Thursday, March 11, 2010

Edna O'Brien in Hull

Magic was spun at the Philip Larkin Centre last week. Edna O'Brien, with that utter valiance of the true greats, made her first visit to Hull to spin her tales of Byron. The visit came in the wake of a hip replacement, but blow that, Edna had already had a trial run by following the new production of her play Haunted around Ireland and England.
Her new book Byron in Love is fresh out in paperback. For me this was a unique occasion, in which a foremost writer of one age reflects on a foremost writer of another. Both Byron and O'Brien were forced into exile and have led lives of some fire as well as blazing creativity. Edna's first novel Country Girls was burned in Irish churchyards, and it started a whole catalogue of her titles that would be banned in Ireland. Even this new Byron biography has caused contention - an American publisher pulling the plug and villificaion streaming in from Byron scholars who felt their territory was being invaded.
Fie on them, and hooray for books stirring trouble. My own books have got me into many a scrape so I'm sympathetic.
I come to these events thoroughly scripted. As Edna's lyrical response to my first question rhapsodized on a theme, I knew my prepared questions were already shredded. A full audience was brought in to the passion of the creative life, Edna's and Byron's both.
I'm reasonably undemonstrative by nature. When I opened Edna O'Brien's letter announcing she would make this her one performance of the year, I let out a whoop of delight and ran down the corridor with the news. We were graced by her presence.

(The photo of the afterdinner event at the Portland Hotel, who sponsor our writers' series, is by Sarah Walton. In time, a recording of the event will go online.)

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