Kit de Waal to open Westport book festival



Popular Rolling Sun Book Festival returns next month

Ciara Moynihan

Some might think the pretty tourist town of Westport turns sleepy once the autumn months take hold – but not so! The six-day celebration of arts and music that is Westival runs from October 26 to 31 – and hot on its heels is a four-day deep dive into the world of words, thanks to the Rolling Sun Book Festival.
This much-loved boutique event, a highlight on bibliophiles’ calendar for many years now, is returning at last after the restriction of the pandemic. Back for first time since 2019, it will run from November 3 to 6, giving everyone enough time to catch their breath after Westival and the shenanigans of Halloween.
The opening night of the 2022 Rolling Sun Book Festival will see writer, columnist and broadcaster Barbara Scully interview internationally acclaimed British/Irish author Kit de Waal in what should be a real treat for anyone who is a fan of the author’s work or interested in the creative process and what it can achieve.
De Waal’s bestselling debut novel, ‘My Name is Leon’, which was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award, longlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize and won the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award for 2017. Her memoir, ‘Without Warning and Only Sometimes: Scenes from an Unpredictable Childhood’, was published to rave reviews this summer.

Drawing on experience
Born Mandy Theresa O’Loughlin, De Waal was raised in Birmingham by her Wexford mother and African-Carribbean father. She worked for 15 years in criminal and family law and as a magistrate. She sits on adoption panels, worked as an adviser for the UK Social Services and has written training manuals on adoption and foster care.
‘My Name Is Leon’, about a mixed-race nine-year-old boy and his quest to find his younger brother, is set against the backdrop of the 1981 Handsworth riots. So compelling is the story that there was a six-way auction for the book between publishers, with Viking (Penguin Random House) eventually securing the honours.
Writers are often told to mine their own experiences to create convincing stories, and perhaps this is why the book has been so highly praised for its authenticity, drawing as it does on the author’s personal and professional experience of foster care and the adoption system.
“I was brought up like that, I’m mixed race, I have adopted children, I’ve trained social workers,” she told the Guardian in 2016. “In 1981, I was living in Handsworth in Birmingham, where the riots were happening at the end of my road.”
Reviewing ‘Without Warning and Only Sometimes’, Fiona Sturges described it as ‘a richly observed portrait of a working-class childhood and adolescence that finds magic in the mundane’. It charts a young life ruled by the contrasting personalities of her parents – her mother austere, quietly furious, her father gregarious and given to bouts of great lavishness – and many see it as a future classic.
Between her debut novel and the current memoir, De Waal has seen the publication of her second novel, as well as a young adult novel, a collection of short stories and an anthology of essays, poems and pieces of personal memoir, ‘Common People’, which she crowdfunded and edited. The latter brings together 16 well-known writers from working-class backgrounds with 16 new, as-yet-unpublished writers from all over the UK.

Sessions and panels
Other Rolling Sun events include ‘Murder She Wrote’ – a session in the Clew Bay Hotel that will see three of the country’s thriller/crime-novel authors discuss their work and why the genre remains so popular: Catherine Ryan Howard (‘The Nothing Man’, ‘56 Days’, ‘Run Time’) , Patricia Gibney (the eleven-book Detective Lottie Parker series) and Andrea Mara (‘One Click’, ‘Hide and Seek’, ‘All Her Fault’).
There will also be a panel discussion in Westport Town Hall Theatre on Flor MacCarthy’s ‘The Presidents’ Letters: An Unexpected History of Ireland’, with MacCarthy and David McCullagh, Justine McCarthy, Martina Devlin and Lise Hand. Each of these well-known journalists and commentators contributed to the book, and during the discussion they will share stories on their research into this fascinating aspect of our history.
Commenting on the lineup, Ursula Skerritt of the Rolling Sun Book Festival said the organisers are ‘delighted’ that the festival is back, saying they are ‘particularly happy with the great writers who will be featuring this year’.
Fellow committee member Maria Madden echoed Ursula’s words. “We’re looking forward to hosting some great writers in Westport,” she said, “and to seeing book lovers back at our events.
“We know some book festivals went ahead online during the various Covid lockdowns, but while we briefly considered doing that last year, we felt our audiences would have missed out on the chance to meet the writers and on that all-important experience of being in the room and having the chat with other readers.”

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