Friday Night Drinks with … Anne Walsh Donnelly

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Welcome to Friday Night Drinks. I’m sorry we have missed a couple of weeks, there have been reasons, but I’m happy to be back tonight with author and poet… Anne Walsh Donnelly.

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Anne, thank you so much for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Thanks Julie, for inviting me! I know I am going to enjoy our chat. I’m sitting here with a mug of tea in my hand. No sugar but a dash of milk. I don’t drink alcohol anymore. 

If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

I live in the west of Ireland so I would bring you for a walk on Bertra Beach near Westport in County Mayo. We would sit and gaze at the night sky and the stars that occupy it. Following that, I’d bring you to one of the many fine restaurants we have in Mayo

I would love that. I love Ireland, my OH is from Dublin, but we’ve not made it to Mayo yet. If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

That’s a difficult one. There are so many non-famous extraordinary people in my life that I’d much rather have on our night out. I’m a bit lazy when it comes to socialising. Possibly due to my introversion. I prefer to go out for dinner with people I know well and people that take me as I am and I, them. Time is so precious that I only want to use it to socialise people that really matter to me. Does that sound selfish? I hope not. To invite famous people along sounds like too much effort to me, in terms of talking to them and possibly falling into the trap of wanting to impress them. Like, why bother?

All that being said, the only famous person that comes to mind that I would like to have dinner with is Fr. Thomas Keating. He was a Trappist monk and one of the principal developers of Centering Prayer which is a contemporary method of contemplative prayer. I practice centering prayer twice a day. It enriches my life and sustains me through life’s challenging situations. I’ve watched some videos of Fr. Keating on YouTube and I can sense the presence of God in him so strongly. He was not constrained by his ego and the best company one can keep are those who know how to keep their ego in line.

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So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. What have you got going on? How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

I have a lot going on! In terms of my writing I am in an interesting phase of my development. I am a bit all over the place with it, but that’s not a bit thing, it’s just unusual for me. I normally tend to focus on one genre at a time be it poetry or fiction or whatever. However this year I’m straddling a lot of genres, simultaneously. I’m working on poetry, plays, fiction and creative non-fiction all at the one time. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve tapped into my creativity and can express it across a wide range of genres. I have no idea what writers block feels like, having never experienced it!

One day I’ll write a poem, the next day it might be a piece of non-fiction that is bursting to get out of my head and onto the page. And I have to let it loose. And the following day I might work on a script. So there’s a lot going on. I don’t have the luxury of writing full-time so there’s a lot to squeeze into the time I can devote to writing. You could say I’ve lost a bit of my focus. But I prefer to see it as just going with the flow. I’m letting the writing take me where it wants to go instead of me trying to tell it where to go, which would be a useless exercise anyway. 

I had two books published last year, one a poetry collection and the other a short story collection. So now that I’m a published author, I have a lot more confidence in my writing and am more relaxed about it. I don’t submit to journals or magazines or competitions as much as I used to as I don’t need that external validation anymore. The most important thing for me is to enjoy the process of writing, which I do.

What has been your proudest moment since you started writing/blogging and what has been your biggest challenge?

Crikey, there’s been a lot of proud moments in the last eight years. That’s how long I have been writing. If I was to narrow it down, there are two proud moments that I would note. One was being shortlisted for my poetry for the Hennessy/Irish Times New Irish Writing Award and having a poem published in the Irish Times.  It’s the award that every emerging Irish writer aspires to and when I started writing that was the dream. The other proud moment that stands out was holding my poetry chapbook in my hand for the first time.

My biggest challenge has been the publication of my poetry chapbook, The Woman With An Owl Tattoo.

It was very scary releasing it into the wider world as it is a very personal collection that reflects on my growth since the ending of my marriage and my discovery of my sexual identity and coming out as ‘gay’ in my fifties. Fortunately it has been well received and touched a great deal of people and there has been no negative backlash. I was very lucky in that my publisher, Fly on the Wall poetry press and their editor, Isabelle Kenyon, were so committed to bringing the collection to publication and making it the best chapbook it could be while also being supportive and gentle with me. Thanks, Isabelle!

What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, it’s just us talking after all!

Do I really have to tell you? What if someone overhears our conversation and starts to laugh! Oh, that’d be awful. Seriously, though, I guess like all writers it would be to win the Man Booker prize.

Though I also have this fantasy of John Michael McDonogh approaching me to ask if he could turn one of my stories into a movie and if I’d like to write the script with him. He’s written and directed such great movies like The Guard and Calvary and I love his writing. It’s full of odd characters and black humour. It would be a dream to work with him and then to stand on stage with him accepting an Oscar for our billion-dollar grossing movie. Ok, now I’m really getting carried away with myself. Next question please.

What are you currently working on that you are really excited about?

