This is the text of the 2023 Stinging Fly lecture, which was delivered at the United Arts Club in Dublin on November 29th 2023.

Considering the news headlines of the last year or so, or indeed the ones being written this minute, I should begin by referring to the words of Theodor Adorno from his 1949 essay: ‘To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.’ My own belief is that although it might seem ruthlessly self-indulgent, or, more to the point, truly delusionary, to be an artist of any hue at the moment, not continuing to be just that, or not recognising our need for artistic engagement, would in fact feed the parcels of barbarism that we’re seeing erupting. 

I’ve written before about our place in the cave:

There we are, everyone is more or less fed and has a place to sleep. The cooks have begun to add tastes to the food, the nurses have figured how to make bandages and put them on. I hate to tell you that over in the far corner someone has started making a weapon. But in the other one, the artists have begun… they have steadied themselves on the precipice between the desire to create the metaphor for themselves, and the apprehensive wish to make it public. They must continue sketching the world in order to strengthen their corner. They will have their work cut out for them when the hordes from the gun side gain strength. And when those hordes finally destroy that cave, and move to another one, the metaphor will stay hiding, waiting to be found some day, all alive as if it had never been neglected.

From Reading Rites (2023)

That says as much as I need to propel me back to the page. 

There are a lot of things going on in the first year of our lives, beginning with the realisation that those funny shaped things in front of our eyes are indeed our own hands, which can be moved about in patterns at our will, and, what’s even more interesting, that big people will watch us doing this. Then there are the steps of maturing, take your pick from which theoretical model you might want to follow: behaviourism, cognitive development, attachment theory, Erikson’s psychosocial theory or Freud’s Psychosexual Developmental Theory if you wouldn’t mind… although frankly for a baby this may well be a step too far. Eventually one of those big people, by some extraordinary process, teaches us that those hieroglyphics on a page also have patterns, relating to words, which are a shortcut to understanding. And we’re off. But just because we learn how to tie our shoelaces doesn’t mean we’re going to become cobblers, and not everyone uses their new intriguing facility in the same way. Some will use these new toys to talk, to explain, to simplify, to mumble. Others will fall in love, will imagine dancing in them and begin a life wedded to the bliss, the dangerous slipstream and the precariousness of them. Some will use them to lie. 

In the previous Stinging Fly lectures all sorts of terrific pictures have been called into service, as writers attempt to explain themselves. And in that spirit I’m going to talk about a few things that played their part in creating what’s between the covers of my books. In order to do that I came to the conclusion that I would have to plagiarise myself a little, an exercise that you might think should be painless enough, but that turned out to be a tad more difficult than expected, and included a shock or two: Surely, I didn’t write that. It’s also illuminating to discover that we don’t always agree with ourselves. In that spirit, here we go. 

I think every writer knows when they first owned up to their inescapable urge to build with words, to create something of this minute which would last beyond this minute. But wishing to be, and being, a writer are two different things. This mystifying desire is valiantly exposed by Jessie Kesson in her novel, The White Bird Passes, based on her own life. Kesson’s mother was an unmarried domestic servant in a workhouse in Inverness and gave birth in 1916. You can imagine what happens next. Jessie describes the conditions of her growing up in The Lane, in Elgin. Appalling as we the readers might think them, Kesson somehow manages to let us know that the young child is indeed happy. But at the age of ten she was removed from her mother on the grounds of ‘neglect’ and placed in the Proctor’s Orphan Training Home in Skene, Aberdeenshire. Kesson describes the child watching her much-missed mother weaving towards her on a visit. ‘Your mother is drunk,’ says one of the other inhabitants, to which the young girl indignantly replies: ‘No she’s not, she’s got syphilis.’ When it came time for Jessie to leave the Home and take up employment, the official who was organising this next step of her life asked her what she wanted to be, as if it would matter one whit what she aspired to. ‘A poet,’ she replied, already infatuated with and attached to the word. She was, of course, sent off to be a farmhand. But you will know, by my description of her, that Jessie did indeed get free of the life destined for her and become a wordsmith. 

I thought of her often when I entered into the imagined lives of the Famine orphan girls when writing Not the Same Sky. Every single one of those girls had their question answered, loudly, definitively, by someone else, with no input from themselves. 

We know the question: ‘What are you going to be when you grow up?’ 

The very wording suggests a certain choice or luxury. It can also cause ferocious anxiety. 

