Macdonald tops Moth’s new literary festival

LITERARY Award winning poets and writers lined up for Hilton Park three day event

One of the world’s leading nature writers is amongst the stellar line up for a new literary festival hosted by The Moth magazine at Hilton Park next weekend.

The arts magazine run by Rebecca O’Connor and Will Govan have joined forces with stately house in Scotshouse for what’s billed as “an intimate festival of literary delights”. The line-up lives up to the billing: award-winning writers Wendy Erskine, Nicole Flattery, Fiona Benson, Stephen Sexton and Helen Macdonald – alongside music by beloved violinist Vladimir Jablokov on Saturday evening.

There is a bar at the venue and they will have a reception for an hour before the reading, and the bar will remain open afterwards.

“The idea is we make it a really special and intimate gathering,” begins Rebecca. “Usually if you go to see a writer, they are on the stage and you are in the audience very separate from them. We wanted to bring it down to a level where people can intermingle with the writers and chat to them, and talk to them about their writing.”

The festival guests have all been interviewed before by Will for the respected magazine, and they are looking forward to being reacquainted over three evenings. The Drumlane based artist is passionate about nature so the discussion with Helen Macdonald in particular should be fascinating encounter.

Macdonald’s novel H is for Hawk has won numerous awards, including the Samuel Johnson Prize, the Costa Book of the Year, the Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger in France, and it was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award in the US. She will also read from her bestselling Vesper Flights, a transcendent collection of essays about the human relationship to the natural world.

“We are incredibly excited to have Helen Macdonald,” says Rebecca. “She is one of the leading nature writers in the world at this stage, and the fact it is at Hilton Park, which is one of only a handful wildlife estates in Ireland, is really lovely.

“She is a wonderful writer. She judged our Moth nature writing prize this year, and in fact we will be announcing the winner just before she arrives.”

The other writers on the billing are also fabulous talents.

“The poets are amazing award-winning poets. Stephen Sexton is on his way up – he’s been compared to Seamus Heaney. He’s a really confident poet, his poetry is so powerful.

“Fiona Benson is a multi-award winning poet from the UK,” she adds.

Benson’s collections have been shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize in 2015 and 2019 and Vertigo and host won the Forward Prizes for best collection and best single poem.

“The two writers on the Friday night – Wendy Erskine and Nicole Flattery – are two really exciting, young short story writers. They both have first collections out and they are were both really well received with glowing reviews from Sally Rooney and Kevin Barry. Nicole has a novel coming out next year with Bloomsbury. So we are absolutely thrilled with the line-up.”

For those who aren’t familiar with the setting, the 400-acre Hilton Park is one of only four accredited wildlife estates in Ireland. Three generations of the Madden family now live and work on it. The emphasis is on sustainability as they try to conserve their rare and diverse natural habitat. They run a biodynamic farm and kitchen garden, there are beehives in the walled garden, and their free-range pigs forage through acres of woodland and bramble.

Apart from its natural beauty, the estate holds special significance for Will and Rebecca who launched their arts magazine at the legendary Flat Lake Festival back in 2010.

“We are going back to Hilton Park where we launched the magazine originally. Sadly we missed out in he 10 year celebrations because of Covid, so this is some consolation - that we are able to have this intimate event is really nice,” says Will.

The Celt wonders if this will be the first of many Moth Literary Festivals.

“We’ll see. It will be really interesting to see how we get on, and it would be lovely to entertain doing something there again,” says Will.

With Covid-19 cases on the rise again, Will and Rebecca are eager to assure that all Covid regulations will be adhered to, and proof of vaccine certificate will be required. The venue at Hilton Park is a spacious room, which often hosts weddings and there will be a capacity of 50 at each evening. “We are keeping numbers low and there should be plenty of space for people to not feel uncomfortable,” assures Rebecca.

The Moth Literary Festival runs on the weekend of December 3–5. Tickets (limited due to Covid restrictions) are available to book on at reduced the prices: €20 for the Friday night; €30 for Saturday; and €20 for Sunday.

The Moth Literary Festival is funded by the Local Live Performance Scheme, with the generous support of Monaghan County Council.