Open Mic for Young Writers at Ulster Hall

Author Jan Carson encourages a new generation of aspiring scribes to take the plunge

It’s a good time to be a Northern Irish writer. Aside from the profusion of literary awards and accolades acquired by local writers over the last few years, there has been a marked increase in literary events and opportunities for writers to read their work in front of a live audience.

Ongoing reading series such as The Lifeboat, Literary Lunchtimes at the Ulster Hall, Poetry and Pints, Of Mouth at the Linen Hall Library, the Squat Pen and others, provide an invaluable outlet for writers to hone their reading skills, showcase new work and gain feedback.

Despite the current economic climate, Northern Irish readers seem more keen than ever to attend literary events, with footfall increasing at the 2014 Belfast Book Festival and many sold out readings throughout the year. The demand is there, as is the supply.

Live literary events are an essential part of developing a healthy literary scene, of course, for they both stimulate book-buying and create environments wherein writers can meet and interact with other writers. Yet, while the reading scene in Belfast has never been healthier, and has even attracted the attention and envy of other cities outside of Northern Ireland, there is still a lot of room for creative improvement.

The Belfast Inter-Schools Creative Writing network was established by novelist and Methodist College teacher, Sheena Wilkinson, in 2011, for the creative and personal development of young writers in the Belfast area. It is open to sixth formers from schools across the city and culminates each year with a select number of participants attending writing residencies at the Arvon Foundation in England.


Equinox, a recent collection of student poetry and prose, is a stunning testament to the quality of work being produced by these young writers. At a recent reading of their work in the Ulster Hall, an audience of 50 young people came to support their peers and the organisers were particularly impressed by the level of interest and enthusiasm.

Despite the success of this event, the young writers attending (pictured above) expressed a certain level of frustration at the reading opportunities available to them elsewhere. Just like more established Northern Irish writers, they understand the value of reading their work in front of a live audience and yet are often unable to attend or participate in existing reading series because of their age or restrictions imposed by the venues.

The Ulster Hall and Belfast Inter-Schools Creative Writing network are keen to encourage these talented young writers, and others like them, and as such are beginning a quarterly reading event for 16-18-year-old prose writers and poets. 

The first of these Open Mic evenings will take place at the Ulster Hall at 7pm on November 26. Including an opportunity to read, make connections with other young writers and hear some words of advice from Michael Nolan, author of acclaimed novel The Blame – recently published by Salt Press – the event is open to any young writer aged 16-18.

Those interested should email for more information or to reserve a reading slot. Reading spaces are limited and will be allocated on a first come, first served basis. No tickets are required to attend the reading.

The following Open Mic Night for Young Writers also takes place in the Ulster Hall on February 12, and writers of all abilities and tastes are welcome to reserve slots. And what better time of year to be inspired to pick up a pen, or boot up a computer, and get writing fact or fiction?