Belfast Book Festival 2017


Belfast Book Festival is over for another year. It’s been a roller coaster of an 11 days. I’ve got bags beneath my eyes, an almost gone voice and a whole pile of new books I really didn’t mean to purchase. I’ve also met some great people I didn’t know before, (Lisa Harding, June Caldwell, Nuala O’Connor and a host of lovely and very enthusiastic older ladies who I haven’t a hope of remembering by name). I’ve heard some amazing writing, consumed half a pound of smelly cheese from the Green Room, stolen some biros, and become adept at sneaking out the Crescent’s fire exit when there’s somebody I want to avoid at reception.

I want to salute Keith, Pete, Gail and team for running a tight ship through out, yet always taking the time to make people feel welcome and included. This year’s Book Festival has managed to toe the line between quality art and inclusivity, and that’s no small accomplishment in a festival so jam-packed with events and writers. They also successfully executed the move from forwards to sideways set up in the studio. Change comes slowly in Belfast and, whilst everyone was a little shocked by this controversial departure from form at the beginning of the week, by the festival’s end, it was hard to imagine the stage at any other place in the room.

I always come away from Book Festival week enthused about books and writing, but also freshly in awe of our literary community here in Belfast. We may not have the budget of Hay or the bigness of Edinburgh or a fancy stately home like Boris, but it always makes me happy to hear visiting writers and first time audience members say how welcome they felt at the Belfast Book Festival. We’re very good at being friendly Belfast. Let’s make welcome our thing. Thanks to the BBF Team for giving us a space to celebrate books and people and good conversation these last few weeks. I’m already looking forward to next year. But first, sleep.

Here are some snaps I took over the last week and some of my festival highlights.

  1. Bob Dylan Bingo – the world has clearly been waiting for a way of combining Bingo with Dylan obsession. We gave Bob Dylan Bingo to the world this week and the world was exceedingly happy, (especially the man and woman who’d been waiting all night to hear Must Be Santa).
  2. So many friends with pamphlets – Zosia, Padraig, Olive, Paul, Susannah thank you for giving us your wonderful poetry. Perhaps next year you could spread your incredible talent out a little so I do not spend my entire eating budget for the week on poetry. This is the reason why I have eaten so much blue cheese from the Green Room.
  3. So many friends with pamphlets (2)– Look at you all doing wee sideways poems. Is this a thing now? How do you know when a poem will be well-served with the traditional portrait setting and when you’ll have to flip the page 90 degrees and go for landscape? Is the name for this a sidey? Have you considered diagonal poems?
  4. The Green Room – This year’s Green Room was extremely classy and contained a selection of refrigerated cheeses, Tunnock’s Tea Cakes, (sacked and pillaged pretty early on by myself and Lisa McInerney), and a pretty rocking mix of 1980s classics. Well done Green Room coordinator.
  5. Mr. Tangerine Flan – I think Hilary Copeland might have reached the peak of cake-based punnery with this bad boy. AND it was delicious. AND it was gluten-free.
  6. Sinead Morrissey– Friday night saw Sinead deliver her last reading in Belfast before she moves to Newcastle. It goes without saying that the reading was marvellous and all the emotions were in the room but it was particularly brilliant that the final poem she read was “Whitelessness,” because it is my favourite, and I had been playing Sinead Morrissey bingo in my head all night, hoping she’d read this one. (Me = winner. Me = also loser, on account of it being Sinead’s last poem).
  7. Oisin Fagan’s jumper – imagine what a rainbow would look like if you put in a blender. Then imagine what that mixture might look like if fashioned into a nice sweater. Then imagine how awesome that jumper would be if it was made of shiny, skin tight spandex. Stop imagining. This jumper is real. It was attached to the torso of Oisin Fagan during our panel on the short story. It was actually louder than the combined loudness of myself, Oisin, Nuala O’Connor and June Caldwell. This is something of an achievement.
  8. Chats with Keith – It is always good to chat with Keith. It is like watching the One Show – entertaining and every so often a little bit educational. This week Keith taught me about writing operas and politics and how you can get spontaneously pregnant if you are caught up in a bomb blast. He also passed me off as the host of a crime fiction panel and left me stranded and confused with a lovely, lady crime writer. As I said, both entertaining and educational.
  9. Philip Ardragh– You’d have to be a very grumpy person not to love Philip Ardragh. He has the sort of voice which makes children laugh and small dogs bark incessantly. He is about seven foot tall and massively bearded. If you are really tired after running three events back to back he will gather up all your felt tips and put them in order. We should probably have Philip Ardragh at the Book Festival every year from now on.
  10. Bad vegetarians – last year everyone was giving up smoking. This year everyone was giving up vegetarianism. Mostly the poets.

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