Women Across Borders – Irish Writers Centre 7th March 2020
Women Across Borders is the Irish Writers Centre’s International Women’s Day event in conjunction with Women Aloud NI. Although I had been aware of it in previous years, I had not attended the event before. I have been a member of Women Aloud NI – a group set up to promote women writers in NI – for a few years. It’s an excellent organisation for networking and for many women writers it is a way-in to beginning to perform their work, or to get involved in readings at festivals or other events.
The Women Across Borders event at the Irish Writers Centre was an all-day affair with the main room being used for 3 minute readings from many participating reading. Stopping only for lunch, the readers read all day. This kind of Readathon is something that I’ve done with Women Aloud before. I really like it because there’s no hierarchy- everyone has their three minute slot- nobody is the support act to anyone else. It’s a great opportunity to read for the first time. I often use it to try out something new. This time I used it to read a poem that I had written in New York last year. I haven’t written poetry for ages and, after three novels, writing and reading poetry gives me the kind of a nervous excitement that I first had when I started reading my work as a university student more than twenty years ago. It is so nice to have the opportunity to read aloud in front of other writers, especially when you know that the audience is not there to be critical, but to support.
It was a delight to hear several wider-European and BAME voices – something which naturally happens at Irish Writers Centre events but not so much at home in NI. Demographics have a part to play but throughout this residency I’ve been wondering how we at home can encourage greater amplification of non-white voices at our Northern literary events.
Alongside the Readathon, writers were able to attend several workshops or panel discussions on industry issues. The one I went to was about doing public events as a writer. Novelist Lisa Harding led us in a discussion about how we felt speaking in public and she suggested ways to prepare in order to decrease anxiety. As a practical workshop I found it very helpful and I heard great things about the other panels and workshops which covered how to sustain a flourishing writing practice, advancing women’s literature, and the available support for writers at the Irish Writers Centre. The ‘taster’ sessions for the wider IWC programme are a great idea. It’s always hard to choose a writing course if you’re not sure what it will be like and I found myself wishing I could take more courses with Lisa Harding (sadly they are now postponed because of Coronavirus, but keep an eye out on the IWC website for news about when they might start again).
Commissioning Editor for No Alibis Press, Emma Warnock, and Publisher Sarah Savitt from Virago led an interesting discussion about women’s publishing at the end of the day. There was time given to the important topic of the under-representation of women and BAME writers, and audience questions continued the theme with consideration given to codes of conduct and behavioural changes following the #wakeupirishpoetry hashtag controversy online.
An enjoyable day with something for every woman who writes. I look forward to next year’s event and hope that many more will join us from the North.