Ready to Take Flight: A Cover Image Story

Milkweed Staff — 08/02/2021

by Kerri ní Dochartaigh

When someone writes a book about anything the first thing they are often asked is: HOW?

How did you find the time, the topic, the means to get it out of your insides and into the outside world for all to see? When someone writes a book that takes as its subject matter their own personal lived experiences – those which might range from deeply unsettling – to upsetting – or even traumatising; perhaps the question most commonly asked is: WHY?

Why would you put yourself through it? Why would you unearth that pain? Why would you revisit such suffering? Why would you dredge up the past like a river needing cleared? Why would you retraumatise yourself so wildly? Why write of a broken, bruised or brutal past?

We as a race have inflicted such pain on our fellow humans. We still do. There is so much happening out there – in all of the ‘out theres’ that exist across the globe– stuff that would bring you to your knees; bawling crying and full of rage at the horror of it all.

Why do we write at all in these times, and what good can it possibly do?


Last year marked the 23nd anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement – the words that brought an end, almost entirely, to the period of violence between members of the Protestant and Catholic communities in the North of Ireland known as The Troubles. As the anniversary was being marked, I was completing the final edits on my first book, Thin Places – a book that tries to honestly speak of and honour my existence as someone whose life has been impacted on by the experience of growing up in the North of Ireland.

Why did I write it?


In Seamus Heaney’s Nobel Prize Speech, in 1995 – just past the midway point of the violence – he talks of language and writing: of writing of the experience of our individual lives. He talks of writing as being a way ‘where we can at last grow up to that which we stored up as we grew.’  

What good does writing do? It helps us to grow up to all that we have stored up – all the loss and grief, pain and sorrow, beauty and joy; these things form us, and giving voice to them is a form of giving. Each person’s experience is theirs to carry alone but it is also that of the world, of the earth, and of all those we share it with. Why write in a world that is burning and breaking, full of loss and pain; why write in this beautiful, aching world?

The place I come from still feels the ripples of the years known as ‘the Troubles’. I was born in the midway point of it all and lived a life impacted upon by the violence in innumerable ways.

I first heard the words of Seamus Heaney in a Derry-Londonderry classroom at aged 11, weeks after my childhood home was petrol bombed by misguided youths –in the year of my life I experienced the most trauma I have known to date. Then and there – the moment I heard the poet’s words – I decided that I would write. We write because we have heard words from someone else, from somewhere else, from some time else; that have burrowed deep down inside us, like a single vein of light. We write because words are our way of saying: I see you, I hear you, I am here for you – either to others, to our world, our experiences, or to our own self. We write because there are things inside of us that, if given voice, grown into winged things – things that might change the course of history.

We write because there has never before been a deeper need to give voice to those who have been silenced. We are on our own with what we live through but when we write it down we are instantly part of a flock. Our words have never been more ready to take flight. Our words have never been needed more; not in any arrogant or self- important way. Rather in the way that when we share our own traumatic experiences we take our place in a long line. I am able to write because others came before me and through their words I grew to feel mine had a place, too. I feel compelled to write so those who come after can take their place, in turn. Our stories are necessary. Our words matter. To write brings us up from our knees, into the sky; in gorgeous murmuration.

We write because it is time, and we are ready.

What does it mean to write in such times?

To write in these times, is to live in these times. To write in these times is to give in these times. To give the only thing we really have – that which we have been storing up since we were wee: our truthful, raw, echoing, flocking words. I hope you’ll read my story, Thin Places, which is an unearthing and excavation of deep trauma and a journey through grief towards hope and a brightly shining light. Maybe in reading my book, you’ll find some of your light.