It’s Reading Ireland Month!

March is here, so that means Reading Ireland Month is here!

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Join myself and Niall at The Fluff is Raging as we celebrate all that is good about Irish books and culture.

It won’t be any fun without you, so grab our pin and add the link to your blog posts at the linky below. If you need any inspiration, you can check out my list of 100 Irish Novels, or watch our Begorrathon trailer and see if anything sparks your interest.

Remember everyone who posts during Reading Ireland will be entered into a draw to win a copy of the beautiful Irish literary journal The Winter Pages, edited by Kevin Barry.winter

Join in the conversation on Facebook or on Twitter with our hashtags #readireland17 or #begorrathon17

Don’t forget to check in throughout the month as there will be great interviews, reviews and giveaways happening every week.

Ireland Month

 

When adding the link, please do add the subject matter of your post beside your name, so everyone knows who or what you’ve been writing about!

Let the fun begin!

The Books that Built the Blogger with TJ from My Book Strings

Today on the blog I am delighted to welcome TJ from My Book Strings, a blog I love and one I have followed since I started blogging. TJ has taken a different approach to The Books that Built the Bloggers and I am honoured to have this post on my blog. It’s a beautiful, thoughtful piece about a book that is incredibly special and it reiterates to me the emotional connection we can have to books and the memories they contain for us as readers.

Thank you, Cathy, for including me in your feature about the books that made the blogger. On my blog, I have already written about which books by women have influenced my reading, and I’ve written about some of my books that come with very dear memories. But there is one particular book that I haven’t yet written about. My memories of it are bittersweet, but there is no question that it has had an incredible influence on me as a reader.

When I was 11 or 12, for Christmas, my father gave me a hardcopy of a book with a cover that showed a small man holding a swaddled baby. I started reading the book probably the day after Christmas, and when I was done, I read it again, and then again. When it was time to go back to school, I must have read the book six or seven times in a row. The book was called Willow. It is the story of a land ruled by an evil queen, whose reign, according to prophecy, will end with the birth of a marked child. Naturally, the queen does everything she can to prevent this prophecy from coming true. The book begins with the birth of this child and then tells the desperate attempt by some brave and some not-so-brave beings to save the baby from certain death.

This was the very first fantasy novel I read. I was a child with a very active imagination, and this book opened new worlds to me. Up to that point, I had lived with Anne on Green Gables. I had been best friends with Pippi Longstocking. I had gone on vacation with the Five Friends and been neighbors with Trixie Belden. But when I read Willow—with its unlikely hero and the grand fight of good over evil—I suddenly realized that I didn’t need to be confined to the “real world.” I could invent my own creatures and my own worlds; I could make up stuff I had never even thought of before this book came along. Willow broadened my horizon to make it limitless.

From Willow, it was only a small step to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Once I had read all the fantasy novels my library had to offer, I reached for science fiction. From there, it was easy enough to jump to magical realism, a genre that my father loved. He was a man of few words, but he had a lot to say about his beloved South American writers, and I know it made him happy that I read most of the books he had on his shelves.

It was only after my father passed away that I found out that Willow was written based on a screenplay that was developed from a story by George Lucas. I so wish I could ask my father why he gave me this book. He wasn’t a George Lucas fan as far as I know, and he was very much in the “the book is always better than the movie” camp. Why would he give me a book that started out as a movie script? He always put a lot of thought into the books he gave as presents, so I don’t think he just grabbed it because it was on display when he was Christmas shopping. Maybe he simply got it because he thought I would like it. If that’s it, then he was certainly correct.

I’m sad that I no longer own the copy of Willow he gave me. I would like to say that it must have gotten lost in one of my many moves, so I could blame someone other than me, but no one in my family has ever lost a book. I probably sold it, and I can’t tell you how much I regret that. I would like it back not only because it was a present from my father, but also because I can’t find another one like it. I can’t even find a picture of my edition online.

