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.

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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

 

 

The Read Irish Women Giveaway!

For my final giveaway for Reading Ireland Month, I’m focusing on the work of two very different female writers and will be offering copies of The House by Leland Bardwell and The Closet of Savage Mementos by Nuala Ni Chonchuir, both of whose work I have reviewed this week.

The Closet of Savage Mementoes and The House could be winging their way to you next week!

The Closet of Savage Mementoes and The House could be winging their way to you next week!

The Closet of Savage Mementos by Nuala Ni Chonchuir

Lillis takes a summer job working at a lodge in a small lochside village in the Scottish Highlands. Leaving home is a way to escape her sorrow and despair following the death of her boyfriend and a testy relationship with her mother, Verity.

In Scotland she encounters love and excitement but when a series of unexpected events turn her new found life on its head, she is forced to make a life-changing decision, one that will stay with her for her whole life.

The House by Leland Bardwell

Cedric Stewart returns from post-World War II London to visit his dying father in the family home near Killiney. Ireland. Estranged from his parents with their ‘stiff Protestant notions’, he finds renewed solace in Theresa, the Catholic housekeeper whom he has loved since his youth. Through flashbacks to his childhood and previous trips to this house with which he has a love-hate relationship, Cedric tries to recover a sense of his own place in the world.

If you’d like to win these two great books, as always simply comment below or retweet my post and you will automatically be entered. The draw will close on Tuesday 31 March at 6pm and the winner will be chosen by RandomPicker. The rules are the same as my previous giveaways!

Best of luck!

Putting Irish Women Writers back in the picture

Growing up in Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s, anyone interested in reading would be familiar with the Irish Writers poster. My Dad had the poster framed in his study and I had one on my bedroom wall, along with a set of Irish writers coasters. For several years I even had an Irish Writers calendar.

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What is striking today about the poster, is the lack of women writers. Twelve writers were included, all were male.

To mark International Women’s Day, the Irish TImes has produced a female version of the poster, celebrating the rich and diverse tradition of women writers in Ireland. The poster features Maria Edgeworth, Augsta Gregory, Somerville & Ross, Kate O’Brien, Elizabeth Bowen, Molly Keane, Mary Lavin, Maeve Brennan, Edna O’Brien, Jennifer Johnston, Eavan Boland and Anne Enright and youcan download it here.

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For the last few weeks the Irish Times have been asking leading Irish writers, commentators and academics to produce short essays on their favourite female writers and the results are intriguing. You can read them online at The Irish TImes women’s writers page, but here are a few of those included;

Margaret Kelleher on Maria Edgeworth

Colm Toibin on Lady Gregory

Anne Haverty on Somerville & Ross

Eilis Ni Dhuibhine on Kate O’Brien

John Banville on Elizabeth Bowen

Belinda McKeon on Mary Lavin

Ane Enright on Maeve Brennan

Eimear McBride on Edna O’Brien

Eileen Battersby on Jennifer Johnston

Gerard Smyth on Eavan Boland

Claire Hennessey on Marian Keyes

Sinead Crowley on Maeve Binchy

Joseph O’Connor on Emma Donoghue

Nuala NiChonchuir on Anne Enright

As Martin Doyle, in his introduction to the Women’s Writers poster says, ‘This is not the end of the story but, with luck, the start of the conversation.’

In th next few weeks I’ll be continuing that conversation in my own little corner, focusing on women writers from Ireland, with reviews of Edna O’Brien, Leland Bardwell and Eimear McBride, alongside an interview with Nuala NiChonchuir.

Long may the conversation continue.