Arts Q&A: Poet Hollie McNish on Shakira, Frightened Rabbit and Dirty Dancing

Jenny Lee puts performers and artists on the spot about what really matters to them. This week, poet and author Hollie McNish

Hollie McNish will be reading from her latest poetry collection at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace, Bellaghy

1. When did you think about a career in writing and what were your first steps into it?

I’ve always loved writing but I thought about it as an actual career when the town planning charity I was working for got closed by the Conservative Government. I had a young daughter at the time and conincidentally had just got a grant of £3,000 from the Arts Council. I was doing poetry readings part-time, so I decided to try going more in the poetry direction rather than searching for another admin job to fit around childcare.

2. Best gigs you’ve been to?

Frightened Rabbit in the Village Hall on Iona, Kathryn Joseph in Summerhall, Edinburgh, Villagers in Nottingham’s Rescue Rooms – and any band in Galway’s Roisin Dubh.

3. Fantasy wedding/birthday party band?

A Céilidh band with Shakira on guitar, Beyoncé and Elena Tonra of Daughter singing, Lizzo on the flute, Kathryn Joseph on keyboard, Grant Hutchison on drums and my aunty June doing the call out for the dance moves.

4. The record you’d take to a desert island?

A recording of my daughter’s voice telling me jokes.

5. And the book you’d take to a desert island?

Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski.

6. Top three films?

Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet, Hidden Figures and Dirty Dancing

7. Worst film you’ve seen?

Last Tango in Paris. It had all these reviews saying how it was a breakthrough in its representations of female sexual desire. I found it so boring.

8. Favourite authors?

Sabrina Mahfouz, Vanessa Kisuule and Nimco Ali.

9. Sport(s) you most enjoy and top team(s)?

Football and swimming.

10. Ideal holiday destination?

Somewhere with a swimming pool. I don’t like the word ‘staycation’ though.

11. Pet hate?

The phrase 'of course', as in "of course, you’ve all heard of the classic poet...".

12. What’s your favourite:

Dinner? Anything with good company around me.

Dessert? Sticky toffee pudding.

Drink? Tap water, or a Pornstar Martini if I’m not too embarrassed to say it at the bar.

13. Who is your best friend and how do you know each other?

I’ve got about 20 friends I consider as close as family. The oldest I’ve known since we were in our mum's wombs.

14. Is there a God?

I’m currently rewriting Antigone and its characters seem to think there are an awful lot of gods and goddesses. I’m particularly keen on Bacchus/Dionysus, the god of grapes and wine and fertility.

I was brought up with God as 'he' and female religious figures being associated with the word 'virgin', which I think has a lot to answer for in terms of how we see girls and women still.

:: An Evening with Hollie McNish, November 7, Seamus Heaney HomePlace, Bellaghy, 7.30pm. Tickets via 028 79387444 or

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