Irish Times Review
Books in brief: Angela Graham’s evocative short stories
Sat, Jul 10, 2021, 00:00
A City Burning
Angela Graham’s debut collection of short stories has been longlisted for the 2021 Edge Hill Short Story prize, and it’s not hard to see why. The film-maker and screenwriter’s move into fiction brings with it an eye for perspective, for the power of the vignette to momentarily depict a whole life. There is a craft in the economy of Graham’s prose, as evocative as it is sparse, and the theme of change resonates throughout the collection, as well as the inherently human fear of it. We are not always prepared for the moment when our lives change for ever, and Graham seeks to capture that sense of knowing and not knowing here, inviting us into an intimacy with her characters that is never forced, and always elegiac. BECKY LONG
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’.
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.
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.
“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’
ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT – READ HERE
My story ‘ All Through The Night’ is Seren’s Short Story of the Month for December 2020. An extract from it is beautifully read by Geraint Lewis.
The story was first publsihed in Crannóg magazine which nominated it for the Pushcart Prize 2019.
I’m delighted that two authors in The Lonely Crowd’s Books of the Year feature Part One chose ‘A City Burning’ as a highlight of 2020 – Jane Fraser and Kate Hamer
and that Jon Gower selected it too in his Books of the Year for Nation Cymru.
Prof Diana Wallace researches women’s writing, with special interests in historical fiction; Welsh writing in English and Modernism and the Gothic. She is co-director of the Centre for Gender Studies in Wales and Leader of the English Research Unit at the University of South Wales. Her review appears on the website of the Centre for the Study of Media and Culutre in Small Nations at the University of South Wales.
How can writers respond to sudden, even exponential, change? It can take a decade, as it did after the first world war or 9/11, for novels and memoirs to catch up as writers process traumatic events. And readers, time-pressed and battered by 24-hour news, may turn to genre fiction for the comfort of familiar plot lines and predictable endings. The short story, on the other hand, can turn on a sixpence to give us a snapshot of our crises in real time. Compressed, intense, often challenging, some of the most powerful examples of the form have come from writers on the so-called margins: women, immigrants, people from ‘small nations’ such as Wales and Ireland.
Angela Graham’s assured and compelling debut collection, A City Burning, ranges across Wales, Northern Ireland and Italy. It offers 26 brief stories, most no more than a few pages (one a mere page and a quarter), which turn their forensic flashlight on a moment of change when a character has to make a choice. Continue reading Review of ‘A City Burning’ by Prof Diana Wallace
It was lovely to have this [click here to listen Interview with Anne Marie McAleese ] on Your Place And Mine BBC Radio Ulster 7th November. This long-running and much-lauded series focuses on place. We talked about the role of place in my short story collection A City Burning.
I read an extract from the story Coasteering in which a middle-aged woman and her Ulster Scots-speaking coasteering instructor venture far out along the coast at twilight:
‘Dinnae ower-think it!’ Alec urged, and then repeated himself….
I loosened the cuffs of the waterproof jacket that added a layer to the battered old wetsuit he’d provided. Seawater gushed out past my wrists. I poised myself, leapt − an un-timeable gap − and was smothered in crashing bubbles and noise and resistance, then broke upwards into air and the push and pull of the sea. This was what I’d wanted, to be out beyond the little beaches and rock-strewn shores; to be out of my depth but safe; to be gripped by the sea’s power but not at its mercy. I respect the sea. I fear it…. Continue reading On ‘Your Place And Mine’, BBC Radio Ulster
As her debut short story collection A City Burning, is published, we interview Angela Graham to find out more about the book and what inspires her.
In the twenty-six stories in A City Burning, set in Wales, Northern Ireland and Italy, children and adults face, in the flames of personal tragedy, moments of potential transformation. On the threshold of their futures each must make a choice: how to live in this new ‘now’. With a virtuoso control of tone, by turns elegiac, comic, lyrical, philosophical, A City Burning examines power of all types. The result is a deeply human book full of hauntingly memorable characters and narratives.
What is the meaning behind the title A City Burning?
In the opening story, ‘The Road’, a young girl witnesses her city blazing. She understands that this is a sign of the collapse of the status quo, of all the usual certainties. She is confronted with the need to react to this new situation. What values should guide her in this choice? I realised that this story encapsulates the theme of many stories in the collection – witnessing major change and having to work out a response. It seemed a fitting title for the book.