Writing on fire

mary morrissy


The cover of Surge is fiery looking, as befits an anthology of new writing.  The volume from Brandon Press is a celebration of the old and the new; its publication marks the 40th anniversary year of O’Brien Press and is named after a Dublin literary magazine of the 1930s/40s established by Thomas O’Brien, among others. (Thomas founded O’Brien Press  in 1974.)  The name may be old but the content is all new. It contains work hot off the keyboards of a dozen or so student writers from all over Ireland.

If you want to know what’s happening in creative writing at UCD,Trinity, Queens Belfast, UCC and NUIG, then this volume is a showcase of new names in the fiction firmament.  But there’s more. The anthology represents, more than any dry university curriculum listing could, the ethos of creative writing scholarship – about which there is often skepticism. (Can writing be taught…

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To Return to That Daily Mail Article

I’ve had a few responses on twitter and interest about my article in last week’s Daily Mail about being offered a job in 2009 and then abruptly having the offer withdrawn because I failed a psychometric test and was judged too “emotionally unstable” to work there. Something else kept it in my head too – the recent launch of a campaign by the Health Service Executive and Taoiseach Enda Kenny called #littlethings. This campaign encourages people to talk about the “little things” they do to safeguard their mental health and bring themselves joy. A thoughtful idea with some great advertising by Una-Minh Caomhanach whose work I respect (my computer has lost fadas, sorry!) and I’d love to join in, but as Matthew Mulligan has noted in Trinity News, such campaigns are once again placing the responsibility for a collective failure of empathy right back onto individuals, without making sure the helping mechanisms are working. The implication from our Head of State is that we primarily are responsible for our own mental wellbeing when our mental health is under threat.

I was not responsible for having a job offered to me, and then the offer taken away after three interviews, in the middle of the deepest recession in history. I was not responsible for being told the following:

But when I returned to the terraced office for a follow-up meeting, the director’s attitude towards me had done a 180. This time he snarled at me with open contempt, drawing a line on a piece of paper and jabbing at it with his finger. “See the middle of that line? You should be here. Instead,” and he put an asterisk on the far right, “you are there. Now I can get you back in the middle, but you have to do the work. It’s up to you.”

I am not responsible for maintaining my mental health in an environment that is prejudiced against my existence. How can I be? I am not responsible for failing to measure up to a culture which thinks I am not in the middle enough. I am not responsible for other people’s stigma. I am only responsible for myself, for keeping a roof over my head, and fulfilling my artistic goals. Going by the reviews, I don’t think I’ve done too badly. But it was not all smooth sailing, personally.

So what is the #littlething that sustains me when my soundness of mind is threatened? It’s to remember that none of this was my fault and that I’m not obliged to do anything differently as a result of these people. They’re, frankly, wrong. My only fear is that when I had my brush with discrimination, I was no spring chicken, and had a very marketable skill. I knew my own worth. When I think of vulnerable young people being taken advantage of in similar manner – oh here’s that WWI thing again – and then told to think about the #littlethings rather than the #bigthings like stigma which hurts them – my blood starts simmering.

Here’s the full article below the cut: Continue reading “To Return to That Daily Mail Article”

Speaking out about Stigma – My Article in This Life in the Irish Daily Mail

I have just had a wonderful time at the Author at My Table event, more about which later. But there’s one thing I need to mention really quickly. I wrote an article that got published this weekend in the Daily Mail. The article isn’t important because I wrote it. It’s important because it talks about the time I took – and failed – a psychometric test to measure my mental health aptitude for a job in 2009 and the offer was rescinded. So when I get angry about stigma, in life and in fiction, I have good reason.


DM snippet

The article is in the Daily Mail this weekend. This supplement is not available online, but I would strongly encourage anyone who is feeling isolated, ashamed or small about their mental health because someone shamed them, to get the paper and read it – and take all that for the nonsense rigmarole it truly is. I’ve seen stigma and come out the other side. Thank God, I’ve been lucky with my workplaces. My colleagues have been so supporting and encouraging about the book, they’ve renewed my fate in humankind.

We work. We thrive. And we kick stigma, and its perpetrators, right up their snotty, mediocre, shaming, unimaginative, clenched, bony, little arses.

#BooksAreMyBag Picture – and Proper Deportment

Here am I in Dubray Books Dun Laoghaire buying the latest Jennifer Johnston and posing for the lovely Jo for #BooksAreMyBag. Try not to laugh too hard at the contrast between the quote and the picture 🙂

Eva got used to some aspects of life in The Links, like the mediocre food and the custom of spending an entire class walking across a room with a book balanced on her head. Deportment was a thing with Miss Hedges. She took it very seriously. Imagine a fine string, she would say, suspended from a height, by which the back of your neck and spine should hang, in a long, graceful line. Imagine you are Coppelia, the doll in the window. Adopt that stance every time you enter a room and when you cross it, and men would respond to that inner grace. Eva, who had thought Miss Hedges a feminist, and who more often than not would find the book sliding off her head and hitting the floor with a thump, took a while to become accustomed to remarks like that. But if other girls’ fathers paid seventy pounds a year to have their daughters do this, it must work… – White Feathers, p. 43

An attempt to illustrate correct deportment



For Readers Outside Ireland

A few people have asked me about this so: I’ve had a chat with O’Brien Press and they’ve told me I can order as needed so:

This is a one-time opportunity for those outside Ireland who have expressed an interested in getting signed copies of the first edition of White Feathers posted to them and who have a Paypal account.  If you are interested, then details are below.
Continue reading “For Readers Outside Ireland”

White Feathers in the Independent and Sunday Times!

This weekend I took myself off to the wilds of Wicklow with two friends and we hiked the entirety of St Kevin’s Way  from Hollywood to Glendalough, crossing the long spine of the mountains that divide the county at the Wicklow Gap. This was the route St Kevin had reputedly taken 1,400 years earlier and the phone signal is as poor now as it was back then – not that St Kevin would have minded, since he was of a bit of a hermit. Indeed, it was rumoured when a woman surprised him in his tiny cave in the cliff above the lake at Glendalough, he shoved her out and she fell into the lake below and drowned. Nobody drowned on our trip, thank God, but we all got our feet wet crossing fast-flowing rivers and were generally tired after walking over 30km in one day!

So it was a while before I picked up a text from Grainne Killeen, hard-working book publicist, telling me to check out the Independent review section. I did not get to it until the following morning, when the review by Anne Cunningham was put up online. It is a very positive and encouraging review – a quick extract:

This book is – among other things – an eloquent protest at the wanton waste of a generation in the name of. . . well, does anybody know what, exactly? Susan Lanigan […] is a gifted young writer, and White Feathers is an admirable debut. 

And then just as I was relaxing at home after returning from Wicklow, I got a few emails mentioning a review in the Sunday Times by Amy Nora Fitzgibbon. The book has been chosen as their Choice of the Week in fiction, and the writing is described as vivid and fluid, and [the] characters well-conceived and realistic, while the novel has been referred to as a sweeping tale of love and betrayal, a masterful treatment of the terrible choices forced upon citizens during the Great War. I’ve cropped a screencap kindly taken for me:

White Feathers Sunday Times Our Choice


These are wonderful endorsements for White Feathers and a great end of the weekend!