Update, after some time

I thought I’d let you know where I’m at at the minute. Every Sparrow Falling was released in 2019 at the end of a really busy year which, thanks to the NI Arts Council, I spent researching a new novel and working as the Online Writer in residence for the Irish Writers Centre. I’ve never travelled so much in my life, it felt like constant motion. I was in Granada, New York, London, Pennsylvania, Manchester, Dublin; some of those places several times. I also made my first appearance at Deptcon, Ireland’s foremost YA Convention and had a meeting with a Norwegian Masters student who was writing her dissertation on my novels. 2020 was set to be busy too. I attended and spoke at a symposium at Manchester Metropolitan University entitled Europe and the Child (how I wish I was back at university. It made me miss it so much. Anyone want to fund me through a PhD?), and finished up my residency for the IWC, and then… well we all know what happened then. As with every other artist I know, everything stopped.

In 2020 I completed work on the novel I had researched the previous year. It is called Grapefruit Moon and it is set in Belfast and Lisburn, the story of a boy from the estate and a girl from the posh part of town. It looks at the interplay of gender and toxic masculinity with poetry, and is inspired by the life and work of Federico Garcia Lorca and drag art in Belfast. It is dark and funny, and, I hope, a compelling story. I’m currently in talks with a publisher and hoping that a contract will be signed soon although publication might be delayed for a while. I really, really love this book and so I’m crossing everything that I will be able to share it as soon as possible.

In the meantime I’m writing something new. It is such early stages that it’s impossible to talk about just yet. I seems like such a long time since Every Sparrow Falling came out and it was very hard to promote anything in 2020, so I’m going to post some reviews taken from Goodreads here. It means a great deal to hear feedback from readers. I am sure people don’t realise how much.

If you want to read Every Sparrow Falling then you can get it from your local library (some of them are doing an order and collect service) or the usual outlets, but I’d recommend supporting your local indie bookstore or using www.bookshop.org which supports indie booksellers.

The 343

Shirley-Anne McMillan Explains Herself (A Talk With Cake)
Saturday 13th April
The 343 (431-437 Newtownards Rd, Belfast BT4 1AQ There’s a free car park beside it)
2pm- approx 3pm
The event I’m doing next week is in a place called The 343, which is the old Ulster Bank building in East Belfast. Over the last few years it has been used by artists and this year The 343 are using it as a queer and feminist art space. I’m thrilled to be doing an event in it, especially since one of my books, The Unknowns, is partly about utilising such spaces in the city to make new art.

Pic from the 343 Facebook page

Photo from The 343 Facebook page

When The 343 said I could use the space I knew that I wanted to do something that I hadn’t done before. So I’m doing an author talk which will include me reading bits from my books, but I’m basing it around questions that I think people sometimes want to ask but don’t because they don’t want to appear rude. They’re also questions I sometimes ask myself. Things like:

Why do you write YA fiction and not adult fiction? Is it because you’re not very good at writing?
Why do you have queer characters in your books when you’re not queer yourself?
Why do you write about outsiders when you are clearly middle class? Are you a champagne socialist?
What about Kevin and Sadie and writing about The Troubles?
Isn’t it a bit worthy to write ‘gritty reality’ in fiction? Aren’t teenagers patronised by middle aged ladies telling them about their lives? Who are you anyway? Jamie Oliver?
What about ‘own voices’?
What about feminism?
Why do you swear so f**king much in your books?
Why are you so obsessed with religion?
Fatties can’t climb up cranes. What are you talking about?

I want to leave plenty of space for people to join the chat and ask their own questions and maybe help me answer these ones.
This event is aimed at older young people and adults. I’m saying that because there will probably be swears in the readings, but mainly because that’s who reads my books so that’s who I’m thinking of when I’m asking myself these questions.
I’m hoping that it will be a fun event and I’ve decided that I’m bringing cake. It’s free and if you want to give me money I will not stop you but I will also not expect anything of you beyond basic personal hygiene and maybe technical help if the projector fails. Actually if the projector fails I will require everyone to create a dramatic tableaux of the slides that I had prepared. Thanks in advance.
So, please come! Please pass this on to anyone you think might be remotely interested! Anyone who reads fictional stories of any sort! Anyone who enjoys Derry Girls! Anyone who writes things! Anyone who likes cake! But maybe not the wee’ns, unless you’re cool with a big sweary lady going on at them for a bit.

Here’s a link to the Facebook event page.

Thank you! Hope to see some of you there.

