Saturday, June 19, 2010

Immrama 2010 - another terrific weekend in Lismore

The 8th Immrama Travel Writing Festival has ended and it was a great success - I am still on a high after the buzz of all the events and the Eason's bag bursting with new books signed by the authors beckons from the sunroom table - a winter of reading is warmly anticipated, if they don't get me through the summer.

We had a blast - I am not going to do a journalistic resumé of the weekend, just dip in and out of what floated my boat - an apt analogy as Immrama is all about voyaging about in boats! The line-up was impressive as you'll know from my last post and the one from the launch, and there were some events and speakers that stood out more than others.

I found the deadpan droll self-deprecation of Sir Ranulph Twistleton-Wickham-Fiennes hilarious (with a name like that you'd need a major sense of humour!) and very engaging. He had the capacity audience of 500 enthralled with his tales of derring-do boys' own adventures, and was very open about his motives for doing expeditions - to put bread on the table, nothing loftier or nobler than that. He has written his autobiography and also a family bio, and some motivational books on fitness and endurance - he has been monitored and evaluated more than a recession-bound nation by the IMF. The elephant in the room of course (which he was asked about and duly elaborated on) was his digital self-amputation of most of the fingers of his left hand following a close encounter with Arctic water that resulted in frostbite and gangrene. He couldn't wait the requisite six months the medics demanded so off he went to the shed where he hacksawed them off - a messy job with the hand saw so he hightailed to the hardware shop for the Black and Decker version which did the business. All tastefully accompanied by graphic colour photographs, and not for the faint-hearted.

Today's Irish Times has a feature piece on him, and Immrama gets another mention . Manchán Magan wrote a nice piece last Saturday on it, so it's really arrived as a festival when it gets such national acclaim.

He seems to have been an impoverished aristocrat with a string of impressive titles and ancestry. That seems to be a pattern in such circles, and I still laugh at the description of the Anglo-Irish aristos of yore, in the post-colonial era so well described by Waterford's own late Molly Keane in Good Behaviour when she wrote about how the dogs ate better than they did in their shabby gentility lifestyle. Her father bought the dogs steak, a rarity on the family dinner table.

Homan Potterton wrote in Rathcormick that the Anglo-Irish were distinguishable from the Irish Protestants in the nascent Republic as the ones where the dogs occupied all the comfy armchairs while their owners shivered in their unheated big rooms, sitting on kitchen chairs. He distanced himself from these recent settlers and landlord classes, as a proud Irishman from a Protestant family with roots in Ireland for over four centuries.

Back to Immrama - we were very lucky to have an invitation for the premiére of a film on the life of Lismore's internationally renowned travel writer - Dervla Murphy - which was unique as she is such a private person. It had wonderful cinematography, and showed the moods of Lismore trailing Dervla through the Warren Path and down by the Blackwater as well as around the Old Market where she lives. It was a bit surreal to see familiar faces on the big screen - her daughter Rachel in Italy with her three daughters, Dervla herself, and Manchán Magan the film maker and writer/journalist who was in the audience - he was at Immrama as a visitor this year, having been the Literary Breakfast speaker last year.

We enjoyed Tim Severin on Saturday evening - he has been on some incredible voyages and writes novels now based on his experiences - the Viking Trilogy and the Pirate Trilogy - as well as lots of non-fiction based on his voyages. He lives in West Cork and is practically an honorary Irishman by now, and he showed some memorable film clips from his journeys, particularly the Brendan Voyage which explores the possibility of the Irish monk travelling to America centuries before Columbus.

The Literary Breakfast in Ballyrafter House was lovely - Damien Lewis was speaking about Africa and Burma where he has written the stories of some incredibly brave women of the Southern Sudanese conflict and the Darfur genocide, and the Karen refugees from Burma. A serendipitous moment was meeting his Tanzanian partner - we had a Kiswahili exchange - a bit rusty on my part but a surprise for her to meet someone in Lismore who could attempt to speak it! More serendipity was the link to previous Immrama speakers, as Tim Butcher

knows him and commented on one of his books.

A new name for us was Pico Iyer who is an amazing, softly spoken travel writer and philosopher who has written a novel set in Cuba and a number of travel books on subjects as diverse as the Dalai Lama and airports - he has been described as a transcendental travel writer - and he reminds me of Alain de Botton with his reflective take on the trivia of travel. He was with his Japanese partner Hiroko, a lovely lady with silk clothing to die for - she wore a traditional Tibetan dress with wonderful intricate weaving and fabulous wraps - and they live in Japan though they travel all over the world. They spent the weekend in Lismore so we met on numerous occasions outside of his talk and book-signing.

