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Arts Q&A: Writer and performer Abby Oliveira on Grace Jones, Eddie Lenihan and Annie Proulx

Jenny Lee puts performers and artists on the spot about what really matters to them. This week, Derry-based writer, performer, lyricist and theatre-maker Abby Oliveira

Derry-based writer Abby Oliveira will take part in Northern Ireland Writers Day which includes an online panel discussion with some of Northern Ireland’s most beloved literary figures.

1. When did you think about a career as a performance poet and what were your first steps into it?

My career choice was writer and performer. Performance poetry became one expression of my work. I still tend to think of it as something I do for the love of it, especially now that my creative focus is shifting. I got into it back in 2006 when the scene was very much still underground and gorgeously anarchic. I fell in love with how much electricity words could create, especially among audiences who wouldn't necessarily have considered themselves poetry fans.

2. Best gigs you've been to?

Chic in Derry, 2013. I'll never forget the palpable buzz on the streets as hundreds of people walked over the Peace Bridge to the venue. We literally danced non-stop to that funk-disco-soul nectar; our spirits were uplifted for weeks afterwards.

Grace Jones at Electric Picnic, 2015. Totally mesmerising performer, the queen of owning and commanding her space.

King Kong Company at Body & Soul festival, 2019. This was the gig that turned me into a proper fan. I remember dancing in that field to their track Donkey Jaw, feeling absolutely euphoric by how good they were.

3. Fantasy wedding/birthday party band?

Poly Styrene and Brittany Howard (vocals), Ralph Rolle (drums), Ruth Underwood (percussion), Bootsy Collins (bass), Sister Rosetta Tharpe (guitar) and Shabaka Hutchings (sax).

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

A good soundtrack or compilation, with a mix of artists and moods.

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

Maybe Meeting the Other Crowd - a collection of Irish faerie lore by seanchaí Eddie Lenihan - I never tire of hearing/reading stories of the 'hidden Ireland' of folklore. But that wouldn't help me survive on the island. So I'd better pick something like The Homesteading, Raft-Building, and Wild Food Foraging Handbook for Eejits.

6. Top three films?

The Birdcage, V for Vendetta and The Act of Killing – a very hard watch.

7. Worst film you've seen?

Happiness. I tried several times to get through it. Everything about the story and characters turned my stomach.

8. Favourite authors?

Annie Proulx - she's unbelievable at creating worlds that live with you and have you thinking about the story even when you're not reading it.

Kurt Vonnegut - a totally unique voice and style that excites me. He can make you laugh and fill you with horror in the same sentence.

9. Sport you most enjoy and your top team?

Literally none.

10. Ideal holiday destination?

I love being anywhere I've never been before, just being a part of the life of that place.

11. Pet hates?

Knuckle cracking, habitual complaining and dishwater coffee.

12. What's your favourite:

Dinner? Noodles and gyoza, or my ma's macaroni cheese.

Dessert? Strawboffee from the Ramore Wine Bar in Portrush.

Drink? Brandy and Baileys.

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

Her name is Kellie; she is a visual artist and singer-songwriter. We met in university and have been cracking each other up, reading each other's minds, and finishing each other's sentences for 20 years now.

14. Is there a God?

I'm an agnostic and am at peace with that. I think the God debate is so ultimately futile. It's useful of course for those who want to divide and control for power's sake, for example. We can never know; all we can do is choose what we'd prefer to believe. When I imagine a supreme creator I tend to imagine some hyper-advanced being playing some epic celestial game of Sims.

:: Abby Oliveira will join a panel of speakers including Lucy Caldwell, Glenn Patterson and Steve Cavanagh today for NI Writers Day 2, a free online day of events presented by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the Royal Society of Literature celebrating the best of local writing. To book your free ticket visit rsliterature.org/whats-on.

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