Belfast Stories: Creative explosions in a city in flux
Review: Anthology pays homage to contemporary city in all its vivacity, multiplicity and complexity
Belfast at dawn. Photograph: iStock
“Hope. It appears in the margins when nobody’s looking.” So reflects the narrator of Shannon Yee’s The Brightening Up Side, a new mother and Chinese-American immigrant who considers the future her baby will inherit in her adopted hometown of Belfast. Belfast Stories depicts a diverse assortment of characters who exist in the margins of Northern Irish society and are searching for hope in an ostensibly “post-conflict” city. Contemporary Belfast continues to struggle with the fraught “legacy” of the Troubles, as well as issues of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and sexual violence. However, it is also the site of an artistic explosion that is being led by many of the writers included in this 16-strong line-up.
The anthology is co-edited by Ardoyne-born author Paul McVeigh and Lisa Frank of Doire Press, and features new work by an eclectic mix of writers with a close connection to Belfast. It includes the first published story by Yee, a playwright who describes herself as “an immigrant, ethnic minority, queer artist-parent with a disability living in Northern Ireland”. McVeigh emphasises the importance of representing “Belfast voices” that we “still don’t see so much” in anthologies – namely, those of LGBTQ+, working-class, disabled, immigrant, and emigrant lives.
Fittingly, we begin at The Welcome Centre, the tourist information office in Donegall Square. In Peter Hollywood’s story, camera-clicking, costumed Game of Thrones enthusiasts have overtaken “Troubles tourists”, a change regarded as “some sign of progress” by the staff. Bustling groups “pour off coaches, having just disembarked from teetering cruise ships” and shuffle inside with inquiries: “Remind me, is this a euro zone or sterling zone?”; “Is this regular Ireland?”