Some of Northern Ireland’s most exciting writers are off to Berlin this weekend for a literary showcase.
They’ll be taking part in the 37th British Council Literature Seminar, which for the first time focuses on Northern Ireland – showcasing both new and established writers over three days (February 24-26 February 2022).
Entitled Now Neu NI: Contemporary writing from Northern Ireland, the event will be chaired by Glenn Patterson, renowned writer and Director of the Seamus Heaney Centre, Queen’s University Belfast.
He will be joined by six other writers from Northern Ireland including novelist Lucy Caldwell, who releases her latest novel around the Belfast Blitz on 3 March; Nick Laird, an accomplished poet, screenwriter and curator from Co Tyrone; and Dublin-based writer Michelle Gallen.
Also on the bill are emerging/newer writers, Abby Oliveria, a writer and performer based in Derry/Londonderry; Belfast poet Padraig Regan; and Bebe Ashley, a poet and PhD student at the Seamus Heaney Centre, Queen’s University Belfast.
The seminar will take place over three locations in Berlin: the English Theatre Berlin, the Literaturhaus Berlin and the Lettrétage a literary house in Berlin's Kreuzberg district. Consisting of readings, panel discussions and author-led workshops, it will offer literature fans, publishers, academics, and journalists, the chance to hear the latest writing from Northern Ireland and engage with the writers and their work first-hand.
Speaking about the seminar series, Chair, Glenn Patterson said: “I first went to the British Council’s Literature Seminar in the 1990s. To be returning there to chair a seminar which focuses on writing from Northern Ireland is a huge privilege. It is heartening to think we could have programmed three weeks of new writing – such is quantity, and quality of work coming out of here just now – but these three days are an opportunity to introduce to German audiences some writers who they have not met yet in translation and to celebrate new work by writers they may be more familiar with. If everyone leaves thinking ‘I would love to read more,’ it will have been three days very well spent.”
Jonathan Stewart, Director, British Council Northern Ireland said: “We’re delighted that this year’s literature seminar will focus on writers from Northern Ireland – both well established and emerging. Over the years, Northern Ireland has produced world-famous poets, playwrights and novelists, and there is a wealth of talent from here. We hope this showcase will help bring Northern Ireland writers to new international audiences, while building and strengthening connections between Northern Ireland and Germany.”
The British Council Literature Seminar in Germany has brought new literary voices from the UK to Germany for over 30 years. Featured writers at this popular event have included Ian McEwan, Robert Macfarlane, Salman Rushdie and Jeanette Winterson. Chairs of the seminar have included Valentine Cunningham, A S Byatt, Patricia Duncker, Professor John Mullan and 2019 joint Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo.
The 2022 Literature Seminar is a collaboration between the British Council, Seamus Heaney Centre at Queens University Belfast, Literaturhaus Berlin, Lettretage and the English Theatre Berlin. It will take place in Berlin from 24-26 February. To find out more visit: https://www.britishcouncil.de/en/programmes/arts/literature-seminar
Events will be livestreamed from British Council Germany’s Youtube Channel from 6.30pm (UK time) on Thursday, 24 February – view here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_YzBQdnDvI
The British Council builds connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and overseas through arts, education and English language teaching. To find out more about their work in Northern Ireland visit nireland.britishcouncil.org or follow on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
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About the writers
Glenn Patterson was born in Belfast and studied on the MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia with Malcolm Bradbury and Angela Carter. His first novel, Burning Your Own (1988), set in 1969, won a Betty Trask Award and the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. Fat Lad (1992) was shortlisted for the Guinness Peat Aviation Book Award and explores the political situation in Northern Ireland through the eyes of a young man returning to his homeland after a ten-year absence. Subsequent novels include Black Night at Big Thunder Mountain (1995), The International (1999), Number 5 (2003) and That Which Was (2004). His memoir Once Upon a Hill: Love in Troubled Times appeared in 2008 and in 2009 he published The Third Party, in which two Northern Irish characters meet by chance in Hiroshima. The Mill For Grinding Old People Young (2012), which takes its name from an 1820s public house, was Belfast’s first One City, One Book choice. The Rest Just Follows (2013) traces the lives and loves of three friends from schooldays to approaching middle-age, while Gull (2016) tells the story of the DeLorean Motor Company’s Belfast factory.