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Sometimes I let skinny people hang around with me

Break Time GSA-  15 Minute activities

15 Minute activities for young people in LGBTQ supportive school groups

The Gay Straight Alliance at Shimna College has been running for around eight years. During that time we’ve had many different formats. Currently we meet once a week, at break time. It’s a short period of time- just 25 minutes, so you only get about 15 minutes of actual time together once everyone’s settled and the biscuits have been passed round.

When people ask me about GSA they often want to know what we actually do at meetings. My answer is that it varies depending on the students’ interests. One year the students frequently wanted to talk about gender, so we did lots of things based around gender (we had a past student who is transgender who came in to speak to us and answer questions, we had a visit from Northern Ireland’s best Drag King, Gemma Hutton, who answered their questions about feminism and women in drag/ stand-up comedy etc). Another year they had lots to say about sport and we did an LGBTQ sports display and organised someone to come in and teach us how to play non-gendered games of Ultimate Frisbee (a known LGBT-friendly sport). Sometimes if we’re doing a special event we’ll meet after school. But regular break time meetings mean that everyone in the school can come along.

In the spirit of encouraging teachers and other staff to consider having a GSA as something which is actually really easy to organise and run, I wanted to offer a list of some of the break time activities we’ve done and a few more that you can try out. Feel free to comment with some more ideas of your own. In any discussion I would invite students to participate and remind them that they absolutely do not have to disclose personal information about themselves if they don’t want to, but if they chose to talk about themselves then the group will be affirming of them. Our default position is that we affirm LGBTQ identities and we exist to give students a space to talk about themselves and explore their own feelings.

If you don’t feel equipped to cover these topics but you want to start a GSA then I would strongly encourage you to contact your local LGBT youth support group to ask for their help. In Northern Ireland you should contact Cara-Friend who can meet with you to discuss ways of supporting you and your students.

Discussion topics:

Confidentiality. What does this mean? Why is it important? Think about what you feel safe to share and what it would take for you to feel safe.

How to be an ally in school/ ways to support our LGBTQ friends in school

Ways to challenge homophobia and transphobia in school

What do we need to feel safe in school? How can we make this happen?

What if our parents/family are homophobic or transphobic? How to survive and thrive.

Christmas Talk about the ways in which Christmas might be difficult for some LGBTQ students. How can we support one another when we’re not at school?

New Year’s Theme Instead of having a list of New Year’s resolutions have a think about a theme for the year which might relate to you and your identity. Perhaps this might be your Year of Bravery. Or your Year of Self Care. A Year of Gratitude. Etc. Brainstorm possible themes and think about what might fit you as something you want to hold on to and remember this year. Try to make it one word if you can. Write your theme on a piece of paper and put it in your pocket. Later on you could make art around your theme, or write it on something more permanent.

Valentines Day Have some cards pre-cut/folded with envelopes and a box of felt tips, stickers etc. On Valentines day we often think about who we are attracted to. Why not also make a card for someone who encourages you. Who in your life makes you feel good about being LGBTQ? It could be an organisation rather than a person. Make a card to thank them.

Moments of Realisation In advance read this blog post about someone’s experience of realising they were trans. Summarise it for the students. Ask if anyone wants to share their experiences of moments which led to realising that they were LGBTQ.


LGBT History Month Read a section from the brilliant book From Prejudice to Pride by Amy Lame and discuss it with students.

LGBT books Find a list of YA novels featuring LGBTQ characters and check some of them out of the library for students to pass around and read/discuss. Ask which books student have enjoyed themselves. Maybe you could start a lending library just for your group, or an LGBTQ section for in the school’s library. GSA students could make a display featuring their favourite books.

Youtube If you have the use of an interactive whiteboard or projector watch a short clip and discuss it with the students. Here is an example as a starter for talking about coming out.

Politics Have pre-printed A4 sheets with a picture of a local politician on one side. On the other, students can make a speech bubble and write something that they’d love to hear from their local political representatives regarding LGBTQ young people/ issues. Make a display of these, or send them to your local politicians.

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Amnesty Action Prepare by looking up a campaign against homophobia or transphobia and having the relevant information to share with students who can then choose to complete an action for the campaign if they wish.

Meditation Prepare a short guided meditation for students in a quiet part of the school. This is something that can be helpful at exam time, but also at any time of stress. Doing the meditation together demonstrates that just 5-10 minutes to calm yourself in silence can be quite powerful. There are lots of ways to do this. You could light a symbolic candle, hold one of the stones your made previously, or just close your eyes. Here’s an example of a simple breathing exercise.

