Memories of #WomenXBorders2017

We’re busy getting ready for Women Aloud NI 2018 and Women X Borders 2018. Our Facebook group is alive with planning conversations and reminiscences about last year. Anne McMaster [poet, playwright and Women Aloud NI board member] wrote a lovely note about our trip to Dublin last year. In fact, it was so lovely – and captured the spirit of our community so well – we’ve published her note here:

‘I nipped back into our community group archives to take a look at some of the photographs which I and other WANI #WomenXBorders2017 participants took during last year’s event at the Irish Writers Centre in Dublin. To say they still make me smile is an understatement.

Can I say – right from that audacious pose by Helen Hastings at the door of the 8am Enterprise in Belfast Central [which I’m looking to see replicated at the front of the bus, ma’am!] that it was an unforgettable experience!

As for the creative connections and friendships I made that day? My go-to list of damn good, kind, absolutely fascinating and bloody talented female writers just exploded – and I can’t begin to describe how grateful I am to Jane Talbot for creating and organising such a uniquely creative forum, to ACNI for helping to fund this award-winning event and to IWC for providing such a wonderful space for the day. This incredible event helped me to make connections and to build the friendships I now have – friendships that stretch all the way across this island.

Yes – it was a long day. I remember taking a photo in Ballymoney station when I arrived at 6.20am and there wasn’t another soul at the station – let alone the platform. I commented at the time in a FB post that it felt like the zombie apocalypse had just occurred and everyone was gone. But getting to Belfast Central and identifying the myriad of grinning WANI faces [some that I knew in person – some I’d only known from their FB posts] was a heady feeling. We grabbed tickets, ordered huge coffees to go – and ploughed down the stairs towards the Enterprise. Once there, we found our carriage, got seated, chatted together until we began to read our work and applauded each reader in turn – especially brave  poets like Yvonne Boyle who managed to raise themselves well above the seated audience as they read their work – that’s all I’m saying! We took plenty of photos and grinned with the quirky conductor who, on entering the carriage and being greeted by a whoop, was immediately aware that he was totally outnumbered in a carriage of rather excited writers.

All participants had been asked to time their Enterprise readings so that all who’d bravely volunteered had time to read – and our words filled the journey; before we knew it, we were walking through Dublin [still chatting] hoping that someone in our various groups knew the actual way to the Irish Writers Centre [!]. We arrived, got signed in for the day and welcomed by Orla Mcalinden [the first time I’d met you since I’d read your book and was more than slightly overwhelmed by how nice you were] and the readings and the discussion groups began. I’d brought my knitting [always a constant] and sat on the floor at the back of the room listening to a huge number of talented writers reading their work. There were so many wonderful readings – with enticing images, powerful characters and memorable words; the allotted reading times may have seemed brief when everything was being organised initially but we readers timed our words well and this forum proved to be a wonderful, generous way to introduce a huge number of writers and their work. Before we knew it, the day-long individual readings had finished and we were being guided out to take part in the mass reading; as we gathered together, chatting [there’s a theme here!]. Jane conducted us, category by category, and we read for the cameras, the film crews, friends and supporters – but most of all, for ourselves. It was a moving experience to hear my voice surrounded by the tones, syllables and sentences of other women. Doubly so that day, because the poem I’d brought with me for the mass reading was from a friend and fellow poet who, because of serious illness, was unable to attend the event. I’d read my own words during the timed readings and now I was speaking hers; it was a humbling experience and a wonderful feeling of connection.

When we write, we write alone. But what we write needs to be discussed, edited, shaped and re-shaped, published, promoted and shared. Where better to receive such support, information and guidance than from a community of like-minded, experienced writers? Within this Women Aloud NI Facebook group, we’re generously encouraged to share our achievements; it’s equally important to share and celebrate others’ achievements too. Talking with other women writers inspires me. It makes me want to raise my own game and to cheer on those who are already up and running far ahead of me. It also teaches me to listen. Those writers I now call my friends have proven more than generous with their guidance and I’ve learned a great deal from them. In turn, I’ve happily given guidance and passed on my own professional experiences to others. We flourish by what we share.

I’m well aware that not everyone is free or available to travel to this event in 2018. I will miss some friendly faces that day and will be sending back photos by the score. Others from north and south of the island will be attending this event for the first time and vital, creative connections will be made. And we’ll be on a bus…

Brace yourselves; it’s going to be fun 😁😁.’  Anne McMaster, January 2018