Up to a few weeks ago I was a literary festival virgin. After a lifetime where the word ‘festival’ identified exclusively as mosh-pit madness and tequila hangovers, the notion of a weekend letting my inner Ozzy Osbourne loose around whimpering memoirs and political prognostications seemed like a chapter I’d prefer left unread. Then I pitched up to Borris House and a new world unfolded.
On a sunny Saturday wandering around the idyllic gardens of a grand estate in the heartlands of Carlow, the vibe was more genteel than Glastonbury – but still with enough of a dissolute air to keep me turning the pages. There was Jeremy Irons puffing a black cheroot against an ancient doorway, DBC Pierre gathering paperback groupies in the rose garden and Dolly Alderton talking 20-something sex with the good bits underlined in red.
And hey – isn’t that John Illsley of Dire Straits playing Brothers In Arms with The Hothouse Flowers’ Fiachna Ó Braonáin? Maybe I won’t be in bed by 10pm after all.
Writers are a peculiar breed – individuals who toil in seclusion to earn a crust, living entirely in space between their ears for years to birth stories that may blast off or flame out in the marketplace.
It’s not about the money, as all but the fortunate 1pc earn less than a pensioner on state benefits. Is it any wonder they’re quick to get jiggy with it hoisting a hefty Sauvignon in one hand before a rapt audience hanging on their every word?
Festivals of writing and ideas offer authors the chance to connect with the people who pay for their supper, opportunities to join the dots around plots, characters and complex themes. Or argue why Holden left us hanging at the end of The Catcher In The Rye.
Festivals are places where your favourite book advances beyond the epilogue, finds a new ending as a multitude of voices tug and tweak what might have been. “That is part of the beauty of all literature,” F Scott Fitzgerald opined. “You discover your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”
This summer I’m chucking the chance to take it to the limit one more time with The Eagles or jive with Jagger in Hyde Park for a deep dive into chick lit, murder manuals and romance handbooks everywhere from Cork to Mayo.
I can’t see the day wordsmith Richard Ford would last three rounds with Springsteen’s lyricism – but maybe it’s a marriage that could still go the distance.
Twenty-five years ago this week, an unknown writer unveiled Harry Potter to the world – a pebble in a Scottish pond that became a tidal wave across the world.
Packed with human struggles and ethical dilemmas, it preached a universal sermon where friends stand united even against overwhelming odds. It also had those lines that made it a classic: “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light.”