Arts

Sinéad Gleeson and Bernie McGill on new book from northern women writers

A new collection of short stories from northern women writers will be launched next month. Editor Sinéad Gleeson and writer Bernie McGill tell Joanne Sweeney why it's a timely publication

Portstewart writer Bernie McGill whose work is included in the new short story collection The Glass Shore
Joanne Sweeney

THE Irish short story is alive and well, judging by a new collection of tales from northern women writers which launches in Belfast and Dublin next month.

The legacy of writers such as Frank O'Connor and Elizabeth Bowen is continued in The Glass Shore, edited by Dublin writer and arts broadcaster Sinéad Gleeson. It features stories from 25 writers past and present, including the likes of Lucy Caldwell, Martina Devlin, Bernie McGill and Anne Devlin, daughter of former Stormont MP Paddy Devlin.

The anthology is a follow-on from Gleeson's award-winning book The Long Gaze Back: An Anthology of Irish Women Writers, which she also edited last year.

"There are too few anthologies of short stories by Irish women writers in general, but the dearth of collections from the north of Ireland really stands out," explains Gleeson. "The Glass Shore arose out of many conversations I had with people in Belfast last year about how such a book was really needed.

"The last major all-female anthology (which wasn't solely short stories) was Ruth Hooley's The Female Line in 1985, so a new book is long overdue."

She called it by its intriguing title after thinking of how north and south are also connected by a coastline.

"The title just came to me one day and seemed to work. It doesn't have a literal interpretation, but one of the writers said to me that the idea of glass ties in with reflection, of holding a mirror up to Northern Irish literary life," she says.

"I've included a story by Omagh writer Alice Milligan, and in turn, Martina Devlin's story is about Milligan herself, and there are ghost stories in both The Long Gaze Back and The Glass Shore. Thematically the stories in The Glass Shore are hugely diverse and just a few of them (often quite obliquely) engage with the Troubles. Evelyn Conlon's story deals brilliantly with the idea of borders, while other stories are interested in the future and in identity."

Novelist Bernie McGill, from Portstewart, says she's thrilled her story The Cure For Too Much Feeling is included in the anthology, as her work was also featured in The Long Gaze Back.

"I'm delighted to be part of the book as it was wonderful to see writers like Elizabeth Bowen that I had studied to be included in the first book and for me to have work alongside it was a privilege," said McGill.

"It's fantastic to be part of The Glass Shore, to have a voice in it and to be represented alongside with other writers like my favourite author Janet McNeill who's also included."

While her short story is an acute study of a middle-aged woman's feeling of misery inside her and around her, McGill says that the feeling of universal loss and grief globally in 2016.

She says: "When I was asked to write the story for the collection, I choose a story that thought reflected the year we were in with all the grief and death that is featured on 24 hour news.

"It's a story that has been in my head for about a year now. I did an earlier version in a writing workshop and revisited it for the book."

McGill shares Gleeson's thoughts that female short stories are deserving of a platform such as the collection provides.

She adds: "I think women writers have been under-represented in the short story over the centuries and I know that's a reason why Sinéad felt that those voices should be heard and brought to the fore again.

"But I don't think that there's anything about the short story that particularly attracts women writers as we have a great tradition of both male and female short story writers in Ireland."

A new edition of her novel The Butterfly Cabinet is due out early next month. And her new historical novel The Watch House is set on Rathlin Island during the time Guglielmo Marconi succeeded in the first radio communications in 1898. It will be published next year by Tinder Press.

The Glass Shore is launched at the Ulster Museum on Monday October 3 by critic and author Patricia Craig and contributor Lucy Caldwell. It will also be launched in Dublin on Wednesday October 5 at Hodges Figgis at 6pm with Irish Fiction Laureate Anne Enright and writer and journalist Martina Devlin

:: The Glass Shore: Short Stories by Women Writers from the North of Ireland, edited by Sinéad Gleeson, is published by New Island Books.

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