What an amazing, exhausting, instructive week. I can’t believe it’s over so soon, yet I don’t think my poor brain could handle another day of literary input.
I’m back home now, surrounded by the family travel bags that will have to wait until tomorrow to be dealt with. Except for the books I’ve accumulated. Naturally I’ve unpacked those and placed them in my already towering TBR pile.
It’s hard to sum up such an experience when it’s barely ended, so in honour of the list system championed by our truly excellent workshop tutor Dean Bakopoulos, I’ve compiled a list of utterly random memories from my experience of the festival.
Jellyfish invasion. I’ve never seen anything like it, but the harbour was inundated during the hot part of the week, and I believe it forced the cancellation of an organised swim with I Found My Tribe author Ruth Fitzmaurice on Wednesday. A bit of Googling tells me they were Compass jellyfish, which are harmless but can sting. They looked like something from Mars Attacks!
Hordes of local kids on the market square in the middle of the day, all in black tie and evening dresses, going to or coming from their graduation dance.
Hordes of local kids in tracksuits standing outside a photographer’s, laughing over the official photos from their grads. All the boys looked like the protagonist in my From the Well competition story, which is about a young lad from a fishing village.
Sara Baume and Lisa McInerney being hilarious at the Maritime Hotel, with the beautiful sunset behind them blinding the well-prepared interviewer. Billy O’Callaghan and Neil Hegarty were also a lovely combination, as were married couple Dean Bakopoulos and Alissa Nutting. I think the dynamic of the people sharing a stage is make-or-break in a panel discussion, regardless of the work they’re talking about.
Unwittingly causing an early-morning stampede of German tourists in the hotel dining room. I was taking a quick snapshot of a rainbow hovering over wet fields which I thought might be nice for the blog (it wasn’t because it isn’t visible). One of them looked where I was photographing and went berserk. I should have taken a photo of them all lined up to take photos of it. From my smattering of schoolgirl German, I gathered that their trip to our mystical isle was already living up to expectation, though sightings of a leprechaun with a pot of gold were greatly exaggerated.
Cakefest 2017. I resisted cake for most of the week, but my ambassadors-about-town threw themselves into their mini-festival with gusto. Today they had a polenta cake (“meh” – husband) and some healthy chocolatey thing with peanuts (“disgusting” – daughter) and I think it’s safe to say the novelty has worn off. I finally had the Organico Cafe lentil burger that scored higher marks than any of the sweet treats they tasted over the week. My verdict: very nice, but it’s no chocolate éclair.
The Friday market in the rain. I dashed past this really quickly today, but was struck by how arbitrary the stalls were. Rolled up rugs; DIY equipment in various degrees of usedness (is that a word? It is now); a bric-a-brac stall with a battered-looking figurine of a ranting Donald Trump; another stall selling a large Infant of Prague figurine, minus head.
The weather. Nigh-on tropical when we arrived, that dramatic thunderstorm on Wednesday, then cold, wet and blustery by today. I packed for all seasons, and by heavens we got them.
Writing time. Admittedly, there wasn’t much of this because my schedule was stuffed full. But I did spend a very happy hour at one point, typing away in the upstairs room of the Floury Hands Cafe while waiting for a friend. Bliss.
Artist’s pass. I was very surprised to be given a pass into all the events because I was reading at the festival. As a result, I went to anything I possibly could. It made for a hectic week, but I decided it was too good an opportunity to pass up to see people like Colm Tóibín, and I could rest when I got home.
Going to so many events also meant I bumped into a lot of people I know from the Cork writing scene, as well as others I met on a writing masterclass last year. It was lovely to catch up with people who share the same interests, and made Bantry feel like one big, flowing party.
Celebrity sightings. When you see well-known writers knocking about town and standing in the same food queue, it’s very tempting to approach them to say ‘love your work’. I resisted because I usually end up saying something regrettable, though I nearly caved and nabbed Sara Baume on the street to tell her how amazing Spill Simmer Falter Wither is. I was rescued from myself by someone else who got there first.
The stories in the workshop. Obviously I can’t talk about the book projects that were shared by the workshop participants because it’s a bit like Fight Club, but I was struck by the variety and richness of the storytelling. We were a surprisingly international bunch and so the settings were hugely varied. It was a privilege to read everyone’s words and to discuss possible ways of pushing the respective works in the right directions. They were a great bunch, while Dean was a calm, insightful teacher and an absolute gentleman.
Thanks for everything, West Cork Literary Festival. We’ll be back.