Well, I’m going to be good maybe, or interesting, happy out, or continuously anxious, despite trying not to be. Or I’m going to try to understand contradictions, although maybe what I actually want is to be really wild. 

Oh, that’s not what you mean? You mean what job am I going to do?

And you think that my job will be me? Well, maybe you should have asked me what I think I’ll work at when I grow up. As in: I’ll work at the one thing all my life and it will be me.

How often have you overheard this conversation?

‘How’s your Mark?’

‘Oh, he’s great, working with Google.’

‘And Rose, how’s she?’

‘Terrific, she’s with KPMG.’

The question was How’s Mark, not what blasted corporation he’s working for? (Come to think of it, that used to be an answer, she got a job with the Corporation.) 

‘How’s your Mark?’

‘Dreadful at the minute, but recovering, finding it hard but he’ll get there. He’s been in a worse state so we’re all very hopeful.’ That’s a more honest answer. 

‘And Rose, how’s she?’

‘Well, that’s another story.’ 

Now, about plagiarising oneself. These two sentences from Not the Same Sky alert us to my character Joy’s dilemma, on her way to becoming a stonemason, who works on graves. And of course it’s also about all the people who have to gollop their thoughts about the question of becoming something other than what is thought appropriate. 

At school when Joy was coming up to seventeen she got fed up with the decisiveness of her classmates. It was as if every day another traitor came in, all flushed, saying ‘Miss, Miss, I know what I want to be.’

More about this later. 


And so to the naming of oneself, which comes easier to some than others. Writing was a secret possession with me. Well, not that secret when I think about it, considering that I had two stories published in New Irish Writing, written when I was 16 and 17. But after those two, when I really did want to write a more dangerous tale, imagine a different ending for Madame Bovary, I hid in what I will call a form of poetry, or rather notes for poems, because I knew that what I needed to write would absolutely not be accepted in the Ireland of that time. I had not yet become a Helene Cixous woman (‘We must kill the false woman who is preventing the live one from breathing’) and so I believed that I could camouflage my thoughts in verse, which dishonesty, of course, produced some excruciations. I’ve often said that this hiding taught me a great skill: I’m a dab hand at recognising bad poetry, having written enough of it myself. Before I ran away to Australia on the boat, I had a chapbook printed by Kevin and Helen Clear, grandparents of DuBray Books. It was called Au Revoir, and I meant it; well, look how that turned out. While in Australia, I continued to pen these notes and even joined a writing group when I landed in the mining town of Mount Isa. I remember this group of people as being very kind. They were also very old, they might even have been over forty!

Mount Isa was/is a shockingly hot place in the middle of the desert, a town there only for the mines: Ór, airgead, copar, luaidh, stán gual agus iarann. For those of you who don’t know what luaidh is, that’s lead, and most of us got pretty sick once or twice a month when the wind changed direction and blew the fumes back into the town. During my six months there I worked in two jobs: office work sending out concrete to make the culverts for roads that were continuously collapsing, either from severe heat or torrential rains. And as a barmaid in the Irish Club, which served the mining men. Another sociological apprenticeship in, let’s call it, the deeply unusual. The writing workshop was an oasis and a massive contradiction in the middle of all this activity. The local newspaper printed the next chapbook called Thoughts among the Bindies – bindies being a weed prevalent in Mount Isa whose metamorphosis fascinated me. It’s not a spindly thing in its infancy but it got so parched in these surroundings that it became a light dried-up wisp and was continuously tumbling across the dirt tracks as if it had an alphabet all of its own. Out looking for a word. 

After returning to Ireland, I should own up to having produced two more chapbooks, Return to Ourselves and Not to be Classified. During the process of publishing one of them, I met Fintan Vallely – so even if the poetry was bad the printing was terrific. 

While I was at all that, and being ‘let go’ from my teaching job, for unstated political reasons, I was obliged to write Where Do I Come From, the first Irish sex education book, written by me, printed by Fintan Vallely, of Ard-Bui, distributed by Arlen House and eventually by the WHO, illustrated by Madeleine O’Neill, including, heaven help us, family setups outside the accepted norms. I say obliged because you could call it essential writing. I wanted, for my young sons, a book that would reflect the lives they were living, not just the ones illustrated in cloud cuckoo land. And I wanted it to be Irish. (As an aside, you can imagine my amusement one morning when I went into the room where my sons and two of their friends were having a sleepover-morning usual caper. Things had gone suspiciously quiet so I thought it best to check. When I opened the door there they were: all reading the book which they quickly put under the bedcovers when they saw me. Well, there you go, that’s how the author and the work needs to be separated.)