Well, as I’ve said I’m working on a lot of projects right now. I have a short play that I want to develop into a longer play. I’ve also starting writing a verse novel about a mentally unwell man, who feels very disconnected with society. What else is there? Oh, yes I’m writing a number of creative non-fiction pieces that could very well develop into a full collection. I’m hopping from one to the other at the moment. But the project I’m most excited about are the poems I am currently writing about my spirituality, my journey in rediscovering my faith and developing a loving, meaningful relationship with the divine. 

I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

I love to travel too! In my twenties, I went backpacking around the world. It was a life-changing experience and I’ve been to some amazing places and met some amazing people. My favourite place has to be Nepal. I spent a few weeks there in 1995. I stayed in Kathmandu for a week and loved the city, just wandering around looking at the temples, dodging sacred cows in the street, pottering around craft shops and second-hand bookshops and eating lots of Dhal. I also spent time trekking in the Annapurna mountain range when I was there, which was amazing. The blue skies, crisp air and ice-capped peaks all around as I walked were intoxicating. It’s the nearest thing I’ve got to heaven. 

What’s top of my bucket list now? To go back to Kathmandu!

Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself that people might not know about you.

When I was a toddler, I sat on and broke my younger brother’s toy garage. I didn’t intend to break it. I can still remember thinking I wonder what would happen if I sat on Liam’s garage, so I sat on it to find out and wham! It smashed into smithereens.

Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

There are so many great books out there. How do I pick one? Having said that one book, I keep going back to re-read is the novel by Max Porter called ‘Grief is the Thing with Feathers.’ It’s about a widower and his two sons and how they cope with the grief of having lost their wife and mother. A crow comes to visit them to help them cope. If that hasn’t got your attention, I don’t know what will.

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In a London flat, two young boys face the unbearable sadness of their mother’s sudden death. Their father, a Ted Hughes scholar and scruffy romantic, imagines a future of well-meaning visitors and emptiness.

In this moment of despair they are visited by Crow – antagonist, trickster, healer, babysitter. This sentimental bird is drawn to the grieving family and threatens to stay until they no longer need him.

This extraordinary debut, full of unexpected humour and emotional truth, marks the arrival of a thrilling and significant new talent.

So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

Ha, failsafe plan! Well, my teenage daughter asked me recently what how would I react if she got pregnant. My answer was don’t have sex then you won’t get pregnant and you won’t have to worry about how I would react or what you would have to do. Needless to say that answer didn’t go down too well.

So in answer to your question, my failsafe plan to avoid a hangover is don’t drink. It works every time!

After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

I love the sound of silence and I love solitude, so my perfect weekend would be to go on a silent retreat. I went on one recently and while it was challenging, it was so regenerating. All I had to do was sit in contemplative prayer and be with the divine presence. That and go for lovely walks in the retreat centre’s woods. It was also lovely to not have to cook or shop or do household chores. Nothing to do except sit and simply be with myself and the divine and be open to the divine’s healing energy. 

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Anne, thank you so much for joining me on the blog, it has been a lovely evening.

Anne has been described by the Irish poet, Kevin Higgins, as ‘by far the most daring poet to emerge in Ireland of late. The stark honest and overt sexuality which pervades Anne’s poetry make the work of pretty much all her contemporaries appear repressed and backward-looking in comparison.’

Anne has two books published. Her latest poetry chapbook, published by Fly on the Wall poetry press is ‘The Woman with An Owl Tattoo,’ which explores her growth since the ending of her marriage and what it means to unearth one’s true sexual orientation , in mid-life. You can buy a copy of the book here.

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This life-affirming poetry collection reflects on the author’s growth since the ending of her marriage and what it means to unearth one’s true sexual orientation, in mid-life. Anne Walsh Donnelly’s intimate exploration of sexuality and identity is both brave and touching, marking this debut collection as a triumph.

Her short story collection published by Blue Nib, is called Demise of the Undertaker’s Wife, which contains stories that examine the brokenness of life, the fear of silence and the desperate need for the characters to find someone to talk to. 

Anne Walsh Donnelly lives in the west of Ireland. Originally from Carlow she moved to Mayo, twenty-four years ago. Her work has appeared in several publications including The Irish Times, Cránnog, Boyne Berries, The Blue Nib, Writers Forum and Dodging the Rain.

Her short stories have been shortlisted in many competitions including the Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award (2014, 2016), the Fish International Prize (2015) and the RTE Radio One Frances Mac Manus competition (2014 & 2015). She won the 2018 Over the Edge Fiction Slam.

Her poems were highly commended in the Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award (2017 & 2018). She won the Winter/Spring 2017/2018 Blue Nib poetry chapbook competition and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2018. She was also nominated for the Hennessy Irish Literary Award in 2019 for her poetry.

Her debut short story collection “Demise of the Undertaker’s Wife” will be published by Blue Nib in September 2019

You can hear more about Anne and her work on her purchase her books via her website,  Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Tomorrow I am having a special edition of Saturday Night Drinks, so please do come back and join myself and author, Christina Hoag for that. See you there.

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