All posts by angela

Seren Poetry Festival – Wild Swimming

I’m delighted to be contributing alongside some great poets and swimming enthusiasts, Polly Atkin, Katrina Naomi and Elizabeth-Jane Burnett in this session celebrating swimming and writing. I don’t think both can be done at once but I’m open to persuasion!

I enjoy writing about the sea and especially about being in it. It is an intensely physical experience and I often think of it in terms of an encounter with power.

2021: Event 13

Swimming at Dunluce at sunset

Here’s the opening of a poem I wrote about looking back on memorable moments in a year as it ends: (pubished in The Bangor Literary Journal)

Estuary swimming at Newport, Pembrokeshire

AS THE YEAR BEGINS

for Gill and Alan

 

I would like my grave to be

marked not by a stone but glass:

a sturdy panel, windowing my life

in a mosaic of seeing / seeing-through.

 

Here, in a piece of most particular − almost royal – blue,

won’t you remember

how, from a height,

we watched the unhurried, strategizing sea

re-take the estuary plain,

spreading in ever-widening fans

a rippled, supple mirror for the cloudless sky

and how we plunged

to stride out to its quick

where water, headlands, seal-black cliffs

and sunlight sang on one note?

We knew our luck, that day….

Swimming near Ballintoy

Llandeilo Lit Fest: Writing Wales – incomer & native

Have you ever read a book about a place you know well and thought No, that’s not it at all!

What are the challenges to an incomer writing well about a place they weren’t born and raised in? Is  the perspective of a native inherently more valid? Do the relative merits complement each other or clash?

Tickets

Sun 25th April 4pm English
Debut Authors: Writing Wales | Sponsored by Mari Thomas Jewellery

Join debut authors, Welsh woman, Angela Johnson and Belfast-born Angela Graham, as they discuss their experiences of putting Wales on the page in their new books, Arianwen, a warm and witty novel set in West Wales, and A City Burning, a confident collection of stories set in Wales, Ireland and Italy.

Arianwen has been described as ‘brilliantly evocative’ with ‘lilting Welsh rhythms and poetic imagery’; A City Burning was named ‘ a book of the year’ by Nation Cymru in 2020, and described as ‘wonderful’ by the Irish Examiner.

I’d like to think ahead to my session alongside Angela Johnson, author of Arianwen.

I was born and raised in Belfast. I’ve had to ‘learn’ Wales. I’ve written stories about Welsh people and places (some partly in Welsh) in my collection, A City Burning. Does my perception differ from that of a native? Yes, I believe it does. Do I get Wales and the Welsh ‘right’? Right by whose criteria? Continue reading Llandeilo Lit Fest: Writing Wales – incomer & native

SANCTUARY gets underway. Angela Graham – poems and poets

A Garw Valley cairn © Phil Cope

I am writing a collection of poetry on the theme of sanctuary.

This collection will not be written by me alone. Four other poets will each contribute a poem, written in collaboration with me, though originating with them. This approach is prompted by the notion of opening up a space, hosting, welcoming and also from my desire to open myself up, to learn.

Our collaboration will take whatever form seems mutually beneficial. I may edit a poem or have mine critiqued; I may write a poem in response; there could be a response through another medium − anything that prompts further engagement and growth.

Two of these poets are from Wales and two from Northern Ireland. Because I live in both places. All have experience of migration or a particular interest in sanctuaries.

Given the sanctuary theme, I have sought two of these four poets, one living in Northern Ireland and one in Wales, with experience of having been a refugee.

I will also benefit from having my own poems mentored by Glen Wilson.

At this point (mid-March 2021) I have received a first draft from three of the poets so it is a good time to let people know about this enterprise.

I am still looking for a poet in Northern Ireland who knows what it is like to seek sanctuary. For gender balance, I am looking for a woman, with some experience of writing poetry and a serious interest in craft.  There is a welcome for work in a language other than English. Finding this woman poet is part of this journey. Continue reading SANCTUARY gets underway. Angela Graham – poems and poets

The Art of Boredom – Wales Arts Review

The Art of Boredom – Writers Lament

Boredom. Tedium. Monotony. Quiet. It’s been over a year since the pandemic exiled us to a repertoire of sofas, armchairs and kitchen-tables-turned-desks. Though the phenomenon of lockdown has been common across the board, few of us have experienced it in the same way. Here, Wales Arts Review compiles reflections from some of the finest writers of Wales on the elusive art of being, rejecting and wishing for boredom.

