Interview with Anne Walsh Donnelly, 2nd Place Winner of the Q4 2023 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Sunday, November 05, 2023
Bio: Anne Walsh Donnelly lives in the west of Ireland. She is a single mother to two amazing young adults. She writes poetry, prose and plays, and is the Poet Laureate for the town of Belmullet in Co Mayo. Anne describes her writing process as ‘Bungee jumping, naked, off the Cliffs of Moher.’

Her poetry collection, Odd as F*ck, was published in 2021 by Fly on the Wall Poetry Press. They also published her poetry chapbook, The Woman With An Owl Tattoo, which is a poetic memoir of her coming out journey in her fifties.

This is the third time that Anne has been placed in the top ten of the WOW Creative Nonfiction Essay Competition. To find out more about Anne go to her website or follow her on social media. 

Facebook: AnneWalshDonnelly
Instagram: annewalshdonnellypoetry
X: @AnneWDonnelly

----- Interview by Angela Mackintosh

WOW: Congratulations on winning second place! “To my ex-therapist” is a deeply moving lyric essay, written to your ex-therapist, which examines the difference between a want and a need. What was your initial spark for writing this essay?

Anne: The initial spark was when my ex-therapist told me I could make an appointment to see her anytime if I needed to. I can’t remember exactly when she said that to me but it’s at least five or six years ago.

The difference between a want and a need has been rumbling around in my head since then and anytime I’ve felt drawn to contact her I always weigh up in my mind whether I really need to see her or is it a want more than a need.

I couldn’t find a way into writing about it until recently. I had written a poem about my ex-therapist after watching her catch and release a bumble bee from her office a few years ago. Her actions epitomised her loving caring nature. So, a few months ago I was looking at the poem again and I thought this is my way into writing an essay exploring the difference between a want and a need in relation to my experience of therapy.

WOW: It's wonderful to hear how the essay started as a poem, and how you found a universal theme that brought it all together! I'm not surprised. Your writing is very poetic, and I love how the essay is fragmented like a mosaic. How did you decide on the order of the sections, and what is the significance of the asterisk dividers that grow in number?

Anne: Well, as I’ve said I used the poem I had written about my ex-therapist and her bumble as my starting point. Then I just jotted down other random thoughts that came into my head. I thought the quote from Nanny McPhee and her relationship with the children she was minding was relevant to my experience and the essay I wanted to write.

Then it was just a matter of arranging the thoughts I had around the poem. The asterisk dividers grow in number to show my growth in therapy and since I’ve finished therapy, though are we ever really finished.

WOW: Brilliant! There are several literary devices used in this piece—from the bumble bee metaphor to the allusion of Nanny McPhee to using direct address and even a bit of research. What are some of your favourite go-to literary devices or writing exercises?

Anne: I love writing in the second person especially when I write personal essays. I think it gives me some distance from the themes and experiences that I’m exploring, though sometimes I will re write the essay in the first point of view if I think it will make the piece more impactful.

I also love writing in fragments and then arranging/rearranging the pieces to make the whole piece more than the sum of its fragments. I love writing short form and sometimes if a topic seems too big to tackle. I will write little scenes. It’s easier to sit down and say I’ll write 100 words today and see where it goes rather than saying I have to sit down today and write at least 1000 words more of my novel. That would be overwhelming for me.

WOW: Your mini scenes are powerful, including the section that includes a vivid dream. How important are dreams to your creative process? Do you keep a dream journal?

Anne: Dreams are important for much more than my creative process. I don’t keep a dream journal, but I do keep a spiritual journal, which sits on my bedside locker. I will write down dreams in my spiritual journal that I consider significant so not every dream goes in there. Sometimes the characters in my dreams will give me guidance on a big life decision I am trying to make. I can be very indecisive at times! I think the characters in my dreams are representations of my wise self, so I pay attention when they start to speak.

WOW: You’ve written two poetry collections that were published by Fly on the Wall Press and have wonderful reviews and have won awards! How do you decide which poems go into your collections? 

Anne: Yes, I’ve been very fortunate! The first collection I wrote, ‘The Woman with an Owl Tattoo’ was an easy collection to put together as it had one theme running through it which was my struggle to come to terms with my sexuality and my coming out journey.

The second collection, ‘Odd as F*ck,’ looks at various themes divided into sections so it required a lot more thought as to what poems I would include. I just printed all the poems I wanted to put in the collection, spread them all over the floor and decided what went where and what ones were not a fit for the book.

WOW: You make is sound so easy, Anne! Okay, I have to say, I just love how you describe your writing as “Bungee jumping, naked, off the Cliffs of Moher.” You are a brave writer who isn’t afraid to bare it all, so your metaphor is perfect! What are you working on now? 

Anne: Thank you! I’m working on a few projects at the moment, the most important one is my new book which will be published by the fabulous Irish publisher, New Island Books next February.

We’re at the proofing stage now. The book’s title is, ‘He Used To Be Me,’ and I think it’s my best work yet. And guess what? It’s written in fragments and is quiet poetic and lyrical in parts.

The story is set in the west of Ireland and is about a man, called Daft Matt, who has spent most of his adult life in a psychiatric hospital after a horse-riding accident left him with a brain injury. I’ve written it in Matt’s man-child voice and throughout the book he chats with jackdaws who have spoken to him since he was a boy.

Here's a little extract from the epigraph:

“I sit on the stone that will mark the bed of my bones. You’ll find the used-to-be-me, soon, flat body, washed up, wrinkly skin. A giant pale gollywog. No silly grin. You’ll say what a waste of a life. Tut-tut sounds jump out. Dangle like worms from your crow’s mouth...”

As well as poems and creative non-fiction, I also write fiction and plays. So, I tend to have a few projects on the go at the same time. I love writing creative non-fiction and coming second in this competition has given me the encouragement to write more as I’m obviously better at it than I thought I was! I’ve read all the essays that placed in the top ten and I was bowled over by the high standard of the work and I feel privileged to be included. So, thanks so much for placing my essay second.

WOW: Aw, thanks, Anne! You are such a versatile writer, and it's always such a pleasure to read your work. Your epigraph is vivid and lyric, and I can't wait to hear more about Daft Matt. Congratulations on your forthcoming book! And on your essay win. Thanks so much for chatting with me today.

Find out more about WOW's flash fiction and creative nonfiction contests here:


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