Yesterday I had the pleasure of leaving my house and driving to Belfast to collect some books. I was actually excited to put petrol in my car for the first time in months. One book I bought was North Star, an anthology of poetry and short stories by female Northern Irish writers.
I came home and began to read and I’m not going to lie, I felt a bit emotional. There are great pieces in that anthology, put together during lockdown by members of Women Aloud NI. A lot of these writers are my friends and I feel honoured to be involved in such a great project, master minded by Angeline King and edited by WANI volunteers.
Joining Women Aloud a few years ago, to be honest, I was conflicted. I loved the sense of community but I also thought, why do we need a women’s literary organisation?
In the South, the Waking the Feminists movement had just happened. Women writers in general were not getting reviewed to the same extent as their male counterparts. Reviews were mostly by men, etc.
Yet the literary scene, festival goers and book buyers, are mostly women… Yes, I’m baffled too.
(I really am, this blog post has NO answers, just further bafflement.)
I joined up and loved taking part in events, but I wondered where the overall writing community was…
And if groups like Women Aloud make male writers think that it is ‘us against them’. Of course it shouldn’t, and thankfully we do get men coming along to our events.
I wish groups like ours weren’t needed but they still are, a few things have reminded me lately. I’m going to highlight two.
- Many moons ago I was interviewed for a radio documentary. When it finally aired I didn’t get the heads-up, wasn’t tagged on Twitter. I had this awful sinking feeling, went to my emails and there it was, my material had been cut.
Since you won’t hear it, I’ll tell you now.
In the interview I was guided to talk about diversity in our NI crime writing scene and I blanked, because, What diversity? I was aware of that then and I am aware of that today with the Black Lives Matter protests taking place. But, the question of diversity, in this case, was the obvious gender imbalance in NI that I get asked about at every single crime fiction event.
I had to say, that I know of plenty of women crime writers living in Northern Ireland (Sharon Dempsey, Catriona King, Claire Allan, Gerry McCullough, myself… and if you know of more, if you are one, PLEASE let me know) but that for some reason they don’t get the same media exposure.
I don’t know why that is, because they certainly work bloody hard and have buckets of talent. I said that the question was really one for the gatekeepers.
(Yes, that was cut from the doc. The irony is not lost on me.)
What is clear is that there is a blind spot.
2. I recently read an article on books about the Good Friday Agreement. The author referenced many male names, whether they had written about the GFA or not, and – perhaps for balance? – mentioned a couple of women writers who have not published books about Northern Ireland.
Er, hello! Mine (The Bones of It) was published five years ago this month.
NB: To be clear, I’m not getting at anyone here, people can’t be expected to read everything and know everything.
Also: this is my platform.
And in the spirit of Women Aloud NI, I believe we (Obviously Still Flipping) need to elevate the voices of female writers who live in Northern Ireland or who are from Northern Ireland.
A mission statement I can get behind!
Please buy North Star here.
Support women writers.
Wash you hands.
And if you don’t know, ask.