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I love going to book readings and book launches, so tonight was a bit of a treat as I attended the opening of the 11th Frank O’Connor International Short Story Festival.  This event, which is sponsored by the Munster Literature Centre, is located in Cork, Frank O’Connor’s hometown.  Now, those of you who are familiar with the genre of the short story will know who I am talking about since Frank O’Connor is an emblematic figure of short-story writing and is particularly known for his work on the short story called The Lonely Voice, which can be considered as an early attempt at theorising the genre of this genre.  But tonight, and the festival in general, was not about Frank O’Connor but about discovering short-story writers and hearing them read their work.

Tonight, I thus discovered two Irish short-story writers: Claire Keegan and Aidan Carl Mathews

Claire Keegan was launching her latest book, Foster, which is a long short story, although she would not call it a novella.  The significant thing about this short story is that it is published on its own and by no other company than Faber & Faber; you’ll have to admit that this is quite an accomplishment.  I have read that Keegan has been compared to John McGahern, and I can see where the comparison comes from.  As someone who loves McGahern, this could only be a good sign.  With very few words (isn’t that the aim of a short story?) Keegan is able to convey an atmosphere characteristically Irish, that of a Wicklow farm.  I have heard an extract, read the beginning of the story and cannot wait to finish it!  The reading was followed by a book signing, so I did the cheesy thing and got my new purchase dedicated.  I was wondering why it was taking so long for the queue to diminish, but understood when I got there: Keegan engages you in a little chat and personalises her dedicace.  Nice, isn’t it?

Difficult to match up my enthusiasm for Keegan, and I must admit to being disappointed by Mathews’s reading.  I just did not engage as much.  The beginning of the first story he read was highly promising though: “Once upon a time…”, although you know that it is not a fairy tale that will follow.  I am not giving any definite judgement because my attention after a couple of hours being out is slightly deteriorated.  Maybe his short stories gain from being read rather than listened to, and, from what I have heard, there is a lot going on.  I will come back to his stories, read them attentively and try to savour the words more carefully.  From what I have glanced at in the collection I bought, his stories start with a punch line, bringing you right in the heart of the story.  That’s a good start…