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Claire Keegan & Bernard MacLaverty – Dublin Writers Festival – Review

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Claire Keegan & Bernard MacLaverty – Dublin Writers Festival – Review by Helen O’Leary

Sun May 25 / 2pm. Venue: Smock Alley

This event brought together two accomplished short story writers to read their work and reflect on the short story form and their careers to date.

Bernard MacLaverty was inspired by an English teacher and encouraged by a neighbour when he dabbled first in writing prose growing up in Belfast. He started out writing short stories and he has returned to the discipline again and again. In the meantime writing novels included Booker short-listed Cal and Lamb, both adapted for the big screen. He read a short story called “The Clinic” which was first published in 2006 in a collection called Matters of Life and Death. The story features a story within a story. A man in a diabetes clinic waiting room reads a Chekhov story, while through this ordinary event he is having his own Chekhovian moment . MacLaverty captures the anxiety and monotony of the situation in his understated and economical style.

Claire Keegan is exclusively a writer of short stories. She hails from rural Wicklow and her prose style has been compared to John McGahern’s. She has published two award winning short story collections Antarctica and Walk the Blue Fields. Keegan read an excerpt from a story entitled “Walk the Blue Fields” from her collection of the same name. In the story she occupies the mind of a priest who has officiated at a wedding and is attending the couples’ celebration. Although it’s an imagined perspective, Keegan captures the priest’s discomfort and isolation at an event that has “half the parish” in attendance. She told the audience that priests have since written to her, marvelling at the accuracy of her portrayal. Claire Keegan also spoke of her own writing process; her fascination with paragraphs and working through the process of composing, playing with and perfecting paragraphs. She feels her own work springs from a place of restraint rather than gushing forwards from an unrestrained imagination.

Both these writers reflected on the art of the short story quoting commentary from great masters like Frank O’ Connor and Flannery O’Connor. They agreed it is a form distinct from the novel for its intensity as much as its brevity. Listening to them bring their own work to life the audience could leave Smock Alley Theatre assured that the future of the Irish short story is safe for now.

Claire Keegan and Bernard MacLaverty appeared as part of Dublin Writers Festival.

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