Wednesday, 26 September 2012


I'm way behind with everything - so much to do, so little headspace! Anyway, there follows a wee look at the week at The Cork Short Story Festival which was fabulous, exhausting, fun, tiring, inspiring, fatiguing, brilliant and so well organised. Hats off to Patrick Cotter and Jennifer Matthews of Munster Lit.

I had a great time lunching, drinking and chatting with Tania Hershman, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, John Minihan, Zsuzsi Gartner, Kevin Barry, Sinéad Gleeson, Witi Ihimaera, Billy Ramsell, Declan Meade, Sandra Jensen, Nick Parker, Kate Bernheimer, Liadain O'Donovan and so many more.

And did I mention tiredness?! I was teaching a 3 hour workshop each morning as well as attending as many events as I could squish in, so I was like a zombie half the time. Do excuse me if you spoke to me and I looked at you as if from far, far away. I am not the most energetic person on the planet especially when hotel-sleep (i.e. very little sleep) is involved.

Craig Taylor, editor of Five Dials
So, to the events. Well, action-packed is the keyword. My first event was the talk by editor of Five Dials, Craig Taylor, who filled us in on the beginnings and development of the magazine. They wanted a digital magazine which people could print out and would look beautiful (which it does). It is such an eclectic publication and that is evident in Craig's approach: an entire issue might be just three poems from one author, or, like the Cork issues, it can span two issues and a festival.

Canadian authors Zsuzsi Gartner, Johanna Skibsrud and D.W. Wilson with Patrick Cotter
A panel on Canadian fiction was ably chaired by Pat Cotter who does what every audience wants: he does not ask predictable questions. He got each writer to talk about their path to publication which is always interesting to hear. Johanna, who won the Giller Prize in 2010 for her novel The Sentimentalists, spoke a bit about her experience with small vs larger publishers. She didn't have a straightforward experience with the publisher of her novel (the book was not widely available even after the Giller shortlist was announced) but she is philosophical about it.

Tania Hershman reading from 'My Mother is an Upright Piano'
Tania Hershman and Nick Parker gave fabulous readings on Thursday afternoon from their respective new collections of short short stories/flash, call them what you will. This was a highly entertaining reading: stories funny, surreal and brilliantly written from both.

Thursday evening saw Mike McCormack and Joe Dunthorne read together. I must not have had my camera that evening as I have no pics. Both read brilliantly and their Q&A was excellent. Mike talked about the importance of place in Irish writing and about the fact that his 'head is rooted in Mayo' as a writer though he has lived in Galway for most of his adult life. (Mike's new collection Forensic Songs (Lilliput) will be launched this Friday in Dublin.)

Nick Parker, self, Tania Hershman
Nick Parker, Tania Hershman and myself made up the panel on Flash Fiction at the City Library in Cork on Friday. We are laughing in the pic above but it wasn't alway so - especially when Patrick Cotter announced that he is thinking of banning flash fiction collections from the Frank O'Connor Award because the judges this year 'never even discussed them'. Tut tut - this discounts the fact that future judges may be flash fanatics. His hope is that 'somebody else' will set up a flash fiction collection prize. Yes, that would be good but why distinguish one length of short story from another? It's the old size matters debate; you know, the same one that posits that the novel is the Holy Grail for all writers. It ain't you know.

On Friday Juno and her Dad joined me in Cork - aw!
My reading on Thursday with D.W. Wilson at Triskel Christchurch went well. D.W. (Dave) read a story featuring Duncan and Vic, the same two characters who featured in his winning BBC National Short Story Award 2011 story 'The Dead Roads'. I read my story 'Peach' from Mother America. It's my longest story - for once I decided to fill the allotted time. The story seemed to go down OK with people, though an American said to me she feels the name 'Dominic' is girly. Not in Ireland it ain't. (That's not the first time an American has made that comment - I think they hear 'Dominique'.)

Zsuzsi Gartner

Sarah Hall
Canadian author Zsuzsi Gartner and multi-award winner Sarah Hall from Cumbria were a fine pairing. Zsuzsi's story was a madcap complaint letter to the narrator's son's teacher and it was funny and helter-skelter. (Read this on Zsuzsi's site, btw, about when interviewers are terrible - funny and disheartening and then heartening again. I had a lazy interviewer lately; I was soooooo mad.)

By contrast to Zsuzsi, Sarah read her Finland-set story from her wonderful collection The Beautiful Indifference, a tense, atmospheric piece set on and in a lake. Spooky. Great Q&A afterwards in which Sarah articulated much of what I believe. We could be BFs, I'm sure of it :)

Sandra Jensen reading at the Flash event for Culture Night
I ended up not reading at the flash event for Culture Night. I was speechless with tiredness by 11pm so I listened to a few readers, including the wonderful Sandra Jensen, then slipped off back to my hotel to rest.

Éilís Ní Dhuibhne
Éilís Ní Dhuibhne read three extracts from stories from her new collection The Shelter of Neighbours, which worked really well, giving the audience a flavour of different narrators and styles. Éilís gave the advanced fiction class at the festival which, by all accounts, was much enjoyed.

John Banville
Another Irish great, John Banville, read an extract from his new novel Ancient Light - a very moving passage on parental grief. We had all been curious to see if he would in fact read a short story. I was happy to hear him read anything at all as I hadn't heard him live before.

Lydia Davis dwarfed by the festival book
As I had to leave Sunday (thereby missing O'Connor Laureate Nathan Englander) Lydia Davis was the last writer I heard at the festival. I had heard her already this year at Cúirt and again she had the audience laughing and divided. Some people just don't 'get' her work. It's the long vs short thing again, I think.

Once again, a fabulous festival where I bought an armful of books and met a whole lot of new people, listened to new-to-me writers and old favourites. In a sense, the week is overwhelming when you normally spend so much time squirrelled away. But you need to be overwhelmed now and again and no place better for it, for me, than Cork. Thanks again to all at Munster Lit for another great year.


Danielle said...

It was all so brilliant, wasn't it? Great to meet you at the festival. I've just been reading Five Dials - loved 'Room 313.'

Doire Press said...

I had such a fantastic time at the festival. It was truly inspiring to be around people who love the short story as much as I do. LONG LIVE THE SHORT STORY! You gave a great reading and a great panel discussion on the short, short story (notice how I didn't mention the dreaded 'f.f.' phrase).

Rachel Fenton said...

Thanks for posting this. The Zsuzsi interview is most interesting too. "Tethered to my blackberry" is an image I'll find dificult to shift. One day I hope to get to Cork myself :)

Tania Hershman said...

Wonderful blog post, N, thanks so much for doing this - I've directed my blog readers over here! You certainly deserve your Blog Awards shortlisting. And Rachel -Zsuzsi is a most interesting person, such fun meeting her. You must come!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for fantastic workshop, Nuala. We all REALLY enjoy it - as a group as much as individual wannabes :) Best of luck, Masha