Edna O’Brien, an Irish writer who needs no introduction, with Bill Heaney, Democrat Books editor, at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Picture by Andrew O’Hagan
Introducing new Irish authors Olivia Fitzsimons, Catherine Prasifka, Sheila Armstrong and more
Originally from Co Down, Fitzsimons is a screenwriter and works in film development. The Quiet Whispers Never Stop (John Murray, April), tells of a mother and daughter at separate turning points, against the backdrop of 1980s and 1990s Northern Ireland.
How did you get started as a writer?
I didn’t grow up surrounded by books. My dad was a brickie, my mom was a hairdresser. I don’t think I considered that someone like me could be a writer . . . When I had my kids, I took some time off. I would go hiking with a group of moms [and] one of them sent me a clip from the Business Post. They had a short story competition. She said this is free, just write a story. And I was like, it’s not that easy. I’ve never done this before. But the kids went to athletics for 45 minutes a week and I started to tap away on my phone while I watched them. That became my first short story.
Most of the blurbs of your book don’t mention the word “Troubles”. Was that intentional?
I think I made quite a conscious decision to have the Troubles as a backdrop. I mean, it’s impossible to write about Northern Ireland without writing about them. But it’s a mother-daughter relationship. It’s about trauma. And I wanted to explore that side of things.
What’s your writing schedule/practice like?
When I started, I’d put the kids to bed and stay up until one in the morning working on the book. And I was writing in snaps, honestly. You can get things done in small parts of time. You don’t have to write every day. It’s not something I can do. But lots of writers have other jobs. It’s living a creative life. I really believe in that.
Born in Dublin in 1996, Prasifka has a BA in English literature and an MLitt in fantasy. Sister-in-law to Sally Rooney, and an accomplished debater, she began writing her novel, None of This is Serious (Canongate, April), during lockdown.
In None of This is Serious, a mysterious crack appears in the sky. Were you drawing on your MLitt in fantasy when you conceived of that?
There were two things that fascinated me. The first is that there are concepts that are so large and affect our lives so deeply we can’t fully comprehend them. They are simply normal: the economy, the expansion of the universe, climate change. The second is that realism isn’t always directly related to our reality, but runs parallel to it. Because of this it is slow to react to drastic changes in society – think of how few TV shows admit we’re in a pandemic. Speculative fiction acts as a mirror to reality. It reflects it, but it also inverts it so we can examine it in a new way. I wanted to evoke the feeling of being alive right now, if not one-to-one represent it.
What’s it like being sister-in-law to Sally Rooney as you write your debut novel?
Obviously, Sally is incredible. She’s such an inspiration to me. I knew her before her first book came out and she made it seem possible that I could write a book and people could like it. But honestly, because I was so aware of this question, I kept the book as far away from her as possible. She didn’t know I had a book until after I’d signed with my agent and she didn’t read it until after the book deal.
Where do you look for inspiration?
The person who inspired me most in terms of fantasy was Terry Pratchett. And if I’m looking to get inspired, honestly, I think of Taylor Swift. She’s a young woman telling stories about young women, for young women, and that’s quite rare.
Armstrong grew up in Sligo and lives in Dublin. Pre-pandemic she left her job as an editor to give writing “a proper shot”. In 2021, her story collection, How to Gut a Fish (Bloomsbury, February), along with a novel, were picked up.
Did working in publishing help with writing?
It helped and hindered. I wasn’t reading as much because I would spend all day reading other people’s work and the last thing I’d want to do was come home and read more, or even worse, write myself. So, while it was good to be involved in the industry, it was kind of stifling my own urges to get something down on the page.
Where do your stories come from?
Every story in the collection is based around one of those moments of insight that knocks you out of everyday life. A lot of them were things that might have happened years ago, and I filed them away, even if my brain didn’t realise I was doing that. They’re like turning points that change the way you see things, either for a brief time or for the rest of your life.
Do you have techniques to keep you going if you get stuck?
I have a sign above my desk that says, “Act like you’ve already had today’s existential crisis”. If you pretend you’ve got that all over with, you can actually sit down and do some work, because sitting down and doing the work is the hardest and most effective thing.
A former commissioning editor, who worked with Louise O’Neill at the start of her career, Mulvey hails from Kilkenny but lives in London. Her debut short story collection, Hearts and Bones: Love Songs for Late Youth (Picador, June), concerns love in all its forms.
How did you get started in writing?
I’ve been writing for years, but never really getting anywhere. I’d written a few novels, but they never quite worked. So, I’d almost put that aside. Then a couple of years ago I left publishing and was trying out a few different bits and pieces. I’d just had my second child and felt quite free. When I took the pressure off, I suddenly started writing these short stories, almost out of nowhere.
Writing “a few novels” is a mammoth task. Did you send them out?
I did. I think because I’m in the industry, I maybe sent them out too soon. I got close a few times, but they didn’t quite work. And I was working all the time. I know a lot of people nowadays are, but I don’t think I can do it. Actually, I do do it, because I am freelance. But I don’t know if I can do my old job and write. It’s very all-consuming.
Do you have a first reader?
