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Seven things I learned at the Borris Festival of Writing and Ideas

The Carlow literary event provides plenty of food for thought

On a damp and sunny Friday afternoon, I drove from Killenaule, through sleepy villages, woodlands and pastoral scenes worthy of a Virgil poem, to the idyllic village of Borris, for the Borris Festival of Writing and Ideas. The festival took place in the grounds of Borris House, the ancestral home of the MacMurrough Kavanaghs for over 500 years. The house, set against the backdrop of the River Barrow, was, for that weekend, home to over 70 fiction writers, historians, playwrights, poets, film-makers, journalists, war correspondents and musicians. Here are some of the things that I learned over the course of the weekend:

Writers’ motivation for writing changes with time.

Joseph O’Connor used to write to share his vision of the world and inspire change where necessary. Nowadays, he thinks the first duty of a novel is to be beautiful. His latest book Shadowplay explores the experiences of Bram Stoker, specifically those that led to Dracula, the most iconic supernatural novel of all time.

 According to Lucy Siegle, author of To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing out the World?, every time we wash our clothes, we discharge plastic particles into the sea and unless we make drastic changes within the fashion industry, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the seas.

Fast fashion is at the core of the problem, with trends changing every couple of months and tons of clothing being launched onto the market with no thought for how they will be disposed of.

To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing out the World? asks us not to buy, consume or accept any item unless we can commit to at least 30 wears. #thirtywears is a social media campaign that encourages us to commit to this rule.

 War correspondents are brave individuals who regularly risk their lives in the course of their work.

They also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and often find living in peaceful times much more difficult than living in a war zone. Ed Vulliamy, author and war journalist, escaped injury in many war-torn countries but subsequently jumped off a five-foot wall on a peaceful London street, shattering the tibia and fibula in his left leg, in response to the sudden unexpected sound of a pneumatic drill that he mistook for an explosion.

Ben Anderson, another war correspondent and PTSD sufferer, could not find any treatment or therapy that would help him live with ease until he agreed to accept experimental treatment with MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, in the US.

This drug is purported to increase self-awareness and empathy. Ben found that combined with therapy, MDMA has eased his symptoms significantly and the results of two trials using this treatment method were so positive that MDMA may be a legal treatment for this condition by 2023.

 Donald Trump’s proposed wall along the border of Mexico will not stop the drug trading between the north and the south.

Most drugs are smuggled by the million people who cross legally every day and night. Global drug problems will never be solved until Western culture accepts co-responsibility. Countries in the Western world create the demand for drugs and banks in the Western world launder the profits. The result of measures to reduce the abuse of prescription opioids in the US has been to create a new market for heroin, with even more devastating effects.

 Sometimes, listening to a book may be better than reading.

Many people who do not have the time or the inclination to read a book are turning instead to audiobooks.

Kevin Barry likes to narrate his own books for audio, not trusting anyone else to portray his characters as authentically as he has created them and that have lived in his imagination for the duration of writing the book.

As a result, he sometimes finds himself writing specifically for audio. Barry performed an excerpt from his latest book Night Boat to Tangier, a story of two ageing Corkonians waiting for a night ferry from Spain to Morocco. If this short performance is anything to go by, then it is definitely a book to be listened to rather than read.

 Stories are a powerful way of putting a human face on a global problem.

Christina Lamb, war correspondent and author, has written many books about individuals who have endured or survived conflict. She says people will not be moved by statistics, no matter how shocking. Her most recent human story, The Girl from Aleppo, was written in conjunction with Nujeen Mustafa and describes Nujeen’s escape from the war in Syria in a wheelchair.

 No matter how hard you try, it is not possible to be in two places at once.

With over five events running concurrently, there was certainly something to suit all tastes, but the choice was dizzying at times. However, I left the festival with lots of food for thought and a reading list that will easily extend into next year.

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