Bantry is floating at the water’s edge and all this week the town has been bathed in heat; a glorious midsummer heatwave. This is a different Ireland to the land of my memories, of my childhood, although in those recollections, the sun is always shining and the corn is high even when it was not the fact.
Still, here in West Cork this week, it feels as though my Mediterranean present and my Irish roots have come together. From my hotel room, I gaze out towards green islands and distant Atlantic horizons, This weather has given a wonderful energy to the West Cork Literary Festival 2013. The days are long, the nights are short and light and the town is humming with music, prose and poetry.
Usually I am a guest writer at lit fests; one who slips in for a day or two, appears for an event and then departs. This year I am here for the duration because I am tutoring a five-day workshop on Memoir and Non-Fiction as well as having enjoyed my own platform on Monday evening and tomorrow will be introducing Lord Melvyn Bragg. The longer stay offers me the opportunity to really get into the swing of the festival, to pop into other writer’s talks such as Ann Enright last night, reading from her latest novel, The Forgotten Waltz. At breakfast yesterday, I shared hairdressing dilemmas with Kate Mosse and each day I have shared a bus to a local hilltop school with fellow writers who are also here for the week, to tutor workshops.
Late last night, I slipped into the Open Mike session, which is held daily after all the listed events have wound down for the day. The charismatic Michael Harding was invited up onto the stage and sung us a haunting, lilting Irish folk song. Some of my own writing students were reading or singing, performing for the sheer pleasure of taking to the boards, entertaining one another and those who are not yet ready for bed. The occasion reminded me what a joyous and spontaneous business being a writer or performer can be and because these late-night sessions are entirely spontaneous and open to anyone who wishes to take the mike, they also celebrate the tradition of oral storytelling, the art of the Seanchai..
Working behind a closed door, conversing with a computer screen, grappling with a story, it is too easy to forget that there are readers out there, that the story exists beyond the page. Bantry is excellent because audiences travel from as far afield as the States to be here, to meet authors and to celebrate the spoken word.
I heartily recommend a visit. This year’s festival runs until Saturday. If that is too short notice, do keep an eye out for next year’s summer programme. It’s a treat.