Emma Donoghue Wows Audience at The Printworks

ImageOn stage at The Printworks, Emma Donoghue had everyone enthralled with a reading of an extract from her new novel, Frog Music. With a spirited delivery her words transported us from a well lit room in Dublin to the sweltering and smallpox-riddled streets of San Francisco in the late 19th century, as seen through the eyes of protagonist, Blanche Beunon.

After this the writer sat down with Edel Coffey to share many insights and anecdotes about her life and work. Of particular interest was the revelation that she uses a treadmill writing desk to both write and exercise at the same time, the logistics of which I couldn’t quite wrap my head around. The room was then turned over to the audience for a round of Q & A, where many an interesting question was posed and answered.

Talking to people afterwards there was a real sense of engagement and enjoyment which was evident by the long line queuing to meet Emma and have their books signed by her. A number of our bloggers were in attendance so expect more considered thoughts on the event very soon. A huge thanks to the staff of The Printworks, our dedicated volunteers and, of course, to Edel Coffey and Emma Donoghue, for making this a truly entertaining afternoon.

If you wish to find out more about Emma Donoghue and all her books, including Frog Music, then you can visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

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Update on Festival Events

RayDavies300DATEWITHANAGENTEMMADONOGHUE_MC_300AnitaShreve

We have a lot of exciting things happening this week.

Yesterday our Date with an Agent event concluded its first stage and right now all the submissions are being carefully read and assessed. The 75 successfully chosen writers will have the opportunity to pitch their books directly to leading literary agents on May 17th. Not only that but they will also be given invaluable advice and insight into how the publishing business works.

This week sees the start of our DWF-OFF THE PAGE series: two very special preview events happening before the main festival in May. Tomorrow, Saturday March 29th, Emma Donoghue will be appearing at The Printworks, Dublin Castle, and then on Wednesday, April 2nd, Anita Shreve will be at Smock Alley Theatre. These events should prove highly entertaining and informative as the writers take to the stage to talk about their lives and work. Tickets are still available for both events.

Remember that the main festival will be returning from May 17th until 25th, which means that this year you can enjoy an extended nine days of fantastic events. There is already a huge deal of excitement and anticipation about Ray Davies’ upcoming appearance at the National Concert Hall on Monday, May 19th. The rock legend, and former front-man of The Kinks, will take to the stage not to sing or play guitar but instead to sit down in conversation with Joseph O’Connor, discussing his life and his new book, Americana: the Kinks, the Road and the Perfect Riff

AND WHO ELSE WILL BE PART OF THIS YEAR’S FESTIVAL STORY? Well, we’ll have the answer to that question very, very soon. In fact, all will be revealed on Thursday, April 10th, when the full line-up is announced. Remember, for the most up to date festival news, keep an eye on our website or follow us on Facebook and Twitter. The anticipation is really starting to build here now for what should be a really remarkable nine days in May of inspiring and entertaining events. We can’t wait for May, we hope you can’t either!

 

[Flash Fiction] To Walk Where Once He Danced

To Walk Where Once He Danced Cover PhotoThe wrought iron fence still ringed the grounds of the ballroom as it had all those years ago. Back then even a half decent ballroom had been worth travelling a fair distance for and this one had been the best. Now, at 86 years old, Tom found little reason to travel, little reason to venture far from home and few enough places to venture to. Yet he had travelled today, a whole three buses and five hours’ worth of travelling. Now it was time to see if it had been worth the effort. It was still here at any rate, still standing, he hadn’t been at all sure that it would. Still here but time had exacted its cruel price. One time this ballroom had stood proud, shining and bright in the night, now it lay dark and derelict in the daylight.

Tom walked along the fence, rust had claimed it some time ago but flakes of black paint still clung on in places, pieces of better days. He ignored the warnings of the battered signs proclaiming ‘KEEP OUT’ in faded letters, and turned into the old car park. Each step he took with care, mindful of the tufts of grass, the weeds, and the cracked tarmac that they sprouted through. It saddened him seeing the place like this, years of neglect plain to the eye, the once grand entrance now boarded up, littered with beer cans and marred by graffiti. He didn’t bother even trying to mount the steps there. The plywood nailed across the double doors, worn and weathered as it was, looked far too sturdy for old arms to tackle. Instead he headed towards the back of the building.