Zines Over a number of weeks put together a GSA zine full of poems, collages, art, cartoons, etc by the students. Give it a theme (eg. ‘Knowing Ourselves’) When it has all been put together make copies and fold them together. Everyone can have some copies to give to friends to leave around the school.

Assembly Over a number of weeks discuss, prepare and rehearse an assembly taken by the GSA for the rest of the school to tell them who you are and what you’re about.

This is not an exhaustive list and I will add more ideas when I remember them. If you meet every week there should be enough here to cover most of the year. If you are interested in starting a GSA in your school then please get in touch with a reputable support group like CaraFriend in NI or Stonewall in England.

Good luck!


Review: Cake Daddy, Black Box, Belfast, 10th November 2018

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Photos from Outburst / Bernie McAllister

I once appeared in a Daily Mail article because I am fat. No, I wasn’t one of the tragic headless fatties whose callipygian rears grace OBESITY CRISIS YOU’RE ALL GOING TO DIE AND YOUR CHILDREN WILL TOO public health announcements. It was a tiny reference in a long article (I was not named) and it happened because I told off a journalist when she started to have a go at me and my fabulous fat friends because we refused to acknowledge the danger we posed to society by going around openly eating ice cream instead of flagellating ourselves with a stalk of limp celery for our fat sins. Cake Daddy is for anyone who is curious about binning the limp celery and the tabloid media approach to responsible behaviour.

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Cake Daddy, starring Ross Anderson-Doherty, is a musical theatre/ quiz/ comedy/ interactive/ singing, dancing, eating sort of show. It played in Belfast as part of the Outburst Queer Arts Festival this year, and the storyline follows one man’s journey from successful Slimmer- to dangerously weight-obsessed ill person- to fat superhero. The play initially takes the format of a diet club called Cake Watchers which will be familiar to anyone who has ever participated in what I liked to call Fat Church (you go in, you pay, you weigh, and I love to say you nae-nae, but actually then you just sit down and cry because you gained two pounds because you ate too many bananas that week. This actually happened in one of the diet groups I attended. ‘Bananas,’ said the regretful lady next to me, ‘Are lethal’). At Cake Watchers, participants are encouraged to bolster their weightloss via meditations, inspirational group-singing and comparing forbidden treats to their least favourite politicians.

As someone who has dieted in various ways since they were a teenager, steadily gaining weight the entire time, I appreciated not only the humour in the first part of the show, but also the truth of it. Weightloss groups are so pervasive now that the raffle at my child’s primary school had a 6 week pass to the local Fat Church as one of the prizes. Everyone is doing it. But you will be hard pressed to find anyone who will openly say how ridiculous some of the rules are (eat unlimited pasta but count the calories in your avocados), or how shaming it is to queue for the toilets before you queue for the weigh-in in the hope of losing that extra little ounce. I’ve seen people strip off almost down to their underwear before they got on the scales. Honey, if you’re happy to do that in front of a bunch of strangers then why are you trying to change your body? Join a burlesque troupe instead. Much more fun.

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Ross modelling the cucumber leisure-suit.

Cake Daddy is the show that tells the truth about the nonsense, and it does it with laughter and stickers (stickers! My heart!) and audience-participation-singing. There was even a ‘here comes the science’ interlude, where Ross was joined on stage by the lovely Taylor-Jayne Tytler, referencing Linda’s Bacon’s research and the Health At Every Size movement, something which everyone who has ever been on the receiving end of the ‘I’m just worried about your health’ excuse for fat-shaming should check out.

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Cake Daddy

One of the things I loved most about Cake Daddy was the middle section which was a little more serious. Ross is a phenomenal singer and everyone should hear him live at least once if they can. We’re spoilt in Belfast to be able to see him often but if he’s touring in your town then please go- you will be glad you did. For an audience to move from laughter to tears and back to laughter again is a pretty intense journey in the space of just over an hour. But it’s a wonderful intensity, and there is cake, which there always should be when emotions are high.

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Callipygian rear tats. Stick this on your obesity campaign.

Five out of five cupcakes! A beautiful, vulnerable, hilarious, queer, fat-positive, visual and literal feast of a performance. With stickers.

If you’re in Australia you can see Cake Daddy from 3-10th February 2019 at the Midsumma festival and at Sydney Mardi Gras: Feb 16 – 22.

