Defying the air around us at Listowel

‘Writing of death brings you back to life itself, you have to write both’ said Richard Ford at Listowel Writer’s Week last night, gathering up in one sentence the first day of readings and talks with authors. It was a day where death crept through the pages, from the watchful, wary dead of Jess Kidd’s Himself to the howling, stench of sacrifice and matricide in Toibin’s House of Names. And throughout it all the cry of the new born and voices of unreliable innocence, with Kit de Waal’s My Name is Leon, Arja Kajermo’s butter-fingered little girl in The Iron Age, Alan McGonagle’s  Ithaca and the lost girls of Lisa Harding’s Harvesting. Holding the timeline and threads of the day together was parenthood – neglectful, drunken mums; absent, dark fathers; the strategic yet vulnerable all mother Clytemnestra; finishing with Richard Ford writing Between Them, his memoir of his parents.

Some recommended reads and nuggets from the day:

Jess Kidd’s Himself – the Prologue punches as it’s beautiful victim is herself dealt the fatal blow, her sensitive eyes showing us every last blade of grass, coiling tendril of ivy and protective root as her baby escapes one dark fate for another.

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Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones where an engineer who creates the world falls apart, but is held by a single sentence. 

Mick McCormack on writing his engineer:  ‘I never had any conception of the shape or structure – I sat down and took dictation from my character for five years and enjoyed his company.’

Also, ‘Two themes make writers look ridiculous- the soul and politics but there’s a gravity in the pull of my pen.’

On his writing process and the concept of writing a single sentence novel,  he revealed that he sits down and just writes anything each day to fill the blank page, the first thing that comes to mind, but the next day the rule is that the writing from the day before must segway into the new writing. He now has 700 pages like this.

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Colm Toibin on The House of Names:

‘If you don’t see it second by second then you can’t write it.’

On scholars and having to cut a scene with a domesticated cat from his novel as there would have been no such pet in Ancient Greece : ‘You take what you need and you run really fast and they’re running after you.’

Yet, Toibin writes, despite the wrath of scholars, because ‘I’m chancing my arm in a cause – the characters and I’m interested in what you the reader wants to know next.’

On the banshee ‘she stopped wailing around houses in the sixties, maybe she didn’t like bungalows.’

‘The novel is a secular space – it doesn’t lend itself easily to the presence of gods.’

The novel ‘is a form filled with human will’ and ‘they defy what is in the air around them.’

Advice to writers: ‘Don’t leave anything unfinished, ever.’

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Lisa Harding’s Harvesting tells the stories of young, vulnerable girls who fall down the rabbit hole into sex trafficking in Dublin. One, a brash, know it all fifteen year old, catching the eye of taxi drivers with her fresh found sexuality, while the other destined by poverty and torn away from her brothers and desperate, worldy wise pet dog. 

A beautiful, deeply moving reading where we all blinked back tears with the author.

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Alan McMonagle, Ithaca

‘A book isn’t done until the reader as well as the writer is finished with it.’

‘One question brings instantaneous tears – what’s it about?’

‘The short story is re-writing but with the novel you have to go on.’

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And the same too with Writer’s Week, onto day 2. 

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