The rear of the building proved even more overgrown than the front had. His feet found a roughly beaten path through the undergrowth. It led him to a back door, also barred with plywood. He tapped at the plywood with his walking stick, saw that it rattled a little against the doorjamb. In the gap between the doorframe and the wood he wedged the tip of his cane. Gripping tight to the cane with both hands, he mustered all of his strength and leaned in towards the wall. With a low groan the sheet of wood broke loose and fell to the ground beside him. He slipped the flat cap from his head and shook it at the air around him, trying to shoo away the dust that he was coughing out. When the air settled somewhat he stepped through into a small room and on again, through to the corridor beyond. The passage was dim, dusty and marked with more graffiti. His left hand he kept on one wall to steady himself and used his cane to push the rubbish at his feet out of his path. The passage brought him to a doorway that opened out into the ballroom. Breathing deep, he stepped inside.

Overhead the few missing slates let the sun shine through in spots of light. Long gone were the couples spinning in each other’s arms, replaced now with empty bottles spun round by the wind. The wooden floors that had once sounded out with taps and beats of happy feet now lay warped and twisted. No graffiti here, thanks be. The kids had left this part alone at least. He walked straight to the middle of the dance floor. His footsteps echoed softly but clearly in the still room. It was an empty room, any small thing of interest having been scavenged long before, empty now save for Tom and the memories he brought back. On the walls faded squares gently reminded where pictures had once hung. If any of those pictures had still remained he might have been able to find an image of the boy he’d once been or maybe the girl who’d taken that boy by the hand and taught him to dance in step with the beat of her heart.

On this dance floor Sheila had first slipped and swayed into his arms, into his life. This had been the stage for so many of their firsts: first words, first laugh, first fight, first tears, first dance, first kiss. He turned slowly in a circle taking it all in through half closed eyes, rocking his head from side to side as they had rocked their hips all those years before, side by side, in time to the music. He remembered when he’d looked into her eyes for the first time, not knowing that this girl would become the woman that became his life. A lifetime hiding behind a smiling pair of eyes, all the joy and all the sorrow, and neither one could’ve guessed it.

Sheila had been sharp in every way; sharp dressed, sharp minded and with a sharp tongue when she’d wanted. Not anymore though, those were all just memories. Memories were all that Tom had left and Sheila had none. Not fair. Her mind was clouded and getting more so every day. She held no memory of Tom, no memory of them and little recall of much of her own self. The past lay atop Tom’s present like dust, covering everything, and the future was dark, closed and ever shorter. For Sheila all three held no meaning, for her there was only confusion. She might not remember the life that had started here all those countless moments ago but Tom did, and this old dance hall still stood, battered and tattered by the years as it was. It still stood. A silent shrine to the songs of their summer days. The silence was suddenly shattered by the sound of heavy footsteps approaching.

“Don’t even thinking of running.” An authorative voice shouted. Tom turned to see a middle-aged Garda step into the ballroom. “I mean it now, if you kids make me… Oh!”

“Afternoon, Garda.”

“Jaysus, now you I wasn’t expecting. Who’d we have there now, Billy White, is it?” The guard asked, as he walked over. “No, not Billy White. You’re not from around here, are you, old timer?”

“No, I travelled a ways to get here. We used to do that when we were young, all pile into a car on a Saturday evening, heading off in search of a dance. This hall,” he said, gesturing around them with his cane. “This was my favourite. It was where… Well, it’s really sort of special to me and I just wanted to see it again.”

“Here now, we can’t have you in here, it’s bloody dangerous is what it is. Whole place is liable to come down on your ears if you sneeze too loud.” The guard’s eyes settled on the liver spotted hand that held the cane in a shaky grip. He sighed. “Look, I’ll tell you what, let me take you down to Hogan’s Pub and buy you some lunch. My Uncle used to work here, I’ll give him a ring, see if he’ll meet us. He might have an old photo or two of the place that you can take home with you. Okay?”

“He used to work here? Maybe, maybe I knew him once so.”

“Yeah, you never know, maybe you did at that. Now how about we get out of this place and grab some lunch?”

“Hmm…Huh? Oh, yes! Lunch, yes, and the photos.”

“Yeah, and the photos, of course.” The guard said, gently taking a hold of Tom’s elbow and guiding him out. “I tell you, it’ll be a lot safer and a lot nicer now to be looking at some lovely photos over a quiet pint than poking around here in this dusty old death trap.”

“That’s true.” Tom said, throwing his eyes about for one last look. “Maybe sometimes it’s best to remember things the way that they were instead of how they are.”

