God. Like, good God. What a weekend. I don’t know if I’m tired, or excited or inspired or desperately wondering if I should be bothering writing at all. The talent. The craic. The camraderie. The crimescene.
I’ve been working through my photos and editing them down. I don’t want to bore anyone with my holiday snaps. You know when you get stuck with someone and they make you watch as they flick through their camera showing you pictures of rocks and the Grand Canyon and after picture 172 you can’t smile and nod along politely anymore? I don’t want this to be that. So I’ll try to be succinct. Lovely word. Writers love words. Did you know that?
I woke up on Friday, the morning before the festival feeling like somebody had turned my head inside out. I was staying in a hotel in Galway and had been suffering a plague virus for a fortnight. I rang reception and asked for a late check-out, which I got, so I got up and took my pillow head to the laptop and did some work on my novel. “Look at me,” I thought. “I”m a writer. Check me out.” I was very proud of myself. And you know what becomes before a fall? Pride. Writer’s pride.
Fully refreshed, I drove the hour or so distance to Doolin, past shaley mountains and through windy mountainous roads. I was delighted to hit Lisdoonvarna and couldn’t help but sing, “It’s a long way to Tipperary” as I passed through the small town. JOKE. Of course I was singing, Lisdoon Lisdoon Lisdoon VARNA.
I pulled up at Hotel Doolin and collected my pass. The hotel is lovely, very modern, small with a boutique feel and as I was to discover through the weekend packed with tiny details to decorate for the festival. The hotel is usually reserved for the authors booked to speak at the festival so, as a delegate, you will need to book into a B&B. I was staying in Killilagh B&B, about 600m up the road – it was fine to walk for me and I’d recommend it as being very comfortable and reasonable to stay in. Someone told me there are 60 B&Bs in Doolin, so you’ll have no problem finding accommodation.
I wasn’t so much as nervous at the opening drinks reception, as apprehensive. I had in my mind that the place would be packed with people like me – in their 30s. I was a bit off with the age range. There were a few more grey heads than I imagined.
Maybe it’s a thing that older people go to writing festivals. Maybe it’s a thing that the more life experienced you are, the more you have to say, the more you have to write. This was to be a valuable lesson over the weekend. I would learn that writing a book takes time. And I had nothing to worry about at all. Age became irrelevant. People were interested in people and they were, more than, lovely.
The festival was opened by Donal Minihane, a stalwart of a guy, and the manager of Hotel Doolin. He is an author himself and was shortlisted in the Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair in recent times. He told us the hotel had invested €400,000 in the past year in arts events and he believed that by doing so was a win win, both socially and culturally.
Joseph O’Connor then took to the microphone and read from his book The Thrill of It All. I was thrilled by it. All. It could have been the wine, or it could have been the fan girl sneaking out, but it was my favourite reading from the whole weekend. I was straight up to him, with a battered copy of my Star of the Sea to sign. I even showed him the pages my daughter had ripped out. I’m sure he thought I was a bit mad.
He was very generous and spoke to me like I had a clue what I was at. I asked questions about historical fiction and how the hell you find the right curse words to use for the 1880s? We came to the conclusion that the word ‘bollox’ was probably best.
He mentioned an MA in creative writing he is Professor of in University Limerick. It got me thinking and still has me thinking, that maybe it’s a step I need to take. I want to be good. I would like to study. Maybe, in the future, I will.
The evening was closed by readings from Catherine Dunne and Anthony Glavin, with introductions by Lia Mills. I picked up a copy of Lia Mills Fallen at the book stall and am looking forward to getting stuck in.
And then to the bar. And sure you know what happened there. Drink. Craic. Getting to know a few new heads and hanging out with writers. I was only delighted with myself.
It was 3am when the fun started.
That was when it happened. The phone.
It went. On a journey of discovery. Without me with it. ‘Come back,’ I cried into the dark, Doolin air. But it didn’t listen. And when it hadn’t shown up the next morning I told myself to calm.
At lunchtime I left my Dermot Bolger workshop which I was throughly enjoying, to check with hotel staff who had been working the night before and would be back in by now. No phone.