And then I returned to fiction. Home at last. When I say I returned, this was aided by my attendance at the National Writers’ Workshop, directed by Eavan Boland, with visiting writers including John Banville, who told us that writing cannot be taught, and Bernard MacLaverty who showed me, unforgettably, just how wonderful a short story is for the soul. I had been accepted onto this workshop with examples of my poetry, but when it came to making a decision, on the first Monday morning, I turned left into MacLaverty’s room. One of these two had said I looked more like a fiction writer than a poet. 


Because I’ve been asked in preparing this lecture to address difficulties faced, I must deal briefly with the things that some writers may think about, sometimes, but mostly not, because too much deliberation might stymie us completely, make us give up. So, how do we manage or how did we get to a stage where there’s no turning back? I can still hear one particular writer telling me that she had learned what to do with her career by taking note of what I’d done, and making sure she didn’t. It had never crossed my mind that I should have had some trajectory worked out. In much the same way as I still cannot honestly answer the inevitable question about my work practice, my discipline. All I can say is that this is what’s done so far and I still love having no trajectory. 

There are other weights common to all writers – how to manage expectations… a problem? a fact? which is it? – that applies to all artists. How do we decide that we’re doing alright, maybe even enjoying this life a bit? And does this change from day to day? It certainly changes in the course of writing a book. One minute all’s fine, foundation laid, getting there, picture emerging, only another six months to go maybe, and the next it’s being burned down, useless, meaningless. Start all over. You can see why this private battle has nothing to do with the book-launch night. And then there is the disparity of intent. Not all actors want to be in Hollywood, in fact some would convulse with nausea at the thought of doing that to themselves. Not all painters want to get in on a conversation with the Renaissance. Working scientists might not want to invent the modern day equivalent of cat’s eyes or television or sliced bread. And so too for wordsmiths. 

And then there are the dreaded prizes and what they do to the reception of serious work. Of course they may be a good way to alert us. But are they really? Are they not more of a distraction from the other books we should be reading? Faye Weldon had it right—she who did, in fact, give Madame Bovary a day out in a hat shop. She said that prize-giving ceremonies were about people watching the cheque being pulled away from those who do not get it. Of course it’s difficult for writers to enter this minefield, for fear of being accused of sour grapes but I will briefly refer to it, not being too bothered about what I’m accused of, in tandem with David Forster, a terrific Australian writer and scientist who didn’t wax lyrical about being given the Patrick White Award for ‘very neglected writer’. He called it ‘loser’s compo’. Another Australian writer, a prolific prize winner, got really mean about his colleague Frank Morehouse, who had been told he had won a prize only to be informed a few hours later that it was going to Peter Carey. I certainly will not come any closer to home with awful stories like that; suffice to say that having to listen to some of these conversations often makes writers shiver, then wilt. The background noise they create is like a mixture of a dentist’s drill and a bank holiday weekend burglar alarm. So, here’s another job to be done: the soundproofing of the imagination, so it can protect itself from the din, have real conversations about what matters in writing, and actually do the work.

But there we are, we’ve owned up to being a writer and one day do the same to a stranger who has asked ‘what do you do?’

Bad mistake. 

‘And what sort of stuff do you write? Would I know anything you have written?’

Now here’s a moment where I appreciate Google, although maybe it would be best to go to the toilet to look us up, rather than beginning a scroll right there and then, while eyeing us up suspiciously at the same time… and saying sceptically, ‘It says here…’

I’ve said before that there’s a peculiarity to all this—when we step into the doctor’s surgery, we don’t open the conversation by telling them about doctors we have met, and asking them about doctors they might know and if they think they’re any good. Nor would we dare start telling the builder about how much we enjoyed working with the last fellah. 

What is success? What is partial success, definite success, public success? Is it in books sold, or more important books actually read. Or is it in atmosphere, emotion created and remembered by a reader? Who may very well remember a completely different set of fallouts than the next reader. Or indeed than the writer had intended. At which point it might be best to return to work. Get on with it and let the words settle where they will. 