***

(Ciaran Tolan)

[Flash Fiction] The Last Day

The Last Day Cover Photo“Sorry, what did you say?” Oisín asked, stifling a yawn.

“I said: wakey-wakey, pally, gimme my payment and hit the pavement.”

“Yeah, of course.” Oisín said, fumbling in his pockets for cash to pay the cab fare.

Jet lag had taken a hold of him so he double checked each note to make sure he didn’t accidentally hand over a hundred dollar bill. Twice he’d done that the first time he’d been to New York. Twice bitten, he thought, and twice… however the rest of that went. He handed over a wad of cash. Bidding the cabbie keep the change and goodbye, he stepped out into a New York day. The cabbie got out too, threw Oisín a bemused look, walked to the boot, yanked out a bag and set it on the sidewalk.

“Figured you might need your luggage too, pal, even if you don’t think so.”

“Thanks.” Oisín said, offering a sorry smile. “My head’s a little messed up from the flight.”

The cabbie waved the thought away and was gone. Oisín really was feeling disorientated. He had expected to see Sadie at the airport but when he’d turned his phone on after landing there had been a voicemail waiting instead, with instructions to hop a taxi to Union Square and meet her at Starbucks. That was all. She had sounded stressed though. She hadn’t said much besides ‘Union Square’ and ‘Starbucks,’ but there had been a worrying tone to her voice. He had tried ringing her back. It kept ringing out. He’d meant to try again from the cab but had fallen asleep.

Sadie’s probably fine, he thought, I’m worrying over nothing. It was a sunny day and here he was in New York. With a smile on his face he looked around intent on soaking in the city. The smile faltered as his eyes took in the scene around him. He’d felt the crowd as soon as he’d stepped out of the cab. There’s always a crowd in New York, that bustling sense of urgency all about. He had felt that straight off but had been too spaced out to catch the mood. He was catching it now. The streets were packed with people, their faces distraught, pained and anguished. A sense of panic was in the air. He saw an elderly couple crying in each other’s arms. A younger couple approached them, to offer comfort it seemed but then they too burst into tears. All four wept openly in the street. Oh my God, Oisín thought, something has happened. Sadie!

He rushed across the street. Starbucks, she’d said she’d be at Starbucks. There was a line at the coffee shop that stretched out around the block. His eyes skimmed along, searching her out.

“Oisín!”

Thank God. Sadie offered him a faint, sickly smile under listless eyes. Twitching arms were folded awkwardly across her chest and he thought she might be close to tears. He threw both his arms around her neck and held her tight.

“Thank God you’re okay.” He whispered.

“I am, for now.” She sniffled into the small of his neck. “But it’s the end, Oisín, it really is the end.”

“Whoa, hold up now.” An angry voice shouted out. “No queue skipping.”

“It’s okay, she’s a friend of mine.”

“Oh, she’s his friend, that’s cool everybody. Yeah, nice try, buddy, I don’t care if you’re Jay-Z and she’s Beyonce, the line starts back there.”

“Ah, don’t get all bent out of shape.” Sadie shouted back. “Nothing to worry about, he’s Irish.”

“So what?”

“So all they drink is tea, that’s all they care about. Believe me, this guy’ll happily blather on this tea and that tea, and the right way to stew a pot, and a whole laundry list of other crap and in the end it still tastes like boiled wee in a cup to me. So I’m telling you: this guy, you don’t have to worry about.”

“Hmm” The guy looked down to the ground then back to Sadie. “How do I know he’s Irish?”

“Sure, you only gotta listen to him; he’s got an accent as thick as tar.”

“Okay, then.” He said, locking eyes on Oisín. “Talk.”

“Eh, about what?”

“About more than two words so we can hear if you’re full of crap or not.”

“Okay, em, my name’s Oisín, I’m from Ireland and… all I’m going to drink today is a cup of tea.”

“Okay then, Irish, but if I see you sipping on anything but tea in there then we’ll be having more than just words, if you catch my drift.”

“Understood.” Oisín said, turned away and whispered to Sadie. “Jesus, that guy’s really on edge.”

“Everyone is, now that it’s actually happening. I mean we all knew this day was coming but thought we still had time, you know, that something could be done… Everybody said it’d be six months at least before anything happened. Then they dropped the bombshell last night: today would be the last day. No more coffee for me, no more coffee for anyone.”

“Christ, how can you worry about coffee at a time like this?”

