Sinéad Gleeson: Islands, Art & Identity – WORD Christchurch

If I won the literary lotto and could choose any author to watch discuss literature, Irish writer Sinèad Gleeson would be my number one. So, to say my hopes were high for this WORD event would be an understatement.  Surely this couldn’t live up to my expectations, right? Well, I’m happy to report that it most certainly did. It went down as well as a hot Irish whiskey on a cold Christchurch evening. 

Sinèad’s obvious hunger for all things art helped this discussion stand out from the standard Author talks about book / Author reads from book type of event. Instead, we all sat shotgun for a ride through the opinions and insights of one of contemporary literature's most robust minds. 

Topics included: the recent death of Irish singer and activist Sinead O’Connor, the appeal of solitude, the flora and fauna of Ireland, the importance of art for young people of all socioeconomic backgrounds, the role that women play in Irish folklore, the struggles of being a writer, the trials of being an artist, and the best writing advice ever received (to name a few). And did I mention that it was also very funny?

Best writing advice:

"Write with the handbrake off"

But the main event that brought us all out in the first place, is the release of Sinèad Gleeson’s first novel, Hagstone. The novel revolves around a young artist named Nell who goes to live on a rugged unnamed island in the pursuit of creating art on her own terms. I haven’t read Hagstone yet, but from what was discussed the island seems to be a character just as much as Nell. It all sounded very mysterious, a strange sound that emanates from the island that only certain people can hear, a mysterious commune of women known as the Inions, a potential love interest and Nell’s penchant for voyeurism. After a reading from an early chapter, and all these titbits of plot, I am hooked and can’t wait to start reading it myself. 

Overcoming adversity was a constant theme across the hour and something that Sinèad Gleeson has faced from a very young age. This is all chronicled in her 2019 essay collection, Constellations which was also discussed. This is a book I have read and reread many times over the years and would thoroughly recommend to anybody. 

In the hands of WORD Christchurch’s Programme Director Kiran Dass, this discussion had the expert tone of an interesting conversation between two friends, shared with a large and rapt audience. This was a night to remember and a treat for all in attendance.       


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See photos from the event

Sinéad Gleeson and Kiran Dass