Every era brings its own challenges. A particularly disappointing one of today is the incessant hum of censorship, waiting to rear its ugly head in new mutated forms, forms we could never have envisaged a dozen years ago. I’ve had my personal experiences of the one that dogged my beginnings as a writer, some of which I’ve written about, difficulties that were of course hurtful but didn’t stop me. Unlike our imprisoned writer and journalist friends all over the world. The row about who gets to say what and about whom, will go on and will continue to change. It’s not going to be sorted this year or this decade. There is no cosy agreement to be had here. But the only road to take is the one that keeps seeing the problems and facing them. The closed minds that reigned supreme before the 1960s are still there, and always will be, waiting to appear with different clothes. But let’s not forget, so too are the open ones. 

Why do I bring that up? Well, frankly, I bring it up because we didn’t become writers in order to have our mouths taped shut. Where’s the sense of that, for anyone, unless of course you’re penning exactly what is required of you. But by whom? And how often does the whom change?

Lionel Shriver’s controversial Brisbane Writers Festival speech insisted on total freedom for the writer and made the plea, eloquently, for grown-up fiction to be spared the sensitivity Geiger counter. It did not however take into account that this sentiment can lead right back to where we started from, before we began the task of shedding ourselves of ignorance. I agree with her call but I’m also on the side of Yassmin Abdel-Magied, the classy hijab wearing engineer and writer who felt she had no option but to walk out. Even though the flinging away of my mantilla was one of the best undressings of my life. Which contradiction reminds us of the notion, attributed to Scott Fitzgerald, that ‘the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still maintain the ability to function’.

Clearly, I’m not going to get into the discussion this evening about whether or not censorship is ever acceptable. We know that advertising works, therefore, presumably, so too does violent pornography. The problem is Who gets to censor? Is it any better when self-appointed cohorts on a free for all telephone do it? Or half a dozen students who have the time and the inclination to block any view that doesn’t match perfectly that of their own ideological group. And are they sometimes right, or ever right? Norman Mailer, no slouch of a man when it came to taking unpopular positions, said of American Psycho, that he was terribly glad no publisher had asked his opinion about whether or not to go ahead with the book. He would have had to say yes, because of his stance against censorship, although in his heart he wished it had never been written. 

Primo Levi put the dilemma into a cup of irony in his short story, ‘Censorship in Bitinia’, which tells of government officials who have decided that because of the lively increase in the need for censors, and because a lot of those who are already in place are succumbing to depression, overreacting to all sorts of things for example colours and flavours, it might be best to replace these human censors with animals better suited to the task. They fail with monkeys, horses and dogs before succeeding with chickens. The hens, he writes:

besides being easily procured and costing little both as an initial investment and for their subsequent maintenance, are capable of making rapid and definitive decisions. They stick scrupulously to the prescribed mental programs, and, given their cold, calm nature and their evanescent memory, they are not subject to distractions.

If we’re deeply annoyed now by our own confusion we can always fall back on what Voltaire is supposed to have said, but which was actually written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall about Voltaire:

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. 

It’s a good fall-back position because, as writers, we know that the distant rattle of censorship, whose murmur attempts to make us self-censor, corrupts the imagination. 


But in order not to get bogged down in all these peripheral difficulties it’s important to concentrate on what has been done, what has happened when the rubble has been cleared, when authority over the characters has been assumed. And to remember that the secret is in the word: Fiction. 

When asked what part of the process interests me most, I would have to say: Off the beaten track research. Because that’s the tangible attachment to the real world, the historically accurate world, insofar as there is such a thing, before the thinking of oneself into the mind of who gets a part in this story or novel, and what way they play it. 

This searching happens if I’m working on a piece which requires it, rather than just having a good time playing with notions, or words. I’ve talked before about how the fictional parts of the story ‘Virgin Birth’ grew. On my first visit to Japan, where I was doing a number of readings, I went to Hiroshima. I couldn’t not have gone. I wrote a nonfiction piece about the experience, An Irishwoman’s Diary, for the Irish Times, but I never felt that I had done the experience justice until I grappled with the incongruity of it all, the scarcely believable capacity for resilience, which I felt could only be done through fiction, by creating a character who deliberately became pregnant despite the experience of the bomb. (The Japanese word Hibakusha describes someone who survived one of the atomic bombs, Nijyuu Hibakusha is someone who survived both atomic bombs.) A few years later, I was outlining the research done into the novel about the Famine orphan girls for a group of Australian students and their teachers when I fell into comparing that with the Hiroshima story. How I wondered about the birds following the ships taking their cargo of girls across the world, and about what happened to the birds that were in the sky on the morning the bomb was dropped, and how much they knew. I’ve never forgotten the Australian historian’s wistful comment that we fiction writers are allowed the birds, whereas historians are not. 