“Oisín,” Sadie said, giving him a strange, sidelong look. “What is it you think is going on here?”

“I don’t bloody know, the streets are full of panicked people, you’re talking about bombs being dropped…”

“Bombs! I didn’t say anything about bombs, nobody’s dropping any bombs. It’s the goddamned FDA that’s the problem. Last night the government announced that they’re instituting a ban on coffee, effective from midnight tonight. This is it. This is the last day.”

“Coffee!” Oisín exclaimed. “This is all about coffee, hell, I thought this was something serious.”

“You listen to me Oisín Higgins,” Sadie said, jabbing a finger under his nose. “And you listen good, this here is deadly serious. A bunch of goddamned pencil-necked, paper-pushing jackasses that call themselves politicians have decided to take away my life blood, that’s about as damned serious as it gets.”

“Okay, okay, I hear you.” Oisín said quickly, holding his palms up. “Calm down.”

“Jeezum crow! When they were handing out pen pals back in the day I sure wish they would’ve paired me up with a nice Columbian instead.”

Oisín decided, wisely, to keep his gob shut. They stood on line like countless others across the fifty states, all hoping for one last cup of coffee shop joe before the end, one last sip to steel them for the dark days that lay ahead. Across the nation on this, the last day, the streets were jammed with broken people: the poor, huddled masses yearning to drink caffeine. Soon the baristas would turn in their tampers and come the stroke of midnight, a person could land behind bars if caught holding an ounce of pure Columbian brown beans. Tomorrow the sun would rise on these new United States of America, one nation indivisible, with coffee, regular or decaf, for none.

***

(Ciaran Tolan)

[Flash Fiction] Insomnia

Insomnia Cover ArtAs you pass by this field, this cottage, its unkempt sceac, its thistled front yard, its dirt floor, where the bachelor Leo lies deep in his sleep, you know you had no choice. This pram, this lane, you have been here before. Or maybe it is just an old story, grown familiar through the retelling. Maybe it’s  all a dream.

You steer a steady course, the wheels either side of the lane’s rutted centre. Passing by the beech where the buzzard roosts, you walk faster, wheel faster. Into potholes, over bumps, a wheel-ya weila waile. There was an old woman who lived in the woods… You hum it without knowing, because it is your song.

Off in the distance, you imagine you hear another rhythm, insistent and steady as a heart: weila weila, weila weila. But no, it’s too early. No trains run at night. Your imagination is running away with you. You force yourself to slow down, act natural. Act natural in your nightie, with your dressing gown, hastily tied, now fallen apart, at four in the morning. Ha.

Those many limbs reaching towards you from the ditch, they’re shadows, they can’t hurt you. They can’t hurt because they’re shadows, and because you are beyond hurt. When one of them steps out into the lane, dark and shapeless, you stop as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.

All right there, Molly? There’s the wheeze on the voice, a whiff of Sweet Afton.

All right, Leo.

And what, if I might ask, has you out wandering this time of night?

I could ask you the same question, you tell him smartly. You move to go around him, to drive your pram past before he thinks to look inside. His boot blocks your
wheel. On purpose?

Sometimes the sleep evades me, he says, as if to himself.

Tell me about it, you say.

Awake again, you found yourself. Which sounds open-eyed, fresh. Awake! Not the thing it is, the murky weight of your clogging sinuses, blocking your nose, the ache at the back of your eyes. Eyes which you are keeping pressed shut, because a flicker could ruin it, and then you would not sleep at all. You open not your eyes, but your mouth, a mean little slot, enough to fit a narrow straw. There. You will be able to breathe this way. Deepening, belly breaths (but don’t think about them). At last.

Birdsong? What birds, from what dark realm? Because it is 2 am, you remember. Last feed. You got through it, because then you would sleep, both of you. You would sleep. Only then you didn’t sleep. You were awake. Again. In three weeks or was it months, you haven’t slept.  Across the room, he is awake, mewling and whimpering, some upset, some badness.

When they brought him to you, all swaddled in blue, he was perfect, the hint of blond curl, the steady blue gaze. But then, he didn’t settle, didn’t feed. He didn’t seem to warm to you. Maybe colic, said the midwife, but you were already beyond caring, a week with no sleep. When you looked into his eyes, steady and sure, you saw terrible futures, terrible things. A dream, you told yourself next day. A terrible dream.

You turn away from his sound. Your eyes remain closed. A sliver of moon will ruin it. Or, catastrophe, a reckless glance at the glowing red segments that are time, arranged in configurations that can lead only to despair.

