I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again, writing is a pretty anti-social pursuit. Ninety percent of my spare time is spent alone, in coffee shops wearing bucket headphones and talking to myself in a barely hushed voice as I try to get my characters to speak like actual human beings. Unsurprisingly enough, every time I get the opportunity to step outside my little wordy bubble and work with another artist, I’m tripping over myself with enthusiasm. During the last few years I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with visual artists, musicians, playwrights and even a fantastically talented cake artist. It’s been a roller coaster of a lesson in humility, imagination and the importance of wine as creative fuel, (all my best collaborative projects have taken shape over a nice glass or two of red).
Last Christmas, having had such an amazing experience collaborating with singer-songwriter, Hannah McPhillimy on my first novel, Malcolm Orange Disappears, I began thinking about who I could start dreaming with next and what an artistic response to my new short story collection Children’s Children, might look like. I didn’t think about it for very long. I knew straight away that I wanted to work with Orla McAdam. Orla is not only one of my favourite people on the planet, she’s also an amazing artist. She teaches high school kids to approach their artistic practice with the kind of enthusiasm, imagination and playfulness which she brings to everything she does. I know this because I go to see her students’ end of year art exhibition every year and I’m always astounded by how daring and brave and uninhibited the kids’s work is. It’s pretty obvious that Orla has infected her students with her own passion for seeing the world a wee bit slant.
I asked Orla if she’d be interested in putting together an exhibition of 15 new pieces responding to each of the 15 stories in Children’s Children. She said yes straightaway and began working away to produce the artwork: taking photos, flinging paint around, chopping my book up with a scalpel. Her dining room table disappeared under a mountain of ink-stained paper. I was worried she wouldn’t get finished in time. (I did GCSE art about a million years ago and I know just how much work would need to go into 15 pieces). Orla ended up creating 32 canvases. They’re stunning both as individual pieces of work and also as a sort of magical realist seascape installation, in the particularly striking way she’s arranged them for the exhibition which opened last night in the Arches Healthcare Centre as part of EastSide Arts Festival.
We’ve called the exhibition, “Everything Leaves Marks Even Water.” It’s a line taken from one of my stories. In a sense it summarises the whole collection; these are stories about how life has marked my characters, both positively and negatively; the characters, in turn, are chockfull of my own, clumsily translated, experiences of being marked by everything life’s thrown at me. Last night Orla spoke beautifully about her own experience of being marked by difficult experiences and also the community of support she’s found in the Lagan Dragon’s: a Belfast-based dragon boat racing team for Breast Cancer survivors and their supporters. The water, which dominates the exhibition, has come to be a source of healing for Orla and many of her fellow Dragons. It seemed really appropriate that all funds raised through sales of the art work should go to the Lagan Dragons and we’re delighted to announce all 33 pieces have now been sold. Hopefully we’ll be able to announce how much the project has raised really soon.
“Everything Leaves Marks Even Water,” is on show at the Arches Healthcare Centre until the end of August. Please drop in and enjoy Orla’s beautiful artwork. I’m so proud to be her friend and fellow collaborator. I can’t wait to see what she begins working on next.