Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Beyond expectations: Derry does it all.

Last week I went home to the town where I grew up, Derry, Northern Ireland. I was a bit nervous. My childhood experiences were of a heavily Catholic bias, so I worried that bringing my novel home was going to be a challenge, what with its mistaken identity as ‘lesbian erotica’. (Yes, there are lesbians in it, and apparently I ‘write good sex’, but that is secondary to the plot).

Luckily, Derry Central Library had more sense and were only too happy to organise a promotional
event which we timed to coincide with Derry’s 21st Pride march.

I did work my butt off on social media, making lots of contacts and associated plans in the weeks before. But I did not foresee how beautifully things would pan out.

We flew in early on Tuesday, filling the morning with a Game of Thrones location hunt, which was a lovely way to see some beautiful parts of the Antrim Coast and keeping Beloved Aspie very happy. The afternoon was about confirming appointments and chilling with my sister.

Wednesday was a bit manic: an interview with the Derry Journal by the insightful Ellen Barr, then on to a radio interview with Radio Foyle’s Mark Patterson (you can have a wee listen to that on my website www.sineadgillespie.co.uk). While there, I sat in on the interviewee before me, a lady I hadn’t met or spoken to, who now lives in Morocco and was on her annual trip to Ireland. About an hour later is where the magic began to happen…

We’d gone into town and were having a wander around the Craft Village and the wee gift shop, and who was there but this same lady, Rachel. We had a chat and she asked why I had been at the Radio Station as she hadn’t heard it as she was leaving. I told her about the book and she said, “You must go up to Bedlam and talk to Jenni in the bookshop there. Tell her I sent you.”

Well, nothing ventured…Bedlam is an indoor market of vintagey, crafty stuff, with Little Acorns Bookstore at the back. I found Jenni, introduced myself, and within moments she took books for stock and invited me to come back and do a chair signing. She has two very old wooden chairs: one for visiting and local authors, the other for actors. And they are scribbled all over with famous names! (check out Little Acorns Bookstore on Facebook).

That evening we went to see a play called ‘Pits and Perverts’, based on the true story of the Gay and Lesbian groups in London who rallied to raise funds for the Welsh Miners striking against Thatcher’s harsh moves in the 80s. It’s a brilliant tale of overcoming prejudice: touching and funny in equal measure. While there, I met other Derry writers, the cast, Jenni again, and a woman I’d only communicated with via twitter and email, Shá Gillespie, who organises Foyle Pride. Quite a night!

Next evening was the biggie: the launch talk at the library, followed by a reading as part of the Pride event at Café Soul. I’d be lying if I said I had a crowd at the library. Tough thing is people say they will come and, for a million reasons, they don’t. I always recall the director I worked with on my one-woman show, when I asked, how small an audience before I don’t go on? He said, if there is one person in that room, you will perform. The point being, touching one life is worth more than touching none.

There was more than one! It was a lovely event, and I met up with women in Derry who think like me, and I’d lost track of that (there’s a novel about that in the long pipeline). And the Pride event was funny as I got to read some of the naughty bits to an appreciative audience. Nuff said. (Muff said? Donegal joke). 

So, skipping to Saturday and the Pride event itself –what a joy to see the 80ft rainbow banner carried through the centre of a city whose history is worn rife with prejudice, and even the policemen were smiling. 

And on this day, two bookstores took my book; I signed the chair and went home laughing.

Before we left, and after an interesting visit to Belfast which would be a blog in itself if I could work out how not to offend some, a third bookstore took me on.

What a turn-around. From my sad and low expectations that I would simply be rejected because I anticipated my subject matter to unacceptable: Derry did this this girl of hers proud. Big time. For the first time in too many years – I can’t wait to go back.