I am pleased to report of a rare appearance by J.P. Donleavy, when on the 29 June 2004, he gave a reading followed by a seminar at West Cork Literary Festival. The festival is held in the lively and unspoilt town of Bantry, which is surrounded by mountainous scenery and where spectacular views of the Atlantic can be gained.
Donleavy, looking fit and every bit the country gentleman that he is, first gave a reading to a packed audience in Bantry's small library, remarking as he took the microphone that his audiences are not normally so well-dressed! Appropriately, given the festival's emphasis on workshops and seminars for writers, Donleavy started with reading 'Tools and Traumas of the Writing Trade' from An Author and His Image, The Collected Short Pieces. The tribulations of the budding writer and the cynical advice from the piece provided much laughter, however, the last paragraph encapsulates the small triumphs of writerly perseverance. Next came the first three paragraphs from The Lady Who Liked Clean Rest Rooms, a book he was to tell us later is the most translated of all his works. In closing the lunchtime reading, Donleavy movingly read the final paragraph of his most famous book, The Ginger Man.
Donleavy willingly answered questions and signed books after the reading - some, making the most of this infrequent opportunity, had half a dozen books tucked under their arms. I also caught a glimpse of that fine photographer of Irish writers John Minihan, maybe we will see some superb photographs of Donleavy in the future?
At 3.00 pm we walked up the hill to the local school to take part in a seminar entitled 'An Afternoon with J.P. Donleavy' in which Donleavy answered questions for an hour and a half about his life and work. Fascinating and revealing, Donleavy informed us that his next book is entitled "A Letter Marked Personal" and will be published in a trilogy with The Lady Who Liked Clean Rest Rooms and Wrong Information Is Being Given Out At Princeton. As all of the stories relate to New York City, the title of this trilogy will be "The Singular City." When asked if The Ginger Man is any closer to be being filmed Donleavy replied 'I don't know if it will ever be made', then he gave a short resume of some of the actors who were nearly cast for the role of Sebastian Dangerfield: Peter O'Toole (the very first actor to be associated with the part), Richard Harris (suggested by Julie Andrews, yes, that Julie Andrews), and Ian Bannen (dissuaded from accepting the role by his religious adviser). We were all sworn to total confidentiality about the latest development, but as there were several of us in the room I hope Donleavy was not serious (I wouldn't want to be an adversary engaged in litigation with the man), anyway, Johnny Depp has informed Donleavy personally that 'nothing, but nothing, is going to stop me from playing Dangerfield'. One can only hope that Depp keeps to his word.
Among the other subjects Donleavy touched on were Gainor Stephen Crist (the model for Sebastian Dangerfield); the technique of writing in the first- and third-person; the theme of the big house in The Destinies of Darcy Dancer, Gentleman and the basis, from real-life, of some of its eccentric characters; Brendan Behan, who was the first person to read The Ginger Man and who helpfully left editorial suggestions on the original manuscript (much to Donleavy's annoyance, but who later followed much of Behan's advice); the difficulties of getting published, which become even more difficult for a published author; and the personality of Maurice Girodias, the first publisher of the The Ginger Man.
Donleavy was warm and funny throughout the seminar and again, at the end, was generous with his time answering questions and signing books. With the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Ginger Man upon us in 2005, we must ensure that Donleavy receives the recognition he deserves. While Donleavy returned to Vickery's Guesthouse, we took off to Ma Murphy's pub to drink Guinness, Powers whiskey and Cork gin to toast the memory of that wild Ginger Man.
Colin Overall 7/7/04
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