Bernie McGill was born in Lavey in County Derry in Northern Ireland. She studied English and Italian at Queen’s University, Belfast and graduated with a Masters degree in Irish Writing. She has written for the theatre (The Weather Watchers, The Haunting of Helena Blunden), the novel, The Butterfly Cabinet and a short story collection, Sleepwalkers. Her new novel will be published by Tinder Press in 2017. Her short fiction has been nominated for numerous awards and in 2008 she won the Zoetrope:All-Story Short Fiction Award in the US. She is a recipient of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland's inaugural ACES (Artists' Career Enhancement Scheme) Award in association with the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen's University, Belfast. She lives in Portstewart in Northern Ireland with her family and works as a Creative Writing facilitator. Bernie offers One-to-One Mentoring on manuscripts via the Irish Writers' Centre and she is available for part-funded school visits via Poetry Ireland's Writers in Schools Programme. For information on how to apply go to the Writers in Schools Page.
I am delighted to say that The Glass Shore: Short Stories by Women Writers from the North of Ireland won Best Irish-Published Book at the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards in Dublin last week. This is a huge honour for editor Sinéad Gleeson, for the publishers, New Island Books, and for the contributors.
The anthology consists of twenty-five short stories by women writers spanning three centuries, including a gem of a story by Margaret Barrington titled ‘Village Without Men’ and a new find from Janet McNeill, one of my favourite writers from here. If you’d told me when I was reading The Maiden Dinosaur at Queen’s in the late eighties, that I’d one day have a story in an anthology alongside Janet McNeill, I would have suggested that perhaps you'd had one Black Russian too many! It’s a real privilege to be represented here.
The Glass Shore is the subject of a panel discussion and reading at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Bellaghy on Saturday 26th November at 7pm. The event will be chaired by Sinéad Gleeson. I will be there with fellow contributor Rosemary Jenkinson to make up the panel. Tickets for the event are £5 and available to book at this link at the HomePlace website. There's a full list of contributors to The Glass Shore on the New Island website, as well as a full list of contributors to its predecessor The Long Gaze Back (which won Best Irish-Published Book in 2015). There will be books available to buy on the night, courtesy of No Alibis Bookstore. Either copy would make a great Christmas present (for yourself or for someone else)! It would be good to see you there.
There’s definitely something in the air. Last Friday night the Linen Hall Library in Belfast hosted a hugely informative discussion on Women in Print, and Ruth Carr’s important anthology The Female Line was relaunched as an e-book to a packed house by Herself Press. Readers included Maura Johnston and Medbh McGuckian and panel member Dawn Sherratt-Bado announced the publication of a follow-up anthology to The Female Line in 2017. It seems there is an appetite out there for writing by women from these parts. Good news indeed for those of us who are writing.
What is it about the autumn? There’s that ‘back to school’ feel in the air when everyone settles down after the summer and starts to look at schedules and suddenly it all takes off, nothing mellow about it. It’s going to be a busy time. Here are some upcoming events.
On Monday 3rd October 2016, The Glass Shore will be launched in the Ulster Museum in Belfast at 7pm, introduced by critic and author Patricia Craig and by contributor Lucy Caldwell, with readings by featured authors. The Glass Shore is a new anthology of short stories by women writers from the North of Ireland, edited by writer and broadcaster Sinead Gleeson and published by New Island Books and follows on the heels of the award-winning The Long Gaze Back published in 2015. I’m delighted to have stories included in both. The Dublin launch of The Glass Shore is on 5th October at Hodges Figgis at 6pm with Irish Fiction Laureate Anne Enright and writer and journalist Martina Devlin. Everyone welcome in Belfast or Dublin (or, indeed, both, if you're the crazy wine-swilling, nut-nibbling, launch-going type).
Wednesday 5th October is the official publication date for the new edition (with a swanky new cover) of The Butterfly Cabinet by Tinder Press. Look out for it in the bookshops. The 'new' new book (which seems to be called The Watch House - more of that anon) will be published in the autumn of 2017.
On Monday 10th and Monday 17th October (7-9pm both evenings) I’ll be facilitating a writing class at the Roe Valley Arts & Cultural Centre, Limavady, as part of the town’s annual Steinbeck Celebrations. The theme this year is ‘The Human Heart and the Land’, a quote from environmentalist and writer Barry Lopez who cites Steinbeck as one of his greatest influences. This two-part workshop will use Steinbeck’s writing and his links with the Causeway Coast & Glens area as inspiration for new creative work. Open to all from experienced writers to first-timers. Bring writing materials. Maximum no. 12. Cost for the two workshops is £20. To book tel. 028 7776 0650.
Tuesday 11th October is the next reading of the Causeway Writers’ Groups, this time at Roe Valley Arts & Cultural Centre, Limavady at 7pm. This is a six-monthly coming together of all the Writers’ Groups in the Causeway Coast & Glens area, namely Limavady Writers, Ballycastle Writers, Ballymoney Writers, Portrush Writers and Flowerfield Writers from Portstewart to share each other’s work. Everyone welcome. Refreshments provided. Admission free.
On Thursday 3rd November at 7.30pm I’ll be at Thyme & Co. Café, Quay Road in Ballycastle, reading with author and journalist Martina Devlin. We’ll both be reading new stories from The Glass Shore as well as other work. Admission is free. Come along and say hello. (I've been there before - there will be cake.)