 

My piece:

Angela Graham

Whenever I’m bored it’s not because I lack options but because none of them appeals to me and their very unattractiveness saps my capacity to manufacture alternatives.

At Christmas, the prize for a cracker-pulling victory is sometimes a tiny spinning-top, like a tubby ballerina revolving en pointe. As a child, I’d set this little toy going in front of a small mirror. Its whirling action instantly doubled in the busy space before the mirror’s bright face. But on the other side of the mirror nothing was happening. Continue reading The Art of Boredom – Wales Arts Review

PRAISE FOR ‘A CITY BURNING’

26 stories set in Wales, Northern Ireland and Italy, from the end of World War 2 to the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘The stories entice and intrigue… highly recommended Graham Reid

‘What fires the attention is Graham’s mastery of language and her ear for local speech of both the poetic and prosaic kind. Her experimentation with Ulster Scots in particular points to a new talent in Irish writing…’ Dr Frank Ferguson Northern Slant

‘This is an exemplary collection illustrating the creative possibilities of the short fiction form.’ Jane Fraser The Lonely Crowd

‘Short, sharp and sometimes shocking, these wonderful stories truly pack a punch.’         Sue Leonard The Irish Examiner

‘Angela Graham’s collection of short stories A City Burning … has a voice that feels completely new and fresh. With stories set in Wales, Northern Ireland and Italy it’s a broad ranging collection but what I particularly loved about it… was its nuanced and beautifully observed view of the human condition. Graham’s language has a searing quality yet also a humour about it that is genuinely hard to forget long after reading. Very highly recommended – I can’t wait to see what she does next.’ Kate Hamer, The Lonely Crowd

‘Angela Graham’s debut collection A City Burning announced a confident, stylish new voice in short fiction.’ Jon Gower Nation Cymru

‘a fine writer… Some of these stories are short, jewel-like and almost Mansfield-esque in the way their protagonists achieve their epiphanies, reflecting Graham’s poetic training but also perhaps, in their reliance on visual imagery her career as a film-maker.’ Aidan Byrne Planet

‘the most striking element of Graham’s collection is the clarity of voice. Though each of the twenty-six stories employs a decidedly different perspective … Graham’s authorial command remains honest, insightful and impressive. The quasi-cinematic focus given to each story … gives the collection intriguing multiplicity and serves as a testament to Graham’s talent for interpersonal perception. The focus on linguistic exchange in A City Burning is also notable; English, Welsh, Ulster Scots, and Italian all converge to create a narrative that is both highly contextual and elegantly told. ‘ Gemma Pearson, Wales Arts Review

‘These stories show us what the genre does best: the ‘snapshot’ of a moment which reveals a life or a culture in a moment of transition or realisation, what James Joyce called an ‘epiphany’.’ Prof Diana Wallace University of South Wales

‘honest, searing, insightful and very, very good’ Inez Lynn New City

A Book of the Year 2020 for Nation Cymru and for The Lonely Crowd 

A Writer’s Bursary from Literature Wales supported the development of this book.

Available here @SerenBooks £9.99 paperback £7.99 e-book

New Impetus in Ulster Scots Writing

Ding Doon Tha Mairch Dykes – a quotation from a collection of poems by Stephen Dornan heads up this article by me in The Irish Times of 3rd March 2021 here

In 2017 I received a SIAP Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland towards research for a novel set in NI. One of the most striking currents in the air was the turbulence around issues to do with language, with Ulster Scots and Irish. The Stormont Assembly collapsed partly because of apparently irreconcilable pressures around the way people speak; how they write; their cultural ‘reading’ of the land itself.

Language and land – two permanent pieces of the NI puzzle. Language embedded in land, in heart, in psyche.

