From The Long Gaze Back to The Glass Shore: the ripple effect
If you don’t see your own culture reflected in the art you’re exposed to, particularly as a child, it’s very easy to wrongly assume your culture isn’t worthy of exploration or interest
Jan Carson: New women writers seem to be emerging from all over the North on an almost weekly basis; though it would be naïve to give all the credit to The Glass Shore, it was undoubtedly a turning point for us all
Sinéad Gleeson is a formidable woman. She gets things done, and done well. So, when a group of women writers from the North of Ireland, (myself included), first started to demand a sister volume to The Long Gaze Back, highlighting the work of female writers from our neck of the woods, we were reasonably sure she’d help us out.
Growing up in Northern Ireland as a woman and a furious reader of books, I was doubly frustrated by the distinct lack of both Northern and female voices in the writers we studied at school. (Mostly dead, Southern Irish poets and playwrights of the male variety). If you don’t see your own culture reflected in the art you’re exposed to, particularly as a child, it’s very easy to wrongly assume your culture isn’t worthy of exploration or interest. Consequently it’s taken me almost 10 years to finally feel confident writing about my own mid-Ulster, Protestant upbringing.
The idea of having an anthology focused on the writing of women who’d lived in, and through, the peculiar landscape of our history, felt like something we needed as both a testament to the work already in existence and a witness for those women to come. We pestered Sinéad. We wore her down, and when, after untold hours of hard work, she presented us with the finished anthology, we were delighted to see how strong our collective voice was, how distinct and eclectic, yet peppered with so many similar themes. It was, as Sinéad often points out, almost as if the stories were talking to each other.
The night we launched The Glass Shore was a special night for me. It was the first time I’d felt part of a community of female writers, which extended beyond those women I rub shoulders with on a daily basis. I got up to read, glanced down, and saw dozens of women who’d journeyed up from the South just to lend their support. These women didn’t fall into any particular demographic. Some were writers, some were readers, some were simply women who felt compelled to champion other Irish women’s voices.
Regardless of where they’d come from their message was clear. We were all on the same team, and this community extended to embrace women writers living in, or hailing from, every part of Ireland. I met many of these women for the first time that night and I’m grateful to say a lot of them have become friends and allies. They are the sort of people I’m genuinely glad to bump into at readings and festivals, because they’re always quick to offer wisdom and encouragement, and because they’ve come to feel like a kind of strange, extended family.
As 2019 looms, with all its uncertainty regarding borders and Brexit, it’s hard not to feel a little worried about the possibility of finding ourselves, once again, excluded here in the North. Over time I’ve come to call myself an Irish writer. I’m proud to add my own, odd wee voice to such a long and rich tradition of writing and I’d hate for anything to compromise this association.
I am grateful for the way The Long Gaze Back and The Glass Shore built upon the good work of previous anthologies such as The Female Line and Cutting the Night in Two, to ensure the voices of female, Northern writers were not only heard and celebrated, but also placed firmly within the larger canon of Irish women’s writing.
The confidence which comes from being able to recognise your own experiences in literature is no small thing and in the wake of The Glass Shore there’s been something of a revival amongst the women writers of the North of Ireland. Women Aloud NI have rallied hundreds of writers, offering support, mentorship and artistic development to women writers of all levels, while the 2017 publication of Female Lines further showcased contemporary writing from the North of Ireland, featuring women working in journalism, poetry, theatre and other literary forms, alongside the short story.
New women writers seem to be emerging from all over the North on an almost weekly basis. The future looks increasingly healthy – at least on the literary front – and though it would be naïve to give all the credit to The Glass Shore, it was undoubtedly a turning point for us all.