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All the best: Bernie McGill on her favourite things

By Kerry McKittrick

The 47-year-old author lives in Portstewart with her husband Kevin McClelland and their children, Mary (17) and Rosie (14). Her debut novel The Butterfly Cabinet, set on the north coast in the 1890s, won rave reviews. Bernie's new short stories collection, Sleepwalkers, is out now.

My best moment

I think it was when I began studying at Queen's University, Belfast, because that was the starting point for everything – friends, career, relationship. I even met my husband Kevin at Queen's as we were in the same halls at the same time. I studied English and Italian which was wonderful because it meant I got to spend some time in Italy.

My best song

It has to be something by Van Morrison (below) so I'm choosing Into The Mystic, though to be honest it's very difficult to choose between that and Into The Garden. I love the lyrics of both these songs, and they also start with lines that could be the beginning of a short story. They plant a question in your head and I love that.

My best way to relax

I love to walk, so it's probably a walk on the beach or along the coast. I like to go out on my own without any music or anything. It clears the head and lets your thoughts go wherever they want to go.

My best job

I do some part-time teaching working with writers' groups, which I really enjoy. I used to work as an arts administrator so I've been in the creative world for a long time. I had a brilliant job at Queen's as an usher in the QFT, so I used to see all the films for free.

My best advice

It came from local writer Damian Gorman while I was sitting in a room full of people. It was really good advice that gave me a little shift in my thinking. He said that if you want to write and be a writer and share your work then no-one is going to come knocking at the door looking for you. You're going to have to put a bit of time into doing the best writing out there and you're going to have to put a bit of time into getting yourself out there. It was one of those moment when you realise that you have to make something happen.

My best gift

A number of years ago my husband bought me a writing table and it was a lovely gesture because it was like someone saying I had no excuse anymore, it was time to get on with it. It's a very functional present but it was a good one to receive.

My best achievement

In terms of work it would have to be finishing my first novel The Butterfly Cabinet. It took me five years and there were lots of times where it seemed like it wasn't going to happen, so finishing it was quite a milestone.

My best buy

An old pair of wedges that I wear round the house. I've had them for so long that I can't remember where they came from. One of them must have been in the window of the shop because they're different colours.

My best movie

That would be The Color Purple. A relaxing chick-flick isn't really me and I would get bored with those. I loved the way this movie was filmed with the scenes in Africa juxtaposed with the scenes in America.

My best book

The one I'm reading at the moment is called History Of The Rain by Niall Williams which is just brilliant. It's about the bedridden daughter of a dead poet who is home from school following a collapse and trying to find her father through stories. It's been long-listed for the Man Booker prize this year which doesn't surprise me in the slightest.

  • Bernie McGill will be reading from her new collection of short stories, Sleepwalkers (Whittrick Press, £4.99) at the Aspects Literary Festival in Bangor on September 25. For tickets and more information go to www.aspectsfestival.com

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