I’ll be there, since I’d have to make an effort not to be there, and it’s very unlike me to make much of an effort at anything. If anything, it’s a chance for me to add to my list of stories about author meetings, if I’m not arrested, or worse, beaten up by Elif Sharak or anybody else.
This is the town where the kids are encouraged to dress up for Bloom’s Day (and about a stone’s throw from the James Joyce museum in a Martello Tower down in Sandycove — I have been asked to tell people not to throw stones at the James Joyce tower) and have a book festival in the spring and a “creates” festival in the autumn, and it’ll be infested with writerly types all weekend long. And (not to jinx it), it’s supposed to be nice weather all weekend, as if the gods of literature said, “Sure, let there be a bit of light, some sunshine, and we’ll see how many of these fe*kers we can burn” (the gods of literature are a bit more coarse in and around Dublin).
The Gutter Bookshop, from what I understand, will also have exploded out of its own premises and into the streets. Sure, you can’t buy any of my books there, but it’s still worth supporting other authors and your inveterate reading habit, anyway.
I really can’t think of a better place to be.
So if you’re in town and happen to see me, be sure to say hello, unless, of course, I’m stalking John Banville or arm wrestling Jennifer O’Connell or hiding in a tree, spying on the ghost of Flann O’Brien.
So, by pure chance I got to see Joseph O’Connor at the Listowel Writer’s Festival in beautiful Listowel, Co. Kerry, Ireland back in May.
But this makes it sound like a Bigfoot sighting. Well, this Bigfoot stood in front of a room of a couple hundred people or so. He talked a little bit about the way he writes, the way he wrote his last three or so novels (Star of the Sea, Redemption Falls, Ghost Light, The Thrill of it All) — which was painstakingly slow, audible, and meticulous. It was a great relief to those sitting on the other side of the podium that those books didn’t just pour out of him like some unstoppable torrent of beautiful whole cloth prose. And so he talked, he read aloud from his new book, and then adjourned to the back to sign books and meet and greet the punters.
Thankfully I’d thought to bring my bodyguard and number one bulldog along, who barged us ahead to nearly the front of the line. They didn’t think to give Joseph a table or chair or bodyguards of his own — perhaps the flak-jacketed, Uzi-toting sentries at American book readings and signings don’t translate overseas well — so he stood at the back of the hall, awaiting the queue like a Bigfoot at the DMV.
My bulldog/bodyguard prepped me — Don’t sound like a fool when you step up to meet Joseph O’Connor. I can’t tell you whether or not I succeeded. All I can tell you is I told him about Aer Lingus going on strike and causing us to miss our flight and be able to attend this Bigfoot sighting.
“In Ireland we call it ‘Ahn Far Lia More.'”
“Sure, why not?”
At some point I wasn’t talking to the Bigfoot any more, having retired, or been retired, by my minder, to the Listowel Arms’ hotel bar. She patiently waited for me to regain consciousness.
And I did, eventually. But that’s not *all* of the story.
When I recovered my senses (I would say it fell short of a swoon), I marveled at my newly signed copy of Joe’s new book, sipped my glass of Guinness, fraternized with my minder. After a time, as was our wont, we left the bar, headed for some night air when who should we spy, in that same night air, but Joseph O’Connor, erstwhile Bigfoot, brother of Sinéad, vanquisher of empty pages.
“Invite him in for a drink,” said my minder in an uncharacteristically permissive mood.
So we approached. The man stood, still, as if he resented ever bending his legs, given that his profession likely involves lots of that, smoking a cigarette, as you’re still allowed to do in Ireland. I was about to hail him with something no doubt witty, despite my minder not giving me the timely reminder to not sound like a fool, when Anne Enright, eminent Irish author and resident, leapt out of a nearby tree, or possibly flew down from the ramparts of the hotel. She wore a purple cape, stood about five foot even, when she landed, and was also smoking a cigarette.
“Ah!” I exclaimed, whether of fright or delight, I can’t tell you.
“Ah, this is Anne Enright,” said Joseph O’Connor.
I nodded. The great intertwined Æ emblem emblazoned on her jumper made that bit more sense, then.
She said somethings which traveled far too fast, far too erudite for me to catch. Puffed on her cigarette. I goggled.
“She’s an Irish writer,” Joseph said. “From Ireland…”
“I know,” I choked. “The Gathering.”
“Oh! You’re American,” she said. “The Americans know me.” She gave Joseph O’Connor a knowing look and a nod and pulled on her cigarette. Looked warily around the courtyard, the street, as if looking for trouble.
“Oh!” My minder poked me. I had also been scanning the street for trouble, purely out of peer (or if not peer at least proximal) pressure. Looked at my minder, at a loss as to what the poke meant. “I… umm.” The cape was distracting, as was the way it wafted on a nonexistent breeze. “Oh. Would *you* like to, ah, join us for a drink?” I also realized I hadn’t asked Joseph aloud to join us, so I turned to him and awkwardly bowed in a way that I suppose meant that the question was also for himself.
