Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 5th 2013 Contents B1
If literature festivals were like rock con-
certs, then the headliners of the 2013
NGC Bocas Lit Fest were definitely
Jamaican poet and fiction writer Olive Senior
and Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh.
Like at any rock concert, there were floods
of fans jostling to hear their favourite writer
at the one-on-one sessions held with each
author at the annual festival, which took place
at the National Library, Port-of-Spain, from
Both one-on-one sessions were held on
April 26, the second day of the festival. Each
lasted for just over an hour, and consisted of
a short reading from each writer s work, and
then the author fielded questions from their
interviewer and from the audience.
Welsh was paired with popular T&T
Guardian columnist BC Pires, whose excite-
ment at getting Welsh into his clutches was
palpable. He began the session by quoting one
of Welsh s recent satirical tweets after Margaret
Thatcher s death, and asked Welsh, tongue-
in-cheek, if he felt that Thatcher s politics
were ultimately responsible for the success of
Welsh s first novel, Trainspotting and its
recently released prequel, Skag Boys.
Both novels are set in 1980s Scotland, where
the effect of Thatcherism on poverty was felt
deeply. The novelist responded in kind, inti-
mating that Thatcher had even been so kind
as to die just as Skag Boys was published.
"It would have been nice if she could have
held on for the paperback," he quipped.
Welsh writes his novels largely in a working
class Scottish dialect, brimming with obscen-
ities, neither of which has diminished the
work s global popularity.
This makes his work interestingly compa-
rable to Caribbean fiction, which also grapples
with the use of regional dialects derived from
several colonial and original languages. And
his work, which explores the really mucky
undersides of life, is very universal in its
"My mission as a writer is to look at how
people f--k up. What are the decisions they
made that allow them to fail?" he told Pires.
Welsh read first from Trainspotting, a funny
scene where the heroin-addicted protagonists
steal a collection box full of cash and can t
open it; throw in a bird-crazy mother who
tries to force her addict son to go cold turkey
by locking him out onto a freezing balcony,
a police chase and arrest, and the novelist had
the audience chuckling throughout.
Pires upped the ante, though, when he
pressed his own copy of the author s fourth
novel Glue on Welsh and asked him to read
a specific passage. The author obliged, but
reluctantly. And as the audience cringed
through the scene of the brutal torture of two
dogs, we understood why. Apparently, the
passage had made Pires burst out laughing
when one of the characters refers to what
they re doing as a "beach barbecue." This
writer must agree to disagree with Mr Pires
ideas about what constitutes humour.
Connection between the reader, writer
A few hours earlier, University of the West
Indies (UWI), Mona, Literatures in English
Department head Dr Michael Bucknor inter-
viewed Olive Senior and managed to avoid
any similarly uncomfortable moments.
After reading from her 2012 novel Dancing
Lessons---"I wanted to write a book to say
that no matter what your age, you can
change"---Senior spoke about being influenced
by the oral and musical culture of rural Jamaica,
as well as by the colonial British education of
her era. She struggled to finish stories as a
young writer, she said, until she allowed her
character to speak in her own voice, that of
a little country girl who speaks Jamaican pat-
"I use children a lot as a writer because it
gives you double vision; the child sees things
that the child doesn t understand but the
reader does. And I like the idea of challenging
authority," she said mischievously.
Although her short stories and collections
of poetry are popularly used in Caribbean
classrooms, Senior said she has no interest in
being a commercial writer. Still, she s conscious
that, "I write for a reader, I don t write for
myself. For me, the Caribbean space is a place
of resonance. When I read here, you re
responding to me," she said, gesturing out
into the audience. "You re meeting me
And in the spirit of that connection between
the writer and the reader, Senior graciously
consented to read Meditation on Yellow in
response to a shy audience request. The scores
of Sixth Form students in attendance whooped
The poem is in two parts, both a response
to colonial attitudes; but one is a re-imagi-
nation of life from the very beginning of coloni-
sation and the other is a more contemporary
response. Senior described it as "my very
favourite thing I ve ever written, ever," and a
large cross-section of the audience concurred.
"You cannot reverse/Bob Marley wailing/
making me feel/so mellow/in that Caribbean
yellow/ at three o clock/any day now."
Rock stars of the lit world
Olive Senior, Irvine Welsh...
The Sunday Arts Section's extensive
coverage of the NGC Bocas Lit Fest
continues inside this issue.
Jamaican poet and author Olive Senior at NGC Bocas Lit Fest 2013.
PHOTOS COURTESY MARIA NUNES/NGC BOCAS LIT FEST
Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh.
I use children a lot
as a writer because
it gives you double
vision; the child sees
things that the child
but the reader does.
And I like the idea
take top prizes
at Bocas Lit
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