Tell us a little bit about yourself
My first brush with fame was when I entered the world in May 1984, and midwifes flocked to see The Frowning Baby, according to my mother. I was the first member of my family to go to university and my world exploded, in a largely positive way, when that happened. One summer, Trinity sent students on an international school to debate politics, economics, and the Iraq war for a week in Prague. I met people there from the United States, Israel, Palestine, Australia, Africa.
So I restructured a lot of my coursework and focus in Trinity (I was studying Sociology and German) towards topics like imprisonment, social justice and psychology and managed to get a place on the Masters in Criminology course in Cambridge in 2007.
That marked the beginning of working for nine years in prisons, community mental health and restorative justice. I wanted to understand how people destroy their lives, and how their lives are destroyed, and reconstructed.
Around 2017, I urgently felt the need to create something, so I set up The Well Review magazine, and began editing and publishing writers and curating literary events. I’ve recently given workshops in prisons, but would like to do that more frequently.
Poetry can facilitate this given the right conditions. So much conflict in these spaces and within the criminal justice system are rooted in dysfunctional and destructive modes of communication from all sides.
My favourite way to spend a Friday night in Cork City is to meet my friend, the artist, Padraig Spillane (currently showing in the Cork Midsummer), for a glass of wine and to hatch our creative masterplans.
Scientists have studied sleeping patterns and assigned chronotypes. I adhere to the ‘dolphin’ type. Dolphins sleep with one half of their brain awake. I tend to be awake for 17 hours per day and then grab the sleep whenever it comes. Thankfully, it often arrives at night, but I sometimes nap during the day.
See previous! Yes. I have a very fluid relationship to time. I work most weekends, sometimes I’ll randomly take a Thursday off but I’m not a workaholic, and I detest the glorification of being busy. I’ve literally spent two hours looking at a spider in my bathroom and loved every minute of it. I now actively listen to my body. I’ve worked since I’m 15 and I work every day when I can, I rest when I need to.
I’m not a holiday person at all. I much prefer to live in a foreign place for a period. Obviously that gets trickier as you age. I once went on a writing retreat, and at the end of the week I asked the workshop leader whether he’d be taking a holiday afterwards, and he said ‘oh I don’t take holidays, there’s nothing to take a holiday from’. This was from one of the hardest-working writers and educators I ever met and that just blew me away. I now live between Paris and Cork, so if I were in Paris, I’d fly home to take my dad on a picnic to Drake’s Pool, and if I were in Cork, I’d fly him to Paris to try the restaurant in the Eiffel Tower because we both love food, talk about it non-stop and we could compare the sandwiches in each location.
I think my favourite place in recent times is Glenbeg Lough in Ardgroom, Beara. In the city, I love walking the Lee Fields.
I try to take every second weekend off work to catch up with people, clean the house, run errands otherwise it’s a cascading entropy.
I did a forensic entomology course a few years ago, and that got me really into insects, so I love identifying them and reading about them, especially fruit flies and moths. I also love to cycle in a pair or group. There’s nothing better than cycling through mountains shouting at your mates.
I try to get pistachio, lemon and parmesan into everything.
Hotel bars for coffee are so underrated. My favourite is at The Imperial. They’re fascinating spots for writers because the customers are often guests so are on a totally different tempo and mood to passersby. And it’s so beautiful. My Aunt taught me that at a young age that beauty does not belong to any class of people. It doesn’t matter how much money you have; you walk into a gorgeous hotel and ask for a coffee like anyone else. It’s a very profound thing to normalise beauty and elegance to a child.
I’m passionate about breaking the mindset that people with less money should have miserable lives. I don’t have money and live an incredibly beautiful life. There are obviously states of poverty that are completely unacceptable, but I always encourage people to take up more space, enter places you don’t think are for you be it a gallery, a university, an opera- and see what happens. The fashion designer, Virgil Abloh, plays with this a lot. He just opened a store in Paris with a neon sign inside that reads “You’re Obviously in the Wrong Place”. What I’m advocating for is not original or new, but I hope I enact some of these ideas through the magazine and my own writing.
Watching Glenroe and doing my homework. In that order.
I don’t use an alarm clock what with the whole dolphin brain thing. Currently, I wake when the pigeons nesting outside my window start duelling, which is around 5.45am.
Sarah Byrne, writer and artistic director of The Well Review will be in conversation with poets Ellen Bass and Tom Moore for an online event as part of the West Cork Literary Festival on Thursday July 15. For further details see www.westcorkmusic.ie/literary-festival/