I noticed also some important shifts in population presence within Northern Ireland; the move from city to country; the changing ownership of land and property; demographics impacting on communities.

From these arose a contemporary story, but it could only be told, I felt, through English,  through Ulster Scots, through Irish.

I didn’t find it hard to access materials in Irish or to access advice but when it came to Ulster Scots, although I had that in my inner ear from my father’s side of the family (as I had Irish from my mother’s), it was a much tougher enterprise to gauge its contemporary use, to inflect this according to age, area and class. Some of the reasons for this are mentioned in my article.

I am enormously grateful to each person who has helped me along the way, in both Irish and Ulster Scots.

I am absolutely delighted that, in these few years, there has been an opening up in the Ulster Scots field, a writerly energy that wants to be expressed across forms and registers. Again, the article touches on this but there would be much more to say and report.

I would like to see, in Irish publishing, particularly among journals and magazines, a greater readiness to consider publishing – alongside English – Irish and Ulster Scots too. The Bangor Literary Journal published a pair of sonnets I wrote in Ulster Scots and English. The sky didn’t fall in.

I wrote a story partly in Ulster Scots for my collection A City Burning. The publisher, Wales-based Seren Books, was interested in the calibre of the work, its intelligibility, its coherence and the Ulster Scots earned its place on those terms.

There are challenges to trying to get Ulster Scots (a) written and (b) published outside specialist publications. Where is the material? Who is to judge its competence? Can Ulster Scots recover itself enough to flourish today?

These are questions appliable, in varying degrees, to any minority language or dialect.

Certainly, no one gains from setting one form of expression against another; or from over-zealous gate-keeping about standards (though these must exist or expression gets catastrophically unmoored from its roots); or – most insidious of all – who is to be allowed to write in Ulster Scots.

That last was the pressure that threatened most powerfully to hold me back. But I have finished the first draft and it has been a wonderful experience to live with the characters, and particularly the Ulster Scots speakers, seeing the world through those eyes, speaking with that tongue.

But perhaps the time has arrived when a new set of questions can be asked: Why not in Ulster Scots? Why not me? Why not now?

The Header illustration is a page from the passport of Éire / Ireland: Ulster Scots words, by James Orr

Prophets, Makers and Risk-takers – a great event for writers in Northern Ireland

It’s good to share good things and there are very good things to share from this year’s Writers’ Symposium (14th January) curated by Jan Carson, presented by Eastside Arts Centre and sponsored by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

Prophets, Makers and Risk-takers: A Showcase of Writing from Northern Ireland’, this one-day event was an exemplary resource for writers. I will highlight just three sessions.

The Keynote Address was ‘”This Must Be the Place”: Mapping Contemporary Women’s Writing from Northern Ireland’  by Dr. Dawn Miranda Sherratt-Bado (Queen’s University Belfast, Institute of Irish Studies).

Watch it here

This talk exemplified for me a striking feature of the whole day – the advancement of a sense of community for writers in Northern Ireland. The sessions worked against isolation or exceptionalism, fostering a spirit of solidarity in the facing of challenges or success.

Dr Sheratt-Bado’s talk provides a context for writing by women in Northern Ireland, or rather, something much more personal and powerful than that, a sense of family. Here are sisters who have walked the road that we are on.  Famliar or new faces and voices. Wonderful!

I bet many of us wondered who we might add to the list. I thought of Marjory Alyn (‘The Sound of Anthems’, St Martin’s Press, 1983; Hodder & Stoughton, 1984) a trenchant novel inspired by the White City estate in North Belfast; a great read alongside ‘Hearthlands’ by Marianne Elliott (Blackstaff Press, 2017).

and, with a little category bending, Welsh novelist, Menna Gallie whose ‘You’re Welcome To Ulster ‘  (Gollancz , 1970) is, arguably, the first ‘Troubles Novel’.

A Welsh Novelist of Northern Ireland

 

Jan Carson’s session of practical advice for writers could hardly have been bettered. She covered a wide range of topics with a robust practicality and surely no one who heard her would be left in any doubt that promotion of one’s work is part of a writer’s toolkit, if it is done with confident humility, sincerity and a collaborative attitude that thanks people for help and helps in turn.

