Reading and writing are often slow and solitary processes. The business of words demands stillness, quiet and a detachment from that subliminal buzz which hums through day-to-day life. So, a literary festival is in many ways a strange thing – a confluence of all the stages in a book’s life from conception to consumption, where readers, writers, booksellers and publishers have the chance to intermingle and exchange ideas.
Of course, any shoulder rubbing at this year’s Dublin Book Festival will be strictly metaphorical and facilitated through the omnipresent medium of the video conference. Having said this, the mandates of social distancing have been no barrier to the festival organisers, who have managed to pull together a stellar line-up of the very best in contemporary Irish writing. The 2020 programme offers a diverse range of events, including panels on murder mystery and the queer body in poetry, alongside discussions on the funding of the War of Independence and the importance of science in the age of fake news.
One of the highlights of the festival will undoubtedly be the Emerging Writers’ Panel, which spotlights five of Ireland’s most prominent debut writers to discuss their work and journey to print. Speaking to The University Times, Doireann Ní Ghríofa, a bilingual poet, author of A Ghost in the Throat and “Emerging Writers” panellist, is looking forward to speaking with other writers: “It always sheds an interesting light on one’s own book, sometimes illuminating an aspect that may have remained hidden even to oneself,” Noting that A Ghost in the Throat is, in fact, her seventh book, despite being her first prose work, Ní Ghríofa remarks that she does feel “like a bit of a stowaway on a panel for emerging writers”.
Trinity professor and immunologist Luke O’Neill will also be featured, discussing his work Never Mind the B#ll*cks, Here’s the Science, which explores the answers offered by science to some of today’s most pressing questions. As a prominent voice in this country’s fight against coronavirus, it’s likely that O’Neill’s event will attract wide interest. The professor himself is very pragmatic about the festival, remarking that he hopes his talk “might make more people buy the book and read it”. He also acknowledges how “important” it is that scientists extend their work beyond the lab to promote a wider understanding – “but only if they feel comfortable doing it”, he adds.
One event which will allow younger attendees to put pen to paper themselves is the Writing for Young Adults workshop, hosted by Grace Kelley, Amy O’Sullivan and Ruth Ennis, editors of the new Young Adult literary journal Paper Lanterns. The trio, who first met while working towards an MPhil in Children’s Literature in Trinity in 2018, are excited to participate. They stand united in the view that the online nature of this year’s festival is an advantage, with Kelley pointing out that Dublin Book Festival can now “include more people than would ordinarily fit inside a designated venue” because, as Ennis remarks, they “can log in from anywhere”.
Speaking about the workshop and Paper Lanterns more generally, O’Sullivan comments that the festival is “a fantastic opportunity to reach out and connect with readers of and future contributors to the journal”. Kelley agrees, adding that it’s “a nice opportunity for us to show the faces behind the journal too – a sort of ‘meet the makers’ moment”.
All things considered, the 2020 Dublin Book Festival team have done a top-notch job in adapting to the challenges of this trying year, leaving those who choose to attend spoilt for choice. What better way to spend these dark autumnal evenings than curling up to listen to some of the most vibrant voices in Irish writing from the comfort of your own home?
The Dublin Book Festival’s main programme of events will be running from November 26th to December 6th. More information can be found on its website.