A series of essays reflecting on craft, process, and the pains and pleasures of writing and publishing. Contributors: Kevin O’Doherty, Sheila Armstrong, Kevin Curran, Donal Ryan, and Jan Carson, with an introduction by Series Editor, Olivia Fitzsimons. More essay to follow in the coming months


In the eleven months since my debut novel was published I have never felt more unsure of myself. Was I good enough? Was I ready? No. Not ever. I thought I knew who I was at forty-seven but publishing changed that. I know for certain that publishing is hard, no matter how old you are, or how secure. It can be a shadowy process, one that feels closed off to some of us; and at times it can seem impossible to navigate a way through all the unspoken rules. There is help—editors, writing friends—but it can be very lonely. Self-doubt becomes a companion who never shuts up: the bore at the party you are stuck with is yourself. 

How do other writers overcome insecurity to get words onto the page, and eventually show them to someone else? The reflections in this series of essays—starting here with a wonderful contribution by Kevin Doherty—provide an insight into the pleasure, and pain, that writing undoubtedly invites. Each writer has their own ways of making work, individual processes and rituals, but some sentiments are common, some feelings universal. 

As a former Catholic I hold reflection like a sibling of confession. Reflection has the potential to be shameful, whispered in dark recesses, to uncaring people happy to utilise your painful truths as a conduit to a higher power. I was bad. I was wrong. I was stupid. But, simultaneously, it can be incredibly potent when someone shares hidden knowledge. It can be divine, dazzling in its ability to connect and enlighten, cast off all the darkness, to see yourself as you truly are, reflected in other people.

I have asked writers I admire to dissect themselves, cut deep with their observations. I want to know the hows and whys of their work, examine their experiences, and this writing life they inhabit. What makes writing possible? Impossible? I’m interested in the conversations we’re having with ourselves about what we know and don’t know about our art. I hope these essays will extend that awareness, so that we might better examine our own assumptions and beliefs, interrogate the self-doubt that surrounds us, and find a way to cast it off, just long enough to do the work. I am certain these essays will resonate with many readers and provide a little illumination for our writing, our lives, in 2023. 

Below you can read Kevin Doherty, Sheila Armstrong, Kevin Curran, and Donal Ryna – with more essays to follow in the coming months.

Traditional Music

I don’t want to be looked at but I sing, amplified in a crowded hall. I don’t believe in admitting opinions but I agree to explain myself in essay format… This is the want and the shame of wanting.

–Kevin Doherty

The House That Shame Built

As writers, it is so rare to have a moment of trust in our own competence. What poison that is to our brains: to constantly be the imposter, to never know if we are good at our job, to attribute any success to an elaborate conspiracy.

—Sheila Armstrong

Doing the work

I ask some of my students to read chapters from the book, to cement my characters in place, elevate them. And they agree to help; over the course of a few weeks, five seventeen-year-olds stay back after school and read.

—Kevin Curran

You gotta have faith

The act of sitting, poised, waiting for something to occur, is as necessary a part of the writing process as the typing of words onto a screen. Or so I tell myself.

—Donal Ryan

On community

I was not an open-minded person when I first began to publish books. Writers befriended and accepted me with all my fundamentalist baggage. They gave me the time and space to change. They did not judge me.

—Jan Carson