Literary festival a storybook success for Irish publishers

WHAT EXACTLY is a cute hoor? Do we admire them? These were just some of the socio-political questions raised during a lively …

WHAT EXACTLY is a cute hoor? Do we admire them? These were just some of the socio-political questions raised during a lively debate at the inaugural Dublin Book Festival over the weekend. Dublin City Hall was the setting for this relaxed festival where all events were free and the public was welcome to browse the stalls, listen to readings or have a coffee.

Unlike other literary festivals, this new book fair is designed to raise the profile of independent Irish publishers and to act as a forum for political and cultural debate. It featured Joe O'Connor, John Montague, Dr Martin Mansergh and a host of others.

Set up by CLÉ, the organisation of Irish book publishers, the festival was testament to an avid and growing Irish readership.

"Cute hoors can be witty and entertaining," said Irish Times Political Editor Stephen Collins during a panel debate with Shane Coleman from the Sunday Tribune and author Annie Ryan, who examined the broader issues of corruption, tribunals and brown envelopes. Collins said: "We used to admire them, but that is changing. I would be very surprised if in 10-15 years time a new raft of politicians were exposed as corrupt."


At the packed launch of a book by historian and Dominican sister Dr Margaret MacCurtain, Nell McCafferty was full of admiration: "Why doesn't she run the world? She should be president."

International Woman's Day was a particularly apt occasion to celebrate MacCurtain's pioneering role in women's history. As a long, seemingly endless flood of admirers queued for book signings, MacCurtain was "elated" but focused: "I hope fervently that young women will understand the need for us not to lose the vision," she said.

"A novel often starts with an invitation, when an image or picture unfurls in your mind," said author Joe O'Connor during a discussion about historical fiction. He was joined by Dermot Bolger, author of The Family on Paradise Pier, who described how it is often in the small details, the "flecks of dandruff", that novels are born. Chaired by author Anthony Glavin, this thought-provoking discussion into the mechanics and quirks of writing was a high point of the weekend.

The digital future was discussed by a panel from the publishing sector, who warned against "what happened to the recorded music industry". Michael Gill, of Gill & Macmillan, said Irish presses need to be careful when it comes to digital rights. "We need to have our own digital libraries, not Google's or Yahoo's," he said.

The debate raised questions about the fate of independent publishers, struggling against larger English companies and distributors demanding discounts.

This was a wide-ranging, topical and child-friendly festival, showcasing new talent while paying tribute to established names such as Anthony Cronin, who marked the 50th anniversary of his first published book. Artistic director Alan Hayes was delighted with the outcome: "This is the first of an annual event - to get even bigger and better."

Sorcha Hamilton

Sorcha Hamilton

Sorcha Hamilton is an Irish Times journalist