I reread the book when I decided I wanted to write about it here. It is much shorter than I thought, with much fewer details. The story is very predictable, and as a more critical reader now, I can see where and how the story could be improved—at least in my opinion. But that’s almost beside the point. The important thing is that I can see why I loved it so much when I first got it, and reading it again brought back memories of my younger self and the many other wonderful books I read because of it. When I have a little more time on my hands, I will do research once again, because I want to find just the right copy to pass on to my children, so that they can (hopefully) have a similar reading experience.

No 594 The Miracle Shed by Philip MacCann

Whatever happened to Philip MacCann?’ is a phrase that crops up if you do even a cursory internet search of this elusive author. I’m not even sure if I am right to include MacCann in Reading Ireland Month as he is possibly not Irish.

Some sites say he was born in Belfast, more that he was born in Manchester. That he studied at Trinity College Dublin is fact though, along with the indisputable evidence that he was hailed as a new literary talent when his short story collection The Miracle Shed was published in 1995. Time Out called him ‘a totally original, new literary writer of intellectual power’ while the Observer mused ‘if I had to choose just one voice it would be Philip MacCann’s’. He won the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, and MacCann was named in The Observer newspaper’s list of ’21 Writers for the Twenty-First Century’ in 1999.

Despite this high praise, MacCann has never published another book. Some of his literary reviews can be found online, along with an article deriding much contemporary Irish fiction at the time and his thoughts on a writing class he took with Malcolm Bradbury, but aside from that, The Miracle Shed is all that we have.

Last year I wrote a piece on The Lonely Voice, Frank O’Connor’s seminal work on the nature of the short story. While discussing the differences between the novel and the short story, O’Connor notes that the e best short stories focus on ‘submerged groups’ – marginalised people who live at the fringes of society and have no effective voice.

That submerged population changes from writer to writer, from generation to generation … it does not mean mere material squalor, though this is often a characteristic of the submerged population groups. Ultimately it seems to mean defeat inflicted by a society that has no sign posts, a society that offers no goals and no answers

O’Connor could have written this specifically about The Miracle Shed which is filled with protagonists who are powerless and dispossessed, living on the fringes of society. The glue sniffers and drug addicts, the poor and the perverted. These are people who have internalised their pain, or who have numbed themselves from it. They are almost abstract characters who are presented with no external context, no back story. It is as if MacCann is opening doors just a chink for the reader to peer through, creating a strange voyeuristic experience when reading.

Each new tale drops the reader straight into the characters heads, which means all the narrators are unreliable most are also unlikeable as MacCann explores human degradation in all its forms, but he always maintain a sympathy for even the worst of the characters found here.

Although set principally in Dublin and Belfast, the geography of these stories is not the important thing. In Stories at El Hajibands, the action moves to Africa, while Love Marks in set in London. No matter what the location, the skies are heavy, the clouds ominous and the problems are the same. Although set in and around the Troubles, they don’t feature in these stories – for MacCann, the poor and the dispossessed could be living anywhere and doing anything to distract from the poverty and boredom of their lives.

Even something like love was a pigment on the world’s canvas like everything else, not at all transcendental or anything. It looked nice – like those hackneyed heavens – but it was basically grubby, and simply mass-produced. Some love was grubbier than others of course.

In Tender a man and boy sniff glue on the outskirts of Belfast, while in Street Magic, a young couple try to find work and get by in Dublin. At Freeform Joe’s, a group of young people try to find answers through a Ouija Board, while in the title story The Miracle Shed some fairground workers live in a hut and pass the time aimlessly working on a car and planning pipe dreams for a future that even they seem to know will never come. In the dreamlike , almost Beckettian Harvestman, we are inside the head of an old man as he takes out his rubbish from his flat. His stream of consciousness belies his own mental illness mingled with his fantasies about a young girl.

There is a strong sexual element to these stories, sometimes discomfiting, particularly in Dark Hour where a young boy is pimped out by his older brother for cash. The propriety of relationships is blurred, particularly in Naturally Strange, a wonderfully odd story where a teenage boy has to share a bed in a squalid flat with his pregnant mother. MacCann seems drawn to relationships that are taboo and if there is one way in which the book feels slightly dated is in it’s depiction of homosexuality, attitudes to which have changed drastically in the last 20 years.