Jan Morris was another rare treat and a great honour for Immrama to have such a well-known and respected writer speaking - she is in her eighties and has led an amazing life, writing over thirty books on so many subjects and places. She spoke at Fortwilliam House, a Georgian hunting lodge dating back to the 1830s - a wonderful place now owned privately and offered as a venue for Immrama to stage an event. A marquee on the tennis courts was the perfect location for the 150+ who were there for the closing gig of the weekend - although rain stopped play on two occasions as the noise on the roof drowned out the microphone. Undaunted, she read from her latest book Contact! and followed it with a Q&A session with Pico Iyer and her friend and biographer Paul Clements, who was here for the third time doing a Travel Memoir writing workshop over the weekend. We had a chance to savour the delights of Fortwilliam House before and after the talk as there was a wine reception beforehand and we had supper there afterwards, with some of the other guests. The vistas of parkland rolling down to the river Blackwater are idyllic and in the glorious weather which Lismore had for most of the weekend it was perfect - rainshowers notwithstanding!

There were Poetry Readings for kids in the Park by Alan Murphy, a locally based poet, and Pippa Sweeney, Irish Language Workshops for Primary Schools by Áine Uí Fhoghlú, Paul Clements' Creative Writing, Poetry Slams, and The Molly Keane Short Story Award, all going on over the weekend. So there was something for everyone, and the Family Fun Day in the Park on Sunday afternoon is a firm favourite fixture, with Buí Bolg (Yellowbellies) from Wexford entertaining with jousters and damsels in distress, and face painters from Lismore's Foróige, as well as the talented band Carouse who kept the crowd going for the afternoon.

The Farmers' Market was buzzing all weekend and hopefully they had plenty of business, with a great variety of stalls from Jane's ceramics to Pie in the Sky treats, with lots in between. A real treat this year was to meet one of my fellow bloggers - Ann from Inkpots'nQuills via Wisconsin and Dungarvan who was here last year before we met in the blogosphere!

I should really break up this post into a few parts as I could go on for way past anyone's attention span (and probably have done so) but I just want to convey a sense of the weekend while it is still fresh in my mind. We had late nights and early mornings which took its toll in that I was running on adrenaline and tea all weekend - no alcohol whatsoever as I daren't risk a hangover headache - and I was pretty wrecked on Monday! Lucky it was a day off work for me, and I could chill and zone out a bit. We were in a different pub each night as the Festival Club diplomatically spread itself around - and it really felt like old friends came to call as we met so many people who were at previous Immrama weekends - including Manchán, Paul Clements and some of the regular visitors. One of the joys of Immrama is the social contact with writers, speakers, journalists, locals and visitors all together at the events and the social gatherings afterwards, and the great accessibility to the speakers by the general public.

Who knows how many more of you might make it to Lismore for Immrama 2011! You'll be guaranteed a great time and plenty of good memories - as well as a lot of new books!

I hope you like the photos - they just give a flavour of the wonderful weekend in a lovely corner of the country.

From the top:

  • Sir Ranulph Fiennes
  • Fortwilliam House
  • Audience at Ranulph Fiennes
  • Jan Morris, Pico Iyer and Paul Clements at Fortwilliam, and audience
  • Shayne and Jany with Sofia in the Park
  • Our sons with Ranulph Fiennes
  • Me and sons and Jany with Tim Severin
  • Larks in the Park with jousters
  • Damien Lewis at the Ballyrafter House Breakfast
  • Me with Pico Iyer and Hiroko
  • Jane Jermyn Ceramics at the Farmers' Market
  • Áine Uí Fhoghlú (Irish Poet) with Bernard Leddy, schoolchildren and me at Lismore Library
  • Me with Ann - bloggers united!


Musings of a Mother said...

Sounds like a brilliant festival. Such interesting speakers and a great insight into our history. I've seen Sir Ranulph Fiennes interviewed before - what a fascinating man!

laurie said...

WOW what a festival. which book will you start with?

Catherine said...

Musings - thanks, yes it was a great festival and Ranulph Fiennes was terrifically entertaining. Did you see the brilliant coverage the festival got in the Irish Times last Saturday? Cover feature on Sir Ranulph on the magazine, great publicity. Met the editor of the mag who interviewed him, lovely guy. Small world - great to meet such people as these writers.

Laurie - it was great indeed - and I don't know which book to start with when I finish my present book (Lionel Shriver's new one, great read) although it might be Sir Ranulph's family biography as they must be totally eccentric and fascinating.
All the best, Catherine x

Janet said...

What a super event. I'm really sorry I missed it.