A L Kennedy: We Are Not Dead Yet

A L Kennedy’s insightful and piercing gaze, evident in all her books, is probably at its most unflinching in her short stories. We were thrilled to welcome her back to the Book Festival in 2021 with her short story collection We Are Attempting to Survive Our Time. Appearing alongside her was one of Ireland's greatest writers Bernard MacLaverty, another consummately gifted wizard of prose, who presented Blank Pages, his collection of twelve extraordinary new stories that show the emotional range of a master.

Kennedy creates a sympathetically eccentric cast of characters for her book, writing with a bracing honesty, which at times is breathtaking. There is an American micro-celebrity who practises lines for a chat show on which he will never appear; and a woman who walks out of her honeymoon suite, possibly for good. The stories depict the difficulty we all face of living with one another, and the challenges of building a life in such a bizarre world as this one.

MacLaverty’s Blank Pages is deceptively simple on the surface but carries a turbulent undertow. Much of what he writes is an amalgam of sadness and joy, of circumlocution and directness. He never wastes words but neither does he ever forget to make them sing. His cast of characters include a poor out-of-work Catholic man who falls gravely ill in the sectarian Northern Ireland of 1942 and the last moments in the life of painter Egon Schiele, watching his wife dying of Spanish flu. Each story creates a universe. Everywhere, dark undercurrents pull at his subject matter: family love, the making of art, Catholicism, the Troubles and, latterly, ageing.

Yet, above all, both of these exquisite collections leave the reader feeling better about the world.

Dundee-born Kennedy is an occasional stand-up comedian as well as a gifted writer and MacLaverty is known for his chat and fine humour. Expect a hugely entertaining, often hilarious view of our strange times as they talk to Scottish author and journalist Stuart Kelly.

This event was filmed live at the 2021 Book Festival and both authors took part remotely.

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