Some work takes more research than others, depending on how much we already know. For instance, the novel Skin of Dreams began with one encounter, as all work does. I was visiting my friend Pat Murphy and her partner Tiernan MacBride. He was on his way out to launch a book, written by Marcus Bourke, about Harry Gleeson, the Tipperary man executed, wrongly, for the murder of Mary McCarthy. Tiernan’s father, Sean MacBride, had defended Gleeson and always believed in his innocence. And so began years of research, not just into that particular story but into Death Row in the US, which I visited before spending an unforgettable ten days on the road with the Journey of Hope people. I have described the Death Row visit in the novel but of course not all of it. Or not exactly as I experienced it, because I am not the character Maud, and I had to stay true to her, the innocence and naivety of her. That’s why it’s called fiction.

I’ve always been drawn to imagining or attempting to understand prison – who knows why. I remember, when living in Australia in the 1970s, going to visit a deserted jail. I can still feel it. The inmates, many Irish, made the bricks and built the jail around themselves. Can this be true or did I dream it because the allegory fits? I do remember seeing a heartbreaking list of the physical attributes of men born in Cork, Kerry and Mayo who had escaped, their birthmarks on private parts of their bodies outlined as an utterly reliable way to identify them in the event of them needing to be tracked down. 

Not the Same Sky had its own particular difficulties because of the dearth of primary sources. These girls didn’t write droves of letters home. They did more forgetting than remembering, as they knuckled down to the creation of a life out of alien material. 

A Glassful of Letters began out of hearing of a survey conducted by the new owners of Waterford Glass. If their big buyers didn’t know that the glass was made in Waterford, Ireland, then they could move the production to a place with cheaper labour. And this they did. I began to imagine a man losing his job as a result, but the novel didn’t stay there. It morphed into all sorts of political and personal letters dreamt up from 1980s Ireland. It became not just about this man, but about the two women who live on his street, one a free moving Air Hostess, as we called them then, the other a woman grounded by having children. I also discovered the capacity of the epistolary form, the way it can fluidly allow protagonists to argue different points of view. Although, funny enough, I forgot that for a while but was delighted to welcome it back after my fourth go at writing the story based on the life of Violet Gibson, the woman who attempted to assassinate Mussolini. I had approached it from the third person point of view, from the maid’s point of view, from an outsider’s distanced perspective, but none of that worked to my satisfaction. And then came the solution, the imagined personal note from the woman herself, scaffolded by historical fact. And thus the story, ‘Dear You’, a message written in a bottle and read by You, the person who picks it up. Around the same time I began to imagine Mary Lee and her daughter Evelyn, the woman originally from Monaghan, who ended up being the leading light in the suffrage movement in South Australia, the second place in the world to get female suffrage. How did she become that person? I had some interesting conversations with the Orange Order around that particular one. (Her deceased husband was supposed to have been a member and I was trying, unsuccessfully, to verify that.)

When writing ‘Disturbing Words’, a story about borders and overcoming them, or rather ignoring them, I remembered the essay by Hans Magnus Enzensherger, in which he examines the migration of people, the fear and distrust the original people have of the new, the nervousness attached to the making of borders. 

The essay didn’t come into the story, because it was a different metaphor, but it stayed there, like music in the distance. All the time I was working out that story – which is really as much about language as lines drawn on maps – I was remembering that wonderful ritual of passport handing all over Europe. And how passports were really the absolute holders of our personal information. That was in a time when we were, wisely, careful with our details. We wouldn’t give out our dates of birth unless we were going to be arrested for refusing. In particular we resented giving it while crossing our own border. If we had to give in, and we did, there was a way of doing it, looking at the skyline, as if we were attempting to stop seasickness on a ship in the middle of a storm. We fought against the cheap surrender of our privacy. Our task was to conceal our personal knowledge; it was personal, we trusted the word and knew what it meant.

It was also while perusing notions of arbitrarily drawn borders that I was sent a nugget by the Australian poet Dan Disney, now teaching in Seoul, about the unexpected benefits of human madness. Apparently the demilitarised zone on the Korean border, created in 1953, one of the most dangerous places on earth for humans with its thousands of landmines and the millions of soldiers arrayed along its edges, has strangely created a good thing. The same forces that prevent humans from moving within the nearly 400 square miles of this zone, encourage other species to thrive. Manchurian or red-crowned, as well as white-naped, cranes are among the area’s most famous and visible denizens. Nearly 100 species of fish, perhaps 45 types of amphibians and reptiles and over 1,000 different insect species, all under threat elsewhere, now exist in their own protected zone. The thought of that would make you go hunting poems in the morning. 