Take beings. Beings need happiness. True? Take me. I am a being. I want salt. I want air. I want happiness. These are essentials for each and every day. Picture life without them. Life would be not as it should.

The bleakness of this collection, featuring so many lives being ‘not as they should’, is punctuated with some dry humour. In Grey Area, school boys enter into an ill-conceived plan to have their Latin teacher shot by paramilitaries in revenge for his teaching them a subject they hate. Their plot is merely a way to fill their time and alleviate their boredom and the lack of insight for the consequences of their actions belies the improbability of what they have tried to do.

A momentum developed , we goaded each other on, producing ever finer points, choosing the best day to strike; we even dreamed about the scheme and came in the next morning with divinely ministered details. And finally, and at last, when we held under our gaze a strategy, perfect and monstrous and unwanted, a baffled and ugly thing independent now, with its own life and unlovable demands, there was one moment of embarrassment when we each agreed silently, without saying a word more, to ignore it.

The writing in this collection is also incredibly beautiful, in comparison to the subject matter. The prose is vibrant, unexpected and lyrical and the style is elusive. A part of town is ‘freckled with oil stains and smelled of closing time‘ while a bad smell ‘was getting in the flat from the street, like the brightness gone bad‘. These stories are hard to pin down, there is always a subtext, an underlying atmosphere that is suggestive of impressionism rather than realism. The stories are meandering and dreamlike and ultimately hard to pin down.

His work reminds me of that of Carson McCullers or Denis Johnston, in so far as he, like them is giving voice to outsiders. The Miracle Shed is also reminiscent of Pat McCabe’s The Butcher Boy. Not that MacCann, I feel, would appreciate any comparisons.

Philip MacCann Irish Literature The Miracle Shed

Philip MacCann…possibly

These stories will not be to everyone’s taste. Tonally, all veer towards pessimism and deviance which can be draining if the collection is read as a single piece of work. However, the writing and the use of language is dazzling and totally unlike anything I have ever read and it is that ambition and uniqueness that is to be admired, even if it is hard to love.

A silent author is always a fascinating one – Harper Lee being a prime example, and it is interesting to note the theories that surround MacCann’s subsequent publishing silence. On one online message board, a contributor theorises that,

MacCann was a young member of a secret society related to the Knights Templar. He was ordered to desist from writing by his Grand Master.

Whatever the reasons for his retreat from publishing life, it now seems like a new work from Philip MacCann is as vague a dream as those of the characters in The Miracle Shed. He may prove me wrong. I would love  it if he did.

Read on: Book

Number Read: 153

Number Remaining: 593

No 595 The Reckoning by Jane Casey

Things weren’t great for Maeve Kerrigan at the end of The Burning, the first in the series of crime novels by Jane Casey. Attacked by a serial killer; dealing with the machismo and misogyny of her fellow police officers and starting a perilous relationship with her colleague Rob Langton had left Kerrigan in a fragile position.

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When we meet Maeve again at the start of The Reckoning, things aren’t much better. She has moved into a new flat with strange neighbours; she can’t reconcile working with and sleeping with Rob and her beloved boss Godley has paired her up with the obnoxious, chauvinistic Josh Derwent.

Kerrigan and Derwent are working on a series of murders of registered paedophiles – all horrifically killed, but in very different ways. Given the nature of the victims, there is little impetus for the police to solve the crimes, but Maeve sees past the unsavoury nature of the victims’ characters and believes that murder is murder no matter who the victim is. Derwent, does not agree – either with Maeve’s determination to solve the crimes, or with her usefulness as a police officer.

Derwent was still talking, oblivious. “According to the boss, this is an important case and needs sensitive handling. That’s why he assigned you to work on it with me, which makes some sort of sense. The last thing I need is one of those hairy-arsed DCs from the team clumping around offending the families by saying the wrong thing.”
“I’ll do my best to avoid that,” I said stiffly.
“That’s the thing. You don’t have to do anything at all. Just stand back, look pretty, and let me do all the work.” Derwent squinted out through the windscreen and I was glad he didn’t look in my direction, because the expression on my face was nothing short of murderous.

