Item: Five signed copies of The Accidental Wife and an author visit by Orla McAlinden
Details: Orla will sign five copies of her award-winning debut collection and make a visit to your reading group within Ireland to discuss it with you. The Accidental Wife is a collection of interlinking short stories set in rural Northern Ireland and is the winner of the Eludia award and the inaugural text for the Armagh Big Read 2017
Bio: Orla is a Pushcart Prize nominee, the winner of the Irish Short Story of the Year Award 2016 and the Cecil Day Lewis emerging writer 2016-17. She is working on a Famine novel and a second story collection entitled Full of Grace
Who can bid: Irish and Northern Irish bookclubs and reading groups
Actually… you’ll have to wait, I don’t know who the winner is. I’m having a fabulous time reading the entries for the 2017 Junefest Short Story competition run by Newbridge Junefest. This brilliant festival of arts, music, theatre, song and literature is now in its fifth year. Highlights for me this year: Mundy, Wallis Bird, the One Act play festival and of course the ever-popular street festival. Find all the details here
When I attended the inaugural Junefest literary event in Newbridge Library I could never have imagined that five years later I’d be a published prize-winning author, and even further from my mind was the idea of judging other people’s work.
I have still a lovely, rustling sheaf of entries to grade and mark. To the delight of Junefest, and (I hope) to the eventual delight of the entrants, I’ve adopted the spirit of the late great Dr John Yeoman of Writers’ Village who provided every entrant in his competitions with a paragraph or two of feedback and a marking scheme. So often my own work has made a longlist only to miss the shortlist, or a shortlist only to miss the prize and have thought to myself “if only I knew where I went wrong (and right) in that story.
So apologies to Junefest entrants who are wondering what the hold-up is… the shortlist is coming soon. And I’m looking forward to seeing some of you at the Junefest literary event on Wednesday 7th June in the new town hall. It’ll be a wonderful evening. Just look at that talented bunch below…
Meanwhile spare a thought for me as I am also running the first-ever Irish language event in Junefest, Cór Gael Scoil Chill Dara who, for their sins, have me as their musical director. We’ll be singing in White Water at 1pm on Friday 2nd June, songs from our CD “Ding Dong Dedero” which raised €3,000 for the Jack and Jill Foundation at Christmas, and I’m proud also to be producing, sponsoring and facilitating the first ever Newbridge Big Sing community sing-along on Saturday 17th at 3 pm in the Riverbank Arts Centre.
What a simply terrifying and exhilarating experience it was to turn the county of my birth into a giant reading club for the months of February and March 2017. To know that the library shelves were groaning under the weight of hundreds of copies of my debut collection, The Accidental Wife , and to know that my family and all my old friends had only to pop into town and pick up a copy before settling down to see if they could find themselves between the covers (relax everybody, you’re all far too nice/normal/sane to be written into that particular book!)
The Armagh Big Read public meetings part of the project started off calmly in the beautiful village of Bessbrook with an all-female audience with a significant proportion of teachers and librarians in the mix. Interviewer Anthony Quinn and I could barely get to the end of a sentence before the next intelligent, thought provoking question came along. It was also lovely to meet Liz Weir, Libraries NI’s resident story-teller (what a great job!) I know Liz through her involvement with Women Aloud NI, a group which seeks to raise awareness of women writing in, about or from Northern Ireland. It was great to meet her in person at last.
The three other sessions went well… all had their own distinct personality and vibe…particularly Portadown, where I could hardly get a word in edgeways and had to keep explaining to my mother that my use of “bad language” doesn’t reflect badly on her refined character and vocabulary!
Rather than bore you with any more details, I thought I’d share this little piece of doggerel I scribbled after the Portadown meeting, about the experience of inviting hundreds of people to read and critique your work, set in their homeplace, whilst you yourself have scarpered off to live elsewhere! I wouldn’t call it a poem ( I wouldn’t insult the poets among you.) I’ll just call it a heartfelt reflection on a fascinating experience…
The artist’s fear of the home-town crowd
“And there is my sister, my mother close behind.
And have they seen the nude?
Oh Jesus, have they seen the nude?
I should have hung a hat and hid his magnificent erection
A fedora to cover the fuzz,
So lovingly festooned about the base of the proud member.
I mean, come on,
They both are married women
But, oh my god,
I should have thought of my mother when I planned the retrospective.
“And here is Auntie Josephine,
And little cousin Seamie
And they have seen the nude.
“And have they seen the dancers carved from Connemara marble?
And have they seen the bronzes?
A thousand hours apiece have crafted those twelve-inch bronzes.
And have they seen the studies?
My notebooks crammed with pencil, charcoal, light and shade,
Before ever scalpel was raised to clay
Or chisel to rough-hewn block of marble, seeking the imprisoned arabesque?
“Of course they fucking haven’t.
But they have seen the nude.
Grey A-line skirt, white blouse and simple crucifix at throat.
Here comes Mother Benignus.
And she has seen the nude.”
And that is what the Armagh Big Read 2017 felt like…wonderful, terrifying and fun.
With much thanks to Peter Hughes, stock controller of Armagh Libraries, who was the driving force behind the whole crazy wild project!
Lately, I’ve been too busy to write. Well, that happens sometimes.
Lately, I’ve been too busy to do housework. Well, that happens more often than one might care to admit.
Lately, I’ve been too busy to read. Well…Sorry? What? That NEVER happens.
