Borris Festival of Writing and Ideas 2014 – Saturday 14-06-14 – Review

Borris house, Borris Festival of Writing and Ideas

The return to Borris, and while the sun was not splitting the stones like last year, it was warm enough that the lawn was filled with people sitting around and relaxing. As ever, the talks take place in a number of venues around Borris House, including the Chapel and the Ballroom. As there was two and sometimes three talks taking place at the same time, it was impossible to see them all, and some tough choices had to be made.

The first event was Mariella Frostrup with John Banville. Banville was discussing the two sides to his writing career, his own work and his work as Benjamin Black the crime writer. He talked about his different approaches, that ‘Banville’ writes with a fountain pen and Black uses a computer. Banville can spend all day trying to find the perfect sentence and with Black the words need to flow. He talked about the differences between modern day Ireland and that of the 1950’s, and of the image in his head of walking through Dublin with the ghost Archbishop McQuaid, looking at the homeless and drug users and asking was this progress. He talked of his contempt for intellectuals that came before him and why they didn’t take on the church.

Next up, Professor Roy Foster spoke briefly at the launch of ‘The Appleman and the Poet’ by Hubert Butler. This is the last collection of Butler’s essays and his reputation continues to grow after his death in 1991.

The next talk I went to was with Deborah Levy who was interviewed by Sophie Gorman. The talk dealt with Deborah’s fascinating approach to writing. She started out writing for the stage, as a collaborative approach, working with actors and directors. Later she started writing poetry and then these grew into novels and short stories. She talked of her childhood in South Africa, where she lived until she was 9 years old. Her father was arrested as a political activist, and she talked of that difficult period in her life. She talked about her current career writing in England, which she does in a friend’s garden shed under an oak tree.

The next talk, Philomena Lee & Stephen Frears was packed out, and it was one of the most topical talks at the event. It’s amazing to hear someone like Philomena talk about her early years, and how she came to the decision to tell her family years later about what had happened. They talked about the differences between the movie and what happened in reality, and why these differences were required. Philomena described her representation in the movie as a bit of a dumb cluck, but saw why it was necessary to have it that way, and why they made her much more religious in the film than she is in reality.

Stephen Frears was surprised by some of the things she said, and said he’d have included them in the film if he’d known! There was an easy rapport between the director and Philomena, and he talked about her visit to the set on the day they were filming some of the scenes in the convent. Patsey Murphy chaired the event, and there were a number of emotional questions at the end, as some people in the audience were adopted and talked of their experiences.

Mariella Frostrup was interviewed by Sinead Gleeson and this talk went through Mariella’s early years, where she moved from Norway to Wicklow, and the variety of schools she attended. Her father died when she was quite young and she went to London to make her fortune. She ended up living in an apartment owned by one of the Bay City Rollers while he was on tour, as she was the most reliable person he knew! She worked in the music industry and was involved in Band Aid and Live Aid with Bob Geldof. She talked of her job with the Guardian, where she writes as an agony aunt, and how surprised and insulted she was when the job was first offered to her. She didn’t see herself as the matronly type character that would give out advice on life, but later grew to love the job.

The night-time entertainment came in the form of The Man in the Woman’s Shoes which is a one man show, written and performed by Mikel Murfi. This is a play about a cobbler who was struck dumb at an early age. The piece allows Mikel to play a large number of character, swapping between the various odd ball individuals in the small village and was well acted, giving many laughs along the way!

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