Thankfully Maeve ignores Derwent’s advice to rest on her looks and the more they investigate, the more complex the situation they are in becomes. John Skinner, a well-known gangster with a grudge against Godley is involved. His daughter Cheyenne has gone missing and there are links to another woman’s disappearance 18 months before. Meanwhile, it seems as if someone within the police force is leaking information and someone is stalking Maeve, taking pictures of her without her knowledge.

If the plot sounds complex, it is. At the half way mark there is a U-turn, a change of focus which is cleverly handled without leaving the reader to feel the rug has been pulled from under them.

There is a lot packed into The Reckoning, and it is to Casey’s credit that nothing feels like filler and subplots are made to feel like part of the bigger picture. The reckoning of the title refers to a lot of happenings in the book and the result is a well-paced, sharply plotted thriller.

Jane-Casey

When I reviewed Jane Casey’s previous novel, The Burning, I said that the strength of the book was the characterisation of Maeve Kerrigan and that continues to be the case. Crime novels can be as complex and plot-driven as they like, but if the lead character isn’t memorable, then there is the risk of the book becoming forgettable. However, with Kerrigan, Casey has created a dynamic, sharp-witted protagonist to match classic detectives such as Jane Tennison, or John Rebus. Maeve drives the plot as much as the crimes do and I find myself reading as much to find out about what it going to happen to Maeve.

Casey also explores the male-female working dynamic very well, particularly as it stands in the police force and the introduction of a lesbian character in this book widens out that discussion.

Casey is also careful not to turn Derwent into an all-out chauvinist pig and has created a character with room to grow. The relationship between Derwent and Maeve is an interesting one. They are probably more similar than Maeve would like to admit, both with a fiery temper and the ability to say the things that no one else will say. Despite being as maddened by him as Maeve is, there is also an interesting undercurrent developing in their relationship that I’m sure will carry through in future books.

Jane Casey has just published her latest book Let the Dead Speak to great critical acclaim. For me, she has created a great protagonist in Maeve Kerrigan and her crime novels are the most interesting I have come across in a long time. Meticulously plotted, realistic in the depiction of the slog of police work and with a strong, smart female lead, this series is one I can’t wait to read more of.

Read on: iBook

Number Read: 152

Number Remaining: 594

Illuminate by Kerrie O’Brien – A Review and Giveaway for World Poetry Day

Kerrie O’Brien is being hailed as a key new voice in Irish Poetry. Her collection Illuminate is earning rave reviews from writers such as Sebastian Barry (who compared her to Keats) and Joseph O’Connor and it is easy to see why.

Imagine the sun pouring in through a stained glass window – Illuminate captures that warmth, vibrancy and sense of transcendance, all the while being accessible and moving. It is a stunning collection and deserves to be widely read.

O’Brien has a background in visual art and it shows. This collection, which explores ideas of love, beauty and belief is steeped in colours and in light. Rose-golds, reds and yellows create a mosaic of colours. Poems and words glimmer like jewels, each perfectly capturing a feeling or a moment. The imagery is of fire, sunlight, blossoming. Speaking to the Irish Times earlier this year, Kerrie said

I had the title in mind before the majority of it was written. I wanted to visualise a collection that was filled with light, like a rose unfolding

The collection is steeped in the visual, with poems dedicated to Rothko, Diane Arbus, Matisse and Turner. Through these, she exlores the role of the artist and the role that art plays in our lives.

Fire, heart

Bloodsweat

Spilling out

So close and strange

People weep

Sacred –

What we do to each other

And give

Without knowing.

Like art, her work is precise and controlled and yet within that structure it is brimming with emotion. There is a lightness that belies the deep feelings being unearthed, the personal moments shared. There is also a sense of pilgrimage as the poet spends time in Paris, trying finding herself and her way in life. She visits the famous Shakespeare & Co bookshop and looks to Hemmingway for advice.

In one poem, Beckett, she goes to visit that great writers grave;

But get no sense of him –

Because really

On warm evenings

He is at home

Near Cooldrinagh

Still roaming the hills

With his father.

