Writing is probably the most serious and glamorous of all art forms. Anyone who happens to come across one of the earnestly intense author photos which grace the covers of paperback novels and poetry collections will instantly understand this. If the black and white filter doesn’t give you a hint, the writer’s furious gaze and polo neck sweater will fill you in on the details. In my author photo I look like the kind of person who might go on Newsnight to talk about feminism or plummeting standards in Secondary education. I look like I take myself very seriously and expect everyone else to approach my work with equal gravitas. I do not look like the kind of writer who would accidentally turn up for a reading wearing my trousers the wrong way round. Pictures can be deceiving. Most writers I know are rarely serious and only glamorous under the right kind of lighting. If nothing else, our wee adventure to Dublin Book Festival on Friday reminded us that this business is one tenth glamour and nine tenths sheer, bloody graft.
Dublin Book Festival invited me along to read from Malcolm Orange Disappears about three months ago. A week or so later they emailed back to see if Hannah McPhillimmy, my terribly talented song-singing sidekick, would like to come too. This was a no-brainer. Road tripping with Hannah is a sheer delight. Over the last six months we’ve played together quite a few times across Ireland and though we’re not exactly the Rolling Stones and usually go heavier on the wine gums than the actual wine, she’s great old company in the car and fairly good at measuring out the Euros for the motorway toll. I’d go pretty much anywhere with Hannah. I’m not so keen on her keyboard.
When I decided to collaborate with a musician I didn’t think through the practicalities of the arrangement. If I had I would have gone for a flautist or, at a pinch, a regular guitar-weilding singer-songwriter. Hannah’s keyboard deserves its own postcode. It is roughly the size of a coffin and weighs more or less the same as fully-loaded washing machine. It is wheeled. Though the wheels are more inclined to inflict pain upon an unsuspecting ankle or doorframe than afford any ease of movement. It just about fits into the back of my car if the seats are lowered and it is sideways inclined to slip between the two front seats and nose the edge of the dashboard. Sudden breaking causes the keyboard to hurtle, (infernal wheels choosing their own moment to aide movement), dangerously forward threatening to smash through the windscreen and instigate the sort of horrific accident heavily featured on DOE road safety commercials.
Despite repeated and detailed calls to venues, warning our hosts ahead of time that we are bringing the biggest keyboard this side of Glam Rock and it will require technical assistance and, if possible, some sort of hoisting mechanism to navigate it up even the smallest flight of steps, time and again we turn up to find our hosts have envisioned a battery operated Casio rather than the behemoth we’ve lugged up two dozen stairs in high heels. As a result most every “gig” (and I call these music and spoken word affairs, gigs for I am unlikely at this stage to ever achieve my ambition of gigging in a proper band with CDs for sale like Del Amitri, for example), we’ve played has seen us red-faced and sweaty from the sheer effort of manoeuvring the keyboard from Point A to Point B. We are not, by nature, sweaty girls, but circumstances have not been kind to us lately.
Dublin Book Festival was no exception. Having left Belfast preternaturally early, (7:45am), for a midday reading, I had envisaged stopping for a leisurely coffee and service station pastry somewhere on the outskirts of Drogheda. The morning had other plans. First we were delayed for an hour waiting to drive through an enormous puddle outside Banbridge. Then we got lost trying to follow our map quest directions and stuck in the one way loop which keeps the uninformed motorist endlessly rotating round the edge of Temple Bar as if caught in the seventh circle of Hell. Then we found the right building but the wrong door and finally the right door but the wrong room. Suffice to say we were a little flustered by the time we arrived on stage. I then discovered that in my haste to leave Belfast I’d put my trousers on the wrong way and became lost looking for a toilet in which to rectify my mistake. The reading itself was grand but I have to say we weren’t exactly the most glamorous people in the room. Later there were other minor dramas, (lost cardigans, angry waitresses, a Toyota full of elderly priest blocking our way out of the multi-storey), and by the time we got to the end of a full day’s readings we were were too tired for after-partying and spent the evening watching the Late Late Show and eating chocolate digestives in our hotel beds.
Dublin Book Festival was marvellous. We were particularly enamoured with the free chocolate and the kind welcome from Julianne and her team of lovely interns. Smock Alley Theatre is a stunning venue and perfect for readings. We got to meet and hear some wonderful authors and catch up with old friends and Hannah did a particularly stunning job providing music for RTE Arena which came live from the Book Festival. I was very proud of her and almost told the stranger sitting next to me that I was her roadie, (I felt justified in doing this as I had fresh keyboard shaped bruises to support my claim). It was fabulous to be part of the festival and hopefully not our last opportunity to be included. Next year we are going to work on being more glamorous. Most likely this will involve locating a slave to haul the keyboard around, (internship anyone?)