On ‘Your Place And Mine’, BBC Radio Ulster

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….

This summer, the first without children or young grown-ups, I’d realised I could venture further. I could go coasteering. Someone expert could ensure I didn’t come a cropper out there. Out at sea.

Unlike those massive blue stretches of the far south, our northern, Irish sea has no steady colour. It takes its hue from the coming and going of the sun as it parts clouds to raise, from the dun acres of water far below, shining fields of vivid jade wrapped in the darkest bottle-green. Seen from cliff-tops, these colours display themselves as vast sheets of luminous intensity. One of the attractions of coasteering was that, close-up, they would tilt and rock beneath me like stained glass panels miraculously made flexible. Most wonderful of all, they could be entered. I could be part of those glowing colour-pools. And I had done it. Even if today that brilliance was fitful and we had started later than we meant to…

I stopped now and then to look up at the pale sky; to notice water around me, brownish and yet transparent; both lucid and richly supportive. It was, bizarrely, like swimming in scentless Guinness.

And we had a chat about tussles over the meaning of the names of Ulster’s townlands. Anne Marie says she has the occasional barney with journalist, Stephen Nolan on the topic! I outlined my research into the meaning of the name of the townland where I live in County Antrim: Broughanlea. Some say palace of the clouds; others  small grey brink. Either way the name and the names of the adjacent townlands on this northern edge of Ireland have given me fuel for some poems.