It is this ability to take big ideas, grand works of art and bring them back to the realm of the personal that make this collection such as success. These poems are at heart, about love. Love of art, love for family, love for a partner, and ultimately, love of the self.

I want to thank the well-loved

Bark of my body

For all it has done.

I wantmy spirit to go out

Like a laughing child

Running through the fields

And all along the white

Sands of the sea

Ready for anything.

While reading these poems, I was reminded of a line of Heaney’s from Postscript;

And catch the heart off guard and blow it open

That is what Kerrie O’Brien does in these beautifully crafted, deceptively slight works. She illuminates human existence, which is what great poetry should do.

We are all red inside

Brimming with love

All fluid and quiet and fire

Illuminate is published by Salmon Poetry and you can find out more information about Kerrie and her work here. Kerrie has also edited Looking At The Stars, a limited edition anthology of Irish writing aiming to raise €15,000 for the homeless through the Dublin Simon Community. Find out more at www.lookingatthestars.ie

To celebrate World Poetry Day, I have a copy of Illuminate to give away, along with a little goody bag of items from Seamus Heaney HomePlace, including a notebook, pen and bookmark.

To enter, simply comment below and tell me your favourite poem, Irish or otherwise and I will draw a winner by Random Picker on Saturday. I will also ship worldwide.

Good luck!

 

The Books That Built the Blogger with Heaven Ali!

Today on The Books That Built the Blogger, I have the fantastic Ali from HeavenAli blog. I love Ali’s blog so much – she has a wonderful mix of classic and new books and it is because of Ali that I finally made an effort to read Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf and Molly Keane. So, I have a lot to thank her for.

Here are her great choices.

I’m Ali, I blog at Heavenali – the vast majority of my posts are book reviews, and I don’t blog about anything that isn’t book related in some way, book lists, book buying etc. I have been blogging in fact a lot longer than I have been on WordPress. I started off on LiveJournal back in something like 2006 or perhaps 2005 – many posts were transferred over here when I moved – though I went back and deleted a lot of them. My blog posts were a bit odd back then, and so was LiveJournal – I think we were all buried away in some kind of weird parallel blogging universe that only other Livejournallers knew about. At the end of January 2012 I transferred to WordPress – and decided to make more of an effort with the whole blogging thing.

Danny Champion of the World – Roald Dahl (1975)

I have been trying to decide which book it was that really ‘got’ me – made the book addict I am today. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t read, and to be honest there are several candidates for the book which turned me into a book fiend – but I settled finally on this one. I was probably about seven – and the story captured my imagination, I felt it – in a way which 40 odd years later I still remember – I was transported to a caravan, to those woods with Danny and his father. I can still remember the best way to catch pheasants, and how it feels to wake up at night in a tiny caravan and find my father has gone out.

Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie (1934)

I was around eleven when I first read Agatha Christie – I read many of her most famous works back to back – taking them out of the library – where I could be found on many a Saturday morning. Since then I keep going back to Dame Agatha – I know where I am with her world, and I usually forget whodunit anyway. Of course, there are one or two books which once you have read, it would impossible to forget the conclusion, and this is, one of those. Maybe one day I will re-read it to see how it hangs together.

The Raj Quartet: The Jewel in the Crown – Paul Scott (1966)

I have read the whole quartet twice, and loved the TV adaptation, but of course with any series it is the first book which pulls you in. Looking back, I think The Jewel in the Crown set me on a path of reading a certain kind of book from a certain period, I was becoming less and less bothered by new novels – though I still read those too. For a while, quite a long while I read a lot of what is loosely termed ‘Indian lit’ discovering writers like Anita Desai. However, I also think that perhaps Paul Scott started me reading about a certain type of English community, upper middle class, privileged, establishment, – I wonder now what attracts me to that – I really don’t know. Both my readings of The Raj Quartet were pre-blog – but I expect I shall read it again one day.

The first novel in the quartet recreates the last days of British rule in India. The British community fear the rising call for Independence while their own country is at war, those in India fear Japanese invasion. In Mayapore province a young Englishwoman is raped, the events leading up to the attack and its aftermath are at the centre of the novel.