A cloud descended. And not on Doolin. But on me. What about my snapchats? I thought. What about me tweets? What about all the photos of my daughter on the blimming thing? Writers’ tears is right, this writer had loads of them.
I took a break and went back to the B&B to email the loved ones. Cut off. In the Burren. Help.
Calmer, I returned for the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, which involved loads of gorgeous China and champagne. (I’ve a funny feeling there’ll be gin in teapots next year, just a feeling). And poetry. It involved poetry.
Now, I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word poetry I think a few things. I think, God no. Please no. I hear sounds. Like ‘eeeeuhghhhhffff’. ‘Gah’. ‘Would you ever feck off with yourself’ and ‘GROAN’.
I haven’t studied poetry since I was in school. I had this image of wanton ones, spouting off, looking inwardly and taking themselves very seriously. I thought – poetry does nothing for me.
Well how wrong was I. Another lesson from the weekend. It wasn’t so much poetry as performance art. I watched poet after poet get up and deliver in their own way. Stories and words, rhythm and voice. It was mesmerising and I wanted more.
It struck me that poetry is a short, short story. It’s a syncopated telling of a theme, with only a handful of carefully crafted words. I bloody loved it. And I almost cheered up about the phone.
To clear the head, I drove the short distance to Doolin Pier. Here I came across the coloured houses I had in my mind as ‘Doolin.’ The sun was beginning to set and I caught some great snaps. Sit back. Here comes photo time.
At the pier, there was a good view out to the Cliffs of Moher, even though the beach has been badly broken up by a battering of winter storms. I saw a woman looking out to sea and I thought she looked terribly lonely.
Feeling refreshed, westified and almost over the loss of my brand new Iphone 5s, I went back and enjoyed a gorgeous dinner in Hotel Doolin. We had turkish delight and butter beer in shot glasses for dessert, much to the amusement of our American guests. After another break in the B&B I got the glad leather pants on and came back down for the shenanigans. A few things happened.
- I attended the Open Mic, where poets and writers got up and read extracts of their work. It was all very supportive and by candlelight. (There was no clicking of fingers, much to my chagrin).
- I sang a song. Sure fair play to me.
- I attended my first proper west of Ireland trad session
- I found out what happened to my phone
I have to be careful in what I write because there are complexities and feelings and a bit of the unknown to respect. What I can say is that there was a suspect. Carrying bananas. There were protection squads and CSI Doolin broke out. And at the end of it all, there was a good laugh and a good outcome. And I got my phone back!
I woke up on Sunday, sorry that the weekend was nearing an end and too exhausted to make it to the Publishing workshop with Banshee Lit. Goddamit.
But, I did come away from the weekend, with a huge advancement in my thoughts, attitude and plans for writing. I had access to so many different writers at different levels that I couldn’t help but assess where I am right now. Having settled a few days, these are the things I took away with me.
- Writing a book takes time. You can’t rush it. If you do, you’ll regret it. Take your time. It’ll be worth it.
- Poetry is amazing. I need to study it. And look up and learn from wordsmiths we heard like Elaine Feeney among others
- I need a proper sales pitch and synopsis. My gambling words when one person asked me what my book were about showed me, how far off I am
- I need to strive to be my best. I need to aim to get to a level to where the other writers are now. Otherwise, what’s the point?
- Editing is a pain in the nuts, but necessary!
On the drive home I started editing my book in my head. I fixed up scenes that were bothering me. I moved things around. I thought of a blurb, a hook, a selling point. Things Dermot Bolger had said came flooding back. If you’re stuck on a scene start one you’re dying to write. Don’t worry about who gets where and the logistics of things. Often these are the parts that wlll be struck out anyway.
Thank you Doolin for the learning, the literature, the piss water (Miller, according to the barman, not a fan of lager) the laughs, the language, the candlelight and the hospitality. Thank you for the new and true friendships. for alliances formed and contacts made. I would definitely return next year. And you know, to read some extracts form my best-seller, the year after that.
What a weekend. Did I say that already?
For details of next year’s festival stay tuned to www.doolinwritersweekend.com.