deprecating. Again, my brain is too frazzled to recall right now all of the witty things that were said, but comparing their own literary shortcomings, Lisa said that she finds detail hard to get right and she has to pretty much walk herself into a scene and then see how the light falls. Sara on the other hand, is a very detailed writer, but says she often finds herself describing a scene and then thinking, “Shit, someone had better say something.” A terrific evening, with a glorious sun setting behind them.

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