Last Monday, October 3rd in Belfast, amid the gorgeous white-walled surroundings of the Ulster Museum, we launched The Glass Shore: Short Stories by Women from the North of Ireland. The formidable David Torrens of No Alibis helped organise the event, which included readings from Jan Carson, Bernie McGill and Anne Devlin, as well as music from talented newcomer Hannah McPhillimy. Lucy Caldwell made reference to that infamous Irish writers poster of 12 men and Rosie the Riveter in her speech, and there were eloquent launch words from critic and anthologist Patricia Craig, who wrote the introduction to the collection.
There was so much warmth and goodwill in the room towards a book that people told me is long overdue. Everyone I spoke to was curious, excited, some were even a little emotional. A highight for me was meeting Ruth Carr, who edited The Female Line, a landmark book which paved the way for this new collection. Happily, it will be reissued digitally in November. Various writers from the south of Ireland – Lia Mills, June Considine, Catherine Dunne and Liz McManus – made the trip from Dublin to Belfast in the spirit of solidarity: to show that borders may be civic and geographic, but they disappear where art and writing are concerned.
Two nights later, we made our way to second floor of Hodges Figgis for the Dublin launch. I spoke about the context for this book, and why I felt it needs to exist; why me and others want to see it in the world. Last year at a Long Gaze Back event in the Lyric Theatre, audience members – many of them women – stood up and spoke about how a new Northern Irish collection was necessary and vital. Of how their voices had been silenced and talked over in the North.
Martina Devlin spoke movingly about the border, of celebrating our cross-country connections, and how “fierceness” as a trait should be embraced. Northern writers, explained Martina, “don’t speak like anyone else”, and I pointed earlier to the musicality in writing from Ulster.
Anne Enright spoke passionately about the ongoing omission of women, from “the Field Day Book of Male Literature” to Waking the Feminists and One City One Book. It is, she said “extremely hard to respect people who haven’t got the energy, interest, creativity or openness to hear the female voice”. You can hear Anne’s speech in full by clicking the audio link below (and her brilliant speech from last year’s Long Gaze Back launch is linked to in this post).
Finally, the evening ending fittingly for two reasons. The reader was Evelyn Conlon, whose 2001 anthology Cutting the Night in Two had a huge impact on me as a reader when I first encountered it (it’s also published by New Island Books, who have consistently championed the short story and women writers. Evelyn has been vocal and ardent for decades about women’s issues and writing. She read her story ‘Disturbing Words’, which returned to Martina’s earlier theme of borders, and left us all with a sense of this small island, brought even closer together with words and storytelling.
The Glass Shore: Short Stories by Women in the North of Ireland is published by New Island Books.
Jan Carson and Sinéad Gleeson in conversation with Peggy Hughes at Dundee Literary Festival on Friday October 21st, 2016.
Lucy Caldwell, Martina Devlin Sinéad Gleeson in conversation with Madeleine Keane at Dublin Book Festival on Saturday November 12th, 2016.
Rosemary Jenkinson and Bernie McGill in conversation with Sinéad Gleeson at Seamus Heaney Home Place, Bellaghy on Saturday November 26th, 2016.
Interview with editor Sinéad Gleeson in The Irish Times.
‘Settling’ by Jan Carson
‘The Speaking and the Dead’ by Tara West