Dennis Lehane interviewed by Jim Carroll at Listowel Writers’ Week
Going to Listowel Writers’ Week has been on the wish list for years. Like seeing Paris before you die, it’s a given that if you’re interested in literature or arts festivals, or both, at some point you’ve got to treat yourself to a trip into the green lushness of Kerry in early summer to one of the longest standing festivals in the country: Listowel.
Some people say once you go, you’ll be back every year: Irish Arts stalwart Seamus Hosey, for example, was celebrating his 40th Anniversary at the festival this 2105. My own reason mostly had to do with the fact that the festival had co-sponsored a week’s wonderful stay at the Cill Rialaig Artists’ Retreat Centre near Ballinskelligs – and it was at that retreat that I largely finalised the first draft of my short story collection, Waiting for the Rain. My ambition was to read a something from that collection somehow, somewhere – at Listowel Writers’ week this year.
Happily, friend and author Susan Lanigan had also decided to travel down, and so with Susan in the driver’s seat for the road trip, we braved busy Bank Holiday weekend traffic and I read through the event’s schedule.
The programme for 2015 was a broad-reaching offering that hosted not only readings and interviews, but live theatre and valuable writing workshops in almost every aspect of literature, given by top novelists , short story writers, poets and dramatists. There were also musican and drama performances.
To kick off the festival, Anne Enright and Colm Tóibín presided over a launch evening that included the presentation of literary awards to the tune of a €35,000 prize fund.
This year, the Kerry Group Irish Novel of Year Award was won by Eoin MacNamee for Blue is the Night and The Pigott Poetry Prize was won by Paul Muldoon for One Thousand Things Worth Knowing.
Dennis Lehane provided a welcome, high-octane shot of Irish American wit and wisdom on Friday night during his interview with Jim Carroll, something I really miss from my New York days. What I really wanted to ask him was, “who gave Seán Penn the line about Barry’s Tea in Mystic River,” but I tackled him instead on a reference he had made to the stereotyped image of Ireland as a nation in the U.S. instead.
Recognising the refreshing influence of the “New Irish” that invaded in the late eighties in early nineties, and the fusion of old and new Irish American culture that resulted on both sides, Lehane succinctly let us in on the fact that for bog standard middle America, we are still living with the Leprechauns. Sigh …
Lehane’s new book, World Gone By, is set in Cuba during WW2 and sounds like classic Lehane: bloody, complex, with gang rivalries and personal conflicts at its heart.
No stranger to cutting edge television crime drama (e.g. The Wire), Lehane’s latest project is a very amazing sounding adaptation of Love Hate for the U.S. market: this time it’s set in Hawaii. Can you see Nidge with a tan and mirror shades?
The charm of Listowel as a festival quickly becomes evident: with everything very immediately available from the nucleus of the town square (theatre in the old church in the centre, events/hanging out at the Listowel Arms Hotel, etc) it’s got a very snug feel. You’ll see backpackers and old timers side by side in the street, as well as the writers and performers that are part of the programme. The range of events are attended by discerning audiences that provide the speakers with usually cogent and interesting questions.
There was so much going on, it was hard to get to see everything, but I really enjoyed the lecture by seasoned war journalist Patrick Cockburn. Originally from Cork and currently Middle East Correspondent with The Independent, he spoke of life under Islamic State, where currently citizens living under their regime are being controlled literally in all aspects of their lives, from women being forced to marry ISIS soldiers to even the very rules of children’s games.
Describing how the tightly-knit, highly organised power of ISIS overcame a dysfunctional State in Iraq and a weakened State in Syria, his first-hand accounts were bone chilling. More can be read in his many books, the latest of which being The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution from Verso Books
The Irish Writers’ Centre has been broadening its parameters of late, and one of the more interesting discussions was one called Mindshift: Introduction to the Business of Being a Writer event on Saturday, supported by WORDS Ireland. Moderated by Valerie Bistany (Director of the Irish Writers’ Centre), the panel, comprised of Noelle Campbell Sharpe (of Cill Rialaig Artists’ Retreat), Audrey Keane (of the Arts Council of Ireland), Kate Kennelly (Arts Officer, Kerry Co Council) and Noel O’Regan (former Kerry County Council Writer-in-Residence), discussed the more practical aspects of being a writer, with specific reference to funding and marketing.
So far, so good – but what about my quest to read at Listowel Writer’s Week, after all? As it turns out, on both Friday and Saturday night, The New Writers’ Salon, curated by Kerry Co Council’s former Writer in Residence, Noel O’Regan, provided the very opportunity.
Taking place at the excellent Scribes’ Café, owned and run by the very hospitable Mr Namir Karim from Iraq, the event presented readings from a line up of invited emerging writers: Sally Rooney, Michael Naghten Shanks, Hugh Fulham-McQuillan, Roisin Kelly followed an open mic session, which on Saturday night – among others – featured slam poetry from Stephen Murphy, a passionate reading from White Feathers by author Susan Lanigan, and yes – a brief section from Waiting for the Rain by yours truly. And that was a very long sentence. Time perhaps to wrap it up.
