Dublin Book Festival: a place to discover the story behind the stories
A preview of November’s literary highlights
Dublin Book Festival. Photograph: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland
Stories. They have the power to make us laugh and cry, think and feel. They transport us to new worlds, places we never dreamed we would visit. Stories explore feelings – love, sadness, hope, grief, happiness and loneliness. A good story draws you in, tangles you in a web of words and when it is done, it leaves you wanting more.
Thirteen years ago the publishers of Ireland got together to create an event that would celebrate and showcase the wealth of exceptional literary talent emerging from our small island, writers creating stories to entertain and often educate. This was the start of the Dublin Book Festival, a celebration of Ireland’s writers and publishers.
When I talk with publishers about books coming out, I am rarely told the synopsis of a book. Instead I am treated to the story behind the story; what inspired them, the sequence of events leading to the creation of the book. I love hearing these stories, it often changes the way I read a book. I believe it is this curiosity and intrigue that draws thousands of people to the Dublin Book Festival, to hear authors in conversation and to then get to meet them. They want to know about the person behind the story, the road they have travelled. Since its inception, the Dublin Book Festival has strived to bring these stories to the ever-growing community of book lovers. This is what the festival is about, bringing authors and readers together for one big celebration.
I consider myself incredibly lucky to get to read for a living. The books fall through my door and I see how they reflect the world around us – the isolation and challenges of the “online” generation, the turbulent political arena, the guilt of a country haunted by its past. As I read I am entertained and I am educated.
Ireland’s publishing industry is reflective of what is going on within society, the changing landscape of Ireland. People are standing together to try to change all that is wrong in our society. Seamus Heaney said “I can’t think of a case where poems changed the world, but what they do is they change people’s understanding of what’s going on in the world”.
The Dublin Book Festival welcomes writers and publishers trying to do just this and I believe this year’s programme is a reflection of all that is going on around us. An example is the launch of Correspondences: An Anthology to Call for an End to Direct Provision, which takes place in the festival hub, Smock Alley Theatre, on November 16th. The anthology, edited by Jessica Traynor and Stephen Rea, gathers together writing, photography and visual art by those in Direct Provision and seeks to create new correspondences between these artists and Irish writers. The book marks the 20-year anniversary of Direct Provision in Ireland and aims to highlight all that is wrong with this system.
Another example is journalist Caelainn Hogan with her book Republic of Shame. Caelainn examines Ireland’s mother-and-baby homes and the collusion of the Catholic Church with the Irish State. Personal accounts from survivors, nuns and others bring the truth forward for all to see. Caelainn will talk with Katie Hannon, presenter of RTÉ Radio 1’s Late Debate, at the GPO Witness History Museum on Friday, November 15th.
Humour has always been an important part of Ireland and in our telling of stories, often showing the lighter side of society despite much darkness. The festival opens with a well-known Irish voice adept at blending humour and darkness – Pat McCabe. His forthcoming book The Big Yaroo reunites us with Francie Brady who is incarcerated in Fizzbag Mansions. The evening will be hosted by RTÉ presenter Áine Lawlor.
Laughter should not be in short supply at the festival, with comedians Colm O’Regan and Bernard O’Shea talking about their books, Ann Devine Ready for Her Close-Up and Bernard’s new book My Wife is Married to a Feckin Eejit on Sunday, November 17th. The festival also welcomes Sarah Breen and Emer McLysaght who will be chatting with Rick O’Shea about their latest book, Once, Twice, Three Times an Aisling.
Ireland’s publishing houses tend to be small, often just one or two passionate, overworked word masters. At this year’s festival we help celebrate 35 years of The Lilliput Press as well as hosting events with The Stinging Fly and Tramp Press. We also welcome back Curlew Editions who will launch the fifth edition of Winter Papers, Ireland’s annual anthology for the arts, in Smock Alley Theatre on November 15th. The event will be a live RTÉ Radio 1 Arena show, with Sean Rocks in conversation with editor of the anthology and author, Kevin Barry and contributors including actor Siobhan McSweeney and writers Sue Rainsford and Patrick Freyne.
To truly reflect the diversity and breadth of what is being published in Ireland at the moment, the festival programme has everything from walking tours on Joyce and the War of Independence, a business clinic for entrepreneurs trying to survive their first year in business, calligraphy and writing workshops. A huge focus for the festival over the years has been the children and families programme, to mirror the growing appetite for children’s books. The programme features authors from publishers including the O’Brien Press, Little Island and Gill Books. This year children can try their hand at science experiments with Prof Luke O’Neill at The Ark in Temple Bar or meet scientist-astronaut candidate Norah Patten and design their own space mission at the National Botanic Gardens. The list goes on.
There is huge creativity in the Irish publishing world at the moment. Thankfully, the bestseller lists back that up – we make books to a world standard and compete very well with the enormous UK publishing industry. The Dublin Book Festival is an opportunity to see what this vibrant community is producing. Books are an essential component of any culture. Having enough of those books produced at home is an essential part of retaining a country’s unique cultural identity. Come meet the people behind it all, the publishers and authors at DBF from November 14th to 17th.
Julianne Mooney is programme director of the Dublin Book Festival