Dalkey was en fete last weekend for its first book festival. The glorious weather helped and the local merchants pulled together impressively. The quality of the events varied. You had to tread carefully lest you happen upon Maeve Binchy dispensing blandness (that Chesire Cat smirk with no substance behind it); or John Waters (looking like Rasputin’s less charismatic younger brother) offering his unique brand of wrong-headed righteousness. There was some diversion in the likes of John Connolly and Declan Hughes discussing the best of crime fiction and Bruce Arnold talking about the art of writing about art. David McWilliams seemed to be everywhere, dispensing good humour and positive energy. There was plenty of literary heft and intellectual substance with Declan Kiberd and Robert Fisk showing up. My favourite event however was the interview with Conor McPherson in the Heritage Centre. The interviewer was Gerard Godley who is a jazz man so we were entertained by a wide-ranging discussion rather than one confined to the minutiae of his plays. McPherson looks more like an accounts clerk in an IT company than a tortured artist and there was an impressive absence of arse about the whole proceedings. He was inspired to begin writing by seeing a production of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. He did make one revealing comment when he maintained that he had a strong sense of the wonder and mystery of being alive and that he tried to bring that awareness into his work. This is something we tend not to say in these empirical days – with Dawkins and Hitchens bringing us down to earth – so it’s refreshing to hear it from one of our brightest and best. What is the stars, what is the stars indeed.
The only criticism I’d have of the whole event was that demand for seats far exceeded space so they may have to lose some of the intimacy of venues like the Tramyard and the Idlewild Café to accommodate more punters. Let’s hope it becomes an annual event.