Interview with Clare Gallagher – Winner of the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing

What was your first memory regarding being attracted to the arts?

I had a lovely teacher, Miss O’Doherty, in Primary Two and Three. At some point, she read us The Lion and The Mouse. I was entranced. I was never someone who particularly enjoyed the school environment, but when I heard a story etc. I was somewhere else. I wrote a ridiculous number of pages retelling that story and was sent round the classes to share my work. It was a small school, but a big deal.

Was poetry something you enjoyed at school?

Very much so. In primary school, it was all about rhyme. If it didn’t rhyme, it wasn’t a poem. I loved funny poems in particular. I carried this over into my own writing. I used to write poems for my Mum’s birthday, Mother’s Day etc. (I suspect I was a bit of a cheapskate.) They absolutely had to rhyme and they had to be funny. There was no other way.

In secondary school, things got a bit more serious. I studied Heaney and Plath and remain a fan of both. I think early influences have a particularly strong impact and never quite leave us. (In a good way!)

Clare Gallagher, Winner of the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing 2020

Were you encouraged to write at school or by your family?

I was mostly encouraged to write by my younger sister. Usually this took the form of me doing her poetry homework for her. (She will sometimes recite these early poems impromptu at family gatherings; it’s concerning.) Over the years the relationship has evolved into her encouraging my writing for reasons other than her own personal gain. She’s my biggest fan for which I am very grateful.

How did you find out about the Seamus Heaney poetry competition facilitated by Community Arts Partnership?

I did a course in Reading and Writing Poetry with Ruth Carr in the Crescent Arts Centre in 2018. I got a lot from that course, including meeting some lovely people and finding out about the CAP anthology and Seamus Heaney Award. I entered that year and had two poems in the anthology. A year later, and here we are!

What were you trying to achieve with your poem “Meabh at a Mirror”

When I sit down to write a poem, I’m often not looking to achieve anything in particular, other than to get to a place that pleases me and feels, to some degree, finished. With Meabh at a Mirror, I wanted to explore our changing relationship with mirrors, prompted by my young niece’s delight in catching her reflection in one.

What did you think when you won the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing

I actually had someone else pegged for the winner, so I was stunned when Meabh at a Mirror was named. I didn’t hear anything Conor said following the announcement and had to go back and listen to it again. It was worth hearing.

It has taken a while to sink in, but I am so honoured to have won the only poetry award with the endorsement of the Heaney family. It’s a very special thing. In addition, it’s wonderful that this significant award is facilitated by a community-based arts organisation and that, with no entry fee, it is accessible to all. Regarding the anthology itself, I think it’s very encouraging to writers at all stages, but particularly to early or emerging writers, to see their work in print and to recognise themselves as part of a community of writers. Long may it continue.

Where  to now?

Receiving the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing 2020 has given me a great boost in confidence, which will drive my writing forward. I am working on putting together a pamphlet with a view to getting published. And I do have a half-written novel somewhere on my laptop, which is probably overdue some attention.

See one of Clare’s poems at the link below


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