The Festival of Writing and Ideas took place in Borris House in Carlow last weekend (8th – 9th of June 2013). This was the first time I visited the Big House in the centre of the small town of Borris and it is an intimidating building in a stunning location. The festival events took place in two main areas, the ballroom and the chapel, but the grounds were open to all and with the sun bearing down on us, people were sprawled all around the site.
There was a friendly and open vibe to the festival, and often you’d find yourself meeting PJ Harvey on the stairs or standing behind Martin Amis at the bar which does feel slightly surreal. Ben Okri has to win the prize for the friendliest man at the festival as he spent most of his time talking to different groups on the front lawn and asking questions at the various lectures.
The first event I went to was Paul Murray interviewed by Olivia O’Leary, in which he picked apart his recent novel ‘Skippy Dies‘. This is the book that brought him to the attention of the world, but the 7 years he spent writing it while living with hippies in a packed house in Ranelagh were equally fascinating. The main thing I learned was not to send a skinny kid to a rugby school, as they will emerge more than a little scarred from it, but I guess he got a good novel from his experiences!
The next event featured more tales of rugby schools, as Kevin Power discussed his novel ‘A bad day in Blackrock’ with Lenny Abrahamson who based his film ‘What Richard did’ on the same work. Kevin discussed how he went about making the novel and how he found the subject matter, realising that the Anabel case was a taboo subject among certain classes in Dublin. The were both quick to state that their works are fictional, but the relevance to modern Ireland is clear. Lenny discussed his use of the book as base material, taking some elements and leaving behind the parts he felt wouldn’t work on the screen.
The main event of the day from my perspective was Sinead Gleeson interviewing Martin Amis. There are certain novelists that you discover at a perfect point in your life and will always be among of your favourites, and Amis is one of mine. The talk was varied and moved from being the son of a famous novelist, to the reaction of critics to his work, to the failing powers of old age, his opinions on women (who he thinks should rule the world) and the Holocaust, which is the topic of his current work. It is a subject matter he has written about before with his novel ‘Time’s Arrow’ and how the German people allowed themselves to be ruled by this monstrous political party seems to form the centre thesis of his current writing.
As there were two events running concurrently at all times, a series of decisions had to be made, and there was a general discussion on who made the right choice after each event! The general consensus was that the war journalists were fantastic, with their blend of fascinating stories and humility. I spent this period on taking the sun and some light refreshment (ahem) outside, but we have to live with these decisions, right or wrong!
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