IT SAYS something about the ambition of Cúirt 2014 that an eminent author like Sebastian Barry; Irish fiction’s rising star Dónal Ryan; and the Man Booker winner Eleanor Catton, are among the major - but far from only major - names coming to this year’s festival.
The Cúirt International Festival of Literature runs from Tuesday April 8 to Sunday 13, and as well as readings from Irish and international authors and poets, it will also host book launches, discussions, theatre events, comedy, music, and a children/youth strand.
This is Dani Gill’s fourth year as Cúirt director and she outlined her guiding principles for putting the festival together.
“It is about delivering a quality programme featuring writers people are well aquatinted with, such as Sebastian Barry, Roddy Doyle, Hugo Hamilton, but also to present new and emerging voices as well,” she says, during our Monday afternoon interview. “There has to be a balance between these and that is what I always try to work for.”
Sebastian Barry, along with Adam Foulds, will read from his new novel, The Temporary Gentleman, set during The Great War, at the Town Hall Theatre on Wednesday April 9 at 8.30pm.
“The term ‘eagerly anticipated’ is over-used, but with Sebastian Barry’s new novel it is actually true to say,” declares Dani. “Sebastian is known for how he can read and deliver his work in public and his theatre background adds to this.
“Most writers produce a book around every two years, but Sebastian takes longer. He is a very careful, considered, writer. His slowness is deliberate and he takes his time for good reason to get fully into his subject - and he has a very dedicated readership. He is one of Ireland’s finest writers and a great export for Ireland.”
Dani notes that “2013 was a big year for Irish fiction”, and while Sebastian Barry, alongside Roddy Doyle and Hugo Hamilton (who share the Town Hall stage on Thursday 10 at 8.30pm) are household names, Cúirt also features two major emerging voices in Dónal Ryan (Friday 11, Town Hall, 6.30pm) and Eimear McBride (Thursday 10, An Taibhdhearc, 1pm).
Tipperary’s Dónal Ryan endured 47 rejections from various publishers for his novel The Spinning Heart, but encouragement from his wife to keep going eventually saw it published and be longlisted for the Booker Prize.
“For Sebastian Barry to say Dónal Ryan is ‘a magus of a writer’ is a big deal and it’s great to have them both at Cúirt this year,” says Dani. “People relate to Dónal’s writing because he has a great ear for dialogue and the way people speak. He can really capture a voice on the page, it’s almost as if a reader can hear the voices of the character in their head, and I think people relate to that - they know the kind of people he is writing about.”
Dani makes a comparison between Ryan and Eimear McBride, whose novel, A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing, won the inaugural Goldsmiths Prize last year.
“Both write about rural Irish communities,” says Dani. “That has been done to death, as has the subject of abuse, which Eimear’s work deals with, but I liked what she said in an interview: ‘These are our stories.’ No writer wants to write about abuse or the recession, but they are realities that have to be dealt with, and both Dónal and Eimear bring something new to these subjects, and found there is still more to be said and have added to it. That’s rare.”
Writers from abroad
Eleanor Catton, author of The Luminaries and winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize, will read at the Town Hall (with Rachel Kushner) on Saturday 12 at 8.30pm. “She is an exciting and essential new voice,” says Dani, “as well as being a literary work, The Luminaries is also proving popular with book clubs and reading circles.”
Also coming to the festival is Patrick DeWitt, who breathed new life into the western with his magnificent novel of two bounty hunters, The Sisters Brothers. He will be reading in the Róisín Dubh on Friday 11 at 8pm, with poet Holly McNish.
“Holly is very funny, very witty,” says Dani. “She has performed at music festivals, and has videos on YouTube and really built up a following online. It’s great to see her coming on as she is someone introducing new audiences to poetry.”
Another notable name on the Cúirt programme is London born, Irish raised, Canadian based Anakana Schofield (who will read with Dónal Ryan), the author of Malarky.
“Malarky is about a woman struggling with loneliness who then discovers her son is gay after seeing him carrying on in the barnyard,” says Dani, “although it is a very poignant story about loss and sexuality, there is a lot of brilliant humour in it as well.”
One of the most popular readings at this year’s Cúirt is likely to be Joanne Harris, the author of Chocolat (later turned into a hit film starring Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche), A Cat, A Hat, and a Piece Of String, and The Lollipop Shoes. The Briton’s new novel, The Gospel Of Loki, is inspired by her love of Norse myths and legends.
“Joanne has never been to Galway before so it will be good to have her,” says Dani. “The Gospel Of Loki is a fantasy novel filled with great characters and a sense of adventure. Her love of Norse myths began as a child when she discovered a book of stories in her local library as a child. She checked it out so often the librarian had to let her into the adult section to the rest of the Norse books.
“As a writer Joanne engages all the senses, she has a brilliant sense of humour, is a very warm person, and charismatic, and that comes across in her work.”
Youth events and the future
The Cúirt Labs is the festival’s youth strand and involves and follows the format of a conference, exploring a variety of ideas concerning not just literature but the arts in general.
“Young people from primary and secondary schools will have an opportunity to encounter people working in writing, illustration, graphic design, and other creative sectors,” says Dani.
Participants in the Cúirt Labs 2014 include actor/comedian Jonathan Gunning; illustrator Chris Haughton; author Gerry Boland; Dott lead singer and songwriter Anna McCarthy; video game developer Rhianna Pratchett; Moonfish Theatre’s Máiread Ní Chróinín; and writer Julian Gough. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.
With 2014 being the 29th Cúirt, next year is a major milestone for the festival as it reaches its ‘pearl anniversary’.
“Thirty is definitely a marker for the festival,” says Dani, “and the 30th anniversary will be forward looking, it will not be retrospective, we want to continue the work of previous years and celebrate by moving forward.
“A lot of the planning for 2015 has already been done and was done alongside the programming for this year. The programme will be ambitious, but also keep the core values of Cúirt at its heart.”