TV game shows provide light relief for SEAN HUGHES. while his fiction dwells on darker themes. Words: Brian Donaldson

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W Books YOU WOULDN'T HAVE taken Sean Hughes for a man who would be caught dying on his feet. But there he is in one of his Fringe 99 publicity shots, standing in an upright velvet—lined coffin. His grin and thumbs-up suggest there’s life in the old dog yet.

He may be a rarely seen figure on the stand-up circuit these days, but performing on a stage is still in his blood. Both the Fringe and the International Book Festival will play host to his talents this year, the former seeing him starring with compatriot Owen O’Neill in two short plays - Dehydrated and Travel/i'n’ Light that they've written together. Across the city, a one-off reading in Charlotte Square launches Hughes's second foray into ‘serious’ fiction.

It’s What He Would Have Wanted follows up his very dark comedy The Detainees, which one Irish Sunday newspaper critic described as ’one of the most important novels of this generation.’ Whether high praise or prodigious hyperbole, it's a lot to live up to.

'Without sounding too crap, the only connection between the books is that they’re by the same author,’ Hughes inSists of the novel whose publicity promises a story of 'secrets, Stricide and bad weather’. 'BaSically, it’s pretty much about discovering yourself through your father. It's a first-person narrative from the point of view of someone who's a BBC weatherman, aged 30, in debt and wanting to know what it was that killed his father, and he eventually finds out all these secrets.’

But before you picture Hughes as being more likely these days to bOil a rabbit rather than impersonate a startled one, he adds: 'I always try and give things a little bit of hope.’ And of the two-handers With O'Neill, he states Simply: ’They are two half-hour plays based in rural Ireland about death. One of them is taking the piss out of all Irish theatre and the other is a bit like Tales Of The Unexpected.’

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Post Office Theatre, Sat 21 Aug, 5pm, £7 (£5); Spiegeltent, Sat 21 Aug, 8pm, £7 (£5)

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Sunny outlook: Sean Hughes

Which has become one way of describing the career of someone who was once the undisputed cuddly man of comedy.

Sean Hughes, The Spiegeltent, Charlotte Square, Mon 16 Aug, 1pm, £6 (£4); Dehydrated and Travellin' Light, Observer Assembly, Tue 17-Mon 30 Aug (not 24), 6.50pm, £91£10 (£8/£9).

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Post Office Theatre, Sat 28 Aug, 11.30am, £6 (£4)

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