Cork Spring Literary Festival Wrap-Up

There were many sad faces as Cork Spring Literary Festival came to an end – but there were also a few relieved faces dotted in the crowd (organising and attending four days of poetry is no mean feat). But what I noticed most was that everyone walked away contented – sated with stunning poetry and prose and, in many cases, loaded up with a host of new friends.

The final day saw Catch The Moon collective, made up of four female poets (Tina Pisco, Cathy D’Arcy, Shirley McClure and guest Geraldine Mitchell) and one female harpist (Anya backer), take the stage. The format was brilliant – four themes, each clearly introduced, followed by a musical introduction and then two poems on that theme from each poet. The chosen themes on the last day of the festival (picked, says Tina Pisco, “in terms of where we’re reading, the time of year and how we feel that day”) were ‘spring, body, love and writing’. The combination of music and poetry worked magically and as each poet revealed their personal take on each theme, the audience gained an insight into the different voices and experiences of four very different women.

Gerry Murphy, Julijana Velickovska and Dave Lordan also gave a fabulous reading, which Lory Manrique-Hyland described as “electric, funny, revealing, intense and fun”. You can read Lory’s full account here. And we were also treated to four poetry-based films; Paul Casey’s adaptation of Ian Duhig’s The Lammas Hireling, a short film by Maram al-Masri, the BBC classic with John Betjeman interviewing Philip Larkin, and Liz O’Donoghue’s masterpiece which featured all of Cork’s finest poets in 1999/2000; In the Hands of Erato.

Three poets, Patrick Cotter, Leanne O’Sullivan (both from Ireland) and Maram al-Masri (Syria), wrapped up the proceedings. The man behind the event, it was the first time Patrick had included himself in the festival programme, despite the fact that he has been the organiser for the last ten years. So it was a real pleasure to hear some of his stunning new poems. Maram’s poetry was as beautiful, sensual and enticing as the poet herself; if you haven’t had chance to see Maram in action, she is one of the most alluring individuals I have ever met – no wonder all available copies of her book sold out immediately after the reading. Leanne provided the perfect close to the festival, with evocative, imaginative and touching poetry, steeped in Irish landscape, relationships and history. It’s been amazing to watch the changes in Leanne’s poetry over the years, and this was one of her most mature and enchanting readings to date.

Although it’s always a shame when something wonderful comes to an end, I leave the festival behind with a glad heart. From the organisation to the programme to the kindness and friendliness of all the writers, as well as the Munster Literature Centre staff, this has been a truly inspiring few days, the memories of which will last a lifetime.

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A Haiku Workshop with Gabriel Rosenstock

Having read lots of Gabriel’s work, I knew I’d be in for a treat at the two-hour long Haiku workshop – but I wasn’t prepared for how much I would actually learn. And from talking to the other attendees, I wasn’t alone.

Not only did Gabriel open our eyes to the essence of haiku, he also showed us how to spot a non-haiku within the first half hour of the workshop. Starting with an introduction explaining the idea behind haiku, the history of haiku and the fact that is separate to poetry (and not a form of poetry) Gabriel explained that “it doesn’t matter what you like to encounter – it’s what you encounter.”

One of the difficulties that I (and seemingly many others) have with haiku is that it’s a difficult genre to understand. It seems at once beautiful, poetic and deep – but I now know that this is the opposite of what haiku is really about…as Gabriel pointed out “there is no such thing as good or bad haiku, just haiku and non-haiku.”

Haiku should happen when you open your senses to the world around you and should be expressed in simplistic, plain language, displaying a flash in time, a moment. There should be no poetry, no frills and, as Gabriel repeatedly drummed into us, no thinking. The haiku should be as pure as the moment experienced.

By the time it got to work-shopping our own haiku, we could identify what did and did not conform to the rules. Having spent time dabbling in this genre, I thought I had turned a corner, writing some decent haiku. However, it turns out that most of my haiku were actually Senryu (“haiku is too small to have you in it – you and your ego”) and some weren’t anything like haiku at all. For example, I’d mistakenly ended (what I thought was) a haiku with “summer skies”. But as Gabriel pointed out – how can one moment have several skies?