There can also be no doubt about how hard she works at this aspect of the craft. It inspired me to do a review of my own promotional efforts. I decided to identify one thing that I was aware needed attention. I applied the kind of constructive, problem-solving, let’s-do-this-together analysis that I picked up on in Jan Carson’s approach. I worked out what I could do. I discussed my idea with my publishers and,  a couple of weeks on, we’ve made really good progress on the issue.

I also particularly enjoyed the panel discussion on CONTEMPORARY ISSUES IN
NORTHERN IRISH WRITING chaired by Emma Warnock of No Alibis Press  with Nandi Jola and Mícheál McCann.

From this session I took away an appreciation of how the obstacles writers face are very much experiences that are common to most writers, rather than being failings experiened by unworthy ones. We can all be confident that it is likely that any problem we might have has  been faced, and overcome, by some other writer. Again, that sense of community came through.

See the event Programme here

and the Video Showcase of Writers:

Jan Carson has reflected on the event in a blog: here

Thank you to everyone concerned for a great event.

I’m from East Belfast: hubba tha yooniverse

My collection of 26 short stories A City Burning (Seren Books) set in Northern Ireland, Wales and Italy was published in October 2020.

Review of A City Burning – Nation Cymru

Jane Fraser

The acclaimed Irish short story writer, Claire Keegan, has stated that, ‘the short story begins after what happens, happens.’ After the drama has passed is the territory the writer has to work within: a time, a place, and a context of emotional consequences where, after the water has been stirred up and settled, what was before, is not now.

The making of a short story into a beautiful art form is therefore a delicate and challenging craft.  And Belfast-born Angela Graham has risen to that challenge, exhibiting in her debut collection, A City Burning, twenty-six stories which allow the reader to feel the emotional intensity of a range of characters as they stand at pivotal moments in their lives in the aftermath of personal tragedy. Continue reading Review of A City Burning – Nation Cymru

Time To Write Around The Coast of Ireland

Maria Isakova Bennett celebrates Poetry Day Ireland 2020 by the creation of a collaborative poem made up of lines she has selected from poems specially written on that day with the sea as a theme. I chose to write about Broughanlea Townland where I live near Ballycastle.

Her beautiful stitching work enhances the presentation of the lines as they create, together, a harmony of sea sounds.

Collaborative Litany – Time To Write Around The Coast of Ireland 2020

The opening section

My poem, FULL CIRCLE, BROUGHANLEA TOWNLAND, COUNTY ANTRIM is part of the work I am doing on Place and Displacement for which I recieved a SIAP Award from the arts Council of Northern Ireland in 2019.

Maria hopes to arrange a reading involving all 34 contributing poets around the coast of Ireland when circumstances allow.

This lovely project brings together poetry and embroidery, two things I’m very keen on. I have plans for a stitched seascape!

Reactions to ‘A City Burning’

A city burns in a crisis − because the status quo has collapsed and change must come. Every value, relationship and belief is shaken and the future is uncertain.

A CITY BURNING  Order here

A Book of the Year 2020 on Nation Cymru and The Lonely Crowd.

Books of the Year 2020: Part One

“This is an exemplary collection illustrating the creative possibilities of the short fiction form… All the stories allowed me to feel the emotional intensity of a range of characters as they stand at pivotal moments in their lives in the aftermath of personal tragedy. This is due, I believe, to the innate understanding that Graham has for the ‘stuff’ of the short story: suggestion rather than statement; rising tension rather than high drama; the power of the unsaid; and the realisation that endings are not neat and tidy and tied up!” Jane Fraser (The Lonely Crowd)

“a kind of clarity of languag… that rings off the page…  a voice that feels completely new and fresh… Graham’s language has a searing quality yet also a humour about it that is genuinely hard to forget long after reading. Very highly recommended – I can’t wait to see what she does next.” Kate Hamer (The Lonely Crowd)

“Angela Graham’s debut collection A City Burning announced a confident, stylish new voice in short fiction.” Jon Gower (Nation Cymru) Continue reading Reactions to ‘A City Burning’