I’m a little bit sad this evening. It feels like I’ve been saying, “it’s the end of an era,” far too many times of late. There have been a lot of ‘lasts’ as I transition out of my role at the Ulster Hall and into something new. Change isn’t always the easiest thing to process. I’ve stopped counting how many times I’ve recently said, “gah, I’ll need a big glass of wine if I get through this day in one piece.” Today we had our last ever Literary Lunchtime. I got to read a short story alongside the wonderful Irish writer, Danielle McLaughlin and while it was such a treat to share a stage with her and get to hear a little more about her writing process, I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was something of a bittersweet experience.
I love Literary Lunchtimes. There’s a big part of me tied up in every one of them. I’ve been developing these readings over the last five years. When I first began literary programming I sat in the foyer of the Ulster Hall with Damian Smyth and talked about creating a forum where young writers could showcase their work, where audience members would be made to feel welcome and some of the stuffiness of literary events could be exchanged for warmth, humour, hospitality and all that good stuff. I think we achieved that and a little more besides. I think we made community. Part of me wants to be very bitter tonight, to ask why great projects have to end so abruptly and question the wisdom in other, more powerful people’s decisions. However, I’m not going to. I think it’s much more important to use this plateau point as an opportunity to stop and celebrate what we’ve managed to achieve through the Literary Lunchtimes over the last five years.
So heres, to being incredibly grateful for every one of the two hundred or so writers who’ve now read their work in the Group Space -some devastating us with their wordery, others making us want to claw our own ears off in frustration. Here’s to that one audience member in every event who raises their hand and asks a question which isn’t really a question at all. Here’s to the John Hewitt Society, loyal partners in custard cream distribution and wrestling wobbly pop-ups and allowing me to interview some of my all time favourite writers. Here’s to dear only knows how many books launched, birthed and inspired by Literary Lunchtimes, (and all the poems and plays and short stories and even songs too). Here’s to the crew at No Alibis for hauling their books up and down the Dublin Road and never once complaining. Here’s to my mum’s shortbread and Hilary’s homebaking and those lovely ladies who always, always stop to say thank you after every event, (you three make my day). Here’s to another John D’Arcy happening and the box of Bowie and that one time the Stephens sang “Desolation Row” in it’s entirety. Here’s to friendships formed and maybe the occasional romance and the way the microphones never quite work right. Mostly, here’s to you, Belfast readers and writers, it’s hard to be sad in the presence of so much talent and kindness. I choose to believe it doesn’t end here.
(These are some photos of my very favourite Literary Lunchtime moments)