As we went through everyone’s work, it became apparent that we’d all misunderstood the idea behind haiku – we’d been trying to create beautiful and thought-provoking concepts instead of opening ourselves up to the world. But despite the gentle tearing apart of their work, every attendee was put at their ease and felt comfortable with their mistakes thanks to Gabriel’s patient and professional approach. And, importantly, every one of us left smiling, delighted with how much we had improved.

If you really want to understand haiku, Gabriel is the man to talk to. He exudes haiku, wears it like a piece of old clothing and I couldn’t possibly convey the meaning as effectively. And if you really want to get to grip with haiku, read the masters; e.g. Basho, J. W. Hackett, Isa and Santoka, Rosenstock.

But, if you’re interested, it doesn’t hurt to give you a bit of head start. Here are some of the basic rules to get you started…

Haiku should:

  • reflect nature and the seasons, giving a strong feel for time and place
  • be no more than 17 syllables and be written in lower case (except for proper names) without a title
  • encapsulate a moment, with no contradictions
  • be spontaneous, not “thought about” (although haiku can be revisited for improvements)
  • focus on one idea, using plain – not poetic – language

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Gerry Murphy, Dave Lordan & Julijana Velichkovska by Lory Manrique-Hyland

Saturday evening, second to last event in the Cork Spring Literary festival was: electric, funny, revealing, intense and fun.

I’d been across McCurtain Street grabbing a bite between events with Nuala Ní Chonchúir (Chinese waiter told me they had no tofu, but both Nuala and her husband’s meals came with tofu – curious). Nuala was enjoying the literary festival, in town ahead of her reading at O’Bheal Monday night (21 Feb at the Long Valley, Cork).

I rushed into the festival venue at the last minute, after my tofu-free dinner, and grabbed the last seat in the corner. The Douglas Vance room at the Metropole was packed – its fullest night of all, I think. Pat Cotter (Poet and Director of both Festival and Munster Literature Centre) remarked on the turn out. It was fantastic to see a poetry even so well attended.

Gerry Murphy was already on stage when I ran in. He’s as hilarious and irreverent in person as you think he’d be from reading his material. In pauses during readings, most writers and poets sip on water; Gerry sipped on a long neck bottle of beer.  It was also my first time hearing the word “clitoris” used in a poem, but I don’t get out much.

I was seated behind Conal Creedon. I stared at the back of his head while Gerry read, noticing that his hair was perfectly coiffed. I’m a fidgeter by nature, and kept rustling the pages of my program, crossing and uncrossing my legs, knocking the back of Conal’s seat. Eventually, he got up and stood at the back of the room. As the Irish say, I was morto (that’s short for “mortified”, for you non-Irish.)

I was shocked into not fidgeting for several minutes when Gerry all of a sudden asked, “Is Lory Manrique-Hyland here?” I waved at him from way back in my corner (behind Conal Creedon’s empty chair).  He went on to tell the audience that I’d thrown a chicken leg at him, in some sort of Cuban Voodoo ritual. (Like there’s room for that sort of thing in the back of the Boqueria tapas bar.) I’d read the night before from my novel Revolutions, set mainly in Cuba, and I must’ve made him fearful. Fortunately, Gerry doesn’t hold a grudge, and dedicated this poem to me: Memories of ‘El Jefe’ and the Cuban Revolution (from his latest poetry collection My Flirtation with International Socialism, Dedalus Press, Dublin, Ireland, 2010).

For the record, the greasy chicken bone popped out from between my fingers and landed on his lap like a tiny harpoon.

Next up was Dave Lordan, who did not drink beer (on stage). He started with a popular poem, The Boy in the Ring. His reading, of this and all his poems, was powerful. His voice was clear and projection fantastic. His background in performance poetry showed. Though restrained in the setting and confines of a literary festival stage, he maintained a powerful presence.  Other poems which stood out for me were one about his alcoholic Uncle who’d stay up all night drinking tea when he was trying to kick the booze (unsuccessfully, by the way); and another delivered in the voice of a crazed, fascist town committee member. I also liked his reading of Da, the Melodeon, written for Pat Cotter. His poetry is both “pure Irish” and universal. It’s exciting to hear and watch.