Anne Enright shook her head solemnly. The cigarette flung its ash in a small arc. Joseph was also shaking his head.
“Maybe later,” they said, “we’ll see you in there. But for now…” They looked at each other, stubbed out their cigarettes and flew off into the still bright Irish night air.
Thought I heard them discussing the hassles of moving house in the Dublin suburbs as they receded into the distance.
As we watched them fly out of sight, Kevin Barry emerged from the shadows of a bush people had been pouring the remains of their drinks and spent cigarette butts into. He cackled like a madman and wore a gravity-defying mask. He scuttled towards the hotel, but was tackled before he could get to the door by a spry David Mitchell, who apologized for butting in, being English, but he lived just down the road, you see. Kevin Barry was tumbled into the open door of a gray van, which appeared to have the ghost of Seamus Heaney at the wheel, a disgruntled John Banville/Benjamin Black seated in the passenger seat.
The thing that surprised me, and the members of the first few rows, which became a Sea World-esque no-go zone, the most was the amount of blood.
I had no idea that Christopher Moore and Carl Hiaasen were mortal enemies and that Books Inc. had obviously thrown them together for the sheer spectacle of it all. The hordes of TMZ cameras out front should have clued me in that it was going to be that kind of an event. But the afternoon began harmlessly enough, the two authors striding out onto the stage from opposite wings of the stage, faces going only slightly sour as they saw the other man. Carl spotted Christopher first, as Christopher was busy waving to the audience, who were chanting his name and stomping their feet, for some reason. And the first hint that the conversation would not go quite as expected was when Carl sprinted across the stage and flung himself at Christopher, the force of which knocked the two men down, sent Mr. Moore’s microphone pack flying into the third row, raising an unsightly gash on an attendee’s forehead. While the two men tussled on the floor, rocking back and forth as one then the other gained the upper hand, raining body blows down on each other, the AV guy attempted to re-fit a microphone pack onto Christopher, which he did, though I’m fairly certain he received a cracked rib or two for his trouble.
While he was up there the AV guy also confiscated a pair of brass knuckles from Mr. Hiaasen, who wasn’t expecting Christopher Moore on stage with him, but simply carries brass knuckles around with him at all times “just in case.”
After the initial brawl the MC did a commendable job of getting the two settled in their respective chairs. The Books Inc. event organizer would later say that, hindsight being 20-20, they would have put more than a small side table and two bottles of water between the two, had they known it was going to escalate *that* quickly.
Through gritted teeth which you could hear thanks to the quick work of the AV guy, Christopher Moore asked Carl a few questions, mostly focused on his personal life and allegations of unspeakable acts with monkeys (hence the title of his new book, quipped Mr. Moore). He asked whether or not Carl knew of the fatwa issued against himself by the Floridian government.
It was this question that seemed to have set something off in Christopher Moore’s mind, and, instead of waiting for the answer, he leapt from his seat, a particularly painful maneuver, considering Chris had suffered a torn ACL in the earlier fight, and attempted to karate kick Carl Hiaasen. I say attempted because, at that moment, the MC threw two stainless steel kitchen knives onto the stage, one of which struck Mr. Hiaasen in the left temple, causing him to duck away in pain. The karate kick missed, whistling over the ducking head of Mr. Hiaasen, and the look on Mr. Moore’s face revealed that he had expected his opponent to be less spry than he was proving. Which is a shame, because while he was processing this new data about his fight he failed to appreciate the karate kick he had just performed, which would have felled a man much, much taller than himself.
Carl Hiaasen parlayed his duck into a very elegant tuck and roll across the floor, kneeing a bottle of water off the side table he was rolling past. The water was thrust into the air, tumbling over and over until it landed in Carl’s left hand as he finally righted himself and took a triumphant swig.
The event organizers took this natural pause in the conversation to tie the kitchen knives to the authors’ hands with duct tape, the handlers on Christopher Moore’s side having more trouble with their charge because he had decided that the best approach to this wily fighter he faced would be to attack aggressively.
The knives were attached and the two men attacked each other with the vigor of authors much younger than themselves (I’m thinking of the 12 year old authors in the death matches they televise on ESPN 4 and the creative violence they exhibit). The first few rows were evacuated after the Books Inc. staff noticed a few of them collecting the blood of the writers in vials, presumably to sell or splash on their books in lieu of signed copies. From the back of the room people were encouraged to throw glassware and spoons, for some reason, and I regret to admit that I engaged in throwing a spoon or two when the bartender explained that they simply had too many spoons and wanted to get rid of a few.
At the sound of the commotion the TMZ crew, who had been waiting outside patiently, tending to sick children and puppies while they loitered, rushed inside, sweeping out the remainder of the audience like an incoming wave, where we then went on with the rest of our business for the day.
I do not know which, if either, author survived the conversation, but would like to thank Books Inc. and the authors for a memorable event.*