Olivia Fitzsimons: a flash interview

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1. Olivia – you've been doing really well on the competitions scene. In fact, you won the BLF flash fiction contest last year! How important do you think prizes like this – and also readings – are to emerging writers? You are very kind!

I've been really lucky. Prizes and short-listings are great for your confidence and profile. Winning BLF was incredibly important to me, it really made me feel part of the writing community here. Catherine Dunne who presented me with my prize has been so kind since and she always introduces me to everyone when I meet her. I feel sort of minded! Of course prizes don't help when you sit down to write, you still have to get words on a page, but one of the most unexpected things about them are the people you connect with. I met my very good writing friend Louise Farr at The Benedict Kiely Awards and she is one of my first readers. Reading at this year's BLF is a real highlight for me, especially since I've only been writing for three years. Reading work aloud makes it come alive but also watching other authors perform is really important. Wendy Erskine is really engaging. Nuala O'Connor has a real wit and charm when she reads. She's so confident. I love the way Mia Gallagher reads her
work, she's like lightning, vivid and magnetic. BLF is such a lovely festival to attend and the line-up is incredible. Join us!

2. You describe yourself as "a Northern writer living in Wicklow." We've recently seen excellent collections such as Catholic Boy by Rosemary Jenkinson and Sweet Home by Wendy Erskine, which give a real flavour of growing up in Northern Ireland. How important are your northern roots to your writing?

I avoided writing about the North at first and made a decision to write about anything else but of course my novel-in-progress is set there. I'll probably write about the north forever in some guise or other. It's in my bones but I have a complicated love/hate relationship with the province. It's fantastic to see so many northern writers getting broader recognition and stories that resonate with wider audiences. It's the idea that you can write about home and there is something universal in a good story, well told, that transcends everything else. I guess that can be said of all places really, it's our job to make the ordinary extraordinary, no matter what we write about.

3. You were recently announced by the Irish Writers Centre as one of the 7 writers awarded a residency in Cill Rialaig this October. Can I ask what you intend working on during your time in isolation? 

I'm working on the second draft of my aforementioned debut novel. I wrote it quite quickly while on the Stinging Fly Six Month Fiction course run by Sean O'Reilly and at the same time I was being mentored by Niamh Boyce under the WORDS Ireland National Mentoring Programme. Looking back I think it was really fortunate timing
because I persuaded myself I wasn't even writing a novel but happily they knew better and encouraged me to keep adding to the manuscript. I've given myself a deadline of 1st November to finish it as there are some very kind people waiting to read it. The residency is of huge importance to me because with young children writing in
the summer is very difficult and also because this opportunity had no age limit. I'm an 'old' new writer and therefore excluded from lots of awards and residencies because of my age, despite fulfilling all the other criteria. I'm excited to meet the other incredible writers attending, and so grateful to the Irish Writers Centre and Cill Rialaig for the opportunity.

Olivia is reading in our Literary Salon on Saturday 28th September in The Harbour Bar @ 17.15 along with writers Niall McArdle, Daragh Bradish, Robyn Rowland, Simon Lewis, and Celia de Freine. And musician: Keith Burke. 

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