Rosemary Jenkinson is a playwright and short story writer from Belfast. Plays include The Bonefire (Stewart Parker BBC Radio Award), Planet Belfast, Here Comes the Night, Michelle and Arlene, May the Road Rise Up and Lives in Translation. She was 2017 Artist-in-Residence at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast and in 2018 she received a Major Individual Artist Award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland to write a memoir. Her short story collections include Contemporary Problems Nos. 53 & 54 (2004), Aphrodite’s Kiss (2016), Catholic Boy (2018) which was shortlisted for the EU Prize for Literature, and Lifestyle Choice 10mgs (2020). She was singled out by The Irish Times for “an elegant wit, terrific characterisation and an absolute sense of her own particular Belfast”.
Your response to lockdown…
How was 2020-2021 for artists in Northern Ireland?
Hideous. A long eventless wasteland. We all yearned for the return of travel, workshops, festivals and theatres. Artists had to adapt to ‘new technology’, meaning that plays were filmed, and that gave us some outlet for our work, but it was a pale substitute for the real thing.
What was the specific effect on you?
I missed dialogue and social contact. I had ‘skin hunger’, the longing for human touch. I was able to write but it felt purposeless, as if I lived in a vacuum. My book tour scheduled for 2020 was cancelled along with a play and a planned tour to the US, and it seemed almost overnight at the end of March, my calendar was emptied. My play Billy Boy was filmed in April 2021 which gave me renewed hope for the future.
What aid was there for you – does the system work differently from the rest of the UK?
The system in Northern Ireland was the same. There was emergency aid from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.
How did you resolve the challenges you faced in doing work during lockdown?
I stopped writing plays (except for my latest play, Billy Boy) as I knew they couldn’t be staged and started writing essays about what it was like to be a writer during coronavirus. The best writing is political and contemporary and it gave me the opportunity to express my frustrations with lockdown and highlight the ludicrous rules.
How did you assess its connection with its audience?
I assessed the impact of my essays through responses on social media.
Any general thoughts on the future?
Down with digital!
Up with live performance! Northern Ireland was the slowest part of the UK when it came to reopening theatres. Our country needs to prioritise the arts.