Yes, February and March 2017 have been non-stop madness and the total of books read in that whole period is about 6 in total. There have been some crackers though: 1847 by Turtle Bunbury, The Faerie Thorn by Jane Talbot, Once we sang like other men, John MacKenna and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale which, I assure you, is far scarier this time round than when I read it 20 years ago and the internet was for university researchers and no-one I knew had their own mobile phone.
And what has had me so busy? I’m delighted to say I was assisting as PRO for an amazing celebration of International Women’s Day at the Irish Writers Centre, showcasing the talents of some of Ireland’s hundreds of women writers, and the brainchild of Women Aloud NI.
Jane Talbot of Women Aloud NI greets Valerie Bistany of the Irish Writers Centre
WomenXBorders spill onto the streets of Dublin
I honestly don’t have time to describe the day itself, a four hour readathon, readings on public transport, communications with Ireland’s main literary organisations and panel discussions, so I’m going to refer you here and here for eloquent descriptions of the day and here to some footage I took of the culmination of the day…a public massed reading in Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance.
Some of the committee of Wexford Literary Festival
What I want to talk about instead is community…finding a community and plunging right in. I don’t think I have ever joined a community online. Every one of the groups I belong to, I’ve been invited into or signed up without my knowledge. Margaret Scott, author, brought me into Facebook right at the start, Margaret Bonass Madden, book blogger extraordinaire, enrolled me in the Rick O’Shea book club, Ana Dorado, photographer, brought me into Bite the Biscuit and really crucially Kerry Buchanan, writer, introduced me to Women Aloud NI. And there are a dozen more.
Preparing for the massed reading
Books donated by #WomenXBorders to IWC
At first I was bemused…why should I spend time online when I should be reading? Or writing? Surely everyone’s just faking anyway? These aren’t real relationships? What do they want from me? And the answer is: they want as much or as little as you are prepared to give. And these relationships are real, and vibrant and rewarding as any other. As the women of Women Aloud NI spilled into the reception of the Irish Writers Centre, to meet forty women writers from the Republic of Ireland, I greeted friend after friend, hugged, laughed, exchanged views on their books, asked about their parents and children and knew that these women, most of whom I had never met before, are as real to me as some of the neighbours that I smile and wave at every day (or more so.)
Writing is a lonely occupation, especially so, I’d imagine, for those who write full-time. Find yourself a community. and plunge in. Here I am reading from The Accidental Wife at the four hour readathon.
When I was a child, my family bought The Irish News. It wasn’t a decision one had to think hard about. “We” bought The Irish News, “They” bought the Belfast Telegraph, and never the twain did mix.
It has given me great joy to hear from readers who are participating in The Armagh Big Read, that The Accidental Wife is resonating with readers from both traditions in Northern Ireland. Readers of both nationalist and unionist backgrounds are enjoying the vibrant dialect of their homeplace and the warts-and-all fond representation of the home that they recognise.
“As I was writing it down I thought ‘this is disappearing really fast – I wonder how many people are writing this down?’ And I started thinking I really wanted to write in this dialect so people would know it had existed,” she says.
I’m thrilled that The Armagh Big Read has helped me really accept the magnitude of the changes that have occurred since my childhood and the real tangible progress in coming together as a civic society since the slow, painful birth of the peace process.
Twenty years ago, I never could have imagined this lovely, and generous article appearing in the Belfast Telegraph, never mind a photo of me in my First Communion dress, and I’m so grateful and happy for the change. Read the full article here, if you are not already utterly sick of hearing me talk about myself!!
I don’t usually share reviews of The Accidental Wife, I feel they are for readers to browse at their leisure, and not for me to gloat over…and then this one comes along!
Oh Happy Day!
To the best of my knowledge, this is the first review that has been generated by the Libraries NI public massed-reading project The Armagh Big Read. And it’s the first review which I know for a fact has been written by a Northern Irish reader from the “other” tradition.
What a relief! I can’t help sharing it. My first Armagh Big Read review, written by Angeline King, author of Snugville Street, and she “gets it”, she really, really gets it!
There’s the language of farming and it’s sharp and metaphorical in a way that only one familiar with the metal spike on a velvet-soft muzzle could imagine, “The bull’s nostrils slammed open on the instant and he sucked in a huge, shuddering breath, rasping like a stone caught under a tight-fitting door.” There’s Irish mixed with Scots mixed with Middle English, all churning into buttery swirls of Ulster dialect on the page.
And then there are the expletives…
Then there are the expletives. Orla McAlinden excels at expletives and she sprays them like a deadly weapon charged with poetry, rhythm, pathos and comedy. Jesus! The bastard. Jesus! Insufferable bollocks. Jesus! Useless bollocks! Christ! Pillock. Jesus. Shut up to fuck. For Christ’s sake! Jesus. Thon wee bastard. Fuck it to hell and back. Jesus. Fuck and shit and crap and damn.
I had to write in the authentic language of my childhood, but I know it wasn’t the soundtrack to a lot of Northern Irish lives; in the homes of those often referred to as “good livers” one never took the name of the Lord in vain. I will admit to a few pangs of concern about the language of my characters as The Armagh Big Read draws closer…
Thank God, at least one reader in The Big Armagh Read recognises the poetry and the vigour and the authenticity of “the expletives”. Read the full review here
I can’t emphasise enough, how much I would love to see more reviews from those who have read The Accidental Wife (as part of the Armagh Big Read, or not.) On Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon or on your own personal blogs…sooner or later, I’ll find them. Or post them to The Armagh Big Read. I can’t expect them all to be glowing…but I’d like to read your thoughts before I head up to Armagh in March to speak with the members of Libraries NI!!!