Wednesday, 15 March 2017


A year ago I was persuaded, against my better judgement, to take part in the first Women Aloud NI event at No Alibis bookshop. A whole clatter (a quire?) of women writers were going to celebrate International Women's Day by reading short extracts from their work (well at least they'd be short) but then we were all going to have to read together. That's bits of fiction, poetry, travel, biography, you-name-it, read ALOUD, at the same time, in a confined space.

It was obvious to me that the organiser, Jane Talbot, was a lunatic, but she was a persuasive lunatic, and I'd already agreed, so I turned up. I took the other two members of the Literary Ladies Get Slightly Drunk Society along with me for moral support, but in the end we all enjoyed ourselves hugely and I had to take back everything I'd said.

I didn't take part in this year's events, mainly because I was reading in three branch libraries on three successive evenings last week, and that seemed like enough excitement. Also, this year's shenanigans took place in public places - in Belfast and in Dublin - and I don't think I'm that brave. Not without dark glasses and a false moustache, which might have looked slightly out of place... But I take off my hat to all who took part (and to the indefatigable Jane) for their enthusiasm, and their dedication to making women's voices heard.

The library events were a pleasure. Lesley Allen, Angeline King and I read from our novels and answered questions at Newtownbreda, Banbridge and Larne libraries, and at all three we were made enormously welcome. The number of people who turned out to hear us was surprising - to me, anyway. I don't usually expect much of an audience - Professor Gloom, the Literary Ladies (suitably bribed), two drunks and a passing dog would be average. Mind you, the Literary Ladies provide a certain arty glamour, and Professor Gloom's furrowed brow and downcast eyes are generally taken for evidence of deep literary thought, when he is, in fact, playing Solitaire on his phone.

The other great pleasure of public readings is that you get to know your fellow-writers, discover the
things you have in common, and the books you've recently enjoyed.
Lesley, Angeline and I all loved Sarah Winman's When God was a Rabbit, and if you liked it too, then you might try The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen: both books are whimsical, funny and touching. And we all three of us read, at least once, from the start of our own novels - which is hardly surprising: if your first few sentences don't grab the reader's attention, you're probably in trouble.

I'm a fan of clever, quirky novels myself, and three of my favourites (all by women, as it happens) have some of the most memorable opening lines in fiction.,

Dodie Smith's beguiling I Capture the Castle  - one of my all-time favourite books - begins 'I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.' 

Kate Atkinson kicks off Behind the Scenes at the Museum with 'I exist! I am conceived to the chimes of midnight...'

And then there is The Towers of Trebizond by the wonderful, witty Rose Macaulay, with her deathless opening lines:

'"Take me camel, dear," said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.' 

I defy anyone to do better.

And the week ended with Jan Carson's short story Egg being read aloud on Radio 4. All in all, a good week here for women's voices.

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