Hot debate at sunny Dalkey book event

Festival featured a range of authors including Sebastian Barry, Donal Ryan and John Banville

Author Salman Rushdie, who was guest speaker at this year’s Dalkey Book Festival, at Coliemore Harbour in Dalkey yesterday. Photograph: Conor McCabe Photography

Author Salman Rushdie, who was guest speaker at this year’s Dalkey Book Festival, at Coliemore Harbour in Dalkey yesterday. Photograph: Conor McCabe Photography


“That was really deep,” a member of the audience said, emerging into the blazing sunshine after a discussion between literary heavyweights Amos Oz and Salman Rushdie at the Dalkey Book Festival.

The event explored the notion of “the global novel” which, it turned out, neither author believed in. Chaired by professor of Irish literature Declan Kiberd, the panel concluded that it was really James Joyce who was the master of turning the provincial into the universal.

“I think Ireland is a geographical mistake,” the Israeli author Amos Oz said, “it belongs to the Mediterranean.” The town of Dalkey certainly felt more like the Riviera over the past few days with the sunny weather, baskets of flowers at every glance, designer sunglasses and beautifully bronzed arms and legs on display – not to mention the occasional convertible cruising up the main street.

The Dalkey community was very much at the heart of this festival, which featured a range of authors such as Sebastian Barry, John Banville, Donal Ryan and many lively debates on the freedom of speech, global trends and the first World War.

Founded by economist David McWilliams and his wife Sian Smyth, the festival had many local volunteers with posters in almost every shop window and restaurant publicising events – and even a cafe offering a “bookworm sandwich” special.

By Sunday afternoon, the local Gutter bookshop had sold out of Salman Rushdie books, audiences paying heed to the encouragement, before many of the events, to support independent businesses.

“Take us back to the young Kirsty Wark, ” Miriam O’Callaghan said to the Scottish journalist and broadcaster, most widely known from Newsnight. Wark, who has just written her first novel, described how she loved reading as a child but never had a library where she grew up. “I see you have a new library in Dún Laoghaire, ” she said and the crowd let out a collective groan. “Well, at least you have one,” she quipped.

There was a strong female showing to a discussion on the literature of war which featured Afghani war correspondent Nelofer Pazira, just returned from Syria, who spoke about being at “the mercy of words” when describing the tragedy of war.

Local author Lia Mills echoed this sentiment, adding that it was the duty of the author to reclaim the language of war, which often gets overtaken by euphemism such as “collateral damage” or “neutralising”.

Author Jennifer Johnston described how as a teenager she remembered uncles and friends’ fathers being eager to talk about their experiences – “or how they single-handedly won the war” – then seeing her mother crying when she heard songs on the radio, such as Roses are Blooming in Picardy, that reminded her of what had happened.

"You have to write the book you're given, " explained author Paul Lynch who said he didn’t really want to write a novel about Donegal. Red Sky in Morning and Black Snow, Lynch's two novels,  allowed him to re-imagine his hometown in a mythic way, he said, even if he was initially reluctant. Sitting in a golden throne in the suitably gothic Masonic Hall venue in Dalkey, he explained how he'd had a recurring dream that he'd committed a murder.  "But” - he added quickly – “I'm the last man on Earth who's going to kill somebody."