A bevy of Writing and Ideas at Borris!

Writing Festival among the region’s leading ‘lit’ events

Once a year, the unassuming village of Borris in County Carlow becomes a hotspot for Hollywood names.
The marvellous Festival of Writing and Ideas, founded in 2012, has invited the likes of Pink Floyd, Dominic West and Cillian Murphy, among countless others, to share a personal dialogue with Irish journalists and commentators, and openly offer visitors an intimate insight into their lives.
Set against the backdrop of the idyllic Borris House and the majestic Blackstairs Mountains, the weekend creates a unique live hub of innovative minds, who mix and intermingle with the public in so relaxed a setting.
Michelle Heffernan caught up with Festival Co-Founder and Curator Hugo Jellett on the growth of this humble idea into an unrivalled festival of art, literature, film and even impromptu music performances…

The Beautiful Borris House is the venue for many of the festival's events

The Beautiful Borris House is the venue for many of the festival's events

MH: Tell me about how this festival began Hugo?
HJ: I started the Festival seven years ago with Vivienne Guinness (wife of Kieran Arthur Guinness). We wanted writers publishing new books to visit us on promotional tours. We found that, rather than having them talk about a book they wrote years ago, there was an opportunity to do more with the writers. We found an almost immediate appetite from the writers to want to talk about broader subjects. Then we extended it to musicians, actors, comedians…it morphed, rather organically, into a really extraordinary pulsating weekend of inspiration. It all happened quite quickly -it was so brilliant!

MH: Why did you choose Borris as the location for this festival?
HJ: I was working in the arts sector in 2012 and I saw how little really took place out in the rural vernacular. So little happens outside Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Kilkenny, big centres of art. I know that now, there are great events all over country, but they didn’t exist really until quite recently. There was no particular reason for it to be Borris House, although the Blackstairs Mountains and Barrow Valley do have strong connection with arts! It’s just a lovely place with a good hotel, tiny village and a couple of gorgeous pubs. What more could you need?

Actor Cillian Murphy will speak at this year’s event.

Actor Cillian Murphy will speak at this year’s event.

MH: The list of speakers already announced for this year’s festival is very impressive; John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) Cillian Murphy, Margaret Atwood, it’s just phenomenal. What do you consider when choosing speakers? Is there an enormous workload involved?
HJ; There’s no criteria. We just sit down, myself and Vivienne and say “who would we like to have?”!
Really, what happens is there are two parts to the programming; One of them is to choose speakers you’d like to come. For example, I have always wanted to have Robert McFarland (travel writer). So, I would ask Robert until he said yes and if he did, I would ask him what Irish person would suit speaking to him. Then we begin to piece together the kind of dialogue they might have.
(I have actually never managed to get Robert to come, but I live in hope!)
For the dialogue of the talk, we try to cover politics, current affairs, things people are thinking about and talking about. There’s also a lot of space just to hear artists talking about their work. The big piece of work is trying to pick the conversation starter. What topic can each talk kick off from and how can the dialogue continue for an hour? That really does take quite a lot of work.

MH: The particular atmosphere of the festival has been praised for its relaxed sense of community. What do you think contributes to this unique ambience?
Quite early on, we had a lot of big name writers and musicians, such as David Gilmour, PJ Harvey and Ian McEwan. Because we were such a small outfit in a small place, we just treated them all like they were guests staying in the house in a village. So they relaxed. And when they relaxed, they mingled with others. I think there was this absolute immediate and very genuine connection between the artists and the festival go-ers. The artists would sit down at a picnic table, next to a field of sheep and just chat to whoever was there. There aren’t the same kind of barriers that exist in a big event in a big city. If you come to the festival this year, you will sit beside the founder of Led Zeppelin. He’s in this village all weekend. You can talk to him if you want to. There is a lovely genuine human feeling about it. I don’t mean it’s about meeting someone famous. It’s about artists meeting the people…The same barriers that exist in cities aren’t at a picnic table with sheep in a field next to you.

MH: Do spur of the moment performances ever happen?
Natural friendships form between artists, musicians and writers. They never get to stop these people. But for a weekend they get to take a moment to stop and just look at a beautiful place. Ideas will hatch things will come out of it! Lisa Hannigan was in a talk a few years ago and just went off into a pub and sang her heart out after. Those sort of things do happen. The best times are when they happen ad hoc, without me even knowing!

MH: What, in your own words, makes the Festival of Writing and Ideas so special?
It’s all packed into one weekend, like a musical festival such as Electric Picnic. There are 75 speakers, and they’re all crammed into one weekend. You can come to a place for one weekend, and get that kind of intensity and exposure to actors like Cillian Murphy, writers like Donna Tartt – they’re all there and all there on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. If you’re in any way a fan of art or literature you’ll find it impossible not to have good time!

The Festival of Writing and Ideas takes place June 8th-10th 2018 in Borris House and Village in County Carlow. For a list of speakers and to book tickets,
visit festivalofwritingandideas.com

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