Launch of The Unknowns

Some pics from the launch party for The Unknowns! I was delighted to be able to have the launch in Belfast independent bookstore, No Alibis, on 7th December. When I asked Dave if he had a PA in the store he said ‘Yes. Jimmy Page approved of our system the last time he was in.’ He wasn’t joking. The last time I was in the shop it was to see London’s Night Tzar, Amy Lamé launching her book of LGBT History for young people (it’s brilliant by the way, see here). I had actually forgotten that the sugar skulls in the Unknowns would be reflected in some of the decor in the shop. I really hope people thought I planned it on purpose…

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pic by Stephen Donnan

I was really pleased to have some of my family involved in the party. My lovely teenager, Justin, sang a song by Cavetown to kick things off, and then my sister, Mags, (who is reliably great at appearances like this) read out an email from my brilliant agent, Jenny Savill. I read a piece from the book where the gang disrupts an organised fight by staging an impromptu gig. Then I had the amazing Anto O’Kane, from Tinpot Operation, singing the song which they sing in the book. I am thrilled that Anto gave me permission to use the lyrics to ‘Black Eye’- they are perfect for this section of the story (and for the novel in general). I’ll post a link to the band’s original video at the end of this post.



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pics by Mags White

I am so grateful to No Alibis and to my family for giving The Unknowns a really good beginning. And I’m also really grateful to everyone who showed up. It was a cold night- snowing by the time we left- and it’s Christmas and everyone’s extremely busy. You all rock, and you made me really happy. Thanks.




The Unknowns

I’m so pleased to finally get my hands on a copy of The Unknowns! It’s out on 7th December and you can pre-order from Amazon and Waterstones if you wish. I put a lot of my feelings about community and cultural potential in Belfast into this book. I am lucky to know so many people who work to bring joy to the city, sometimes in the face of extreme adversity. They are the best thing about NI and I hope that this story is a wee tribute to them. Here’s the cover, and you can read a bit more about the book here.

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A Good Hiding in Braille

In Maghaberry prison there’s a braille unit, and the people who work there spend their days turning lots of different texts into braille. Everything from study texts to leaflets to novels. Last Friday I had the honour of seeing my book, A Good Hiding, in braille, when it was presented to Lisburn City library. It has been printed in four A4 volumes  as braille takes up a bit of space.

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It was a really interesting afternoon. The braille users who I met spoke so enthusiastically about the skill of reading braille – the joy of being able to feel stories and read in the dark, and the practical applications of braille, enabling people to browse a menu at their leisure or simply find the toilets without help.

Mark Mooney, who runs the unit at Maghaberry, spoke about the skills involved in producing braille and how dedicated the prisoners needto be to produce quality  publications. The braille copy of my book also contains the printed words in large type so that it can be read alongside a reader with sight or used by someone who requires larger text.


From left: Gordon Flanaghan, Mark Mooney, Hazel Flanaghan, Me!, Margaret Mann, John Milburne, Susan Milburne, Davy Johnston, and, not pictured (because she was taking the pic), Diane McCready from the Library (thank you, Diane!)

Many thanks to everyone who made this happen, especially Susan Milburne, Margaret Mann, Mark Mooney and everyone who worked on the book itself. I am chuffed to bits to have my story made more accessible. Library users in NI can get it from the Lisburn City library, or your local library will be able to order it from them. The braille copy is not yet available to the rest of the UK but please let me know if you have trouble getting it and I will pass on any queries to Mark at the braille unit.





Little Reviews of A Good Hiding

Wanted to post some screengrabbed mini-reviews here as not everyone’s comments end up on Goodreads and Amazon. These are some of my favourites. Thanks so much to everyone who has taken the time to pass on a kind comment. It means the world.

Paul Magrs is one of my favourite writers so it was obviously a giant thrill to have him read and enjoy A Good Hiding.


Anne is (I hope she won’t mind me saying) an older reader and she is an activist and supporter of Integrated Education. She has always been a big encouragement to me and she thinks everyone should read AGH and not just young people 🙂


This is a friend of mine, in disguise as his Twitter account is locked. Nobody will ever know it’s Daíthí.


Órlaith is a young person and I am really delighted to have her review. There is another young-person-named-Orlaith who has written a review on Goodreads and Amazon but this is a different one. Safe to say, if you are a young person named Orlaith you will definitely enjoy A Good Hiding.

I’ve also included a photo of the recent interview in Culturehub magazine because it’s just so pretty. The whole magazine is like that. It’s free and you can pick it up at arts venues around Belfast.


