The Literary Tent (as supported by the Arts Council) has long become a focus of fascination for Picnickers drawn to Stradbally’s very own Latin Quarter: the MindField Arena. This year’s line-up promises yet another glorious rattlebag of poets, prose writers, provocateurs and punk pioneers, all beautifully complemented by live music performances in the most perfect of surrounds. Known for its pairings and considered combinations, the Literary Tent is the place where words and music chime, sounds sifting over Stradbally’s lush green acres, and reverberating far beyond its little MindField nook.
John Banville, regarded by many as the finest prose stylist at work today, winner of some of literature’s most coveted prizes (among them the Man Booker Prize in 2005 for The Sea, the Franz Kafka Prize in 2011, and Spain’s Prince of Asturias Award in 2014), returns to the Picnic this year to discuss his new novel, The Blue Guitar. Described as ‘a tense, fraught and frequently comic meditation on the intricacies of human relations and the corrosive nature of jealousy’, it is always a pleasure and privilege to hear John speak on the art of fiction. Joining him will be London-born author Tom McCarthy whose debut novel Remainder was heralded by Zadie Smith in the New York Review of Books as ‘one of the great English novels of the last ten years’. Tom’s 2010 novel, C, reminiscent in its writing of Bolaño, Beckett and Pynchon, and deemed by The New York Times ‘an intellectually provocative novel that unfurls like a brooding, phosphorescent dream’, was shortlisted for that year’s Man Booker Prize. Tom’s most recent work, Satin Island, an impassioned and exquisite novel for our disjointed times, has already been longlisted for this year’s award.
Joining Tom on said longlist (and at the Picnic!) will be Anne Enright, Ireland’s inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction, and winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2007 for The Gathering, a novel which deftly delineates the wonder of horror and love’s vicissitudes. Anne’s latest novel, The Green Road, a bold new work about a family reunion whose members ruinously fail to connect, has been described as ‘a brilliant, devastating, radical novel’ and, quite simply, a masterpiece. With Anne will be Mary Costello, acclaimed for her debut short story collection, The China Factory, and, more recently, Academy Street, winner of the 2014 Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book of the Year. Both Anne and Mary have new work featured in the forthcoming anthology, The Long Gaze Back, an exhilarating collection of short stories by some of Ireland’s most gifted women writers. The volume’s editor, Sinéad Gleeson, will be hosting this joint event with Anne and Mary, along with musical interludes from Inni-K, described by The Irish Times as a ‘smart and tuneful indie-folk singer-songwriter’, but who is so much else besides, as witnessed on her album The King Has Two Horse’s Ears.
Poetry is very dear to us at Electric Picnic, and we are ecstatic to welcome the first appearance in Stradbally of Michael Longley, recently awarded the 2015 International Griffin Poetry Prize for his collection, The Stairwell. Described by his close friend Seamus Heaney as ‘a keeper of the artistic estate, a custodian of griefs and wonders’, this will be a rare treat for Picnickers who’ll doubtless be enchanted by Michael’s special delivery of his own poems. Joining him will be his own good friend, Armagh-born poet, Paul Muldoon (hailed by the Times Literary Supplement as ‘the most significant English-language poet born since the Second World War’, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 2003), who will be reading from his latest offering, One Thousand Things Worth Knowing. And if this were not special enough, musical accompaniment will come from Frames fiddler, Colm Mac Con Iomaire, whose latest album, And Now The Weather, is such a rich bounty of tunes that are effortlessly cinematic and linger long in the heart.
Three of Ireland’s (and Wales’!) best new emerging writers—Colin Barrett (who won the 2014 Guardian First Book Award for his short story collection, Young Skins), Lisa McInerney (whose debut novel, The Glorious Heresies, was praised to the hilt by the Guardian as ‘an irrepressible volley of unrehearsed words from a brand new throat’), and Tom Morris (whose debut short story collection, We Don’t Know What We’re Doing, has just been published by Faber)—will be reading from their work, and sharing a little of the mysteries of story-telling.
Words and music go hand in hand for the majority of Picnickers, and sure to be a Literary Tent highlight much talked about long after the tents have been packed away is the pairing of New York-based writer and National Book Award-winning author Colum McCann (Let the Great World Spin and TransAtlantic) with singer-songwriter, Lisa Hannigan (Passenger and See Sew). Colum and Lisa have collaborated previously (along with Joe Henry) on the track, Invisible Hour, but this year’s Picnic will provide a very special (and perhaps unique) opportunity to hear them in each other’s company.
So far, so very special—but there is something even more wonderful to come: an event celebrating the recently published Irish Hospice Foundation book, sons+fathers, a volume inspired by Bono and brought expertly into being by its editor, Kathy Gilfillan. Joining Kathy will be some of the book’s contributors (among them John Banville and Colum McCann) in conversation with RTÉ’s Miriam O’Callaghan. Complementing our hour of chat, we’ll have songs from Carol Keogh (previously of The Tyco Brahe and Plague Monkeys) who’ll be singing her truly beautiful My Father The Jeweller, and, from Irish/US band, August Wells (and former Rollerskate Skinny frontman), Ken Griffin, his deeply nuanced and affecting, Daddy.
Continuing with the music and literary theme, we are delighted to present a discussion between former Slits member, Viv Albertine (author of last year’s remarkable bestselling memoir, Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys) and Newstalk presenter—and no songwriting slouch himself!—Tom Dunne for what promises to be a real Picnic moment, full of sparks and smart chat.
Finally, for all the family, we have two very special Children’s Books Ireland events running on the Saturday and Sunday of the festival weekend. These will feature contributors from the new children’s anthology, Once Upon a Place, compiled by Laureate na nÓg, Eoin Colfer, and due for release from Little Island. Saturday will see Eoin read and chat alongside his predecessor in the Laureate office, Siobhán Parkinson, and the poet Enda Wyley, with live drawing from author/illustrator P J Lynch (twice winner of the Kate Greenaway medal). On Sunday, Man Booker Prize winner (yes, another one! we have all three of Ireland’s victors at the Picnic this year) Roddy Doyle, will be present, alongside authors/illustrators Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick and Oisín McGann, and bestselling author for children and adults, Sarah Webb. Guests will tell tales, draw, and read from Once Upon a Place for the first time, giving families a sneak peek before the book’s October publication. The conversations will be moderated by children’s author (and former Director of the Galway Arts Festival), Patricia Forde. We will also have book doctors from Children’s Books Ireland very own Book Clinic, along with their Epic Monster Doodle artists, all running gleefully amok!
Electric Picnic’s Literary Tent is once again curated by Raymond Bell, editor of Possessed of a Past: A John Banville Reader, and the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Banville’s Booker-shortlisted novel, The Book of Evidence (Picador Classic).
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