The world of literature and the world of literacy are very far removed from each other
Cat Hogan on the challenge and the thrill of programming Waterford Writers Weekend
Cat Hogan: I wanted the festival to be inclusive. Photograph: Michael LeGris
I don’t know what I was thinking, dear reader, when I agreed to curate a three-day literary festival in Waterford. Many times, I’ve asked myself that question and tried to come up with a reasonable answer. I’ve a great imagination if nothing else. I think perhaps it was to do with the fact Rick O’Shea had caught me off guard when he proposed passing the mantle onto me or maybe it was more to do with the fact I find it very difficult to say no – some people would commend that kind of bravery, but not me.
I didn’t for a moment think about the big shoes I had to fill, or budgets, or marketing, or dozens of emails to publishers, writers and committees. Did I mention a budget? Spending someone else’s money while sticking to the brief asking me to ensure I had something for everyone, to appeal to readers and writers alike on a bank holiday weekend just before Hallowe’en, right in the middle of midterm. It never crossed my mind. I said yes. Emphatically.
I’m well used to being at festivals and have had a small part to play in helping organise the Write by the Sea Literary Festival under the watchful eye of the indomitable Lucy Moore but rocking up to do a workshop or a reading is not the same thing as trying to programme one from scratch. Never has the blank page looked so intimidating.
And now, the programme has been curated by a blow-in from Wexford, the budget has been spent and as the clock counts down the remaining days to October 25th, all I have left are the voices in my head whispering to me about bums on seats and what if they all cancel or what if there’s a hurricane or a snowstorm or the apocalypse while also remaining very conscious of the massive previous curator-sized boots I had to fill.
It is the liar who said finishing a project ahead of time and within budget was a good thing (at least last-minute panic deafens the voices and there’s no time to second guess yourself). I’ve now had several weeks of hand wringing and at times blind panic at three in the morning. All that aside, I’m delighted to have been handed the charge of curating this year’s Waterford Writers Weekend for several reasons.
Waterford Writers Weekend is part of the larger Imagine Arts Festival which runs from October 23rd to 27th. Imagine was set up in 2001 by a group of arts workers and arts enthusiasts who felt that the city needed an artistic platform. Now in its 19th season, each year it strives to present an exciting, eclectic and diverse range of artistic events which include theatre, music, comedy, visual art, dance, literature, film and children’s events. Imagine now incorporates both the John Dwyer Trad Weekend and Waterford Writers Weekend. So, absolutely no pressure on me as a newbie curator to deliver the goods.
In some ways, writing a novel is no different to managing a large project. You start with a nucleus of an idea; you develop it and you see it through until the end. Some things work, some things don’t. You seek advice and you ask advice of those more qualified. I had a notion about what I wanted the festival to be while hitting the brief I was given. The festival needed to have a balance of easily recognised names while being a platform for those authors who don’t get as much airtime as they deserve, even though they are equally as talented and committed – right across the different routes to publishing; traditional, self-published and a combination of the two.
I wanted the festival to be inclusive. In my day job, I work in adult literacy and adult education. The world of literature and the world of literacy are very far removed from each other. We need to talk about that, and we need to talk about the fact that one in four people in Ireland have difficulties with literacy. That should not exclude them from the world of creativity, imagination and literature. Luckily, I have my panel of experts to explore the ways we can bridge the divide. I wanted a festival of quality, but I was programming it on a budget. Don’t ask writers to work for exposure. If I can plan a brilliant festival on a tight budget without resorting to the promise of exposure, everyone else can do the same. Exposure is not legal tender in supermarkets or with the ESB. Finally, Waterford is awash with local talent. We’ve two nights programmed to showcase that.
I can but skim over the events of the weekend here. There’s in excess of 25 events over three days and we have 43 writers and industry professionals taking part. The roll call includes; Martin Doyle, Lisa Coen, Brian Langan, Prof Eoin Devereux UL, Prof Sarah Moore Fitzgerald UL, Dr Richard Hayes WIT, Willie Vlautin, Niamh Boyce, Derek Flynn, Rick O Shea, Jan Carson, Ian Maleney, Lorna Sixsmith, Adele O’Neill, Sinead Moriarty, Melissa Hill, Sheila O’Flanagan, Dan Mooney, Steo Wall, Sarah Clancy, Sarah Davis Goff, Arnold Fanning, Jo Spain, Andrea Carter, Wendy Erskine, Shannon Yee and Deirdre O’Shaughnessy. The list goes on.
If you are free the weekend of October 25th to 27th, please come and join us in Waterford City. There really is something for everyone because of the three festivals running along side each other and all information can be found on the website www.imagineartsfestival.com.
In the meantime, I will finish writing the current novel while counting down the days. The Child of Prague may feature in the hopes for good weather. My hands will wring and I’ll continue to wake up at 3am but with a bit of luck and a lot of planning, those Rick O’Shea shoes will fit, the seats will be filled with bums and we may just avoid the snowstorm/apocalypse to enjoy what is bound to be another cracking Imagine Festival.
Cat Hogan is an Irish novelist from Co Wexford. She lives by the sea with her family and works in adult literacy and further education