A Good Hiding- Acknowledgements

This is long overdue, for all sorts of reasons. I’ve been putting it off because it seems so much more difficult to me than writing a story. There are so many people who helped in various ways when I was writing A Good Hiding. SO MANY. I am scared of leaving someone out. And I’m also not sure where I should stop. I could go back really, really far when I consider all the people who helped me become a writer. I could also name everyone who is a good friend or relative. I am exceptionally fortunate to have such people in my life, and I do feel it very regularly. As Maria in the Sound of Music sang ‘Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good.’ I’ll spare you the entire musical but please believe that I mean the whole thing, right from the dancing on the mountain to the escape-from-the-Nazis.

It won’t be a perfect list, and if you read it and feel a bit miffed that you’re not on it then chances are that it’s simply that I’m an idiot and I should have added you. Forgive me in advance please…

My heartfelt thanks to…

Ian, Ana and Eoin: my family.  Eoin is only two but he gets a thank you as well because being pregnant when I was editing Nollaig’s pregnancy was really helpful. I’m not sure I would recommend method writing for a pregnant character, though. It’s quite a commitment.

Mum, Dad, Mags: my family. You bought me books and let me read Virginia Andrews at an inappropriate age, and, Mags, you will never let me forget about ‘Johnny in the Cafe’ but I know you’re secretly proud that I wrote that innovative song.

Dorothy, David and Alan: my family. Thanks for your kindness and help!

Ruth, Cat, Jen, Helen, Emma, Chelsea, Denise, Jade: my writing group pals. You have been such an enormous help and encouragement and I love and miss you all. ‘Look for the bra!’

Peterson Toscano. If you were wearing a cheerleading outfit you couldn’t be more cheerleady, and this has been so helpful, but you also know how to give helpful criticism when necessary. And you let me rip off the vicar prayer device from your play. When I am rich I will get you the BEST cheerleading outfit.

Glen Retief. I do wish we lived closer. Your encouragement has meant so much and one day I hope I can write with as much wisdom and skill as you.

Damian Gorman. Thank you for the help in de-sermonising and visualising the action and for teaching me about the balance of dark and light in writing. And also for the encouragement and the opportunity to read from A Good Hiding in the early stages at the Mac. And also for a writing exercise at Corrymeela absolutely ages ago where my vicar was born. I could go on…

Shimna Integrated College staff and students. Particularly Kevin, Ellen and the GSA. Thank you so much for your amazing support and kindness.

My tutors at Manchester Metropolitan University. Thank you for helping me to begin and continue and complete. Sherry Ashworth- I really needed your encouragement at the start- it was so important. Nicky Matthews Browne- the thing you taught me about balancing dialogue and action and description was probably the main thing that shifted my writing forward during the MA. It’s in my mind all the time now.

The Arts Council NI. Thanks so much for your support during the editing of A Good Hiding and the writing of the next novel.

SCWBI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), particularly Benjamin Scott and Sara Grant. Undiscovered Voices changed my life, and you have been amazing. Thank you.

Agent Jenny Savill from Andrew Nurnberg Associates. It has been such a privilege to work with you. Thank you for guiding me through this tilting-train journey!

Editor Sarah Castleton and everyone else at Atom books. It has been amazing working with you and I’m so pleased at how A Good Hiding has turned out. Thank you believing in angels.


Nick Cave. I know you’re not reading my blog, Nick, but it would be wrong not to thank you as if you weren’t also a person who helped.


‘Nothing comes from nothing. Nothing ever could…’












A Good Hiding- the launch party!

The launch party for A Good Hiding happened on Tuesday 2nd August in the Black Box, Belfast. The event was included in the Belfast Pride programme and the Deputy Lord Mayor was there and a friend of mine from Texas sent flowers and we had pizza and wine and ALL THE CRAIC. I was incredibly nervous beforehand but as the room filled up with friendly faces I felt much more at ease and I really enjoyed it. My sister’s band, Mags and the Beards, kicked off the evening with There Is A Light That Never Goes Out by The Smiths, one of the songs which they had learnt especially for the evening to tie in with the themes in A Good Hiding. Need a band who can cover Bronski Beat AND Bob Marley? They’re the one. My good friend Rozi read out a speech from my agent who couldn’t attend. Another friend, Mark Walsh, took the photos below. The brilliant No Alibis bookstore came along to sell books. And I did a reading with a bra on my head.

A massive thank you to everyone involved! It was a wonderful evening. xxxx