Last up was Julijana Velichkovska, a Macedonian poet, writer, artist and translator. Julijana has a gorgeous voice, like the ringing of a bell. Wonderfully, she read poems in both her native tongue and in English. I don’t know what Macedonian looks like on the printed page (Slavic, I believe), but the sound of it is lovely. Her poetry was full of energy– both pent up sexual energy and the energy of resistance. She has a unique take on love. A highlights in her reading included Fuck Off, Disney. I agree, Julijana! She ended her last poem singing the words “Just Dance,” which left everyone laughing and clapping.

We broke for a 20 minute drinking and book buying frenzy before the last event of the festival started at 9. When I stood for the break, I noticed Conal Creedon still standing at the back of the room. He was pleasant to me that evening, but I bet he won’t sit near me again.

Lory Manrique-Hyland blogs at http://motherblogging.blogspot.com 
You can also follow her on twitter: @lorymanrique
or Facebook: facebook.com/ManriqueHyland

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What’s the theme? – Day 3 of Cork Spring Literary Festival

It is said that every possible theme has already been covered in the arts, so whether it’s a love poem, a still life painting or a war film you’re working on – it’s all been done before. Yet, throughout history, literature and storytelling has thrived, and they continue to thrive. So if it’s all been done before, how can writers create fresh, exciting pieces of work that can attract and thrill an audience?

Day three of the Cork Spring Literary Festival demonstrated the answer to this question as another six talented writers took to the stage to share their work with us, each taking inspiration from different areas to create a colourful evening of literary goodness.

Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh gave us evocative poems in Irish, accompanied by their English translation. Alibhe explored unexpected themes, such as a whistling language in the Pyrenees which as now disappeared, payments received for hunted wolves, and a Basque-country shouting language which ends with the stunning line, “we’d be frog voiced and full of love.” As a talented linguist and poet, Ailbhe provided an original platform from which the audience could learn about antiquated, extinct languages and historical events.

Matthew Sweeney took a different approach, reinventing the ordinary, making everyday occurrences come alive before turning them into something magical or bizarre. I loved the poem Fish and Chips which switched from a person enjoying this simple meal to the viewpoint of a gull, dreaming about setting up his own fish and chip shop on a remote island, complete with a bird poetry radio station. Sweeney also gave insight into how writers find their inspiration after reading The Glass Chess Set, saying; “I read that poem to my brother, he said, ‘Dad didn’t play chess’ – I said, ‘poets have to lie their way to the truth’.”

With incredible stage presence, Catherine Smith read several poems which used her own experiences as a youth as their focus, creating a personal, “confessional” touch. With comical and familiar themes such as skiving school to watch bad TV programmes (How it All Started), underage drinking (Snakebite) and lack of confidence (Smoking and Reading Nietzsche in the Cardoma), Smith included her audience, drawing them in by asking questions. Smith revealed, with much hilarity, that one of her students told her that during an MA in the US, grandparents were highlighted as a banned topic – before launching into a poem about grandparents. In addition she had a few poems that used dreams as inspiration, saying “dreams have their own truth, their own force.” Another idea that Smith raised was that when writing; “you can explore experiences you haven’t had in real life.

The series of poems by Valerie Rouzeau were even more personal, taking the “write about what you know, what moves you” route. An incredibly emotive poet, Rouzeau’s poems were laden with anguish and loss but filled with stunning ideas and beautiful images such as; “the snow has dreams she doesn’t know about.” Rouzeau brought the audience on a journey, carrying them along beside her in the train carriage as she hurries to see her dying father, drawing the audience in further still as she experiences waves of regret, anger and hurt after his death. Rejecting black as colour of mourning, “I can spend whole days thinking of you in blue”, Rouzeau’s deeply touching theme and passionate approach guaranteed the audience was enthralled, right up to the final line uttered; “I wanted to see you but you shut your eyes too tight.

When Ian Duhig took the stage, it was clear that many of his poems were centred on the joy of language and joy of verbal dexterity. Covering a variety of themes, each with a strong sense of place, Duhig mixed social consciousness and politics with humour. His first poem was what he referred to as “the most unsuccessful love poem ever – in fact, the person it was written for two decades ago still hates it.” Like Ailbhe, Duhig also had a historical element to his poems, where “masked gods walk among us as a test”, looking towards examples from the past for modern solutions. Particularly potent were the series of ‘navvies’ poems, including Jericho Shanty and Ornithology, where “the Navvies cry is the pick-bird song.”

