The desire to write fiction came on when I was at home with small children. Feeling my formerly academic, research style brain calcifying, and knowing that a return to the workplace was not on the cards, not yet, not with five children, I turned my thoughts to creativity. My husband received information about the Penguin Ireland/RTÉ Guide short story competition and sent it on to me. I had a story burning in me and I remember standing in the kitchen and writing it in notes on my phone, in one go. I submitted it and was infused with a wonderfully freeing sensation – how different it was to an academic submission. Towards the end of the summer I received an e-mail saying my story had been long-listed and that I was invited to a publishing day in town, with key figures from the industry – including well known authors, agents, editors and booksellers. It was a superb event. Gifts and praise were dispersed. I had been catapulted into a whole new world. That was it, the writing bug sealed.
The following year I submitted to the Francis MacManus competition – and was shortlisted which was a huge honour. My story was broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1 with someone else reading it, and I don’t think I’ve quite recovered from the thrill of that yet. I continued submitting to competitions, won some and got shortlisted for other exciting awards. A winning story was published in an anthology, another one online. I would’ve been perfectly happy to continue on like that. Little nods.
When my short story ‘This Thing’ was selected in the Hennessy New Irish Writing competition as a winner one month, the path was set to change. The story was published in the Irish Times and caught the attention of an agent who contacted me to see if I was working on anything bigger – a novel. I was as it happened. I had joined a writers’ group in my town and they only accepted people who were working on novels – it had forced my hand. The story was inspired by the marriage of two things – firstly something from my childhood. My father was a University Professor and he had a female student stalker. She did some unusual things, like turning up at our school at collection time, walking past our house with an oar over her shoulder, flying a small plane above our house. I was terrified and fascinated in equal measure. Then just prior to joining the group I had a dream (nightmare!) in which I witnessed my husband in a tussle with a young woman on a beach. It didn’t end well and my cold fear reaction was to keep silent until I could work out what had taken place and what to do. Happily my husband didn’t mind being dreamt of as a murderer if it inspired me and I merged these two things – obsession and fear – and began developing characters to tell the story, which was clearly going to be a psychological thriller. The writers’ group was excellent, encouraging and quizzical, just what I needed to keep at it in the early days. I sent the agent the outline and opening chapters. He arranged to meet me for coffee in town and offered to represent me there and then. I know. I was pinching myself.
Even though I had all these lovely strands coming together, pointing me to the end goal, to the fact that I should, now, take this seriously, I bided my time, doubted my ability to finish, took up a new job, blanked the novel and wrote other things instead. I had short stories accepted for publication in the wonderful Crannóg magazine. I was invited to read one at a launch event in Galway. The whole family came with me, and the kids were under strict instructions not to giggle as I read, even though there were things that could set a little person off, the skeletons dangling above my head for Halloween, the wooden chairs creaking in the silence under bums, the mention of breast-feeding. I would’ve been giggling if I was them.
I was a nominee for the Hennessy New Irish Writing award in the emerging fiction section and I remember being at the ceremony and thinking that it just doesn’t get any better than this. Recognition for a little piece of art that I’d put out into the world – something that had its beginnings in an academic setting that would never see the light of day. The power of the short. It was intoxicating – and the cognac seemed to confirm this.
I was lucky that my agent is very patient. When the pandemic hit in 2020, I didn’t look at the book for months on end. While in hospital for asthma, my husband was told he was not to get Covid, under any circumstances. The outcome would not be good. We spent those months in survival mode, cocooning him, limiting everything, unable to concentrate on anything else. Even reading had become alien. Then he went off to work in the Middle-East and my agent contacted me. A casual enquiry. Any sign of the book? I knew I was close. Very close. That I had left it almost finished before Covid. So I gave myself a deadline. I used all the time that I’d usually spend with my husband (watching Netflix, holding hands, nattering) on the book instead. I met the deadline and sent it off. My agent put it out and within a matter of days we had an offer. It was surreal. It was mid-December. My husband was on his way home from the airport for Christmas as the negotiations were under way. I hadn’t seen him for three months and he came into the sitting room while I was on the phone about it. I waved at him from the corner – not quite the greeting he was expecting – as I said ‘accept, yes I’m happy, please accept,’ and I hung up and got on with the business of celebrating, helped in no small part by the Veuve Cliquot he happened to have in his hand.
(c) E.V. Kelly
About Her Last Words:
THE DEAD WON’T STAY SILENT FOREVER…
It’s a crisp spring morning when Cass drops her husband, a respected lecturer, to the beach for his medically prescribed swim. While waiting for him, something catches her eye. A young woman runs towards her husband and embraces him – until he holds his hand over her face and she falls down on the stones, dead.
In the backseat of the car, their seven-year-old son sits quietly. When her husband returns, he says nothing. Neither does Cass. Afraid to speak up in the immediate aftermath, Cass embarks on a solitary quest to unravel what has taken place.
Cass is quickly drawn into a web of lies that pulls her back to the previous autumn, when a beautiful Italian postgraduate student finds herself subsumed by an inescapable desire. It’s visceral. It’s destiny. But sometimes destiny can kill…
Atmospheric, twisty, and propulsive, Her Last Words is an edge-of-your-seat read about obsession and dark secrets coming to light.
Order your copy online here.