Among the plethora of festivals that Manchester now hosts and boasts, the Literature Festival is neither as loud as the International Festival nor as beery as the Food and Drink Festival. It does not possess the quiet cool of the Jazz Festival or the bloody horror of Grim Up North. What it does possess is the grace and grandeur that only writers can provide. It has the gravitas of literature, the weight of words. It also has a gentility. Afternoons sipping tea in the graceful interior of the Wyvern Room at the Midland Hotel listening to the writers’ craft is one of those gentile pleasures. This afternoon, it was provided by Adam O’Riordan, a Northern writer and rising star born of this very parish.
After some years sojourning in the States, O’Riordan returned to Manchester to teach poetry at the Manchester Metropolitan University’s excellent Writing School. His debut collection, In the Flesh, won the Somerset Maugham Award. He is currently finishing his first novel, “66% there” he insists, and a collection of short stories in the typewriter. Today he is reading a short story commissioned by MLF and the Midland Hotel, where he was recently appointed writer in residence.
As you would expect of such a commission, the story, entitled Talk About the Life in Massachusetts, is set in the hotel as an academic awaits the arrival of a long lost beau. As she waits, she replays the circumstances of an assignation in America, a meeting in Morocco and the ennui driven predicament of her current place. In the hexagon bar of the Midland she sips a gin and tonic, taking in the details of the quests and fixtures, and waits. It is a taught, tantalising tale told by a seducer. O’Riordan’s voice is pitch perfect as we are drawn into a life disappointed by time but expectant of a possible future. It is awash with colour and mood with the quick tone of a watercolourist.
As the story ended with our protagonist still waiting, the room sighed and melted into applause. A space was made for hesitant questioning and witty replies as a late sun poured in through the large windows, the tea and scones arriving on cue. Adam O’Riordan is clearly one to watch, Hollywood-handsome and talented. As I left the splendour of the Midland for the bracing air of a late Autumn afternoon, he was charming the room that basked in the pleasure of a commission well executed.
Review by Robert Hamilton
What: Afternoon Tea with Adam O’Riordan at the Midland Hotel, Manchester. Part of the Manchester Literature Festival.
More info: www.manchesterliteraturefestival.co.uk