Crossing the Plinth! An Interview with Women Aloud NI Chairperson Angeline King

Angeline King is not only the dynamic Chairperson for Women Aloud NI and a fabulously talented writer, but she also has (I’m delighted to say) over the past few years become a great friend too. We met at the John Hewitt Society Summer School in Armagh. We were both fairly new to Women Aloud NI then and both self-published writers. I happened to be reading her book Snugville Street at the time. I remember feeling a little shy about telling her. Her relief, joy and gratitude when I expressed how much I enjoyed her book touched me. She was gracious and humble, and I immediately liked her.

As the years have passed, Angeline has been an ardent supporter of local writers and a good friend to me personally. We’ve shared advice and encouragement, and I was overjoyed when she took on the position of Chairperson for Women Aloud NI. Angeline galvanised us all into action at the beginning of lockdown and orchestrated the production of the North Star anthology.

She’s been a busy woman lately, publishing her new book Dusty Bluebells, which I’m excited to read, so I was thrilled when she took the time to do this interview for my blog – Thanks, Angeline…

Congratulations on Dusty Bluebells.

And congratulations on the Rejuvenation trilogy!

What would my readers like about Dusty Bluebells?

Rejuvenation readers would be signing up for a one-night stand away from Dystopia — an old-fashioned courtship, if you like. Dusty Bluebells is feminine, nostalgic and Irish-with-a-northern-twist. (Think Maeve Binchy in Protestant, working-class Ulster with a great deal of Ulster-Scots idiom). Childhood, parentage and family history are all big themes.

Your literature is continually evolving. The first time we met was at the John Hewitt International Summer School in Armagh in 2018, when I was reading your novel, Snugville Street. What impact did the JHISS experience have on you as a writer?

The JHISS formed an integral part of the apprenticeship of writing, and it was important in terms of forging friendships, words and thoughts. Also, I felt rather Parisian being able to meander in and out of the little cafes in Armagh, pulling up a chair beside anyone with a John Hewit badge, speaking of which, I recall you sharing a piece of work with me in a cafe. Who would have thought that little story you let me read about the train crash of 1889 would become part of our shared publication, Women Aloud NI’s North Star?

It was a wonderful experience to be among 45 Women Aloud NI Writers who recently wrote North Star, and the perfect project to take the mind off lockdown. You’re an established writer now with three novels, a children’s book and a history book, not to mention the anthologies. Why did you make the decision to self-publish Dusty Bluebells?

I felt confident about the work, but I was concerned about the Ulster-Scots dialogue, which can be a commercial risk for a publisher. Self-publishing gave me the freedom to push boundaries artistically. Also, as a female writer and mum living in a small, provincial town in Northern Ireland, it can be difficult to fulfil the networking required to attract the eye of a big publisher. I began my career working for an international publisher and then had ten years in Educational Technology, making my way up to senior management, and the commercial voice in my head told me that a well-written and homely book about friendships forged in Larne in the post-war years would not cut it on the circular tables in airport bookshops from which I used to select books on my international travels. However, I was instinctively compelled to tell the story and to take it to print. I knew that the book would resonate with a small niche of people, who rarely see a mirror image of themselves or their ancestors in books.

Does self-publishing pose any disadvantages?

Distribution is an issue, but I have found other ways to be endorsed as a professional writer — being selected as one of Libraries NI emerging writers; having my poetry published; writing essays for the Irish Times; writing a regional museum exhibition; receiving the SIAP from the Arts Council and, most recently, becoming Writer in Residence at Ulster University — I’m due to start in September.

It’s also worth noting that I  have a good relationship with my readers and they keep me right. If self-publishing were an expression of over-confidence, they’d let me know. I enjoy making books as much as I enjoy writing them.

And you’ve made a few books this year.

Yes, two anthologies and a novel and it’s only June. I ran a Peace IV creative writing course in Larne just before lockdown, resulting in a publication called Shaped by the Sea. It came through the door in April when we were only permitted to leave the house for shopping or exercise, and the launch had to be cancelled.

I then moved straight to igniting Women Aloud NI’s North Star project. It was a real team effort, and while North Star was taking social media by storm at the end of May, I turned my hand to publishing Dusty Bluebells.

What ambitions do you have for Dusty Bluebells?

I’d like Dusty Bluebells to be recognised as an honest reflection of Ulster life and an important addition to Ireland’s literary landscape.

Thank you Angeline. After the John Hewitt International Summer School, you wrote your blog that the pair of us were “as two Cathedrals, raised on opposing plinths of old battle lines.” I hope that my Armagh readers and all those from further afield will step out on that old-fashioned courtship with Dusty Bluebells, particularly if it means a journey from one plinth to the other.

Angeline King is the author of novels Snugville Street, A Belfast Tale and Dusty Bluebells; a history book, Irish Dancing: The Festival Story; and children’s book, Children of Latharna.