Sunday, October 05, 2008

Wena's Irish Adventure

Despite being excited about the opportunity to read from my book at Cork, I had my reservations. I've always had a horror of "lit fests." I was, however, relieved to find that the Frank O'Connor Short Story festival wasn't about writers preaching about "Literature" into microphones, or groupies lining up to get their books signed. It was about taking small, intimate workshops and learning from some of the most talented and generous writers in English fiction today. It was about chattering with writers and editors and getting pissed in the Long Valley, an old literary pub with faded lamps, night after night. And, best of all, it was about endless readings—which were really, at their best, performances—and screaming and giving high fives to the writers whenever they delivered a gut-wrenching, one-two punch performance of a story that just slew everybody. Together we rediscovered the oral tradition of storytelling, and for five days we experienced what the old bards already knew: the simple happiness of huddling together and telling each other stories over a pint or two.

By the end of the first night, I was delighted to find that the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Festival wasn't highfalutin. If anybody had any corners, they were knocked off. If anybody had any doubts, they were dispelled. We had—after many rounds of Beamish and Guinness—distilled the Frank O'Connor Short Story Festival to its very essence. It had become, as the American writer Jon Boilard calls it, the "Frank O." And whether we were world-famous, or not famous, or editors, or publishers, or literary agents, or writers, or poets, we had become a fellowship. It was as if Pat Cotter, the organiser, aimed to replicate in five days what a community of writers in Cork, Ireland, would have naturally formed in five decades. And he came very close to doing so. Good literary festivals inspire readers. Great literary festivals inspire writers. Thank you, City of Cork, and thank you, Pat. Old Frank O himself would have been proud..
Wena Poon's account of the Frank O'Connor Short Story Festival is published in Starmag today.

Wena also wrote a lovely email to Eric Forbes which I'm sure neither of them will mind if I quote from :
I hope your business people know that Lions was very successful at this festival, that editors asked for my next book, that the audience loved the story I read, and wanted to buy copies of this book that sold out, and what a great publicity this event has been for both Lions In Winter and MPH. I told everyone what a great publisher MPH has been in terms of taking the risk and promoting this work in Singapore and Malaysia.
To me Wena wrote:
I feel like I'm standing right at a live volcano of contemporary fiction watching the red hot lava flow past. The writers that I got to know are all amazing.
And then she asks the big question :
How, how can we create this in Malaysia?
(Top pic is from Wena's blog, bottom pic is of Wena flanked by fellow short story writers Carys Davis and Vanessa Gebbis)


gnute said...

Wena's experience at Cork sounds so wonderful! How inspiring. Thanks for posting that.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Wena!

- Tan Twan Eng

dreamer idiot said...

Very happy for Wena. What an experience and opening for her! Now the world has the opportunity to enjoy her stories too!

Anonymous said...

Yes, a wonderful beginning for Wena Poon!

mel said...

Very happy for Wena, but the article introduces her as a Malaysia-born author (twice) - isn't she Singaporean?

bibliobibuli said...

yep, mel you're right. my eyes glossed over the intro because i already had this piece ready to post thanks to eric. but that's a big boo-boo to make. i'll write in and tell my friends at starmag.

bex said...

Thanks for posting this, Sharon. I really enjoy Wena's writing too, and I'm glad she's getting the recognition and appreciation that she deserves! And I'm hoping she'll win that Singapore Lit prize thing too.

Oh and of course, thanks for introducing her to the world!

bibliobibuli said...

malini from starmag sends her apologies for getting preeta's nationality wrong ... oooppps!

Anonymous said...

I think you mean Wena's nationality, not mine, Sharon :-) .

Congrats to Wena on an honour well deserved! Can't wait to hear more about it in person.

-- Preeta

bibliobibuli said...

oopth! wena yes.