Tyrone author Michelle Gallen on Édith Piaf, Radiohead and what lessons politicians could learn from watching Paddington

Jenny Lee puts performers and artists on the spot about what really matters to them. This week, Co Tyrone author Michelle Gallen

Co Tyrone author Michelle Gallen

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

I am not sure that I understand what a career in writing is even now, or how I should proceed in it. My first powerful memory of writing is from when I was around 13, and had to write a story about 'snow' for an English assignment. I started scribbling about a surprise snowfall earlier that year. The whole time I was writing I felt like I was in a blizzard in real life. When I put my pen down and found myself in our living room with my brothers and sisters and the smell of frying bacon, I was sad that I was no longer in the winter wonderland that I'd conjured up. From then on, I sought out that falling down a rabbit hole feeling through writing.

2. Best gigs you've been to?

I saw Radiohead at the Big Day Out in Galway in 1996, and despite the torrential rain all day, every act – from the Divine Comedy to Neneh Cherry – was incredible. The icing on the cake was meeting Ewan McGregor who had just starred in my favourite film that year – Trainspotting.

3. Fantasy wedding/birthday party band?

Bonnie Tyler and Meatloaf giving it socks in the Central Hotel in Donegal.

4. The record you would take to a desert island?

Édith Piaf's Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien. Even before I understood the lyrics in French, her performance communicated to me the impression of having burnt your bridges and being fiercely happy to go forward with what you have in the here and now.

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

I'd love to sit down and spend a long time slowly reading The Art of the Glimpse. I love short story collections, but have not had the time I need to luxuriate in this important collection of Irish short stories.

6. Top three films?

Amélie, because it's so sensory – I feel that film. Muriel's Wedding because of the Abba soundtrack. And Labyrinth - because David Bowie in tights...

7. Worst film you've seen?

Paddington, because the gap between the friendly United Kingdom that welcomes an orphaned Peruvian bear and the harsh reality for most immigrants is just too galling.

8. Favourite authors?

This is a terrible question. I should refuse to answer, as to write even one book that someone considers their favourite is a feat, never mind writing so many amazing books that you become someone's favourite author. But I adore Liz Strout, Kazuo Ishiguro and Elena Ferrante and always look forward to their next work. But I also can't wait to see what writers like Naoise Dolan, Raven Leilani and Luke Cassidy do next.

9. Sport you most enjoy and top teams?

Survival. Cockroaches and weeds.

10. Ideal holiday destination?

Any Irish cottage within walking distance of an empty beach and a pub with a nightly session.

11. Pet hates?

The length of time it takes humans to gain perspective.

12. What's your favourite:

Dinner? Cabbage fried in bacon fat, spuds, sausages and streaky bacon eaten after a day on the bog in the 1980s.

Dessert? The strawberry chocolate almond tart my 10-year-old recently invented. So good we ended up eating dessert before dinner several evenings in a row.

Drink? A hot dark chocolate with a dash of cognac.

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

Julie-Anne Graham, who I met in Mairtín Crawford's writing class in the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast back in January 2003. She's the most talented, generous, gorgeous person I've ever met.

14. Is there a God?

Not in my life any more. But I miss her.

:: Michelle Gallen's new book Factory Girls is out now. Set in a small town on the Irish border in the summer of 1994, it tells the story of two friends who have just secured summer jobs in the local shirt factory.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access