Category Archives: Prose

On The Wall: Place and Displacement 1st draft

“Get it up on the wall,” Des Jones says of plaster. “You can do what you like with it later.” He’s married to my husband’s cousin, Susan and he’s handled a quare few walls in his time. So I’ve got my book on Place and Displacement ‘”up on the wall’ this afternoon, tens of thousands of words, and I’ll put the finishing touches to it when I’ve had a metaphorical cup of tea. (The illustration is the cross-section of the house from the speculator’s submission to Belfast City Council. It’s the dream of the house before it became a reality, one of thousands of parlour houses built for the expanding city.)

I’ve had to go and have a bit of a lie-down too because the work has covered several years of research and preparation and centuries of event and my head is full of architectural and historical details. I received a Support for the Individual Artist Award (SIAP) from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland in 2019 towards research for this book.

This piece of work started as ‘a bit of context’ for a set of poems I’ve written about the house of my childhood and my experiences of growing up in east Belfast in the Sixties and Seventies. It gave me the opportunity to focus the search for my paternal grandfather which I’ve been carrying out, off and on, since the Eighties when I made a TV documentary which touched on some of the material. My grandfather was almost never spoken of in my childhood and it has taken much careful research, over many years, to tease out his story. I kept everything I came across and, over time, connections have matured, as I have, and I feel I am more able, at this stage, to see the broader picture.

It also became a forensic investigation of, not only the house, but the area, the field in which it was built and the people who put up the money for it, designed it, built it and first lived in it. It’s an account of belonging, and not being allowed to belong. Continue reading On The Wall: Place and Displacement 1st draft

Showcase of Irish Authors – Seren Books

I’m looking forward to taking part in this event, 7pm Tuesday 29th June with three great writers from north and south of the island. Seren Books, the leading literary publishing house in Wales,  has many Irish writers on its list and is kicking off its  40th anniversary celebrations with an Irish focus.

Seren Publisher, Mick Felton says,

The line up for this event is a clear reason why we like to publish authors from Ireland.

Continue reading Showcase of Irish Authors – Seren Books

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

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 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 The Irish Times

‘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

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

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’