Closing the evening with the first chapter of her novel, Lory Manrique-Hyland’s reading contained a delicate yet colourful mixture of an American childhood and displaced Cuban roots (which received a dedication the following evening from Gerry Murphy). Filled with superstition, pace, punchy dialogue and vibrancy, the characters leapt into the audience with a vigour that only such a personal understanding of a situation could enable.

I guess the answer to the question I posed earlier – how can writers create fresh, exciting pieces of work that can attract and thrill an audience? – is that there isn’t a single source of inspiration. There are ideas to be found in all areas of life – whether personal or imaginary, truth or lies, rooted in politics, history or the every day. But the key is writing about it so skilfully, so passionately and so convincingly that it can move an audience, taking them outside (or inside) their own lives, and come out feeling informed, entertained and renewed.

 

 

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My Shanghai Writer’s Residency by Leanne O’Sullivan

In September 2009, on the invitation of the Shanghai Writers’ Association, I was able to spend two extraordinary months in Shanghai on a writer’s residency.  I travelled there with Cork writer, Conal Creedon, who was also awarded the residency and who kept me entertained and laughing throughout the trip.  I think we both felt that we had travelled thousands of miles away from what was familiar and everyday, not just in a literal, geographical sense but in a host of ’felt’ ways as well. Certainly we realized that this was not the so-called People’s Republic of Cork!

What then was it? Shanghai is an incredible and vibrant city, and as Conal put it, a forests of skyscrapers, taxis, and Tangle Twister roads. However, despite the impact of the unfamiliar, the remarkable friendliness and welcoming nature of the Shanghai people made us feel very at home.  I remember one particular day, Conal and I wanted to buy flowers for Peihua, a wonderful woman from the SWA.  We found a florist nearby, but arrived without a clue about how to place our
order.  I looked around outside and approached a group of young people, telling them our problem.  Thankfully, they spoke English and were more than happy to help!  They spent about a half an hour
translating, correcting and helping us feel completely welcome.

Thank you, Shanghai, for such a warm and stimulating experience. I hope to come back some day!

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Cork Spring Literary Festival comes to an end…more blog posts to come

After a thoroughly enjoyable four days of literature, the Cork Spring Literary Festival ended on a high note with a reading from three outstanding poets; Patrick Cotter, Maram al-Massri and Leanne O’Sullivan.

But even though the festival won’t be back for another year, the blog doesn’t end quite yet…

Over the coming week, I’ll be giving you an overview of the events I’ve not yet covered and I’ll also be adding more work from the fabulous writers who attended this year’s festival.

While I’m working on the write-ups, I’ll leave you with a lovely, honest piece from Leanne O’Sullivan, talking about her writer’s residency in Shanghai.

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Adam Wyeth launches first poetry collection

Congratulations to Adam Wyeth on the launch of Silent Music, his first poetry collection, published by Salmon.

A prolific poet, Adam was a prize winner of The Fish International Poetry Competition, 2009 and a runner-up of The Arvon International Poetry Competition, 2006. His poems have been anthologized in The Best of Irish Poetry anthology (2010), Landing Places (2010), Dogs Singing (2010), Something Beginning with P, the Arvon 25th Anniversary Anthology and The Fish Anthology.

Adam’s work has appeared in numerous literary journals, including The Stinging Fly, The Shop, Southword, Poetry London and Magma. He was a featured poet in Agenda, 2008 and 2010, and selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series, 2007.

In addition, Adam has made two films on poetry, A Life in the Day of Desmond O’Grady, first screened at The Cork Film Festival, 2004; and a full length feature, Soundeye: Cork International Poetry Festival, 2005. Adam is a member of the Poetry Ireland Writers in Schools Scheme.

You can read the poems that Adam submitted to the blog from his collection by clicking here. You can also buy a copy of Silent Music directly from the Salmon online bookshop.

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An interview with Dave Lordan

How do you see the current economic and political climate affecting modern writers?

