Finally I get to blog about the FOC Fest, one of the highlights of my literary year. I’ve been laid up but I’m back, semi-recovered. I didn’t get to every event but I’ll try to say a little about all those I was at.
The opening event was the launch of the Stinging Fly’s new short fiction anthology 'Let's Be Alone Together'. Declan Meade, the editor, and writer William Wall, a contributor and general genius type, said a few words. William said that Declan, and other active supporters of the short story, are ‘national treasures’. And so they are. Four contributors read, including Jim O’Donoghue from Brighton: his first ever published story and his first time to read. He did a great job on both counts. The story was from the POV of a child and it was a poignant and sparely written piece. (Can’t tell you the name of it as my subscriber’s copy has yet to arrive.)
Yiyun Li, who won the FOC Intl Short Story Prize in 2005, but was unable to attend the prize giving, gave her first reading in Cork that night. If you have not yet read A Thousand Years of Good Prayers go and get yourself a copy. These stories are so affecting, so full of menace and tricky human interaction, they are masterpieces of the form. Yiyun read a new story and Patrick Cotter of Munster Literature did a great, relaxed interview with her afterwards, avoiding the pat interview questions that are the norm. It was like eavesdropping on a really interesting conversation. She said that one thing they don’t teach the students at Iowa (where she ended up by accident) is the ugly reality of the publishing world. If they did, I guess some of them would give up.
Thursday I took part in the editors’ panel with Vincent McDonnell and Jon Boilard. We read a story each, we chatted, we took questions. It went well.
There was an extraordinary reading that evening by two English writers: Ian Wilde who lives in Cork and Clare Wigfall who lives in Berlin. Ian read a story about poverty and a ventriloquist’s dummy and it was fantastic, mainly because he more or less acted it: with accents, gestures etc. I wondered as I listened would I like it if I just read it and I came to the conclusion that I would. It was funny and dark and the language was great.
Clare’s story, by contrast, was set in 1930’s England, among the gentility, and she sat there, every inch the English rose, utterly convincing with her sweet reading voice. The story is loosely based on the Greek myth where Aristaeus, the bee-keeper, loses his bees because he lusts after Orpheus’s wife, Eurydice.
Friday morning I woke with a sore neck but went and gave a workshop on Flash Fiction, with seven enthusiastic and good students. The two and a half hours went by in a…flash. And we all enjoyed ourselves.
That afternoon saw the Southword showcase: three readers from recent Southword journals read their work: Tania Hershman, Denise O’Keefe and Julien Camprédon.
Tania read a flash called ‘Plaits’ and a longer science-inspired story from her hot-off-the-presses collection The White Road. She read both beautifully, though it was her first gig ever. I’m very impressed with these confident first time readers.
Denise read her Seán Ó Faoláin shortlisted story ‘Three’ about three friends who get into a lot of trouble together; it was punchy and modern, a great story.
Julien read a story called ‘Burning Punks for the Love of Elves’, the title piece from his collection; a rather madcap tale, it reminded me of the film ‘Night at the Museum’.