The Accidental Wife was the first Armagh Big Read
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!