Listowel Writers' Week Fringe

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Colm Toibin reads from “Brooklyn”

May 29, 2009 By: Patrick Stack Category: events, novels

queue_for_colm_toibinDespite getting to St. John’s Theatre with more than 10 minutes to spare, the room is already nearly full, with a dearth of free adjoining seats which means that I’m forced to reneigue on my promise to Rosaleen Glennon that I’d hold a seat for her. I’m safely ensconced at the back and have the laptop open and booted up. There is an announcement from one of the committee that the reading will transfer to the Listowel Arms Hotel due to the huge queue outside the door. As usual, a large swathe of the crowd, contrary to “orders”, gets up and makes for the exits as if to escape a particularly nasty stink. The man seated next to me remarks that it’s typical. Twenty minutes later we are all seated comfortably in the large conference room in the Arms Hotel.
Joanna Keane starts the proceedings by delivering a well put together introduction and a short bio of Colm Tóibín which includes a cryptic (at least to me) reference to “Paradise“. As Colm approaches the podium to start, he and Joanna embrace.
Colm begins by informing us that “Brooklyn” originated as a short story. He talks at length about where the story came from.
He taught Jane Austen (not literally of course!) – she doesn’t use flashbacks which are a “form of laziness“. He remarks that a large number of Irish short stories deal with returned immigrants. He mentions a story called Nightfall by Daniel Corkery, one by Benedict Kiely and another by Brian MacMahon.

The holding of a dance can have an electrifying effect on a group of people“.

The novel started with five sentences. Seasickness played an important part, as did a shared toilet which idea he gleaned from an experience he had with his wife on a trip up the red sea. He reads from the point where Eilish is back in her cabin after the dinner on the boat to America. There follows a very vivid description of bladder and bowel movements under duress, completed by a graphic description of vomiting that has a large number of the audience laughing, and the rest caught in that uncomfortable tornness between wanting to laugh, feeling embarrassed and memories of private humiliation that are too close for comfort.
He struggles to get Miss MacAdam’s slightly northern accent.
He mentions that the best early recordings of traditional Irish music were made in New York.
The last section he reads is from the dance at Christmas.
Colm reads beautifully: his voice conveys all the tenderness, pathos, pain and conflict of the character he is describing .

There follows a Question and Answer session which unearths some nuggets:
There is “something in your system that guides the narrative” at crucial points in the novel writing process.
The Wexford coast appears with its place names in all Colm’s books, because it must. “You write out of your spirit, you DNA in terms of subject and style“; “You write from the self
you try and have the feelings, you try and render them while you’re working
It’s finding things in memory … memory is no good to you: you need to imagine it ….

He has just described the process of writing poetry I remark.
What is the link between memory and imagination I ask myself.

3 Comments to “Colm Toibin reads from “Brooklyn””


  1. I’m with Dillon, photographer for the festival, showing him the blog for his first time.
    What do you think Dillon?

    “I think that’s amazing. it puts the message round the world of Listowel and the meaning of Writers’ Week. And everybody should experience this event.”

    1
  2. Pat Smith says:

    Health and Safety legislation dictates that a venue should be “evacuated” in an orderly manner!

    The seating area is normally referred to as the AUDITORIUM!

    2
  3. The venue WAS evacuated in an orderly manner. I was referring to the way in which many Irish people ignore the request to stay in their seats until their turn comes to get up and leave. It happens time and again in all sorts of places such as the interior of aeroplanes upon arrival, in addition to all types of auditoria.
    And thank you for the timely reminder of that item of vocabulary (auditorium) which was temporarily unavailable, having slipped out for some unspecified business while I was writing the piece.

    3



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