The Gentlewomen – Laura Talbot (1952)

In 2010 – my friend Liz (who blogs at Adventures in Reading, Writing and working from Home) loaned me The Gentlewoman by Laura Talbot – a lovely old Green Virago. It re-awakened an old obsession – green Viragos. Years earlier I had read some green vViragos, Precious Bane, Frost in May, Novel on Yellow Paper, The Crowded Street, and others I have now forgotten. Many were probably library books, though I think I owed a small number too. In those days, I lived in a tiny flat with two small bookcases (and that was pushing it really) and so I had to keep getting rid of books. Reading ‘The Gentlewoman’ – which I loved, reminded me of those books, books of a different time, written by women.

Governess Miss Bolby leaves her boarding house in Birmingham for Rushford where she will be teaching the daughters of Lady Rushford. Rushford is not all that Roona Bolby expects, there is a new house maid, who Miss Bolby doesn’t think is up to scratch, and two Italian prisoners work in the grounds. Miss Bolby is obsessed by her past, she constantly lives in the past, hanging on to the threads of her aristocratic connections. Her life has been a series of disappointments, and she is constantly reminded of what might have been. She is a snob and harsh critic of others. A not very sympathetic character, she is fascinating and beautifully drawn.

I joined the Librarything Virago group – and started buying and reading old green viragos again – it is a love affair which continues unabashed. Funnily enough, I have only just bought myself a copy of The Gentlewoman, which I really want to reread.

The Soul of Kindness – Elizabeth Taylor (1964)

In 2012 the Librarything Virago group decided to read all Elizabeth Taylor’s novels in celebration of her centenary year. She soon became one of my favourite writers. There are twelve novels so it fitted into a year perfectly, each month was dedicated to a particular novel, and hosted by an LT member. Not everyone had a blog so some people hosted by staring discussion threads on the forum, but those of us with blogs hosted our month on our blogs. I was still quite new to WordPress – and had never hosted anything before. I was September – The Soul of Kindness – a novel I managed to write three or four blog posts about. The Soul of Kindness of the title is Flora Quatermaine, a beautiful young woman, who as the novel opens is getting married. Flora is simply adored by everyone, which she feels is her due. As time moves forward four years, Flora has everything she wants; her husband Richard, a baby and a lovely home in St. Johns Wood. She also has an array of loyal adoring friends.  Flora only sees what she wants to see, hears what she wants to hear, she lives in a self-imposed bubble. She has her own ideas about the people around her, and is blind to any alternative. 

I think taking part in the Elizabeth Taylor centenary celebrations really helped me get to grips with blogging properly, and I began to feel part of a wonderful community.

Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day – Winifred Watson (1938)

As a very keen Persephone reader I had to include a Persephone title. Miss Pettigrew I am sure (though not 100% certain) was my first Persephone read and started me off on another bookish obsession. It is one of only two that I have re-read – re-reading it in 2013, it remains a book I feel huge affection for. While it isn’t my favourite Persephone book, it is one I often recommend. Nervous, dowdy Miss Pettigrew is immediately swept up by Delysia LaFosse, treated as a trusted confident and friend. Delysia LaFosse is a glorious creature in a diaphanous negligee, who puts Miss Pettigrew in mind of the stars of the cinema she secretly loves. People come to call at the flat; each time the doorbell rings it seems to herald things happening. Miss Pettigrew is thrilled, never has she seen and heard such things in her life before. As the day progresses Miss Pettigrew – Guinevere – finds herself the dispenser of good sense and advice – almost without realising she is doing it. It is a book which I think has hidden depths, though its cosy, slightly frothy tone makes it a good comfort read, a fairy-tale for grownups.

Thanks so much to Ali for those wonderful choices! I have recently read Danny The Champion of the World to my 6 year old twins and we all loved it. I also know I am going to have to get my hands on Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day as I have heard nothing but wonderful things about it!

As it is Reading Ireland Month, here is a link to Ali’s fantastic review of Molly Keane’s Conversation Piece.

