‘I think I know what the worst day of my life will be and I haven’t had it yet’

Two To Talk: Maria Doyle-Kennedy and Sinead Gleeson in conversation about writers, music, film and the meaning of life

 

Sinead: Why do you think you’ve ended up doing what you do?

MDK: I think that I sing because it is almost the easiest thing that I do. I don’t think when I’m singing. Everything else I do, I got there through singing. Singing brought me to all those other places. 

Sinead: I was always a reader, but then I spent four years pretty much in hospital as a teenager, and my reading went up to ninja level and I’ve been obsessed with books ever since, so it seems like a really obvious thing that I would work around books. I talked about being a writer for years and didn’t do it for various reasons. I love books, I spent all my money on novels. When I did journalism I managed to turn my hobbies into my job. 

MDK: I think desire has to have something to do with it as well. That it’s what you want to do more than anything. Somehow you find a way to fuel it. 

 Sinead: What do you think is a dominant characteristic of the other?

MDK: I think you’re very optimistic. 

Sinead: You’re incredibly kind, thoughtful around other people. You help people out a lot. I always feel very relaxed around you. You’re very chill. 

MDK: Thank you! I think I’m a trier. Doers do things and get them done, and I don’t always get them done, but I try.

 MDK: When did you last cry?

Sinead: I wrote a piece about my godmother.

MDK: That was beautiful. 

Sinead: It’s hard to write about very personal things sometimes, but you also have to switch off a part of your brain so you can do it. Every single time I wrote a draft or edit it, I would literally sit at my computer and bawl. I never had that with a piece of writing at all.  

MDK: I cry often. When I was small and if there was something wrong and you were upset and you’d hope for a comforting word, my mother would always say, “there’s nothing wrong with a good cry”. There’s no shame about it. I spend a lot of time on the train going up and down to Roscommon and I often zone out on the train – it’s so beautiful going through the Irish countryside on the train – and sometimes I’ll think of something sad and I’m off. 

 Sinead: What about your death-row meal?

MDK: I’d go straight to the liquor, skip the food.

Sinead: I think so. Fancy booze. 

 MDK: Who would you like to receive a letter from?

Sinead: I’d probably go Kate Bush. I know she’s been sent a copy of The Long Gaze Back and The Glass Shore. I’d love to know what she thought. She’s one of those people who is mega famous and then when you talk to her, she’s just lovely, just human.

MDK: Dorothy Parker. Imagine what she’d write to you? How many times you’d read it, how much you’d laugh.

 Sinead: What was the worst day of your life.

MDK: I think I know what mine will be and I haven’t had it yet. 

Sinead: Wow, that’s pretty profound.

MDK: I think I live in the now a lot. I find it hard to think of the best time or the worst time.

Sinead: Mine is the leukaemia diagnosis, six months to the day after I got married. You have this flash forward to all the things you think you’re not going to have.

MDK: Who is a film-maker or artist or musician who really speaks to you? 

Sinead: I want to say – because I always think of them as a troika – Alice Maher, Dorothy Cross and Aideen Barry. I love all their work, not just because it’s strange and of the body and slightly supernatural and very feminine, but it’s uncompromising, it’s not like anyone else, and it’s not easy to make. I think they’re incredible.

MDK: James Turrell, I’m living and breathing him at the moment. I find light installations deeply moving, and you’re never being told on any level what to think. It’s nourishing and not in any way patronising or didactic, you’re just being inspired. 

Sinead: I’ve never met someone with a mind like Brian Eno. He writes books, he does music installations, he produces, he remixes, he keeps up with everything, reads everything, a proper public intellectual, and super nice given how well-known he is.

MDK: I love the new Lankum album as well. Radie Peat’s voice is very special. 

 Sinead: Anything you wish you did better in school?

MDK: Mine is history. I didn’t do it for my Leaving Cert and I so regret it. 

Sinead: You’re a Gaeilgeoir and your kids go to an Irish school, I just had a series of unenjoyable Irish teachers. I wish I had been taught a bit better, and I wish we all spoke it. I wish my Irish was better.

 Sinead: Is there a mantra or motto you return to?

MDK: I really tried to get information out of Patrick Scott. I would ask him whenever I could – give us the meaning of life! He would just bat me away like a fly, but he did say: just make the work. I can hear him say it. I miss him terribly. 

Sinead: That’s good advice. In work terms, I always say “if you don’t ask you don’t get”. More than that, and I think this is more important as I get older: be kind. If somebody has some good news, shout about it and celebrate it, champion other people, lift other people up. We can be very whiny and snide about other people’s good news and good luck and I don’t like that. I think it affects you if you’re like that. 

  • Maria Doyle Kennedy is a musician, actor, and film-maker. Her new, self-titled album, is out now on Mermaid Records. Sinead Gleeson is a writer, editor and broadcaster.
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