Aspects Festival Preview

The Irish literary feast's 24th edition reaches out to new corners of Bangor with boundary-pushing events celebrating the written word

In the past decade technology has dramatically changed the way we read and utilize the written word but one thing hasn’t changed – people’s love of a good story.

The Aspects Irish Literature Festival, held from September 23 - 27 at various locations in Bangor, offers readings, workshops, multi-media events, a literary banquet and even a little hip-hop. 'It’s really story-telling in many different ways,' says festival Director Patricia Hamilton.

Now in its twenty fourth year, Aspects has always attracted major names and this year is no exception. Multiple-award winning poet Michael Longley, best-selling authors Colin Bateman and Sheila O’Flanagan and spoken word artist Polarbear are just a few of the stars sharing their words and the secrets of their craft.

Yet in essence, as Hamilton notes, the festival is about the grass roots of Irish literature. 'We’re very much about encouraging new writers and trying to inspire them.'

For aspiring cartoonists and comic-lovers, internationally-renowned illustrator Andy Hamilton will hold a hands-on Saturday morning workshop designed for kids both small and big in the Bangor Carnegie Library. And though the majority of events are ticketed the prices are extremely reasonable and many events are free.

'We’re trying to encourage people to engage with the festival, take part and come away with a really good experience,' says Hamilton. 'The core program of Aspects consists of traditional reading events but this year we have pushed the boundaries a little bit further, so there’s a lot of audience development.'

This boundary-pushing includes, for the bargain price of a fiver, admission to the rhymes and reason of Steve Camden, aka Polarbear. With appearances at Glastonbury, Electric Picnic and the Jazz Café under his belt, Polarbear’s hip-hop-influenced story-telling makes sense of the everyday in a magical way.

'You will be taken on a journey,' assures Hamilton. Polarbear will be supported by local performance poets in this Saturday evening bring-your-own event in the Festival Marquee.

One of the more outré events sees a world premiere inter-disciplinary adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis at Bangor Castle on September 24. With a new translation by writer Reggie Chamberlain King, music by Colin Reid and visuals by comic artist Debbie McCormack, this promises to be an unforgettable presentation of Kafka’s famous surrealist novella.

'It’s a really unique event and we’re really excited about it,' enthuses Hamilton. 'It’s in the Council Chamber which is a really beautiful room with wood panelling and stained glass windows so it’s an atmospheric setting.'

More so than ever, Aspects is reaching into new corners of Bangor. 'We’re using a number of different venues this year,' explains Hamilton. 'We’ve brought the festival much more into the town. We want Bangor to take real ownership of it.'

The Festival Marquee is down at the seafront but the events are spread across multiple venues, including the SERC College Theatre where Connor Lovett of the Gare St. Lazare Players will interpret Samuel Beckett’s moving work The End on Friday evening. It will also be the first performance the new theatre will have hosted.

There’s more Beckett on offer with MacGowran Speaking Samuel Beckett in Fealty’s Back Bar on Sunday. Irish actor and Beckett favourite Jack MacGowran recorded extracts of Beckett’s writing for the legendary Claddagh Records label in 1966; this is a rare opportunity to hear the original recording, with an introduction by Beckett enthusiasts Daniel Jewesbury and Fionola Meredith.

An absolute highlight of Aspects is the participation of one of Ireland’s greatest poets – Michael Longley. 'We’re very privileged to have Michael Longley at Aspects this year,' says Hamilton. 'He’ll be reading from his international award-winning book The Stairwell and I think that will be a beautiful event.' 

The renowned BBC broadcaster William Crawley will interview Longley before the reading, shedding light on the poet’s writing and inspiration. 'Aspects is very excited to welcome the likes of Michael Longley, Sheila O’Flanagan and Colin Bateman – writers who are at the pinnacle of their career yet we’re also recognising and encouraging the talent of those writers who are emerging or starting off,' says Hamilton.

To this end Aspects is delighted to introduce debutant authors Helen Nicholl and Jane Talbot. A varied and colorful program includes an evening of poetry, stories and song with Len Graham, Ciaran Carson and Deirdre Carson, a panel discussion on crime writing with Jason Johnson and Kelly Creighton and a screen-writing workshop from Colin Bateman.

Sports lovers should make a beeline for the Festival Marquee on Sunday where BBC political correspondent and author Stephen Walker will discuss his latest book Ireland’s Call, which traces the lives of Irish sporting heroes who fell during the Great War.

The festival finale, The Supper Room, will take the form of a sumptuous banquet with readings from Aspects writers, literary toasts and a few surprises to boot. This unusual, orchestrated dining experience in the North Down Museum on Sunday is limited to fifty people so early booking is advised to avoid disappointment.

The written word seems to be in pretty rude health: 'The interest in writing and reading events is still very much there,' says Hamilton. 'There are still so many people who want to write that first book. More and more people have that as an ambition and I am always surprised by the talent that’s on our doorstep.'

Aspects Irish Literature Festival runs from September 23 - 27 and is organised and funded by Ards and North Down Borough Council.