The New Writers’ Salon at Scribes’ Café, hosted by Noel O’Regan (second from left), and performance poet Stephen Murphy, Listowel Writers’ Week 2015
The festival had other charms, of course, some being the sheer fun of meeting up with old friends often long after the events of the day were done, in one of the town’s worthy watering holes, or in the beautiful and old-worldly elegance of the Listowel Arms Hotel. The seisúin on Saturday night is famous, and suffice to say that while you will have the honour of hearing some classic Sean Nós renditions, there is also a splendid tradition of rude ditties and sung or recited verses full of political satire and humour. For a gallery of photos of the event, click here and for more details at the festival’s own website, click to: www.writersweek.ie
It was wonderful to be able to travel to Paris last week for the WexFour event at Le Centre Culturel Irlandais, where, following a special staged reading of the four one-act plays, the WexFour eBook from 451 Editions was officially launched.
The crew from The Wexford Arts Centre did an amazing job to a full house, and for a full account of the event, please click here for the article in The Irish Times, or click on the image above. Below, you can see some photos from the trip. Click on the first pic to set the gallery rolling.
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Really looking forward to the “Finding a Voice” special evening on Thurs, 8th December at 18:30, when author, poet and playwright Dermot Bolger hosts an evening of readings and music at The National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks, Dublin.
The event celebrates Dermot’s 2016 writer’s residency, a collaborative project set up by the Museum’s 1916 Public Entertainment Programme and Poetry Ireland, which saw a series of events entitled “Finding A Voice” take place throughout the year. Combining workshop, panel discussion, lectures and readings, these afternoons were a pleasure for all – both the writers who read and spoke at them, and the participants – often first time writers – who benefitted from the series.
Elsewhere at the museum, the centenary is celebrated by “Proclaiming a Republic – The 1916 Rising” – a splendid exhibition in the Riding School venue at Collins Barracks – a visit to which would be more than worthwhile on Thursday afternoon, before the reading in .
With this aspect of the 1916-2016 centenary celebrations in mind, Dermot asked me to join in the final event, not only as a writer (I’ll read from my book, “Ferenji“), but also as the Granddaughter of the 1916 rebel Jimmy Mulkerns, who fought at the Four Courts during the Rising, and who then spent eight hard months incarcerated at Frongoch Prison Camp, along with almost 2,000 other Irish rebels.
My grandfather, a fine actor and tenor who had his own touring theatre troupe, was part of the “Amusements Committee” that set up the weekly entertainment evenings in Frongoch camp, along with some of the other prisoners involved in the theatre or the entertainment field of the day, who fought in the rebellion.
At the time, there were at least three theatres in operation in Dublin – the posh new Abbey Theatre, founded by Yeats and Lady Gregory, the more popular Queens Theatre, and several other music hall style venues – including the old Empire Palace Theatre (now The Olympia). It wasn’t surprising that a number of the rebels were also entertainers and actors. To keep up the spirits of the men, they organised a little cabaret/seisúin each Friday evening.Their efforts included the presentation of music, original drama as well as skits and satire.
Jimmy Mulkerns served in the role of Master of Ceremonies and satirical songster at these evenings, earning the nickname “The Rajah of Frongoch” in playful reference to the exotic costumes he would derive from curtains, rags or donations from women of the local Welsh community. The Rajah was the inspiration for my own entertainment evening, The Cáca Milis Cabaret, at which Dermot Bolger has been a much appreciated participant on several occasions.
So this Thursday evening promises to be a lively and enjoyable event, with the participation of those who have attended Dermot’s excellent workshops through the year since March and from literary friends, as well as a few songs to remember those who might have fought in the area in or around what is now the National Museum, Collins Barracks, in 1916.
For more fun stuff, click the links:
National Museum of Ireland 1916 Public Event Programme
The daughter of the Rajah of Frongoch Val Mulkerns, visits the location of the camp, 2016 (by Maev Kennedy)
With thanks to Matthew Lloyd for the links to his fascinating website on old music halls and theatres:
BACK TO BLOG
I’m really looking forward to reading this Friday, 15th September, at the Shorelines Arts Festival in Portumna, Galway, a wonderful long weekend of the Arts on the shores of historic Lough Derg.
The festival will be opened by Vinnie Browne
of Charlie Byrne’s bookshop in Galway on Thursday at 7pm and end on Sunday evening. I’ll be booking into what looks like a lovely place to stay: Portumna House
on Friday, to read at lunchtime
, but plan to make a weekend of it.
Particularly looking forward to seeing Cherish The Ladies
, and catching up with the wonderful Joanie Madden, a friend from the days I lived in New York. Joanie’s father, Joe was an All-Ireland Champion accordion player who hailed from Portumna himself, so that’s a gig not to miss.
There is a spectacular art exhibition at the formidable, now restored Irish Workhouse Centre and a pop-up museum on the theme of “Lace”. There are short and feature films, plays, workshops, children’s events. But don’t just trust me, download the brochure here yourself and see the full programme.
But if you want to hear some good stories and poems, of course – I want to invite you to join fellow Doire Press
author Martin Malone
and myself, along with Kerry poet Simon O’Faoláin, for the lunchtime reading on Friday at 1:30pm
in Hayes’ pub – all three for a fiver, plus songs and sandwiches! Click on the image below for details.
While a full blog entry about the Bórd Gais Energy Irish Book Awards is pending – here are some photos for now:
Here’s an advance hint to keep Sunday, 30th September open, when I’ll be reading at the upcoming Bray Literary Festival with fellow-Doire Press poet, Michael J. Whelan:
Michael J. Whelan and Helena Mulkerns read at Bray Literary Festival 2018