Bad Bridget: A Q&A with author Jan Carson

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m based in East Belfast, though originally from Ballymena. I’m first and foremost a community arts facilitator and have been working in this sector since 1998. I began writing seriously in 2005 and published my first novel around ten years later. I’ve now published 7 books, (three novels, two short story collections and a micro fiction collection) and have also written extensively for BBC Radio 3 and 4.

How did you become involved in the Bad Bridget exhibition and what made you want to be a part of it?

I always like to push myself creatively. I’ve never written for an exhibition before but had enjoyed previous commissions which required an element of historical research and responding to primary sources so, when I was approached to get involved with Bad Bridget, I thought it would be a really interesting creative challenge and possibly a new skill I could add to my repertoire.

What were your initial thoughts when you were briefed about the exhibition?

I was a little overwhelmed at first. When I’m researching a novel or radio series I usually go out and find the sources I’m working with myself. I’ve become used to only seeking out the material I need to flesh out my story. It helps to keep the writing process manageable. With Bad Bridget I was given a huge amount of source material to draw from, so it was almost the opposite of my usual development process. Rather than seeking out the material to add into my work, I had to hone down the women’s stories and other sources, to shape them into accessible narratives. I could easily have written a novel about several of their lives so it was quite a challenge reducing this material down to a series of short texts and monologues.

What inspired you when writing monologues of each of the Bridget’s and can you describe the process?

I decided to work in a first person plural narrative (a ‘we’ voice). I’d never attempted this before but felt it would allow Bad Bridget to have a kind of universal appeal and still allow room for individual women’s experiences to rise to the surface. In preparation, I revisited other writers who’ve worked in this form, most notably Jeffrey Eugenides’ incredible “The Virgin Suicides.” I also read a number of fictionalised accounts of Irish migration and the famine experience to see how other author’s had given voice to individual experiences.

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What’s the take home message for people reading each of the monologues?

I hope people will resonate with the women’s stories and perhaps be able to see the similarities between what women struggled with a century or more ago and the issues contemporary women are still facing. I also hope they see the Bad Bridgets as the strong, tenacious and resilient individuals they were.

What are you looking forward to most about the exhibition opening?

I’m really looking forward to seeing how the illustrations combine with the texts and also, hopefully, seeing a little of the visitors’ reactions to the Bad Bridget story.