Kerri Ní Dochartaigh, Highly Commended for the Life Writing Prize 2017


Kerri ní Dochartaigh was highly commended in the inaugural Life Writing Prize 2017 for ‘Mudlarking’, a piece of life writing that explores a violent Derry childhood, paying homage to the great Seamus Heaney. It was described by the judges as ‘very sophisticated in its exploration of form, very powerful writing, a clever mixture of the past and the present’.  Spread the Word’s Laura Kenwright spoke to Kerri to get her thoughts on her writing, her inspirations and Seamus Heaney.

Laura Kenwright: Congratulations! How does it feel to have been highly commended in the Life Writing Prize? 

Kerri ní Dochartaigh: I am over the silvery moon to have been highly commended in this fantastic competition. I have such deep respect for the work that Spread the Word does for new writers and feel so grateful that Mudlarking‘ made its way into their supportive, encouraging hands.  It feels like I’ve made the first few steps on a brand new pathway with my work;  one that before now had been hidden entirely from my view.

Laura: Can you tell us a little about your highly commended piece, ‘Mudlarking’, how you came to write it, what the challenges were in writing it and why you chose to enter it into the Prize?

Kerri: I started to write ‘Mudlarking’ the year I turned thirty when I finally accepted that if I didn’t write it I would simply never be being true to who I was. It started as a children’s book called ‘One for sorrow’, became a novel called ‘North’, was a very melancholic poem for a year and a half and then, in the course of one week in the winter we have just buried, became ‘Mudlarking’; a piece in the shape and form I now feel brave enough to work with. Before now I have hidden behind misty words that were indecipherable. Now I am ready to own my story and share it, and so the journey is only really beginning, both for ‘Mudlarking’ and for me. I entered it into the competition on the advice of a very dear friend who wept after hearing it and begged me to send it off. Out of respect for him and the piece, I did.

Laura: Tell us about your writing; how long have you been writing for and why do you write?

Kerri: Writing is a part of my very deepest being, no matter what that holds. I remember being in bed very poorly as a young child and my Mam bringing me home a leather notebook with wee swans on the pages and a forest green pen. In that moment I suddenly forgot all about my headache and anything else around me, and knew then and there that I was a writer. I remember the feeling so clearly, like I’d been handed the whole world and all of its light into my eager, open, little girl hands. 

. . .  I write because I am. Because it’s all I know. Because I believe it fixes broken things and calls us to that point where the mirror meets the mire. It brings stillness in the chaos; beauty in decay. I write because I believe we are all going to be ok. I write because I want to see the sun rise in the light of hope, no matter how coal black the night may seem-again / again / again / again and again.

Laura: Do you have any tips for budding life writers out there?

Kerri: I feel I’d be letting the whole of my island down here if I didn’t quote Seamus Heaney for this one; ‘I always believed that whatever had to be written would somehow get itself written.’ Trust yourself. Be true to your experience. Listen to that wee voice when you first awaken in the soft glow of morning that tells you to write, write, write and to send that out into our wide, beautiful world. And swim under moonlight; always.

Laura: Are you working on anything at the minute?

Kerri: I’m in the process of trying to put together many short life-writing pieces (of which ‘Mudlarking’ is one) into one longer piece with the hope that people will want to read it. I simply must write it, though, and that’s the most important part. 

Laura: Who are your writing inspirations? 

Kerri: Seamus Heaney always and forever, Alice Oswald, Virgil, Paul Galicio, Roald Dahl, The entire ‘Caught by the River’ crew, Jeanette Winterson, Margaret Atwood,  Amy Liptrot. The list is ever growing. 

Kerri ní Dochartaigh was highly commended in the Spread the Word Life Writing Prize 2017. She is a writer living in a very north-westerly part of Ireland ,where the sky is grey and unbearably beautiful; where the land is folkloric and full of swansong. She read English Literature and Classics at Trinity College, Dublin. Her work has been published in some blogs and journals and she is currently shortlisted for the National Memory Day Poetry Prize. Her favourite bird is the curlew, her favourite Undertones’ song is ‘Get over you‘ and her favourite cup is mint green with a pale blue handle.

You can read ‘Mudlarking’ here:

Published 19 May 2017