Listowel Writer’s Week, Blogging & Paul O’Mahony

First things first, everyone should read Paul O’Mahony’s description of recent events at the Listowel Writer’s Week over at the excellent blog of the festival which he runs in conjunction with Patrick Stack: Listowel Writers’ Week Fringe

The core of his narrative is this section:

I was on my way out of the Michael Hartnett memorial event at about 2.15pm on Sunday when a cross woman came up to me. She demanded ”Have you recorded that session?”

“Yes”, I replied gently – but my heart was starting to beat strongly as I experienced the woman’s anger, the rage on her face.

“Who gave you permission?”

“No one.”

“You are a disgrace. You had no right to do that” – the woman was very agitated and I was nervous.

She reached over and gripped my arm. “How dare you.” Her grip felt fierce. This was in front of at least twenty people including Christopher Reid & Anthony Cronin. I had never met the woman before.

“I’m from the Writers’ Week Committee for 23 years. You are a disgrace. You are not welcome in Writers’ Week.” I felt in a difficult situation: she would not let go of my arm.

Paul is calling for an apology and an assurance that non-one else will be treated in such a fashion again;

I do want an apology. I feel I’m entitled to a public apology from the whole Committee of Writers’ Week – because I want to be assured that the official view and style is completely different from what I was subjected to. I ask the Chairperson of Listowel Writers’ Week Michael Lynch to make this clear in public not for my benefit but for the sake of others in future.

Just to be clear, if Paul didn’t have permission to record the event then his actions, however well intended, were wrong. Both the poets and the owner of the property have the right to prevent him recording. He ought to have sought express permission.

But the reaction to his recording was hugely disproportionate. A quiet request to erase the file or to secure retrospective permission would have been more appropriate.

Paul has never and will never seek to profit from it, his goal is simply to share the experience and help promote the festival online. His fringe blog has been one of the few ways people could track what is a publicly funded festival on a daily basis without attending (something not everyone can do). It is manifestly A VERY GOOD THING for the festival, the poets, the writers, the attendees, those who couldn’t attend and the wider arts community in Ireland and online.

In an age where the greatest danger to artists is not piracy but obscurity, bloggers like Paul should be encouraged by festivals and supported by writers.

I’ll be sending an e-mail to the committee to that effect later today.

3 thoughts on “Listowel Writer’s Week, Blogging & Paul O’Mahony

  1. Very much agreed Eoin. While Paul is a lovely man, the balance here is that the onus is, unfortunately, on the blogger to get permission here and make it so that people know who they are and why they’re doing what they’re doing.

    I volunteer with events to (a) help, but (b) get access – there’s always a t-shirt, a lanyard, a pass that you can guess to signify that you’re there in a professional capacity.

    I agree that the lady from the festival’s reaction was wrong, but, if no one told her who Paul was, if she was ignorant to blogging, if she hadn’t been informed and if she felt it was her duty to stop people illicitly recording poetry – jaysis, even as I write this, it seems stupid – then I can understand – not condone, understand – the reaction.

    If you’re blogging officially, the committee needs to be informed, pass it and make it happen for you. The blogger needs to get in there and ask and volunteer and make people know what they’re up to.

    I’ve volunteered and blogged with upwards of 30 Irish festivals now – I help organise and recruit. There’s a way of doing things properly.

    I’d suggest the committee talk to Paul to make sure this sort of thing doesn’t happen again.

  2. I’ve been in this kind of cross-fire before and like Darragh has suggested, it pays to talk to the main speaker before switching on.

    It’s easy to unnerve people when they think their talk is going well beyond the space where they’re speaking.

    Sometimes it’s hard for people who live online to realise there are lots of people who view it impolite to type while someone is talking. And it’s even worse when observers take photos or record with a red light pointing at their face.

    I capture a lot of information through my cameras, digital dictaphones, and Moleskines. I don’t feel I’m actively participating in events when curtailed by an organiser forbidding my live tweets, shared photostreams, or time-delayed podcasts.

  3. Thanks both of you for commenting.

    I think that maybe there needs to be a change of attitude towards the kind of openness blogging either officially or unofficially can bring to a festival.


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