Listowel Writers' Week Fringe

Blogging Listowel's Literary Scene

Rebecca Miller reads from her novel

May 30, 2009 By: Patrick Stack Category: events, novels

The large, though not yet packed out, crowd is buzzing in anticipation of Rebecca Miller‘s arrival. For the first time this festival, both Paul O’Mahony and I are at the same event. This is entirely unplanned – but will afford two different impressions of the same happening which is both useful and interesting, adding a contrast in impressions to the contrast in styles already evident from our posts as it were.
The two older ladies seated to my left – I’ve strategically positioned myself on the outside seat near some wall sockets – are deep in conversation. A few minutes ago one of them asked what I was doing and wanted to know what a blog was and how to access it. She told me she wrote her first page of memoir at the 1970 Writers’ Week festival (the year I started first year at St. Michael’s College), and talked of her admiration for Archbishop Simms. I nodded sagely in an endeavour to hide my stygian ignorance of who Archbishop Simms was, the name ringing some very faint bells at the disant edge of memory in my head.
It’s now 10 past and something appears to be happening at last – Miss Miller (for I presume it is she) and a member of the committee – a large woman in a white dress and whiter hair whose face I know but whose name escapes me – have taken their seats at the top table. The podium remains, as yet – should I say “unmanned” (seems a trifle sexist in the circumstances) or “unpersonned” (sounds wrong somehow)?

Miss Miller begins her talk on her book “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee“.
Marigold Village has everything from sex therapist to herbalist (she drops the h) to tennis courts. Having never read any of Miss Miller’s work, my initial impressions are of a fast-paced style reminiscent of what? Perhaps of film narrative.

Listen to extract 1

She explains that as the book progresses Pippa gradually becomes overwhelmed by her past. She then reads a section from the middle of the book.

Extract 2 from Rebecca Miller’s reading

Extract 3 of Rebecca Miller’s reading

The reading goes on for some time – my mind wanders a little, despite the pleasant tone of her soft American accent. I look up to my right to see the large screen displaying a close-up of Ms Miller as she reads. My eye is drawn inexorably toward her gorgeous cleavage… She is a stunningly attractive woman, tall, svelte, cultured, natural.

There is time for 4 or 5 questions from the audience at the end of the reading as follows:

Question 1

Question 2

Questions 3 and 4

Question 5

And then the queue for the book-signing. I purchase two – one for my wife Ana, and the other for myself. When it comes my turn, I tell Ms Miller truthfully that I’ve been “converted”, having never read any of her work – I realise later that this is her first novel! I ask her to write “For Patrick Stack” on the second book. Patrick? she queries. I spell Patrick. She writes it. I repeat “Stack” – do I detect a hesitation (or is it my over-active and increasingly fevered imagination at work?)? I spell S-T-A-C-K. She writes it and finishes the dedication. Meanwhile the large woman in the white dress has come in through the open door and taken the seat to her left. I look at her badge and realise, of course, she’s Marian Relihan. I earnestly thank Ms Miller again, with a slight bow of my already bowed and hatted head and bolt for the door.

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.

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