 

The Re-publication of The Female Line

Women’s writing in Ireland and Northern Ireland has been put firmly back on the agenda lately, not least with the publications and success of The Long Gaze Back and The Glass Shore, both edited by the inimitable Sinead Gleeson.

These anthologies have won awards, brought new readers to women’s literature and shone a spotlight on forgotten writers, however, they had a predecessor.

Female+Line+1985

The Female Line was launched on 28 November 1985 at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and was the first anthology of women’s writing from Northern Ireland ever published. The anthology included women who were already professionally writing and those who had never been published before and it featured extracts from novelws, short stories, poetry and drama. Spearheaded by Ruth Hooley (now Carr) and published by the Northern Ireland Women’s Rights Movement, the book sold out in a month and immediately went into reprint.

The Northern Ireland Women’s Rights Movement was established in 1975 to act as an ‘umbrella’ for a wide range of female-led organisations from both Nationalist and Unionist areas of Northern Ireland and to support and help women to co-operate over common problems and societal needs.

Inspired by Virago and the Attic Press in Dublin, The Female Line attempted to address the massive under-representation of women writers in Northern Ireland, in both publishing and in inclusion in academic courses. The anthology also aimed to encourage more women writers towards publication. At the time, Ruth Carr asked,

This silence is ambiguous. Does it mean an absence – there are hardly any women writing? Is it due to suppression – women lack confidence and opportunities to develop their writing? Is it a result of oppression – women are discriminated against in terms of what is taken seriously and which material matters? Or is it a passive resistance by those who find the language so steeped in gender-biased values as to be alien and inadequate to express their meaning?

What the collection did was bring the voices and imagination of women front and centre and provide them with a platform for their shared experiences that had previously not existed.

The themes of female entrapment, identity, abuse, power, motherhood and self-awareness and self-actualisation found in these works are also found in the recent anthologies published which suggests that the voices of women still need to be heard to provide a full and deep knowledge of a culture and place. The Troubles also featured heavily as a theme in The Female Line and gave a different perspective on the much talked about and written about conflict.

Some of the writers included in the original anthology have gone on to great successes, writers like Marie Jones, Medbh McGuckian and Jennifer Johnston. Some were revived by their inclusion, like Janet McNeill, whose books had largely been out of print until the 1980s. Some no longer write.

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Others deserve to be read more and with this in mind, The Female Line, long out of print and hard to get second hand, has been republished as an ebook by Herself Press. It is available to download from all major online booksellers and is well worth checking out.

At the recent launch for the republication of the collection, it was announced that a new book, Female Lines: New Writing by Women from Northern Ireland will be published by New Island in autumn 2017, bringing the focus to a new generation of women writers from Northern Ireland.

Contributers to The Female Line are:

Fiona Barr, Mary Beckett, Evelyn Berman, Shirley Bork, Geraldine Bradley, Francine Cunningham, Anne Devlin, Polly Devlin, Dorothy Gharbaoui, Ann W. Cleave, Christine Hammond, Ruth Hooley, Anne Jago, Maura Johnston, Jennifer Johnston, Marie Jones, Eileen Kelly, Jan Kennedy, Kate Madden, Stella Mahon, Patricia Mallon, Sandra Marshall, Frances McEnaney, Mary McGowan, Medbh, McGuckian, Jill McKenna, Blanaid McKinney, Janet McNeill, Elizabeth Miller, Frances Molloy, Sheila Mulvenna, Brenda Murphy, Anne Noble, Christina Reid, Geraldine Reid, Anne-Marie Reilly, Delia Rimington, Bernadette Ross, Carol Scanlon, Janet Shepperson, Laura Shier, Anne Strain, Anne Tannahill, Mary Twomey, Una Woods

 

The Moon Mother | Medbh McGuckian

Twice-lost colonial, making inroads

On my sleep, till I go round with the

Machinery, however can I trust

Your jagged growing, the gender you assume

On a given day? Unmothered by

This extra weight, and jealous of

Your wiriness, I polish the same

Place on the table over and over,

Not regretful of the huts where

The bloodless, blanched gardenia

Stains around the edge when it’s touched,

But forming messages to wrap

The braided moon in her dwindling,

Deflowered self-possessed, aware

Exactly when the floor would act that way

 

 

 A User’s Guide to Northern Ireland Slang for St Patrick’s Day!