Hotfoot from Ballycastle, from Friday 4th - Sunday 6th November, I’ll be at the John O’Connor Writing School and Literary Arts Festival in Armagh. This is a brand new festival to celebrate the writing of Armagh man John O’Connor whose novel Come Day – Go Day is due to be republished and launched during the festival by Liberties Press. I’ll be facilitating the Fiction writing workshops but if that’s not your thing, there are classes in writing Poetry and Memoir as well as Songwriting, Travel writing, Food writing, Blogging, writing for Screen, Stage, Travel, Journalism and Commercial writing. Full programme including exhibitions, talks, masterclasses, storytelling and performances here, not forgetting Muldoon’s Picnic at the Charlemont Arms Hotel on Friday 4th November at 8.30pm with (among others) Anne Enright, Stuart Neville and poet Michael Longley.
There's more to come later in the Autumn, but that's enough to be getting on with for now. Happy berrypicking. Try and stay mellow, if not fruitful.
Praise for The Butterfly Cabinet
Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey, writing in The Guardian: 'McGill has the ability to enter into the brain and heart of her characters and so to make us sympathise with people who commit acts we abhor.'
Eugene McCabe, author of Death and Nightingales: 'Bernie McGill's rare, hypnotic gift for writing fills every page of The Butterfly Cabinet. [It] contains no end of apparently throwaway sentences you want to remember'
Rachel Hore, author of A Place of Secrets and The Glass Painter's Daughter: 'A haunting, often lyrical tale of quiet, mesmerising power about the dangerous borders of maternal love'
USA Today: 'This is a fantastic novel. It drenches us in gothic sensibilities as it haunts us with uncomfortable reminders of recent sensational events.'
Marie Claire: ‘An utterly compelling tale of hidden secrets and culture clashes played out against the backdrop of a large country house in Northern Ireland... it's a haunted tale, eerie with recrimination, illicit passion and frustrated motherhood. Pitch-perfect in tone, McGill captures, in counterpoint, the voices of two women as they declaim a melancholy murder ballad.’
Financial Times: 'Bernie McGill's assured debut is an intense exploration of maternal love and guilt. What also distinguishes it is its delicate portrait of a society that, within one lifetime, would face unimaginable change.'
Kirkus Reviews: ‘An emotionally bracing, refreshingly intelligent and ultimately heartbreaking story.’
Daily Mail: ‘Beautifully done and thoroughly absorbing.’
Publishers Weekly: ‘An exquisite series of painful revelations… McGill easily recreates the lives of the Castle's owners and servants and the intricate connections between them. As both Harriet and Maddie's stories emerge, the tale becomes a powder keg of domestic suspense that threatens to explode as long-kept secrets surrounding Charlotte's death are teased out.’
The Guardian: 'Defining moments of Irish history form the backdrop to each woman's narrative...The decades of complicity that follow Charlotte’s death unfold with forceful drama...'
Minneapolis Star Tribune: 'McGill employs an ingenious counterpoint technique to give her convincing fictional version of the tragedy. The interplay of the voices of two exceptionally different personalities is perhaps the book's major achievement.'
Woman & Home: ‘An absorbing story of marriage, motherhood and murder.’
New Zealand Herald: 'McGill's real triumph with this novel is how successfully she manipulates the way we feel aout her two main characters... the prose is elegant and assured.'
Good Housekeeping: ‘A dramatic and haunting novel... this is an enthralling and beautifully written debut.’
Huffington Post: 'Where McGill succeeds so well is in her language, beautiful and languorous and wild.'
Sydney Morning Herald: 'McGill's complex portrait of an unmotherly mother is as skilful and unusual as Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin.'
Verbal: ‘A gripping novel... Disturbing and thought-provoking... an examination of how to deal with the past in the midst of hope for the future... a truly absorbing and cleverly written tale that will send a shiver down your spine.’
Irish World: ‘The Butterfly Cabinet deserves to be celebrated for its ability to alter the reader’s perspective of the world... its characters leap from the page with profound and contemporary truth... Bernie McGill has achieved an incredible feat.’
Ulster Tatler: ‘The Butterfly Cabinet is an exceptionally accomplished novel... [McGill’s] prose is lyrical and beautifully composed, her characters are crafted and honed with an inherent talent and skill... writing of this calibre does not come along often.’
Sunday Tribune: ‘This is a truly convincing retelling of a true story, richly realised on every level from a writer to watch out for.’
Watch the book trailer
You had a story for me... I wasn't ready to hear it before but I'll hear it now.
When Maddie McGlade, a former nanny, receives a letter from Anna, the last of her charges and now a married woman, she realises that the time has come to unburden herself of a secret that has gnawed at her for over seventy years. It is the story of the last day in the life of Charlotte Ormond, the four-year-old only daughter of the big house where Maddie was employed as a young girl. The Butterfly Cabinet also reveals the private thoughts of Charlotte's mother, Harriet. A proud, uncompromising woman, Harriet's great passion is collecting butterflies and pinning them into her cabinet; motherhood comes no more easily to her than does her role as mistress of a far-flung Irish estate. When her daughter dies, her community is quick to condemn her. At last Maddie, and Harriet’s prison diaries that Maddie has kept hidden under lock and key in the cabinet she has inherited, will reveal a more complex truth.