Joan Lingard

The Linen Hall Library marks the 40th anniversary of Joan Lingard's The Twelfth Day of July with an exhibition of her work

This year is the 40th anniversary of the publication of The Twelfth Day of July, the first in the five book Kevin and Sadie series by Joan Lingard. In honour of the literary landmark the Linen Hall Library has put together an exhibition of Lingard’s Belfast-based works that includes translations, original manuscripts and memorabilia on display.

The Twelfth of JulyAs of 2009, with the publication of What to Do About Holly, Lingard has penned over 60 novels, starting with her non-children’s book Liam’s Daughter in 1963. She was written 16 adult novels and 54 children’s books. It’s an impressive catalogue, even for a career spanning nearly 50 years, but in Belfast it is the Kevin and Sadie series that Lingard will always be best remembered for.

‘I think a lot of people read them at school,’ assistant librarian and curator of the exhibition, Deborah Douglas says. ‘I know I did and they are still on the curriculum. We had a school group in the other week who were studying it.’

Known as ‘Belfast’s Romeo and Juliet’ (or to give it a modern twist ‘Twilight with terrorists’) the series chronicled the unlikely meeting and star-crossed romance of Catholic Kevin and Protestant Sadie in 1970s Belfast. There were five books in the series altogether and in 40 years they have never been out of print.

‘They are read all over the world,’ Douglas says. She points to a glass case that displays foreign language editions of the books. ‘The Kevin and Sadie series have been translated into Spanish, French, German and even Japanese. Imagine that, people in Japan reading about Ulster fries and Kevin and Sadie going to Bangor for the day!’

Also on display in the glass cases are the stars of the exhibition: stacks of lined, A4 paper covered from top-to-bottom in Lingard’s neat, looping script. She wrote all her manuscripts in long-hand before getting them typed up for submission. There are notes scribbled in the margins about things to remember and changes to make.

‘Lingard donated all the Kevin and Sadie manuscripts,’ Douglas beams. ‘She was here on Friday and she told me that she wanted the books to have a home here in Belfast where they'd been set.’

To accompany the Lingard exhibition the Linen Hall has again drew upon its Troubled Images exhibition. For the first time in years the entirety of the collection is on display in the library’s Vertical Gallery.

‘There are posters from all sides of the conflict: political posters, election posters and propaganda posters. There are even some Tufty posters warning children not to play in derelict buildings or with objects they find on the ground because they might be bombs,’ Douglas explains. ‘We thought it tied in well with the themes in Lingard’s work.’

In order to hang the posters the Library had to enlist the help of abseilers. Douglas points out a picture of the Linen Hall Librarian, John Killen, dangling from a harness as he lends a hand. ‘He’s a bit of a dare-devil,’ she says. ‘I think he enjoyed it.’

Although Lingard is still a prolific author most of her modern children’s novels tend to be historicals, set in Scotland during the Clearances or Spain during the Civil War.

Other than the Kevin and Sadie novels she has only set two books in Northern Ireland. One is Dark Shadows, which explores the friendship between two 15 year old girls, and the other is The File on Fraulein Berg, which has been donated to the Linen Hall along with the Kevin and Sadie manuscripts.

‘Joan Lingard told me that one is a bit autobiographical,’ Douglas recalls, chuckling. ‘She was at school here during the Second World War and she had a teacher she was convinced was a spy. So she used to follow her around the playground and take notes on what she was doing.’

The Joan Lingard exhibition will be on display at the Linen Hall Library until September 11. The
Kevin and Sadie series and The File on Fraulein Berg can be purchased from CultureNorthernIreland's Amazon store.

Tammy Moore