While we’re all doing our bit with social distancing and self-isolating, we’ve still got a new member for you to virtually meet this month. I caught up with Sinead Keegan to find out what (or rather, who) made her join 26, and how storytelling sparked an early love of words.
Tell us a bit about yourself – where are you from and what do you do?
I’m originally Irish, but I grew up a bookworm in Boston, USA, went to university in Montreal, Canada and then moved to London nine years ago – I’m a serial immigrant. I’m now teaching creative writing, everything from poetry to fiction and creative nonfiction, and critical writing – the essay writing everyone hates – at Kingston University, London Metropolitan University and for other institutions including City University London, the British Council, and for private clients. In my spare time, I hammer away at my novel, write poetry and short fiction, and I have the great pleasure of editing all the sins, a digital literary arts magazine, with fellow 26-er, Lisa Andrews.
Where did your love of words come from?
I grew up surrounded by stories and storytelling. My mother’s family are all obsessive readers and every corner of my granny’s house and my childhood home was filled with books. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading. On my father’s side, I come from a long line of dyslexics so there wasn’t as much reading, but storytelling is a huge part of our family. My understanding of narrative structure, humour, and how to keep an audience engaged comes as much from being immersed in the Irish culture of storytelling as it does from reading. Growing up around dyslexics and with dyslexia taught me that words aren’t bound to the page; they are living, shifting, vibrant tools for all kinds of storytelling.
What made you join 26? And how long have you been a member?
Lisa Andrews made me join! Not in an arm-twisting way, although it was beginning to look possible; she couldn’t speak highly enough of the people and the goals of 26. She was always involved in interesting projects and after I experienced Armistice and saw the beautiful, moving work of 26 Trees, I couldn’t resist any longer.
Have you been involved in any 26 projects?
I had the great fortune to write about the incredible Countess Constance Markievicz for Armistice 100 Days.
What’s your ideal scenario for writing? (A coffee shop? Quiet retreat?
With or without music? What do you do to get yourself in the right frame of
I suppose I’m rather dull, here. I just like quiet. For a long time, I
told myself that I needed a special desk, a certain view, and to be ‘in the
mood’, but I’ve learned that really what I need is a pen and paper or a
computer or even just my phone, and to reject my excuses for why I can’t write
here and now. Bum in chair. Write.
But, if you’re offering retreats…send me to a solitary cottage
overlooking the ocean!
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m bashing out the end of a novel that I’ve been working on for too
long and learning lots about running webinars for all my university lectures
that have been moved online.
Could you tell us about a piece of writing you’re particularly proud of?
I wrote a poem about refugees and immigrants and what humans owe to each
other called ‘Lengths’ that was published in Magma. I think it
represents who I am both as a writer and as a person. I hope it shows the power
of writing to make us consider the world and ourselves in new ways.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I’m not sure that I believe in inspiration. I think that writers do
their best work when they are asking the questions that drive them. I suppose
we all have moments when an idea comes to us, but I worry that writers wait for
‘inspiration’ and in doing so, use it as an excuse not to write. I write a lot
of really bad stuff and then pull out the half-decent things and try to craft
them into better things. I believe in craft and editing much more than I
believe in inspiration, but I try to stay open to experiences. I carry
notebooks or make notes in my phone of things that interest me and lines or
phrases that I overhear or think of. In that sense, inspiration comes from
everywhere, but it’s nothing without craft and editing. That makes me sound
like a proper teacher, but I really believe it!
– Sinead Keegan, interviewed by Sophie Gordon
We’ll be meeting a new 26 member each month. If you’d like to feature, or nominate another member, drop me a line at email@example.com. Don’t be shy.