For myself it means I am eating a lot more turnips and jam sandwiches and that I am ever more inclined towards assassination, or some other rash act of political vengeance against the ruling elite. I have also considered burglary. I’m not rich enough to be a real thief. Obviously the depression will affect writers in general differently according to what class they belong to. There is the small percentage of privileged writers, the likes of Cecelia Ahern say, who won’t be the slightest bit affected except that it will give them the opportunity to pontificate and philanthropise. Most writers, and potential writers, will struggle through this period and be preoccupied with keeping a roof over their heads like everybody else. On the other hand there is a growing DIY feel to literature and to other artforms with a proliferation of small venues and live events, and a connected willingness to ignore and even uproot traditional ways of doing things. I took part in a poetry/wrestling night in Smithfield organised by the people at upstart.ie the other night which was a huge success, attracting hundreds of people to their first every poetry event. I think if we are opened minded, and willing to work together to maintain and  expand the vibrant artistic subculture now emerging we will survive and we may even add something new to what it means to be a writer.

What would you say was the most defining moment of your writing career?

I think I have made my mother and father happy a few times because of the positive attention my work has attracted. There’s no greater prize than making your loved ones happy. I also escaped from the back of a squad car once, in Cork City, right in front of Sir Henry’s. Which is one of the things I always celebrate when I go back there. I think I figured out pretty early if I stayed being a writer I’d be able to get up to  all sorts of mullarkey, and then write about it when I burnt out. I suppose a writer is a kind of burnt out vagabond, or a failed petty-criminal, a recidivist dreamer. A writer is a silhouette always, at any rate.

If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring writer, what would it be?

There is far too much practical advice about these days. Writers need to be impractical too and to do the things we’re not supposed to do. I think Baudelaire put it best in the poem Get Drunk, so follow his advice, not mine. He was a true original. I’m only a langer.

How does writing poetry compare to script writing?

My poems are all really scripts in disguise and my plays are poems wearing costumes. They compare in the sense that they are both pretending to be something they are not.

Do you have a favourite poem that you have written – and what makes it so significant?

When I was a teenager, after intense dreams forgotten in the act of surfacing from sleep, I woke up a couple of times with fully formed poems in my head. These poems seemed, in some vivid but incomprehensible way, to be connected with the world of dreams, which is connected to everything that exists and does not exist. These are the poems that enchanted me, addicting me to poetry, showing me that a poem could be a gleaming shard, pointing towards the inaccessible.

What cultural and social advantages do you think literary festivals provide and do you think they receive enough support in Ireland?

I always come away from festivals with more friends and lovers than I had before. So their social advantage is inestimable, of course. I’m not sure what a cultural advantage is. Festivals sometimes attract junketeering politicians and that annoys me. I think it would be great if we could finish off each festival with a crucifixion of a county councillor, one who had fixed their expenses. Better still would be the guillotining of a town planner. But we’d never get funding for that, would we? I suppose we could do a collection.

Dave Lordan will be reading with Gerry Murphy and Julijana Velichkovska tonight, Saturday, 19th February at 7.15pm

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Dad – A Poem by Adam Wyeth

Dad

 

I’ll always remember those Sunday drives home.

How a blackening silence came over us

with the night. I’d look back at the road

we set out on when our weekend had begun:

 

singing songs, stopping at petrol stations

in the back of beyond, turning off the beaten

track and finding a pub for lunch –

with swings and climbing frames to play on.

 

But all that was fading fast, as signs marked

the dwindling miles, oncoming headlights

dazzled us, the final catseyes blinked past

and the road emptied – losing its nerve

 

as we curved off the motorway. Then the real

darkness set in – and the chill of parting

made me numb. I’d run upstairs to my room

without a word spoken, and out the corner

 

of my window watch your silver Citroen slip

into the night; a final sliver of light then total eclipse.

Another week of staring into space in classrooms,

waiting for our next outing all together. Save mum.

 

From Adam Wyeth’s forthcoming poetry collection, Silent Music.

 

Adam Wyeth will be launching his book with a wine reception tomorrow, Saturday 19th February, at 2pm FREE event, all welcome.


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The Art of Performance – Day 2 of Cork Spring Literary Festival

A reading is only as good as its delivery – but this is no easy task. At any reading, it can be difficult for the audience to zoom into the poet or author’s words and grasp the full meaning; after all, poems would be read several times over and let to digest and prose is read at your own speed. At a reading, poem after poem is unveiled, or else you’re thrown into snatches of events from a novel, so for the audience, it can be a bit disjointed or overwhelming.

