Arts Q&A: Author Kelly McCaughrain on Manic Street Preachers, Joni Mitchell and Virginia Woolf

Jenny Lee puts performers and artists on the spot about what really matters to them. This week, Children's Writing Fellow for Northern Ireland Kelly McCaughrain

Children’s Writing Fellow for Northern Ireland Kelly McCaughrain

1. When did you think about a career in writing and what were your first steps into it? I wrote my first novel in total secrecy but it was short-listed in a competition in The Times so I was outed. That got me an agent who sold my novel Flying Tips for Flightless Birds to Walker Books and it went on to win awards in Ireland.

2. Best gigs you’ve been to? My first ever gig was the Manic Street Preachers in Mandela Hall (1995-ish). I was excited about it and then spent the whole time realising that gigs are loud, sweaty, boring events that are hard on your feet. My main consolation about being 41 is that I am legitimately allowed to say I’m too old to go to gigs.

3. Fantasy wedding/birthday party band? The Divine Comedy.

4. The record you’d take to a desert island? Joni Mitchell’s Blue. It’s a challenge to sing along to.

5. And the book? The Complete works of Virginia Woolf. Because you don’t need anything else.

6. Top three films? I spend a lot of time at the QFT watching high-brow movies – honest. But the films that always stall me on Saturday afternoons when I should be doing other things are The Shawshank Redemption, The Lord of the Rings, Apollo 13 and Out of Africa. I know that’s four!

7. Worst film you’ve seen? It had a lot of Lego. And I didn’t 'see' it so much as listen to an audiobook in the cinema, while my nephew napped in the seat next to me.

8. Favourite authors? Apart from Virginia Woolf, my favourite authors are Marilynne Robinson, George Saunders and Susin Nielsen.

9. Sport you most enjoy and top team? None.

10. Ideal holiday destination? Tootling around Europe in my VW campervan, visiting gardens and consuming vast amounts of books, wine and cheese.

11. Pet hate? When children’s literature is treated as trivial or unimportant. Reading has a profound influence on our early development and therefore our society.

12. What’s your favourite:

Dinner? Anything with halloumi.

Dessert? My granny’s apple tart (unfortunately the recipe died with her. It’s been a family tragedy).

Drink? Lemon and ginger tea.

13. Who is your best friend and how do you know each other? My husband. We met in primary school, went to the same high school and started dating at 16. Literally can’t remember my life without him.

14. Is there a God? Recent events would make you wonder.

:: Kelly McCaughrain is the new Children’s Writing Fellow for Northern Ireland. The position was created as part of Queen’s University Belfast and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland's joint 10-year Seamus Heaney Legacy Programme in memory of the Nobel Prize-winning poet.

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