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Edna O'Brien @ Hay Literary Festival

posted on 31 May 2016

Edna O'Brien @ Hay Literary Festival

30th May 2016 was a lovely hot day and the Letterpress Project was in Hay to see the great Edna O'Brien. Perhaps the sun was out to greet the 85 year old novelist who looks remarkably youthful despite having to rely on her walking stick and, to mark her appearance, she also had a full house in the Telegraph arena to hang on to her every word.

O'Brien was being interviewed by Channel Four new's Matt Frei and the focus was on her most recent book, The Little Red Chairs, which is a study of Radovan Karazic and the psychology of a war criminal. Well, that was the plan anyway. But O'Brien is not one to be easily pinned down - she loves to engage in what you might call a creative ramble. She sets off to answer a question and gets overwhelmed by the possibilities of an alternative anecdote or a tangential reminiscence that allows her to shamelessly namedrop or indulge in a wicked indiscretion. We even discovered what happened when Edna O'Brien visited the White House by taxi and cadged a lift home from Jack Nicholson!

She only read one short passage and I could really have done with more - although I guess reading for any length of time to an audience at her age might be a taxing experience. It would also have helped if Matt Frei had done less on the genial host front and a little more to pump up the structured questioning. He lacked any real sense of seeking to open up O'Brien as a writer and was too easily satisfied with her answers - it reminded me just how crucial the interviewer is to a successful book event.

She  was happy to sign two or three books per person at the end of the event and so we left happy. Not the greatest interview we've seen but a pretty good way to spend a Bank Holiday Monday.

Terry Potter

June 2016