Festival review: Towers and Tales

Writer Michael Morpurgo.
Writer Michael Morpurgo.

Des O’Driscoll reviews story festival Towers and Tales in Lismore, Co Waterford.

Given that Towers and Tales was largely sold out weeks in advance, and that it featured such names as Michael Morpurgo and Ryan Tubridy, it’s probably a moot point to suggest this gathering in Lismore is one of the Irish festival circuit’s best kept secrets.

But what an event. A superb setting and a selection of impressive speakers collide with flocks of enthusiastic, irreverent children in a day-long celebration of all things story-related.

Morpurgo, pictured below, the author of such books as War Horse and Kensuke’s Kingdom, was the headline name, and in many ways the ultimate choice for such an event.

As well as enthralling millions through the years, the 73-year-old has long been an advocate for children and the importance of “rattling good yarns” in their lives.

In the flesh, he’s as engaging as any of his books. A packed Heritage Centre (this was one of a handful events held outside the castle) hung on his every word as he told anecdotes about the background to his stories and characters, and read from some of his most popular tales.

We heard how War Horse came about as the result of a chat he had in his local pub with a pensioner who had gone away to World War I as a teenager with one of the yeomanry units.

He told Morpurgo how his horse became his best friend, somebody he could talk to about the horrors he was witnessing. And so a story was born.

Kinsale, Co Cork, inspired his most recent novel. While there, he was told of locals rowing out to rescue survivors from the Lusitania spotting a child lying on a piano that was floating in the water. That incredible image provided the spark for Listen to the Moon.

Among the other highlights were Lauren Child (Charlie and Lola, Ruby Redfort, etc) who, in the spectacular setting of the castle’s Pugin Hall, showed how she creates her illustrations with simple sketches and collages.

Ryan Tubridy also spoke of his collaboration with artist PJ Lynch for Patrick and the President. Away from the paid-for talks — decent value at €5 each — there were also a host of free events where kids could listen to stories, make their own comics, and even get their name done in braille.

So now the secret is out about Towers and Tales. If you have kids who love books, or if you want to plant the seed that there’s more to life than a digital screen, mark Lismore in your diary for next year.


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