So, how did my character Joy make her decision? 

She sat at the back of the class and twisted bits of hair around her ear. The career guidance teacher sent for her. Joy had not been party to any discussions that may have taken place between her and other teachers before she obeyed the summons. She did not know if the teacher’s tongue was in her cheek as she outlined all sorts of options and flattened her expression as Joy turned down the notion of all the jobs she could possibly bring to mind. A teacher. No way. The guidance person had put that in because it was de rigueur to consider it, she did not for a moment think that Joy had what it took. Next up was nurse. But it was clear to her that Joy had no interest whatsoever in tending ailments, far too flighty for that. It was even clearer to Joy. Secretary? ‘Oh no, I couldn’t work in an office,’ she said, completely startled by now. ‘Really?’ The stalling at this suggestion may have been the point at which a noticeable barb entered the teacher’s voice. There was silence while she regrouped. Joy wanted to be helpful. She did. She almost said she would like to be a poultry instructor, almost asked for the appropriate form, just to get out of the stifling room. She didn’t know if there was still such a job, but she’d had an aunt who had been one before she died. She had travelled to farmers’ wives, after they had day-old chickens posted to them, and she had advised them on feed, and what to do with sick chickens and how to diagnose diseases. But Joy thought it would be an insult to such a specific profession to feign interest in it. And presumably that job was long gone – there would be leaflets now and men in cars, or men ringing up, or maybe you just reared chickens yourself and hoped for the best.
The career guidance teacher had twenty-seven possibilities, and Joy couldn’t bring herself to say yes to one. She did have a respect for the professions. Her reluctance to be flippant about them surely proved that.
The teacher told Joy to go away and at least think.
She must have reported back to the other teachers because the next day, when Joy was staring out the window again, the mathematics teacher sighed as she battled against the spectacular lack of interest being shown in her subject. She thumped the desk and declared, ‘Joy Kennedy, the only thing you’re any good at is hanging around waiting to fit under your own headstone.’
It was getting close to The Leaving Certificate.
Joy said, ‘Thanks.’ The mathematics teacher said, ‘Don’t be so smart.’
The following week Joy went to the career guidance teacher. She wanted her to be the first to know. She had not come into school and burbled about it, she hadn’t wanted it to be sullied by puzzlement. The teacher thought for a moment and said, ‘How did you get to be so modern?’
Joy then told the mathematics teacher, and even how she had contributed to the decision.
The teacher said, ‘Well, I’m glad if I’ve been of some assistance in some way, because I have certainly failed to be able to teach you any trigonometry. And another thing, could you stop talking out of the side of your mouth like that, you’ll tighten it and then you’ll never be able to have a conversation that anyone will believe. 

From Not the Same Sky (2013)

Because of the subject matters that I choose, or that choose me if you want, my life as a writer has taken me all sorts of places. These include prison workshops, Death Row, a weekend in Dundalk with the Tallaght and Shankill women trying to work out what ‘peace’ might mean, an attempt at setting up a workshop for male Rohingyan refugees, a search for ways to help Afghani girls get to school, Wednesday nights in Hartstown with Serbian refugees, Famine and War memorials, the walking of the Old Walls of Jerusalem. I should also add beautiful places too, workshops that actually worked, residencies by the sea, singing weekends, interesting bridges, trains, boats, planes, my own home, and nightclubs. So it could be said that my work is about those things and others, but it is, in the end, all about the words. 

Evelyn Conlon

Evelyn Conlon is a short-story writer and novelist. Born in County Monaghan, she lives in Dublin and is a member of Aosdána. She has published four short-story collections and four novels and has edited four anthologies. Her most recent books are Moving About The Place (2021), a short-story collection, and Reading Rites (2023), a memoir in essays, both published by The Blackstaff Press.

About : The Stinging Fly’s Annual Lecture began as an initiative of Words Ireland and Bray Literary Festival in 2018. Each year since then we have commissioned a writer to reflect upon their experience of the writing life and the development of their creative practice. Previous lectures, which are all available to read on the website, have been delivered by Sean O’Reilly and Jan Carson (2018), Mia Gallagher (2019), Paul Lynch (2020), and Kevin Power (2022).