What We’re Really Talking About


Tonight I am having chicken super noodles and a Muller fruit corner for dinner. In my pyjamas. In bed. In approximately twenty minutes I will be asleep. It is only just gone eight. I have never been so tired in my whole life. There’s a reason for this. I think I’ve been to around two dozen literary events in the last ten days. This is not normal. Even for me. For the time being I have nothing left to say about short stories or being a woman who writes short stories or being from Ireland and also writing short stories. Or Flannery O’Connor. There have been a number of book festivals, (most notably Belfast Book Festival which I will write about properly when I remember how words work again), and a variety of other literary events featuring either wine and buns or tea and buns. I have enjoyed almost all of them immensely -particularly the one where I nearly had to do hip hop live on stage- but I’m quite glad to have a whole four day’s reprieve from talking about books and how to write them, (as if any of us actually know what we’re doing when we sit down to begin a story).

When someone places a mic in front of you at a Book Festival you’re generally meant to talk eloquently and with some modicum of wisdom about writing. Most writers eventually become reasonably good at this, though some never quite seem to get the hang of it. It has always struck me as a dreadful shame that time spent listening to such writers waffle on or read terrible poems about cats or war can’t be redeemed at a later point in life in a system similar to what I believe to be called “injury time” in football. If I was God I would invent this soon. I’ve lost quite a few hours already.

Before taking part in Book Festivals I attended many Book Festivals as an audience member, or “punter”, as we like to call them. I was under the impression that the eloquent and reasonably well-informed conversations taking place on stage were simply extensions of other eloquent and reasonably well-informed literary-based conversations taking place back of house and in the bar, post-show. Now, I know better. For every, ‘how do we read Kafka against the backdrop of Brexit? type conversation I’ve partaken of in the last ten days, there have been at least six slightly more mundane, ‘do you like cheese?’ type conversations. I have to say it has made my heart happy, and a little relieved, to realise most writers are really just very ordinary people, who happen to wear blazers and write things which make it to publication. This realisation has taken the fear right out of Book Festivals which is fortunate seeing as it looks like they’ll be my main social outlet for the rest of the summer.

Here, for the purpose of reassuring everyone that the average Book Festival attending writer is no different from the average Book Festival attending audience member, is a list of topics I have discussed with fellow writers in the last ten days.

  1. The merits of playing the two p machines in Barry’s Amusements Arcade, Portrush over the merits of playing the two p machines in the Amusement Arcade beside the chip shop which is definitely not as classy but has better prizes.
  2. Some combination of the following topics: I am broke. Are you broke? Where is the money? Ah, so there’s no money anywhere then. That’s a pity because I am broke. Repeated ad nauseum.
  3. Game of Thrones.
  4. The correct consistency of egg white in a fried egg.
  5. Where is the wine? Did you hear there was wine? I think there’s wine somewhere. No, that was just a rumour. There’s no wine. Just cheese and onion crisps and fizzy water left in the green room now.
  6. Should writers get people in to clean their houses? Could house-cleaning money be better spent, eg. on subscriptions to The New Yorker or more wine? Is the whole having a house cleaner v. not having a house cleaner question a moral debate? Might it actually be better to just sell your house once it has reached an irredeemable level of uncleanliness rather than risk looking like you have money to throw away on luxury items such as cleaners?
  7. “A Little Life” Have you read it? Why have you not read it? Did it give you carpel tunnel syndrome? (If you only read it in bed and place a pillow beneath your wrist you will be less likely to incur CTS). How many times did you cry during the last chapter, especially the bit where everyone is kind to Jude and he cannot accept their kindness?
  8. Does anyone have a biro/tiny Post-It note/glass of wine/Waterford crystal bell/copy of my book? (Usually uttered with some level of mild panic mere seconds before going on stage).
  9. Last brownie-esque one upmanship over who has given the worst reading of all time, (I once read to four people. I once read to four empty chairs. I once read to four empty chairs and then someone came in and sat on one of the chairs and died. I once read to the sound technician and he was playing Tetris on his phone the whole way through the reading).
  10. Flannery O’Connor. In all seriousness if you run out of things to say at a Book Festival you can just say the words Flannery O’Connor over and over with hushed reverence and most everyone who’s there will assume you know what you’re talking about. Flannery O’Connor is the Book Festival equivalent of Jesus being the answer to every question in Sunday School. She’s probably the answer to a fair few Sunday School questions too.

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