I’m good friends with Sheena Dempsey who’s a children’s illustrator and writer. I always send her WhatsApp recordings of the first draft of the stories. I think it’s helpful to have people who are creative but not necessarily in the exact same thing.
Ryan grew up in Ranelagh and has worked for many years in creative industries, including at The Bookseller, the BBC and the Arts Council. There’s Been a Little Incident (Apollo, September) tells of a woman who goes missing and her family’s attempts to understand what happened.
Where did the inspiration for your novel come from?
I wrote the outline on a flight from Dublin to London. I didn’t know everything that would happen, but I knew the sentiment I wanted to convey – that awful stuff happens in life, but friends, family and strangers come out of the woodwork to keep us afloat. And that is a miraculous thing.
You come from literary stock – your late mother, Caroline Walsh, was literary editor of The Irish Times, your grandmother was the writer, Mary Lavin, your father, James Ryan, is a novelist. Has this been a help or a hindrance in your writing?
I didn’t tell anyone, including my family, that I was writing. I figured it would be safer that way. When I sent my novel out, I used my husband’s surname just in case people connected the dots to my parents or grandmother. If the book was to be published, I wanted it to be because it was good. I was only nine when my grandmother, Mary Lavin, passed away and sadly my mum will be dead 10 years at the end of this year, so their literary legacy doesn’t loom large in my day-to-day life. Instead, mum’s loving personality is what sticks with me. As for my dad, we have too much else to talk about to discuss writing.
Do you have manuscripts that never saw the light of day?
Absolutely. I wrote a novel before There’s Been a Little Incident and had that awful experience of working on it for five years, sending it out and then hearing a pin drop. I didn’t even get any rejections, just silence. However, a few months later I got an email from Sheila Crowley at Curtis Brown. She’d read the novel and said that although it wasn’t quite right, it was clear I could write. She said she’d read whatever I wrote next, so I steeled myself and started again.
Thirty-two-year-old Hennigan is a former solicitor, and has worked in the NGO sector on issues of asylum, direct provision and homelessness. The Truth Will Out (Orion, March) follows a cast of actors who fall into paranoia as they rehearse a controversial play.
What inspired The Truth Will Out?
I’ve always had an idea of a story within a story, and the actors losing themselves in it. In 2020, theatres shut, everything was closing down. I had that idea, and I was walking around my 2km radius, which includes Leinster Road. I would look at the houses, thinking about what might be happening inside. And the two came together. I had the setting, and I had the story.
What was the hardest part about getting it down on the page?
The structure was really challenging. You have actors playing characters in the play, and the characters in the play are based on people in real life, who you see as teenagers and again as adults. I think pulling that out and making it coherent was the biggest challenge. It probably all turned on the moment I decided to do the past through script.
You wrote a beautiful piece for The Irish Times on your dad’s sudden passing in 2018. You were both writing novels. What does it mean to have yours published?
My dad was always the person who never doubted I would publish a book, even though I doubted myself a lot. So it’s been very strange doing this and knowing that I owe so much of my ability to write to him. The other part of it is that he was about 80 per cent through writing his book when he died. I just felt like he didn’t really get the chance that he deserved to finish that, so it has made me feel if I don’t do this now, I might not get a chance to do it.
A debut novelist, but by no means a newcomer, Pine is best known for her powerful 2018 essay collection, Notes to Self. She is also an academic and associate professor of modern drama at University College Dublin. Her novel, Ruth & Pen (Hamish Hamilton, May), deals with two women who find themselves asking themselves the same questions about relationships and the self.
An award-winning journalist and broadcaster, Flannery has also been project manager for Laureate na nÓg. In 2019, she won the Harper’s Bazaar short story competition. Her novel, The Amusements (Sandycove, June), is set in Tramore and centres upon a teenager who yearns to escape.
Another award-winning journalist is Deirdre Finnerty, whose nonfiction debut, Bessborough: Three Women. Three Decades. Three Stories of Courage (Hachette, April), takes us inside the walls of the infamous mother and baby institution, through the accounts of three women confined there in the 60s, 70s and 80s.
Originally from Carlow, where her debut novel, The Deadwood Encore (HarperCollins, April), is set, Murray was the first Irish winner of the Fish short story prize in 2007, and has since been a finalist for the prestigious Davy Byrnes short story award. Her debut novel is a portrait of a family in a small Irish community, and centres upon Frank Walsh, the seventh son of a seventh son.
Investigative journalist Hayden has appeared on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, worked for countless international news outlets, and writes for The Irish Times from Africa. The germ-cell for her debut, My Fourth Time, We Drowned (Fourth Estate, March), was a Facebook message: “Hi sister Sally, we need your help.” So began an investigation into the migrant crisis across North Africa and a work of narrative nonfiction her publisher calls “both shocking and shaming”.
Suicide might seem an unusual topic for comedy, but that’s exactly what stand-up Marise Gaughan centred her first show on. It’s also the focus of her memoir, Trouble (Monoray, April), which charts her unravelling as she attempts to come to terms with her father’s death by suicide. As a comic, Gaughan has supported Rob Delaney, Ari Shaffir and Jim Norton. She also presents a weekly radio segment on Lyric FM.