The Power Of The Word: The Dublin Writers Festival 2009

7 reasons why this year’s festival was even better than last year!
Seamus Heaney accepting a well-deserved applause after his reading in the NCH.

Seamus Heaney accepting a well-deserved applause after his reading in the NCH.

1. During his concert visit to Ireland last year Leonard Cohen called Dublin ‘the city of writers and poets’ and Dublin Writers Festival programme director Liam Browne did an amazing job getting the best of them (and a few from abroad as well) together for this year’s festival.
2.Seamus Heaney ‘live’ is always a joyous occasion, but listening to him read a choice of his award-winning poems picked by himself in the absolutely packed NCH (yay, I had a first row seat!) was a very special treat indeed. And it was this year’s festival motto ‘the power of the word’ personified.
3. Have I mentioned how great it is to be a festival volunteer? In return for your time and doing anything from showing audience members to their seats, picking up writers from their hotel and handing out brochures to smiling on queue you get to meet plenty of other literature enthusiasts, get a behind the scenes look of how a festival works and get to see quite a few events for free.
4. If you’re one of those people who’s always on the hunt for ‘a really good book’ writers festivals are perfect for you. The writers generally read from their books for a little while and then go on to answer questions from an interviewer and/or members of the audience. That way you really get a good idea whether you like their writing style and find out a bit about their personality as well.
5. While we each had different favourite festival picks, the female volunteers all more or less agreed on their favourite authors: William Fiennes (UK) and Steve Toltz (Australia). This choice was naturally almost entirely based on their extraordinary writing skills and had only very marginally to do with their charming personalities, ehem…
6. The best moments at a writers festival are always those when you’re expecting a ‘nice enough’ reading with a pleasant author, but once it gets started you don’t want it to end. Luckily, this festival saw quite a few of those moments with various authors generously and honestly sharing episodes from their own lives. Those which brought a smile to my face included Seamus Heaney charmingly admitting that he was ‘very nervous’ when reciting his poems, William Fiennes talking about his childhood growing up in a 700 year-old castle and Colm Toibin’s impressive reading from ‘Brooklyn’, which I could have listened to for hours and hours.
7. So which special books caught my eye this year? My ‘Dublinstack’ of books (see Hay Festival post) included:
– ‘Snow Geese’ by William Fiennes (I would love to follow in his footsteps sometime!),
– Steve Toltz’ s Booker Prize long-listed ‘A Fraction of the Whole’ (Australia…sigh…)
– Dermot Bolger’s ‘External Affairs’ (most incredible poems about Irish traditional music)
– Sarah Waters’ latest offering ‘The Little Stranger’ (another one set in 1940s Britain, she’s such a great storyteller – come on, someone please give her the Booker for God’s sake)
Colm Toibin’s ‘Brooklyn’ (audiobook version just waiting to be made)
Also check out Elizabeth Murray’s official festival blog for more impressions of the readings as well as some fantastic pictures by Laughlin McKee who expertly caught a few special moments which might have easily been overlooked.

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