Olivia Fitzsimons on The Quiet Whispers Never Stop

The idea of becoming a writer was given to me in a forest. There had been hints before but I’d ignored all the signs. Motherhood changed that.

A group of mothers standing around in the Wicklow hills with babies strapped to them and toddlers rolling in muck when someone started up the conversation of what we used to do before we had kids; could anyone even remember what life was like? It turned out we were a creative bunch: a jazz singer, an artist, a photographer, an actress. We had the idea that we should all return (in some small way) to our creative passions but I couldn’t swan back onto set for a few hours and leave again. That’s not how film production worked. Still those lovely creative friends pressed me – anything else I liked to do?

The thought of being a writer never entered my head until then. I loved books sure, but someone else wrote them. I knew nothing about literature. I liked reading. Short stories. Poetry. Novels. But the only books I had time for were children’s books, magical wonderful stories that I read to my sons every night before they fell asleep. I was too busy being a mother to think about anything else. I wasn’t Martin bloody Amis. I grew up in a field. No one I knew, no one like me, wrote books.

There’s a short story competition coming up soon, in one of the papers, you should send something in, my friend said.

I ignored this.

It’s free – what have you got to lose? She smiled at me. They all did.

A while after those same mothers sent on a What’sApp snap. The competition details.

Six weeks later I had written my first short story on my phone while my kids ran around an athletic track. I borrowed a laptop, typed it up and sent it in. Forgot about it. I was busy. It was easy to do.

I was on my way down the Mourne Mountains when I got the email months later to say my story had been shortlisted. I was hurrying through the lilac heather, toddler in a sling, eldest son running rings round me, all of us tired, sweaty and hungry. We stopped for a snack and I worried about it getting dark as I changed my youngest’s nappy. My phone was beeping as reception arrived, messages pinging in while I tried to finish up, clean my hands in a stream, give my eldest an apple and not lose anyone before I answered my phone. I figured it would be a text from my husband, who was in South Africa on a job, sending images of animals, video’s to show the boys his sunny adventures. I had to read the email twice. I was completely shocked. Then I was whooping and kissing my children who had no idea why I was so happy. My sons already loved stories and now someone liked mine! That joy we shared, their pure glee at my happiness which they couldn’t understand will always be special. The giddy excitement that propelled us back to the car as dusk fell, feet fleet, the mountains violet dark behind us.

There is a small voice trying to say something, that’s always been there, patiently waiting on them to listen, whispering quietly, telling them that they can do this, they can write a book, they can, they just need to try.

I had no idea then that the Mountains of Mourne would feature in my debut novel, that it would be a book about mothers and daughters, the push and pull of place, desires, needs, wants. When I look at the cover now, I think of that day, the wonder of it all and I know that out there is someone like me, about to start, they don’t even know it yet, they are going about their lives not realising that they are a writer but soon the journey to becoming an author will start for them and it makes my heart sing. Someone is telling them they are a writer, perhaps a friend, perhaps themselves. There is a small voice trying to say something, that’s always been there, patiently waiting on them to listen, whispering quietly, telling them that they can do this, they can write a book, they can, they just need to try.

Olivia Fitzsimons is from Northern Ireland but now lives in Wicklow. Olivia was an Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair Winner 2020. In the same year she was awarded an Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaíon Literature Bursary and a Professional Development Award for mentorship with Kit De Waal. She was also a recipient of the Support for Individual Artist Programme Award from Arts Council of Northern Ireland from their lottery funded General Arts Award Scheme. Her writing can be found in many journals in print and online, including Crannog, The Cormorant, The Honest Ulsterman, Cease Cows and Reflex Fiction. The Quiet Whispers Never Stop is out now.

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