From Writer’s Week 2011

Writers Week 2011 (Extract)

The first person who speaks to you in Listowel this year besides the landlady is an old woman who is sitting on an Esb box outside the Listowel Arms, and she calls you over and asks you to go to the shop and buy her some bananas. And you look at her perplexed, mentally assessing her clothes and deciding she doesn’t look poor and wondering  if you heard her right and you say ‘Why?’ in a puzzled kind of way and she looks at you as if you were stupid and says indignantly ‘because I like bananas’ and you suppose that’s a good enough reason and you go  to the shop and pick up four bananas and the man in the shop says it’s great to see you again and you ask him about the old woman and he says not to mind her that she’s just a bit daft and always asking people for things and you put back two of the bananas and buy two for yourself instead and later you feel kind of guilty anyway and you wonder how long she waited to see if you’d come back.

And you find your friends from other years and other continents and the crack begins. When you think back on it there are so many events that your mind gets muddled and you just put them in the order that they come to mind. The one you talk most about is an American writer called David Sedaris. Your English friend Geraldine never heard of him but she goes along with you to see.

The Plaza centre is packed and then David Sedaris comes on stage and after he begins to speak you and Geraldine and everyone around you laugh for an hour and a bit and you can’t believe you never heard of this man until the day before you came to Listowel when your sister showed you a book of his short stories that her son Danny gave her. And you buy ‘Squirrel seeks Chipmunk’ to get signed for Danny, and Kathleen, George’s wife, has one she got for €4.99 in Chapters. You text your sister to check he doesn’t have it already but she  replies that Danny thinks ‘Me talk pretty one day’ is better and you get that one instead and it’s at least five euro cheaper and the next time you’re in town you are going to go to Chapters to see if they still have the other one for €4.99. And some of the other people in the queue are getting books signed for their adult children and the good looking lad in his thirties who has an armful of Sedaris books tells you that ‘Me talk pretty one day’ is the best of them and talks about him reverently as if he is talking about his guru. And you wonder how much else is out there that you don’t even know you don’t know.  And it’s a bit worrying really, that there’s all this other knowledge circulating maybe a generation behind you and just the odd bit of it filters through by accident.

And then David Sedaris writes something goofy and funny in your book and you think what a great gift he has for people and how he must love them and you think A.S. doesn’t really like people or maybe it’s just that she’s not comfortable with strangers which is not surprising I suppose considering her history. You rush over to her Reading in the Arms hotel and you are late after waiting to get your new bf David to sign your book and you are still mentally laughing at the message he wrote to your nephew as you sit down and try to concentrate on her voice. But she just keeps reading and reading and eventually you get tired of waiting to see what she’s really like in the question and answer session so you get up and leave and go out to the bar in the Arms for a coffee. And later you hear that she kept reading for an hour and answered questions very briefly and that a rude man stood up and said he was not very impressed with her reading and that she answered ‘then I think I don’t love you sir’. She’d flown in that day and at 5 the following morning when the big Monaghan man Patsy with the long white hair is holding forth in the lobby of the Arms about the time he swallowed his wife’s hrt pills, the lift doors open and out comes A with her suitcase to head for the airport and say goodbye to Ireland again. I suppose she’d got a good nights sleep. The session in the arms continues without her and the revellers may well be snoring in their beds at last as she settles into her transatlantic flight and who knows what she thinks of us at all at all.

And then there was Richard Dawkins in the big top of Fosset’s circus in the square further up the town. The big top and circuses in general seem to be a bit of an anachronism in contemporary society and you think it’s kind of funny that the evolutionary expert gets to propound his theories there. And Kevin Myers interviewing him is in top form and all around are the sections of tiered seating radiating out from the circus ring with 900 people packing the place and it’s a kind of beautiful sight. The lucky ones who got there early are hanging over the barrier at the front as if to get closer to the great man and there’s a buzz of expectation as we all strain to get a look at the main performers and they are sitting in two armchairs as if they’re at home in someone’s living room having a lively chat.

Sitting in two armchairs in the circus ring in Fosset’s circus in Listowel co. Kerry. Well as your six year old son said 13 years ago when you pointed out to him that your neighbour who is a pensioner had a new leather jacket: ‘You wouldn’t see the like of that every day!’.