The Meyrick Hotel overlooking Eyre Square in the heart of Galway City played host to an evening with acclaimed writers Roddy Doyle and Willy Vlautin. In front of a crowd of some two hundred people both writers took to the stage and chatted interestedly to each other while waiting for proceedings to get underway. It was this genuine bon-homie between Doyle and Vlautin that made this such an enjoyable evening.
Vlautin was first to read, choosing to take a piece from his latest and award-winning (the 2010 Ken Kesey Award for Fiction) Lean on Pete. Published by Faber, the book was received to widespread critical acclaim and looking at the crowd tuned intently to Vlautin’s stories told in his endearing North Western US accent. Vlautin outlined how he developed his love of writing and thanked the influence of his English- teacher grandmother. Describing himself as a horrible student, Vlautin’s grandmother used to read him The Count of Monte Christo and presented him with his own copy of Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments, which set him on course to be a dedicated follower of Doyle’s work. In fact, Vlautin genuinely did seem star-struck to be sharing the stage with one of his literary idols.
As Vlautin introduced the character and narrator of his book Lean on Pete, the 15-year old Charlie Thompson, Vlautin explained how he did connect with Charlie as someone who took to the road to travel on the American highways and experience life as he would find it and as it came to him. Lamenting never having a pick-up truck or anything as ‘typically’ suitable to such driving, Vlautin never the less took the road in his ’82 Honda Civic and didn’t look back.
In his book, Charlie is a left to fend for himself by his wayward single-father and takes to the road in search of life, acceptance and also a sense of family normality. He ends up tracing the dirt-tracks of Portland, Oregan and gets work at the local racetrack. Here Charlie tends to a less than thoroughbred horse of the title name of the book. The story is rightly noted as being one of the reads of the year and sets out Vlautin as an author as credible and talented as he is a musician. His band Richmond Fontaine have released their tenth album and they played a sell-out concert at the Roisin Dubh last night, also as part of the Galway Arts Festival.
Roddy Doyle was introduced to rapturous applause. No stranger to reading at Galway’s Festivals, Doyle read at the 2010 Cùirt international Festival of Literature in Galway. Noticeably pleased to be on the bill at this year’s Arts Festival, he explained how we wanted to take a break from touring this year following the extensive promotion of his novel last year The Dead Republic, but simply could not turn down Paul Fahy’s offer to attend the Festival on the bill with Willy Vlautin. With tongue firmly in cheek he declared to the crowd he was delighted to be back in Ireland’s second best city! Doyle read a short story from his recently published collection, Bullfighting. The story, Animals, is a charming, funny and touching story of family life that can resonate with people from any background or place within the family. Mother, father, son or daughter, it matters not your age as all have those cherished, funny or even heartbreaking moments with those additions to the household: the family pet.
In the following Q & A with the audience both writers spoke candidly and indeed gave more time than you would expect to make sure everyone who wanted one got their books autographed and a few words of good wishes to boot. When asked about his writing style Doyle thoughtfully admitted he didn’t have strict guidelines he stuck to when it came to his novels or his short fiction. Simply stating he stayed at his desk in his converted attic “for as long was needed or until it is done, whichever came first”. He did however say he was much fussier at the drafting phase at least, with his short fiction, often writing a paragraph at one sitting, leaving it be and returning to it later. With his novels he would write feverously with the most work coming down the line at the editing phase.
The final question of the evening was put to both writers but fielded by Doyle. It asked where is the place of literature and writing for teenagers in teaching in Modern Ireland, which is faced with ever-growing technology, social networks and computer games. Doyle, himself a former teacher, suggested not to worry so much and outlined he has a lot of faith in today’s youth. He sees them reading a lot more than they used to. Their reading may not be big novels read from cover to cover or newspapers from front to back page, but today’s youth are extremely clued into the world and should be trusted. At his writing club for young people in Dublin, Doyle sees so many teenagers coming in and sitting and simply reading and writing for hours at end. Whilst perhaps less the norm it is still proof the desire for great stories is alive and well in today’s younger generations.
It was a fitting end to what was a truly great evening. As the crowd wandered from the Meyrick, Doyle could be spotted relaxing and chatting with a pint. It was off to the Rosin Dubh for Vlautin and a concert with his band Richmond Fontaine. It just shows there are few spare moments to be had at the Galway Arts Festival. I have enjoyed catching up with his music as much as I have with his writing and here is one of many great tracks by the four-piece alt-rock/country band based out of Portland, Oregan. Enjoy!