Interview with Anne Walsh Donnelly, Runner Up in the WOW! Q1 2024 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Sunday, March 31, 2024


Anne Walsh Donnelly lives in the west of Ireland, writes prose, poetry and plays and loves to experiment with form in her writing. She dares to be different. Anne is the author of the poetic memoir The Woman with an Owl Tattoo, which tells the story of her coming out journey in mid-life and the poetry collection, Odd as F*ck. Her fragmentary novella, He Used To Be Me, was published by New Island Books in February and can be ordered from the New Island website by clicking here or on Amazon. Anne is currently working towards her first personal essay collection. 
Facebook: AnneWalshDonnelly 
Instagram: annewalshdonnellypoetry 
X: @AnneWDonnelly 

 ----------Interview by Renee Roberson 

WOW: Congratulations on placing as a runner up, and welcome! What was the writing process like for “A Marriage in Metaphors?” How did you decide which objects (a painting, a jackhammer, a cow) to use to help express the different stages of your relationship? 

Anne: A few months ago I was finding it hard to motivate myself to sit down and write so I thought I’d experiment a bit. I went back to some of my old poems to see if I could use one of them as a starting point for an essay. I had a poem about a Botticelli painting (Venus and Mars), a poem about a jackhammer and one about a cow. So I got the idea of using each of those metaphors for different stages of my marriage. It was an experiment, I didn’t know if it worked and when I had written it, I thought to myself, well this is either brilliant or rubbish. I was delighted to learn that your judges didn’t think it was rubbish! 

WOW: It turned out to be a brilliant concept! You have had great success placing in the top ten in this particular contest. What tips do you have for other writers hoping to break into the creative nonfiction market? 

Anne: The biggest thing is to take the risk, put words on the page and experiment and see what comes out of it. Write your own truth your way and not what you think you should write. Use the skills you have learned in your other writing, whether it’s poetry or fiction, or even plays in your nonfiction. Imagery, metaphors, sensual and lyrical writing are just as important when writing creative nonfiction as they are in poetry or fiction. All of us have stories to tell, the trick is to write them in a way that will resonate with the reader. Write the first draft for yourself, get all the messiness and gore and rawness out on the page, let it settle for a day or too or longer and then go back and re write and edit with the reader in mind. Don’t’ censure yourself or tell yourself you shouldn’t be writing about your life. When I started writing personal essays I used to think that it was a bit narcissistic to be writing about my life but then I realised that I could use my personal experience to explore universal themes and somehow that felt less narcissistic. 

WOW: That's a great point--highlighting different aspects of the human experience through writing isn't narcissistic, in fact, you never know who it might help! Can you tell us more about your novella, “He Used to Be Me?” It sounds like a fascinating piece of work.
Anne: Yes, it’s definitely fascinating! I explore the complex workings of the inner life of a character who lives on the fringe of his community, in lyrical and fragmentary prose . The character is a man called Daft Matt who wanders the streets of a town in the west of Ireland looking for the claws of jackdaws. They’ve been speaking to him since he was a boy. I’ve written it in the first person point of view so Matt tells us his story in his man-child voice. The book takes us from his childhood losses to the carefree days of early manhood to the aftermath of a horse riding accident which sees him incarcerated in the care system for over 30 years. He’s a character that represents those marginalised figures that every town has, who roam the streets for so long that they are no longer noticed and their stories remain untold. 

WOW: As an accomplished poet, is it difficult for you to switch gears and write in the creative nonfiction genre? 

Anne: Surprisingly not. They both complement each other. A lot of my poems are what some would call ‘confessional poems.’ I explore my personal experience in them using imagery, similes, metaphors, rhythm and sensory language. I do the same in my personal essays. Some of the topics I write about suit the personal essay genre better than the poetry. The personal essay gives you more space when writing. 

WOW: Do you have any fun writing rituals you can share with our readers? 

Anne: Sometimes two of my writing buddies and I blow bubbles! I think it’s important not to take yourself too seriously in life or in your writing though sometimes I struggle with that, so a good bubble blowing session helps me reconnect with the child in me and the fun in life.

WOW: I love that! You are right that sometimes we writers take ourselves too seriously and let the cycle of submissions and rejections affect us more than it should. Thank you again for being here today!


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