“Enniscrone isn’t a place, it’s a state of mind,” said the taxi driver as he drove myself and John from Ballina towards the edge of the Atlantic ocean for the Shore Writers’ Festival. Now in its second year, the festival for “young and emerging writers” is the brainchild of Elizabeth Reapy, editor of wordlegs. Having heard great things about last year’s festival, I was looking forward to checking it out for myself and taking part in a couple of events.
The sun was setting as we pulled up to our hotel. Sometimes hotels have names like “Ocean View” or “Sea Breeze” and you check in to discover that the sea is a tiny blue dot in the upper-right corner of your hotel room window. The Waterfront House is not one of those hotels. The ocean was right there. It was loud and it looked angry.
We headed to Shore Festival HQ, The Ocean Sands Hotel which was a short walk up the road. The first evening featured a smorgasbord of readings and performances from poets, fiction writers, and musicians. It went on into the small hours, but the standard and the variety of the performers kept the audience engaged, and Karen Maloney did a great job of introducing the acts and keeping things running smoothly.
I read “Ship Out On The Sea”, one of the shorter stories from my collection. Reading your work is always a bit daunting, but the audience was very receptive and nobody threw tomatoes, for which I am grateful as I was wearing white.
Of the readings, my personal favourite was Laura Jane Cassidy who read from a novel-in-progress set in the world of a Dublin literary journal. It had a lovely conversational tone to it and the characters drew me straight in. I’ll definitely be checking it out when it’s released.
After the readings, there was time to have a few drinks and meet some of the other participants. I met a lot of lovely and talented people. Oddly, everyone I met seemed to be called Steve. Even the women. There was a group of seagulls circling about outside and I’m pretty sure they were all called Steve too. A name change to “Steve Fest” may be in order if this Steve ratio persists next year.
On Saturday afternoon, day two of Shore festivities, I took part in a panel discussion with Michael Naghten Shanks and Dimitra Xidous called “Why Write?” which was chaired by Shane Mac an Bhaird. I threw in the odd comment about fiction-writing, but given that the two other panelists were poets, the conversation veered more in that direction. Overall, it was an interesting discussion and the interaction from the audience added a nice informal tone to proceedings.
On the way back to our hotel, we received a lesson in rain. This was not so much rain as a vendetta in water form. The rain was Liam Neeson in Taken and our faces were those bad guys who kidnapped his daughter. It was personal. That rain meant business. I had no idea rain could be that stabby. We tried to cry out, but the wind was in on it too and it stole our calls of horror and anguish. It took an hour of sitting by the fire, a steak dinner, and several calming drinks before we dared venture back out for more Shore festivities.
The evening was an enjoyable night of original theatre, with two plays, one by Laura Cleary and the other by the Risky Proximity Players. Once the performances were over, we got down to the serious business of partying in Apartment Ten. I’m not sure who was actually staying in Apartment Ten, but they were very accommodating. Much merriment ensued, the specifics of which evade me now. In years to come, there will be an abundance of Irish speculative fiction featuring this mysterious “Apartment Ten” where alcohol materialises out of thin air and hours flash by in minutes.
On Sunday morning, the storm had abated, and after checking out of the hotel we even managed to take a walk on the beach (which was slightly encumbered by my wheely-suitcase). The beach was full of people walking their dogs, and we could see surfers and swimmers in the ocean as the sun shone down and turned everything golden. We got a glimpse of what Enniscrone must be like in the summer months when stabby rain is but a hazy flesh wound memory.
On the journey home, I realised that the taxi driver was right: Enniscrone is a state of mind, but so is the Shore Writers’ Festival. For me, that state is tired but invigorated and brimming with new creative energy.