00:00 Saturday 02 July 2011  Written by Jackie Keogh

West Cork literary week to draw crowds to Bantry for free, fun festival

THE West Cork Literary Festival is known for its innovative and eclectic programme that balances the interests of both the reader and the writer, resulting in a real celebration of the craft and enjoyment of good writing.

But what the West Cork Literary Festival is perhaps best known for is the fact that it is one of the most accessible and affordable festivals in the entire country.

Free readings in the library and local bookshops, an extensive free programme of events for children, as well as a hugely diverse programme that includes excellent workshop opportunities and masterclasses, are just some of the reasons this annual event is so popular.

Continuing their 'come one, come all' policy again this year, there is an open invitation to turn up for the official opening of the week-long festival by the acclaimed actress, Niamh Cusack, at Bantry Library at 6pm on Sunday, July 3rd.

Later that same evening at The Maritime Hotel, there will, for the first time ever, be a Celebration of Those Who Have Gone Before - a reading of favourite dead authors by a number of special guests, including Senator David Norris, Pauline McLynn, Niamh Cusack, Peter Sheridan and Tom Hickey.

This year, the main 8.30pm evening readings will feature writers of the calibre of John Banville, Michael Holroyd, David Mitchell and Hisham Matar, while actor David Soul, of Starsky and Hutch fame, will read the poetry of Pablo Neruda, accompanied by guitarist Hugh Burns, in St Brendan's Church.

On Monday, the author, Hisham Matar, will be conversing with Conor O'Clery, formerly of The Irish Times, to discuss his debut novel, In the Country of Men, and his recent highly-acclaimed offering, Anatomy of a Disappearance.

Born in New York to Libyan parents, Hisham's father, Jaballa, a political dissident, was kidnapped in Cairo in 1990, and has been reported missing ever since.

However, in 1996, the family received two letters in his father's handwriting stating that the Egyptian Secret Police had kidnapped him. Since then there has been little news, but last year Hisham revealed that he received news that his father was seen alive in 2002 in the notorious Abu Salim prison.

There is a great deal of interest in John Banville's star turn on Tuesday night because he recently won the Franz Kafka Award, which is given by the Kafka Society to an international author whose work is 'exceptional for its artistic quality.'

He is, of course, also the winner of the 2005 Man Booker Prize for his novel The Sea, and he was shortlisted for numerous prizes including the Booker in 1989 for The Book of Evidence; the Whitbread Fiction Prize in 1993 for Ghosts and The Untouchable.

John Banville will be introduced by John Boyne, author of the bestselling novel The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, which went on to become such a successful film.

Winner of the Lifetime Services to Biography Award, Michael Holroyd, will be in conversation with Carlo Gébler in the Maritime Hotel on Wednesday evening. He has written highly acclaimed biographies of Bernard Shaw, Lytton Strachey and Augustus John and his most recent book, A Strange Eventful History, won the James Tait Black Prize. He is married to the writer Margaret Drabble, who appeared at last year's festival.

On Thursday night, David Mitchell will be appearing on the main stage in The Maritime Hotel. In 2007, Time magazine named him one of the most influential novelists in the world.

He has twice been short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. The New York Times Book Review called him simply 'a genius,' and The Guardian claimed that 'each of his books seems entirely different from that which preceded it.'

He has written five novels including number9dream, which was shortlisted for the 2001 Man Booker Prize, Cloud Atlas, but also won a host of awards including the South Bank Show Literature Prize. His latest offering, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, has also been well reviewed.

David Soul, accompanied by guitarist Hugh Burns, will be reading the Poetry of Pablo Neruda in St Brendan's Church. The actor who made his name on the US TV classic, Starsky & Hutch, is also a successful singer and enjoyed many hit singles, such as Don't Give Up on Us Baby and Silver Lady, but he is also a successful director and producer, so he will have plenty to share with his audience on Saturday night.

There are still a few tickets for these events available online at www.westcorkliteraryfestival.ie or from 027-52788.

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