You wonder about it, though, the time. You can’t bear the not knowing if there’s any sleep to be had. You risk it. Across the desert of  twisted white sheet the curtain edges confirm your worst fear. Dawn, the tasks of the day stretched relentless and long, punctuated only with feeding and crying. A brain fog, a blur. Not a life. Not again, you tell yourself. The red segments spell out only 3 am.

Not again, you repeat to the bathroom mirror. You’re a shadow, grey skinned, hollowed out, swollen breasts upon a stick. You’re no longer sure which is you, which your reflection.

You had no choice. Your story had already been written.

You manoeuvre neatly past the foot. But Leo swings around, surprisingly sprightly, causing you to speculate again about his age. He looks inside. As he lifts his head, he turns not to you, but to the sound you thought you had imagined. Weila waile, weila waile. A heart beating faster.

Where is he, Molly? Where did you leave him?

You are humming again. You have no choice. It is your song, your story. You know where it will end.

The goods trains, you remember. They run through the night. You did not mean to say it aloud. It is for the best. That is why you are able to push on past him, looking over your shoulder and telling him it is all for the best. But he is not there any more. He’s vanished. Gone flying off in the direction of the railway line, hoping to get there before the train.

***

(Paula McGrath)

[Flash fiction] Between Shafts of Sunlight

Between Shafts of Sunlight Cover PhotoTim stood at the cliff’s edge looking out over the water. A sharp wind gusted at his back, flapping his jacket’s lapels softly at his chin. A voice blew a soft ‘boo’ into his ear.

“Christ, Lisa!” He said, turning around. “Don’t be doing that, I could’ve…”

“Ah, relax, you’re miles from the edge.” Lisa said through a smile. “I’m glad you came, wasn’t sure if you would.”

“Messaged you back to say I would, didn’t I?”

“Aw, did you? Sorry, didn’t check my messages after, was deep in research, you see.”

“So, why am I up here?”

“Why? Because there’s something in the air up here. All my time spent seeking out the weird and the wonderful on the web not knowing it was here all along, right on my doorstep. Or cliff top I suppose I should say.”

“What?”

“Sheesh, Tim, didn’t you read the stuff I linked you?”

“Lisa, I don’t have the time to read half the odd junk you send my way. I remember reading something about strange lights over… Peru, was it?”

“Oh, yeah, that! Aliens, I’m certain, though might be willing to consider the possibility of ghosts.” Lisa said, her eyes lighting up. “We’re not in Peru though, are we?”

“No. So, c’mon, what did you drag me all the way up here for?”

“Couldn’t take five minutes to read the bloody…” She muttered to herself, took a deep breath and laid it all out for him. “Right, short version, so there’s this Australian girl, Kristi, that I know from this message board I’m on, well she messages me out of the blue and goes, “Oh, my God, so you’re from that Blackwater village, with the cliff and the wind that blows from another world.” So I was all, ‘What?’ Then she launches into this big thing and I’m thinking to myself if this was for real I definitely would’ve heard this before but later I asked my granddad and it’s all true!”

“Ah-huh.”

“So I jump back online, chasing leads and posting questions when up pops this email from Lucy.”

“The Australian girl?”

“No, that was Kristi, she set me on to all this, then Lucy saw something I posted somewhere and sent me on even more details. Really interesting stuff. First off there’s the Soft Man.”

“Soft man?”

“Yes, the Soft Man, who walks the cliff’s edge wrapped in colour and light with a voice that’s as the whispering of the wind.”

“So that’s who you’re up here looking for.”

“No, not really, I’m after the ballroom. They say the Soft Man comes to show you where blows the wind from out this world. Find him, find the wind, find the ballroom.”

Wind, ballrooms and soft men, Tim thought, if there was a way they were all meant to fit together he couldn’t figure it.

“Okay, well whatever about your soft man but there’s no ballroom hiding about up here.”

“Ah, but there is. Somewhere. The entrance is at least, trapped between shafts of sunlight or hidden behind a breeze.”

“If you want to go dancing I know plenty of clubs.”

“The dancing days are long gone,” Lisa intoned gravely. “The party ended, ages past, and empty now stands the hall. Only one soul still roams… You know I really wish you’d read the article.”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t. So who is this soul?

“The Veiled Mother in White.”

“And who’s she when she’s at home?”

