Words in the Air

May 13, 2018

I was delighted to have been awarded an Individual Artist’s Bursary earlier this year from Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council towards my Words in the Air project. My idea was to work with the children from three small primary schools along the Causeway Coast, namely Dunseverick, Barnish and Rathlin, that between them form a triangle that spans Rathlin Sound. Inspired by the wireless experiments conducted by Marconi’s engineers over 120 years ago (the subject of my most recent novel, The Watch House) I was interested in the idea of the children from these three schools, separated by a stretch of water as well as by a stretch of land, ‘speaking’ to each other across the airwaves. The plan was to encourage the children to write imaginatively about the places and the people that are dear to them and to capture their ‘Words in the Air’. As you can imagine, the project has made for an interesting mix of work – we’ve had tales of magic potions and odes to mischievous pets, descriptions of far-flung and fantastical places, stories of whole worlds that are made of chocolate, of mythical creatures and of ancient crones, of monster invasions and of carnivorous pugs. And we’ve also had some of the sweetest, most endearing tributes from the children to the places and the people that are special to them. I recorded the children’s voices and have sent their words off to be professionally mixed by a sound engineer who will attempt to remove the noises of squeaky chairs and maybe some of the giggles. When it’s done each school will receive a copy of the sound file containing all of the children’s voices. I hope to find a way to share it elsewhere. It melts my heart a little each time I listen.

As part of the Words in the Air project I’ll be leading an adult writing workshop at The Manor House on Rathlin from 2-4pm on Thursday 31st May during the Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival. The workshop is free but places are restricted. To book phone the beautifully refurbished Manor House on 028 2076 0046. If you’re not an islander, you’ll need a ferry timetable  (quickest crossing is on the passenger ferry – just twenty minutes from Ballycastle). That same evening of 31stMay, I will be reading from The Watch House in conversation with writer and filmmaker Margot McCuaig  at 7pm in the serene surroundings of St Thomas’ Church on Rathlin. Margot is a Rathlin resident in part-time exile in Scotland. It’s a real honour to be taking part in the festival and to have the opportunity to talk to Margot and to read from the book on Rathlin. No booking required – just turn up. The last ferry leaves Rathlin at 5.30pm at this time of year, but if I were you, I would take the opportunity to spend a night on the island. There are plenty of beds available, from The Manor House, to B&Bs, to self-catering cottages and apartments, to hostel and bunk accommodation, to the newly-sited camping pods. I happen to know that at 9pm on 31stMay, the West Lighthouse Seabird Centre is hosting a special evening opening. You can head out there after the reading, watch the sun go down and the West Light come to life as its red beam shines out over the sea and over one of the biggest seabird breeding colonies in Europe. (Free entry; donations to the RSPB appreciated.) The Festival runs from 25thMay to 3rdJune. Keep an eye on the Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival website for more details of events in Ballycastle and on Rathlin. And for an opportunity to win return ferry travel and a voucher for The Manor House, sign up to their mailing list for updates (winner announced 19th May 2018).

If you’re not so sure of your sea legs, the Belfast Book Festival programme  has just been launched – no ferry crossings required. I’ll be at Books, Paper, Scissors Bookshop on Stranmillis Road (just opposite the Museum) at 6pm on Wednesday 6thJune, chatting to presenter Helen Mark about The Watch House (because I’m not done talking about it yet). This is a free event so do book ahead. Here’s the link.

I’ll be back at the Book Festival on Wednesday 13thJune at 6.30pm, and am delighted to be reading with Sue Hubbard, author of Rainsongs, a book set on the Iveragh Peninsula in Kerry. We’ll be talking islands and peninsulae at the Crescent Arts Centre. (Admission £8/£6; book here.)

On Saturday 16thJune, I’ll be taking an all-day-and-into-the-evening (10am-8pm) intensive fiction writing and editing workshop with fellow writer Sheena Wilkinson. On the Same Page is an opportunity to write, share your work and learn how to take your skills to the next level. From the first spark of inspiration to sending your work out into the world, Sheena and I will guide you through the process, drawing on our own experiences in publishing and offering practical advice for the submission process. Full details and booking here.

More news later with writing activities in July and August. Keep an eye on my Events page for full details. Until then, I’ll see you about.