Event Review: Joseph O’Connor in Conversation with Martina Devlin

Joseph O'Connor @ The Dalkey Book Festival

Image Courtesy Of The Dalkey Book Festival

Event: Joseph O’Connor in Conversation with Martina Devlin
Location: Dalkey Heritage Centre
Time & Date: 3pm Saturday 19th June 2010


If the crowd at this particular event was any barometer, last weekend’s Dalkey Book Festival will be the first of many.

Held in the airy room at of the Dalkey Heritage Centre, the ticketed event was one of many that were held over the three-day festival. The venue, situated near the ancient St Begnet’s graveyard in the middle of the village, was the perfect setting for the celebrated local author Joseph O’Connor to chat about, and read from, his newest book Ghost Light.

In his gentle voice, a mix of south Dublin confidence and undulating Connemara tones, he explained how the seed of the story was planted in his brain as a young lad who regularly walked past the house in which the playwright JM Synge had lived and died on Adelaide Road. The local connections to the story are of course fascinating and the author had the crowd enthralled with his reading of a passage of the book in which Synge and his surreptitious lover, Molly Allgood, would meet on the train at Glenageary station and travel out to Bray where they could court with some anonymity.

Interestingly, O’Connor noted his own belief in the importance of a character-led story, however when questioned by the audience, it became clear how important theme is to him as a bedrock of his work. Whereas Ghost Light is clearly Allgood’s story, the universal theme of how we often carry the burden of another soul with us through our day, be it a parent, a spouse or a dead lover, was a fundamental part of the book.

A full-time writer with a young family, the author noted in an answer to an audience member that it takes him approximately three years to bring a novel from start to finish. He also explained how writing 5,000 words of a new idea is a good way of ascertaining if the idea has legs or not. He expects to put a number of ideas through their paces when his period of promotion of Ghost Light is complete.

Author and journalist Martina Devlin played the role of facilitator admirably, saying just enough to get the author speaking on a particular topic, keenly aware that the 90% female audience were there to hear this attractive man speak and perhaps to gain a small insight into what makes him the author he is.

Ultimately, the gathering was a nice mix of chat and reading mixed with hilarious anecdotes, in particular with regard to some of the author’s own historical editing errors. O’Connor had the room in hysterics with his opening reading, an excerpt from his book The Secret World of the Irish Male, which shed some light on the harsh realities of book tours for the lesser-known author.

It was clear when time was called on the proceedings that the audience would have gladly stayed another hour to listen to this entertaining local-boy-made-good. It wasn’t so long ago that his name was invariably qualified by reference to a more famous sibling. For sure, at the 2010 Dalkey Book Festival, O’Connor was the quintessential Irish male.