“The woman who weeps and never sleeps,

The woman who seeks yet never speaks,

Forever nursing to an empty carriage,

Forever minded of an empty marriage.

With…”

“Alright, alright, I get the idea. D’you learn the whole thing by heart or what?”

“Yeah actually, I did.” She said, folding her arms defiantly. Her eyes held his, then bulged wide and lifted over his shoulder. “It’s him! Look, it’s the Soft Man.”

Tim looked to where she pointed. In the distance an old man was ambling along, head bowed into the wind. Lisa gripped Tim’s arm and started to walk. He held his ground and took hold of her shoulder.

“Hold on, you can’t go bothering some poor old chap.”

“That’s no poor old chap, that’s the Soft Man. He’s…” She frowned. “He’s gone!”

“Ugh, he’s not gone.” Tim said, turning again to look. “He’s…”

Tim couldn’t see the old man now. He ran his eyes along the horizon again. Where had he gone? Behind that boulder maybe, he thought, or… Behind him Lisa talked excitedly.

“Soft Man shows the way. See the Soft man, see the way, so they say, hee hee!! Well, I saw him. Is it enough just to see him? Hmm. I wonder if…”

“Ha. Hey, this is like a real life Where’s Wally.” Tim said. No reply. He turned. “Did you hear that, I said…”

Lisa was gone. He spun in a complete circle. She was still gone. That was impossible, nowhere for her to go except… Of course. She always pushed a joke too far, took stupid risks. He hoped there was ledge on the cliff side, that she wasn’t just dangling over the edge by her fingertips, afraid that’s exactly what she was doing.

“Not funny, Lisa, pull yourself up already, I’m not laughing.”

No answer. He took a tentative step towards the edge. The wind gusted against his back, nudging him onward. He heard Lisa’s laughter. His head turned at the sound. He blinked, rubbed his eyes, blinked again. He was sure he had just seen her laughter dancing on the air. He swallowed deep. The wind came again at his back, he dug his heels in but still that incessant force pushed him on. He threw his right hand back and felt resistance. Slowly he turned, staring at his hand in wonder. He raised his left hand beside the other, both resting on nothing yet something. Stretching out both arms he felt something give a little. He shook his head and bit at the corner of his mouth. Then he pushed as hard as he could. He pushed out, parted the wind and stepped on through.

***

(Ciaran Tolan)

Some things you can do in a bookshop that you cannot do online…

It’s debateable, to what extent, bookshops have really woken up to the challenge of online retailing.

They have certainly seen their turnover drop, for a number of different reasons. Some have tried to adapt, offering, for example, more ‘book-signings by the author’, but the response in general seems to have been somewhat anaemic.

While online can continue doing what it does best, there are many things the traditional bookshop space can give the reader that the internet will never be able to provide.

It’s important that these things are recognised and celebrated by those of us who are book junkies!

At the end of the day, it’s not all about price.

*

People can be observed as they are. The writer can be observed as she isn’t.

You can meet the scribe before she is shelved as ‘signed by the author’ in her own absence, first step on the way to singing the bargain shadowy basement blues@ 4.99 a pop.

You can encounter the books that have been lying in wait, just for you, it seems. These are not the same books others have read, in close proximity to the book you are now holding in your hand.

The other people are readers, just like you. They can have their personal recommendations shaken out of them with just a smile. The vagaries of memory can be set straight (Is that the author of?) there and then, something a computer screen will struggle with.

You can give the tired, overdrawn yet still cheerful bookshop owner a few bills to keep the show on the road, to make the space work for all the things in it that don’t work, way they are supposed to.

You can have a cup of tea or coffee, served up with a smile you can smile back at.

The token of your enthusiasm can be taken away, on the spot, without having to wait for the postman to find you out at work, a wet week later. The book is the book you are getting, not some other book, dog-eared and page-creased because something mechanically-armed bumped into it, in the warehouse.

At readings, words can be heard as a living presence, a force field of energy that isn’t quite the same when it’s served up on CD to the half-engaged ear. The mind can wander and be brought back to itself by a sentence. The listener can erupt onto a road in Rhode Island or hear what is to be placed on a stone table in Vermont, like someone who needs to be woken up, once again, to the story of herself.

You can leave, book in the crook of your arm, into the night, out into the city, with the author’s words still humming as a fresh sound in your skull, and a little something else that cannot be reduced to words: the finetime of hearing another world being brought to you, gratis, on the house we are all inhabitants of.

Pat Upton