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Thursday 9 February 2023 Dublin: 7°C
# female lines
Story extract: 'Dad, we have to stop talking - you're dead'
We talk to one of the editors of a new anthology of writing by women from Northern Ireland.

Female Lines

30 YEARS AGO, an anthology of writing by Irish women in Northern Ireland was published. Now, three decades on, it’s time to look at how life for women in the north has changed since.

Female Lines, a new anthology of writing and photography by Northern Irish women, takes stock of what life is like in the north now for women, and just what has changed for them.

Using the words of women born in the north – some of whom no longer live there – it touches on topics like abortion, sex, work, and the future.

The book is edited by Linda Anderson and Dawn Miranda Sherratt-Bado, and Anderson explained to that it comes 30 years after the publication of a previous anthology, The Female Line: Northern Irish Women Writers, edited by Ruth Hooley.

Anderson said that The Female Line “was the definite source and inspiration behind this because we wanted to look at the situation 30 years after the publication of The Female Line, and we did want to emulate some of the methods used in that book”.

She describes the first book as “very pioneering” and a piece of activism. ”Because it was to do with the way women writers were marginalised and excluded and really not encouraged at all,” she said. “And it did create a sense of these talents were out there and … it banished some of the loneliness around it all, and what I think about it now is I think that now it’s been recognised as a contributor to cultural change.”

This new book is celebratory, she said. “It has brought together all these diverse talents and the vast majority of these writers have got very thriving careers.”

The book also highlights to show other changes for writers. “There are still sometimes these attempts to marginalise or exclude, but they tend to be a lot less successful because what with social media people can support each other and there just isn’t the same sort of feeling of isolation that there used to be around writing,” she says.

“What I’m hoping is there is a sense of change and there is a sense of opportunity and there is a sense of lots and lots of emerging talents,” she added. “There is a sense of boldness and experimentation that you see in a lot of the writing, for example the uses of magical realism in some authors like Jan Carson and Roisin O’Donnell. And all of that is – it’s very exciting.”

Linda Linda Anderson

This year has been a particularly big one with regards to discussions around sexism, gender, and sexual harassment. But Anderson warns we can’t just rest on our laurels.

What’s important about change and a sense of change is you have to be careful about it, because very often people think that’s the watershed moment, the tipping point and things will be OK now. Very often it is a flash in the pan and things go back to what is perceived as normal. That can be a problem. I just hope there is a lot of momentum behind this so it turns out not to be the case.

Anderson said she believes there is something in the book for everyone: “Anyone who might think it’s a women’s book, women’s literature, it’s very fluffy, it’s going to be about maternity and romance… it is absolutely bold stuff.”

“There’s lots of things that are very treasuring of local things – local landscapes or family relationships – but there’s also a real looking out and reaching into the world outside: global warming, a love affair falling apart in Lisbon. It’s just so wide, the scope of it all.”

It is also very much a cross-border project, she said – it’s funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and published by New Island Books. In addition, some of the authors now live in the Republic.

“It’s a book of Irish writers, Irish writing and it’s not some narrow provincial thing,” she said. “There are also common issues that women in Ireland have all had to contend with – the issue of their reproductive rights, the rights over their own bodies.”

The book follows on from The Glass Shore, edited by Sinead Gleeson, which is also a collection of writing by women from Northern Ireland.

“When we started we didn’t know it was in the offing,” says Anderson. “There is a wave of interest and energy around women’s writing, and there are also things like the Women Aloud Northern Ireland group and Waking the Feminists group. All these things are clustering and happening around the same time and they are feeding into each other – I just hope it’s unstoppable.”

“What would be great if we just ended up the vision Anne Enright wrote about recently where it just is matter of fact that you’ve got men writers and women writers just side by side, equal, and as she says, plenty of room for both,” she said, adding:

“One of the things I really hope about it is that young women writers and girls will be inspired by it to think ‘I could have that life, I could do that’ – that would be great.”

Wish You Were by Roisin O’Donnell (extract)

ARoisin228 Author Rosin O'Donnell


It rained and the cherry blossoms vanished from the trees overnight, outlining the grass verges of Nether Edge with damp pink mush. This upset me more than anything – the way that time channelled forth into summer, while I remained frozen by your graveside. In my head it was still April.

True to form, you hadn’t left a cent behind. But you had managed to leave me a rather unusual gift. Two months after your funeral, I was sitting on my bed staring at the empty black branches of the cherry blossom tree, when my phone vibrated in my pocket.

Dear descendant, CONGRATULATIONS! You are now subscribed to ProLong® Life Extension Package 1. See elesiumtech. com for details.

My phone rang and your voice smiled, ‘Fin, my darlin’. How are things?’

That first time I answered the phone, I dropped it.


Mum hands me back my mobile, ‘Okay Fionnuala. I’ve unblocked it now so you can still talk to him.’ Wiping my eyes, I follow her downstairs into the kitchen, cradling my phone like a priceless antique bauble.

Mum puts on the kettle and stares out at the patio, where our Christmas tree lies in a sparkling heap. ‘This won’t last forever, Fin,’ she says to her reflection in the dark kitchen window, as if she’s addressing someone trapped behind the glass. I’m about to reply when my phone buzzes.

Hey darlin’, howru? Cold night here in Inishowen! xox

I wait for that familiar comfort rush, but it doesn’t come. Instead, coldness crawls like an army of ice-legged ants over my skin. Mum’s slippers lisp out of the kitchen.

Great craic @BuncranaLibrary this morning doing creative writing workshop for @InishTeens. Talented bunch!


I know you’re not real, in the way I know most of the stuff I scroll through every day is not real; most of the news and commentary and opinion, and most of the feeds from my classmates. I know these stories are not real, and yet.

And yet.


‘Dad, we have to stop talking.’

‘What? Hang on a minute, Fin,’ I hear you paying for your pack of fags – cheers, thanks a million. Take care now … ‘Fionnuala, what’s all this?

‘Dad, you’re not real.’

You chuckle. I hear you lighting up. ‘Well Jeez, Fin, I’m about as real as the rest of us. What’s got into you today, huh? How’s school?’

‘Dad, you’re fucking dead.’

‘God, Fionnuala. No need to be so dramatic.’

‘I’m being dramatic? How am I being dramatic?’

‘Suit yourself then, missus. C’mere, I’ve to tip on down to the library. Chat to you this evening, so I will.’

‘Dad. Don’t hang up. Dad.’

Extract from the short story Wish You Were Here by Roisín O’Donnell, which features in the FEMALE LINES – New Writing by Women from Northern Ireland published by New Island Books

Roisín O’Donnell grew up in Sheffield but with family roots in Derry city. A graduate of Trinity College Dublin and the University of Ulster, her stories and poems have been published internationally, featuring in The Stinging Fly, The Irish Times, Structo, Popshot Magazine, Unthology and elsewhere. Roisín lives in Dublin with her husband and her daughter.

Read: Workshops on sexual harassment and bullying to be held for Irish arts groups>

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