Anne Devlin

Theatre, Literature

Anne Devlin was born in Belfast in 1951. The daughter of a socialist politican she was raised in West Belfast.

Her preoccupation with ideological and religious conflict in her family plays is due to the effect of the cold war fifties childhood and the failed sixties Civil Rights struggle of her adolescence.

She studied English at the University of Ulster, briefly teaching at Bushmills Co Antrim until she moved to Germany in 1976. And then on to Bristol, Birmingham, where her son was born, and London.

Her stage plays include Ourselves Alone (1986) and After Easter (1993) for which she won the Lloyds Playwright of the Year. Her stage plays have been produced in the USA and Europe and she herself has performed her own work in the theatre in Quimper, Brittany in 2000.

Devlin has also written the screenplays for Titanic Town, which is adapted from a novel by Mary Costello, and Emily Brontë‘s Wuthering Heights. Her short fiction was collected as The Way-Paver (1986). In 1984 she received the Samuel Beckett Award, she won the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize in 1986. She also wrote the screenplay for The Rainbow, produced by the BBC in 1988.

Her first prose was written in the library in Friborg in the winter of 1976 after a spell teaching in North Antrim. She began to publish first in the Irish Press (David Marcus ) and Bananas (Emma Tennant) in the 1980’s.

The stories were gathered up into a collection called The Waypaver published by Faber in 1986, they provided the basis for her many screen adaptations. Naming The Names which deals with the sectarian events of August 1969 which led to the arrival of the Army to Belfast was turned into a successful screenplay for BBC2 in 1987.

The nine stories in The Waypaver collection have been translated into French, German, Dutch, and Naming the Names is further translated into Italien and Czech.

One of the difficulties of being a northerner on this island is the double identity I have struggled for years not to relinquish. The duality of British Irish I resolved a few years ago into the statement : I am of Irish Culture but live in British Society.

It’s a struggle for a writer: I call myself Irish.

It comes from the fact that I’m not regarded as Irish enough by the Irish and I’m too Irish for the British.

When the English critic Michael Billington reviewed my eighties stage play Ourselves Alone as suffering from ‘too many words’ , tugging at Joseph II’s dismissal of Mozart ‘too many notes’ I was young enough to like this equivalence and I let his anglocentric ear bias pass.

It wasn’t until I moved to Dublin in the autumn of 2003 to take up a Writer Fellowship at Trinity that I encountered a contrary and lethal prejudice. In a re-issued book of his critical theatre reviews Fintan O’Toole saw no reason to review his criticsm of Ourselves Alone: he called it a ‘fake’.

It’s a fundamentalist position which maintains the delusion that only the single unified voice is authentic and rejects the duality of the northern experience. It rejects the English diaspora experience in favour of the Bostan Irish as ‘the ground under its feet’ while on stage it continues its addiction to the big house plays.

In fact the` play’ is the perfect frame for the double voiced or mutilplicity to engage in self expression.

Now I want to say something about Lacan and memory.

Writing in Arete (Oxford 2002) I wrote that the book you remember reading is not as important as the book you forgot..the gap which Lacan references interests me here..the forgotten memories are directing your actions unconsciously.

My play for radio The Forgotten (57 mins. Jan 2009) deals with this.

But there are two kinds of memory : memory for an atmosphere and memory for dialogue. In my early work I have been dealing with the latter not in order to record it but to explore the meaning ..Now that I have returned home to Belfast I’m dealing with the former.

The Way-Paver (Faber, 1986)

Ourselves Alone, 1985
The Long March, 1986
A Woman Calling, 1986
Heartlanders, 1989
After Easter, 1993

Wuthering Heights, 1992
Titanic town, 1998
Vigo, 1998

A Woman Calling, BBC2, 1984
The Long March, BBC1, 1984
Naming the Names, BBC2, 198
The Venus de Milo Instead, BBC2, 1987
D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow, BBC1, 1988

The Long March BBC Radio 4, 1983
Naming the Names, BBC Radio 4, 1986
Five Notes After a Visit, BBC Radio 4, 1986
First Bite, BBC radio 4, 1986
The Forgotten, BBC Radio 4, 2009

1982 Hennessy Literary Award for her short story, Passages, (adapted for television as A Woman Calling)
1984 Samuel Beckett Award
1986 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize

Reviews of Anne Devlin’s Work:

‘Representing The Troubles’ ed Brain Cliff & Eibhear Walshe Four Courts Press 2004
‘The Girls In The Big Picture’ ed Imeldia Foley Blackstaff 2003
‘She Also Wrote Plays’ Susan Croft Faber 2001
‘Theatre Talk : The Voices of Irish Theatre Practitioners’, Interview with Enrica Cerquoini, Carysfort Press ed Lilian Chambers, Ger Fitzgibbon, Eamonn Jordan 2001
‘State of Play’ ed David Edgar Faber 1999.
‘Women in Dramatic Place and Time’ Geraldine Cousin. Routledge 1996.
‘Contemporary Irish Drama: Beckett to McGuinness’ Anthony Roche Gill&Macmillan 1994
‘Joyce, O’Casey and the Irish Popular Theatre’ Stephen Watt Syracuse University Press 1991.