His most recent novel, Where Are We Now? concerns Herbie a divorcee who is trying to make a new life in a rapidly renewing Belfast. Lapsed Protestant, a collection of non-fiction/ journalistic work, was published in 2006, and was followed in 2015 by Here’s Me Here: Further Reflections of a Lapsed Protestant. In 2019 he published Backstop Land, looking at Brexit from a Northern Irish perspective. His latest book The Last Irish Question: Will Six into Twenty-Six Ever Go? (2021) is a view of the south of Ireland – political, social, geographical – through the eyes of a northerner being asked to re-join it.
Glenn Patterson has been Writer in Residence at the Universities of East Anglia, Cork, Queen's, Belfast, where he is now Director of the Seamus Heaney Centre. He has written plays for Radio 3 and Radio 4, libretti for operas, including 2016’s Long Story Short: the Belfast Opera (composer Neil Martin) and with Colin Carberry wrote the screenplay of Good Vibrations (BBC Films, 2012), which the pair adapted for stage in 2018. The Northern Bank Job, his radio series / podcast on one of the largest bank heists in British and Irish history, received a Special Commendation in the 2021 Prix Europa.
Nicholas Laird is a Northern Irish novelist and poet. He was born in Cookstown, County Tyrone and attended Cambridge University, where he attained a first-class degree in English literature and won the "Arthur Quiller-Couch Award for Creative Writing." He went on to work at a law firm in London for six years, before leaving to concentrate on his writing. Laird's first collection of poems To a Fault won numerous awards, including the Jerwood Aldeburgh Prize and the Strong award. On Purpose is his follow-up book of poems, further explores the concept of relationships and won the Somerset Maugham Award and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. Laird's fourth collection Feel Free was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Derek Walcott prize. Laird is one of the post-Troubles young novelists from Ulster, who have emerged to articulate the identity of the generation whose childhoods were experienced amid some of the region's worst violence, but who also matured in an era of problematic reconciliation. He also cites the enduring influence of Irish poet Seamus Heaney on his life and work, tracing his love of literature back to reading some of Heaney's early work.
He is the Seamus Heaney Professor of Poetry at Queens University, Belfast, and on faculty at New York University. He is also a screenwriter, critic, broadcaster, and curator, writing regularly for journals and newspapers, and he runs Poetryfest at the Irish Arts Centre in New York City.
Born in Belfast, Lucy Caldwell is a Northern Irish writer: author of four novels, two collections of short stories, several stage plays and radio dramas, and the editor of Being Various: New Irish Short Stories. She studied English at Queens' College, Cambridge, graduating with a First Class Degree, and gained a Distinction in her MA in Creative & Life Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London.
Lucy is a former RLF Fellow, a Visiting Fellow at the Seamus Heaney Centre, Queen’s University, Belfast, a Visiting Lecturer at Goldsmiths and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2018. She teaches a regular masterclass on the short story for the Faber Academy. She is a Patron of Fighting Words Belfast, a Patron of the Belfast Book Festival, a Founding Patron for the Niamh Louise Foundation, a mentor for Words Ireland and for the Play It Forward scheme. Her first novel, Where They Were Missed (2006), was completed during her MA, and shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize. The Meeting Point (2011) featured on BBC Radio 4's Book at Bedtime and was awarded the Dylan Thomas Prize, and All the Beggars Riding (2013), which also featured on Book at Bedtime, was the One City, One Book choice for Belfast, won a Fiction Uncovered Award and was shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year. Her fourth novel, These Days, will be published in March 2022, charting two women’s lives during the Belfast Blitz.
She has published two collections of short stories, Multitudes (2016) and Intimacies (2021). Shortlisted three times for the BBC National Short Story Award, she won it in 2021 with All the People Were Mean and Bad. Multitudes won the Edge Hill Readers’ Choice Award and the story Killing Time won the Commonwealth Prize (Canada & Europe). Her short stories have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4, widely anthologised and published in, among other places, Granta, The Stinging Fly, Winter Papers, The Penguin Book of the Contemporary British Short Story, All Over Ireland, Belfast Noir, Belfast Stories, The Long Gaze Back, The Glass Shore and The Art of the Glimpse.
Lucy's published stage plays are Leaves (2007), Notes to Future Self (2011) and Three Sisters (After Chekhov) 2016, and she is the author of several more short plays and monologues, and numerous radio dramas. Her work is translated into a dozen European languages.