If I was to say to you ‘spy thon latchy cove down the far Duke’ * would you have any idea what I was talking about?

How about ‘scran the pure heap, sham’ or ‘I’m going for a scobe with my blade’?

Welcome to the world of Northern Ireland slang. Or to be really specific, Ballymena slang! In Northern Ireland we have some amazing words and phrases that are immediatly recognisable depending on where you live. Belfast slang is different from country slang and certain words are unintelligable if you go a few miles down the road.

I live in Ballymena, which is thirteen miles from where I work in Bellaghy but I have said things that have left my work colleagues looking at me blankly. Similarly, when I was told to ‘clod’ something over to someone in the office, I had no idea they wanted me to throw it!

This is a place where a dander is a walk, a boat is a kiss, gutties are running shoes, a poke is an icecream and where going out for a wee run means taking a drive in your car. Generally round the north coast. On a Sunday.

In Seamus Heaney HomePlace, we have an installation called the ‘Word Hoard’ a floating mobile of colloquial words like hoke and glar that appealed to Heaney’s love of language and how language is deeply rooted in a place. 
So, for St Patrick’s Day, here is my word hoard – a collection of my favourite Northern Irish phrases and sayings….and of course, their translations!

Craic – fun or banter, ‘what’s the craic?’ ‘That was great craic altogether’ ‘ sure the craic’s ninety’

Sham – a person or friend, ‘Alright sham?’

See also: mucker, bailer, doner, cove or yer man. Everyone in Northern Ireland is yer man. And it is assumed that you know him

Plastered – drunk, ‘Yer man was so plastered last night, the head’ll be hanging off him this morning’

See also: hammered, paraletic, wrote off, pished, rat-arsed, banjaxed, steaming, half-cut, bloottered.

Catch yourself on – be sensible 

See also: Wind yer neck in, wise the bap, your head’s cut, away an’ shite, yer head’s a marley, yer head’s full of wee sweetie mice.

Thran – intentionally stubborn, ‘He’s so thran he wouldn’t go even if he wanted to’

Keep her lit – to keep going ‘keep her lit now, that’s great, we’re suckin’ diesel now’

See also: keep her between the hedges

Scran the heap – eat everything, ‘I am pure starving. I could scran the heap’

There is a pizza restaurant in Ballymena which has a pizza with all the toppings on it. It’s 18″ and is called, you guessed it, The Scran the Heap!

Fernenst – alongside, ‘yer man’s field is fernenst the road’

Go for a scobe – taking a drive around the town to see who you can see ‘I’ve the lend of the car, let’s go for a scobe round the circuit’

Eejit – an idiot ‘yer man’s a wile eejit’

See also: melter, head the ball

Neither use nor ornament – useless, ‘I’m so hungover, I’m neither use nor ornament to anyone’

Feel wick – to be embarrassed ‘Did you see what she did? Feel wick for her’

See also: take a reddner, scundered

Dead on – alright or ok. Very often used sarcastically, ‘aye right mate, dead on’. 

Cowp – to fall over ‘I cowped over that wall and hit my head a quare gunk’

Footer – to tinker with ‘Is yer Da still footerin’ with that engine?’

Gulder – to shout ‘My ma was ragin’ and was gulderin’ at me’

Clarried – covered in, ‘I cowped in the ditch and now I’m clarried in muck’

See also: clabbered

Hoke (or hoak) – to rummage or look for ‘have a hoke in your bag and see if you have a tissue’

One of the main things to remember in Northern Ireland is that everything, regardless of size, is ‘wee’, sarcasm is used a lot and it takes us a while to say goodbye on the phone.

Do any of these phrases take your fancy? What about your own word hoards? I’d love to hear the words or phrases particular to your area!

* ‘Spy thon latchy cove down the far duke’ translates to ‘Do you see that tall man at the end of the road?’. Yes, really.