Arts Q&A: Author Neil Hegarty on Derry Girls, his favourite Brontë sister and why we shouldn’t hoard books

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

It was 2000, and I had just turned thirty and was feeling elderly – and I had a sense that it was now or never: that I’d have to pay attention to this itch to write that I had been ignoring all through my twenties. So, I began to put words on paper. At that point, there was much less of a writing ecosystem in Ireland – no system of journals and magazines such as exists today, no Tangerine, Tolka, Banshee, Pig’s Back – but after a little while, I had two stories published in the Stinging Fly, which was crucial, and my start in life. Then I was approached to write a non-fiction book called Waking Up in Dublin, combining music and travelogue – my first book, and I was away.

2. Best gigs you’ve been to?

Most recently, Lisa Lambe’s Nightvisiting at the St John’s Arts Centre at Listowel, Co Tralee: beautiful and bewitching. I also recall Camille O’Sullivan’s Dark Angel show at Whelan’s in Dublin: her moody interpretation of Jacques Brel, Tom Waits and more. And Ute Lemper at the National Concert Hall in Dublin, in an anti-Valentine’s Day show, which I loved.

3. Fantasy wedding/birthday party band?

It would have to be Abba, wouldn’t it? I haven’t got to Voyage in London, but there’s still time.

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

Joni Mitchell’s Clouds (1969), which I listened to a lot at university: I associate it with a time when my life, reading, horizons were expanding, and when anything seemed possible. The title track is pure poetry.

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

The Man Without Qualities, Robert Musil’s portrait of the collapsing Austrian Empire, which has perched reproachfully on my book shelves for about a decade now.

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6. Top three films?

The Lives of Others
The Lives of Others

The Lives of Others (2006): I was so struck by the sense that the actors cast in this film looked like real people; Brief Encounter (1945), for how it shows the power of the unspoken; and – if I can push the definition of ‘film’ – the box set of Derry Girls, for its brilliant writing and performances, and beautiful truth.

7. Worst film you’ve seen?


8. Favourite authors?

I love Alice Munro’s short fiction: her (long) short story Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage transports me every time I read it. Recently, Deirdre Madden was in conversation at the Belfast Book Festival, which was for me a chance to recall how much I admire her novels, including Hidden Symptoms and One by One in the Darkness. And the third Brontë: Anne Brontë’s novels, daring and revolutionary, have always struck me as being miles ahead of their time politically, culturally, and socially.

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

I follow Derry City in soccer and I’ve also been following the recent evolution of Derry GAA into a national powerhouse – let’s see what happens next.

10. Ideal holiday destination?

The blue lakes and white limestone peaks of the Salzkammergut, in the Austrian Alps.

11. Pet hates?

Hoarding – even of books. Keep sending them out into the world, if you’re not going to read them again.

12. What’s your favourite dinner?

I’ve been reading Wild Figs, Yasmin Khan’s brilliant collection of recipes and stories from the eastern Mediterranean. A classic vegetable moussaka, with an orange syrup cake to follow – accompanied by a good G&T, made with Jawbox gin.

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

My husband John. We’ve been together for twenty-three years, and married for almost three. He’s the best person I’ve ever met.

14. Is there a God?


Talking about Impermanence: Neil Hegarty will be in conversation with Susan McKay, Nandi Jola, and Jan Carson on July 26 at the John Hewitt Summer School in Armagh, discussing their essays in Impermanence (No Alibis Press). For the full programme and to book tickets, visit https://johnhewittsociety.org/#programme.