Michelle Gallen was born in Tyrone in the 1970s and grew up during the Troubles a few miles from what she was told was the “Free” State and the “United” Kingdom. She studied English Literature at Trinity College Dublin and Publishing at Stirling University. She won several prestigious prizes as a young writer before a devastating brain injury in her mid-twenties. Michelle is published by John Murray Press and Algonquin Books and is repped by Marianne Gunn O’Connor Agency. Her debut Big Girl, Small Town was shortlisted for several major awards and is being adapted for TV by BBC production company Lookout Point. Big Girl, Small Town was one of 100 Irish books chosen by MOLI to represent contemporary Irish writing in their online showcase. Her second novel, Factory Girls, will be published in the UK, Ireland and USA in 2022. She now lives in Dublin with her husband and kids. Awards: Big Girl, Small Town was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award, an Irish Book Award, the Comedy Women in Print Award and Kate O'Brien Award. It was longlisted for the RSL Ondaatje prize.
Abby Oliveira is a writer and performer based in Derry, Northern Ireland. Her work is often cross-discipline and collaborative; comprising poetry, storytelling, music, prose, playwriting, and/or physical performance. She is enamoured by themes of interpersonal relationships, folklore & mythology, the battles & triumphs of the human mind, body, and spirit in relation to the socio-political/cultural tornado that has been the 21st century.
She was recently awarded funding by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland in order to complete her debut poetry manuscript (titled Shift) – its search for a publisher to call home will begin in January of ’22. Recent publications include contributions to The 32: An anthology of Irish Working Class voices (Unbound, 2021), The New Frontier: reflections from the Irish border (New Island Books, 2021), and Empty House: poetry & prose on the climate crisis (Doire Press, 2021)
She has been commissioned as a writer many times, for example:
*2021: The MAC, Belfast - commissioned poem Big Tide Rising.
*2020: The MAC, Belfast - commissioned poem Blue is the Hour for their Home: Noli Timere series.
*2019: BBC Radio Foyle - commission to write the station's official 40th birthday poem.
*2017: RTE Radio – spoken-word poetry piece for the series 'Reverberations.'
She has performed in many theatre productions over the years, including her own shows Cast Away Your Compass (2016/17 – taking in Australia on her tour, and also presenting excerpts at Singapore Writer’s Festival), and the multi-media show Legends of the Coven (2018 – about some of the world’s most notorious women of the occult). Having taken some time out to grow a baby, be a mammy, and then the dreaded 2020, the show awaits its imminent resurgence when some certainty returns, if ever!
She collaborates extensively with musicians working in various styles; from trip-hop to folk to electronic soundscape and more. These collaborations have been prevalent in her work over the past few years. An example of a recent music collaboration has been with musician Mark Graham (formerly King Kong Company), providing the poetry for urban street festival organisation Spraoi’s multimedia performance installation Prism.
She is excited to present a selection of her poetry, prose, music, and performance work at this year’s literature seminar.
Padraig Regan was born in 1993 in Belfast. Padraig’s debut pamphlet, Delicious (Lifeboat, 2016), confirmed them as one of the most promising and thought-provoking writers in Ireland today. Their second pamphlet, Who Seemed Alive and Altogether Real (Emma Press, 2017) was further proof of Padraig taking Irish poetry in new directions and was described by critic Dave Coates as, “[…] warm, tactile, sharp-witted, with a handful of real masterpieces.” Padraig is one of the founders of the highly regarded Tangerine Magazine, where they serve as Contributing Editor. Padraig won an Eric Gregory Award in 2015 while a student at the Seamus Heaney Centre (Queen’s University Belfast), where they now teach. They hold a PhD on creative-critical and hybridised writing practices in medieval texts and the work of Anne Carson from the Seamus Heaney Centre, Queen's University Belfast.
Bebe Ashley lives in Belfast. She is a Northern Bridge AHRC funded PhD student at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry and is currently working on a collection of poetry that charts her progress towards qualifying as a British Sign Language interpreter. Her work can be found in journals such as bath magg, Poetry Ireland Review, Modern Poetry in Translation, Mslexia and has also featured in anthologies such as Prototype’s Intertitles: an anthology at the intersection of writing & visual art and UCD Press’ Hold Open the Door: A commemorative anthology from the Ireland Chair of Poetry. Her debut collection Gold Light Shining was published by Banshee Press in October 2020.In 2021, Bebe was longlisted for the Ivan Juritz Prize for Creative Experiment and awarded a Chair of Ireland Poetry Trust Award. Most recently, Bebe was selected by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Future Screens NI as one of nine artists to receive a Digital Evolution Award in support of a project Confetti that explores poetic potential of Braille and 3D printing.