And from the writer’s perspective, you have no idea how large the audience will be, of what they’ll expect or how the other writers you’re working with will perform – and don’t forget, writing is a solitary activity so facing an audience can be a daunting task. So how do writers keep audiences captivated and entertained at readings?

The second night of the festival was an excellent example of performance, as six different writers read their work, each with completely different reading and performance styles – but each as effective as the last.

Ian Wild delivered some dramatic, animated scenes from his work-in-progress novel The Golden Oldies. Wild gave enough background for the audience to know what to expect, without giving the whole story away, and then launched into a strongly vocal performance which easily differentiated the characters. This proved very helpful for an audience listening to reasonably long pieces of prose. Using voice, accent and pitch, Wild had the audience rolling with laughter with pyrotechnic precision. Mind you, it’s not often you get to enjoy a novel about a group of pensioners starting a punk band, singing legendry lyrics like “Young people are crap”.

Alan Garvey followed with a beautifully melodic, rhythmic approach, with the order so carefully planned that each poem led on from the last seamlessly. Setting the context with a mention of a line from yesterday’s reader, James Harpur, “what is history but a roll call of exclusion?” Garvey launched into his history-based reading using visual aids; photographs of the people that inspired his poems. With the background of each person explained, it was easy for the audience to immerse themselves in the cadenced – almost chanted – poetry that followed.  To help move the audience along, Garvey also guided with cues such as “We’re going to stay in Hungary now and meet this person…” It’s the first time I’ve seen such a smoothly manoeuvred reading.

Pat Boran immediately set the audience expectation; “After such significant vocal performances, I’m coming in at a lower altitude.” He discussed how when you’re in an event alongside other writers, you don’t know what to expect, you’re “in the lap of the gods” but the readings of the others will inevitably “have a domino effect” and affect your own performance. He demonstrated this by reading “Machines,” saying that an earlier mention of car alarms from Wild triggered the idea. Treading the opposite path to Garvey, Boran preferred to have “no plan at all.” However, as he flicked through the book, looking for the next poem, he kept the audience close with discussion and details about the poem he was next to read. Boran’s reading style was gentle, personal and warm, making each poem sound like a familiar friend.

The second event saw three writers working in languages other than English take the floor. Kristiina Ehin started with a beautiful rendition of a poem in Estonian (without warning), immediately mesmerising the audience with the rhythm and music of the words. Ehin continued with poetry and a short story read in English, but maintained the magical and beguiling quality through her graceful approach. Her voice mirrored the beautiful language and images, as though weaving a spell over the audience – a perfect technique for the unexpected and bizarre twists in her story “The Spy and the Kitten.” It was clear in every word that Ehin has a respect and love for the traditional folklore and mysticism of Estonia which is rooted as deeply in her soul as it is in her work.

Gabriel Rosenstock was the perfect poet to follow Ehin; whether reading in Irish or English, his words and rhythm recounted something ancient, tribal. Using a voice which he likes to describe as “neo-bachti”, (I’m trying to locate the correct spelling of that) his performance resonated with a depth that matches the most spiritual of incantations and chants. His transition from poem to poem was as rhythmic as the poems themselves, and he assisted the audience with cues such as “these poems follow a seasonal order, which is the very essence of haiku”. The Irish language performances were particularly awe-inspiring, making the hairs on your arm stand on end.

The evening finished with Silke Scheuermann reading from her novel. Like Wild, Scheuermann gave the audience the background to her work, but then she adopted a different approach; reading the whole first chapter in short bursts, first in German, then in English. Scheuermann broke up the chapter in a way that left the audience wanting more – stopping at cliff hanger moments. Using a method I’ve not seen before, Scheuermann employed an actress to read the English translation – explaining that it was so that “my strong German accent won’t distract”. Accent or no accent, it was a useful technique for a translated novel written in the first person; the audience had chance to step back from the fact that the piece was in translation, taking visual cues from Scheuermann to pre-empt what was to come and easily immersing themselves into the shoes of the narrator when read in English.

Although each writer adopted a different technique and approach for their reading, it was clear that to perform a successful reading, the writer needs to engage and mesmerise the audience, providing enough context to give a starting point and maintaining a rhythmic flow which lets the listener stay in that zone, soaking up as much as possible. But the evening also clearly showed that there is no right or wrong approach; so long as the writer reads in a way that reflects both their work and their personality.

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