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Irish debut writers to look out for in 2024

Ferdia Lennon, Maggie Armstrong, Alan Murrin, Oisín McKenna, Rebecca Ivory and Aimée Walsh tell us about their first books


Lennon, a graduate of the MA in prose fiction at the University of East Anglia, has published stories in The Irish Times and The Stinging Fly. He also holds a BA in History and Classics, and his debut novel, Glorious Exploits (Fig Tree, January), is a tragicomedy involving a production of the Medea by prisoners of war in 412 BC in Sicily.

What prompted you to write Glorious Exploits?

I’ve always been fascinated by ancient Greece. I studied classics and knew, at some point, I would write about that period. Then I stumbled across a passage in Plutarch about how, after Athens’ disastrous invasion of Sicily, some Athenian prisoners of war survived because the Sicilians were so obsessed with the Athenian playwright Euripides; they would give captives extra rations in exchange for quotes from his plays. For me, there was something deeply strange and compelling about this need for art amid the devastation of war.

It embeds contemporary Irish vernacular into ancient Sicily. What made you want to combine those things?

The general convention is to depict the classical world as if populated by English public schoolboys putting down their cricket bats to pick up a stylus. The contemporary Irish voice was a way of jolting the reader, but more than this ... I felt it made sense. At the time the book is set, Sicily was a Greek-speaking island that had been colonised a few hundred years before. It struck me that Hiberno-English was a perfect way of conveying this.

The book took around seven years to write. What kept you going when you could have lost faith?

I believed in the book and knew I’d always regret it if I didn’t finish it. Also crucial was the support of family and friends and certainly a bit of luck. I was awarded a bursary from the Arts Council of Ireland at a particularly low financial ebb. That was huge in terms of giving me the time and space to finish the book and the validation of knowing a panel of my peers had seen something in it.



Murrin, originally from Donegal, lives in Berlin and, like Lennon, is a graduate of the MA in prose fiction from the University of East Anglia. He is a critic and art writer, and his fiction has won or been listed for several awards. His debut novel, The Coast Road (Bloomsbury, May), tells of two women – a bohemian writer and a housewife – in a closed community in Donegal in 1994.

How did The Coast Road come about?

When I lived in London, I tried to write a novel. It was thinly veiled biography about my time [there]. The novel didn’t work. But after that initial failure, I really allowed myself to write about home – about Ireland. At the University of East Anglia, I got down to writing short stories set in this community in Donegal. My project was to write a book of linked short stories. Giles Foden was my tutor at the time, and he was like, oh, God, don’t bother. Just write a novel. And I was like, no. I need to hone my craft. I’m going to do what I want to do. And then, of course, a few years later, I did exactly what he suggested.

It’s set just before divorce became legal, and examines the limits on women’s lives. What drew you to this subject matter?

One of the things I was interested in exploring was this idea of being in a relationship, or marriage, that you just had to make work. There was no escape. You had no other option. If you made a bad match, that was a tragedy that marred your life because there was no other way around that. I was interested in that as a layer of tension and difficulty these characters operate around.

It sold to Bloomsbury in a five-way auction. What was that like?

I had no frame of reference for anything that was going on. You go in and have a round-table conference with all these people who are telling you how great your book is and how great you are. That doesn’t often happen in life. I actually found it a bit overwhelming. It wasn’t until a few months later, when I went to London having sold the book, that I was like, oh, Jesus, I was so stressed the last time I was here.


An established journalist and critic, Armstrong has published essays and short fiction in the Dublin Review, the Stinging Fly, Banshee, Fallow Media and elsewhere. Her debut short story collection, Old Romantics (Tramp Press, April), follows a woman from early adulthood into motherhood, and is set in “a world of awkward expectation and latent hostility”.

Did you always know you would be a writer?

No, not remotely. I wrote in a diary from age eight, every night. I was an incurable diary writer until, luckily, I gave up. I began to write journalism after I finished college. Around that time, I was urged into a writers’ group by some very precocious friends who set a deadline that made us produce work every month. It was only under pressure from that group that I wrote a few short stories, and then something clicked. I was reading work in small venues and fringe events, and that really helped as well – to get up in front of a crowd.

Did you know as you were writing that the stories in Old Romantics were linked?

This emerged as I was writing them. The main character who recurs, I called her Margaret, which is basically my own name. So, I guess there is a series of avatars that emerges – or alter egos, I don’t know what they are. But they are all called Margaret. Her life circumstances bear a very distinct resemblance to mine. [Despite the title], the stories are not romance stories. They’re probably closer to horror than to romance.

Has your work as a journalist fed into your work as a fiction writer?

Very much. I’m lucky to have met so many writers, artists, theatre makers, actors and all kinds of people whose job it is to tell stories. I worked as a theatre critic and saw countless plays over the years. To rub shoulders within that world is quite exciting. It’s quite frustrating also, when you feel that you have something to say but you don’t know how to say it. I really wanted to reinvent the world, every time I wrote an article for the papers.


McKenna, raised in Drogheda and now living in London, is an acclaimed spoken-word artist and theatre maker, whose show Admin won the First Fortnight Award at the Dublin Fringe. His debut novel, Evenings and Weekends (4th Estate, May), follows a group of friends and their families across one “feverish heatwave weekend” in London.

How did you get started as a writer?

I was really into pop music when I was a kid – I wanted to be like Britney Spears. I started writing song lyrics with this dream of one day being a pop star. It obviously didn’t materialise, but the writing impulse continued. In my late teens, early 20s, I started doing poetry in a live performance context. I did four full theatre shows, which were mostly on in London and Belfast. But around 2019, I came to be somewhat frustrated with a few things about theatre. Audiences are limited. Even if the show does really well, it’s still quite a small audience compared with some other art forms. And a lot of the works that I was really inspired by, and really loved, were novels. So I decided to write a novel.

Where did the inspiration for Evenings and Weekends come from?

It was 2019. I was living in London. It was Jeremy Corbyn’s last year as the leader of Labour Party. I was interested in this expanded sense of possibility, and what that meant for people’s emotional lives. Also, in my first years in London, I found it really exhilarating. There was often this sense, particularly on a really hot day, [that] something was about to kick off. Like, if you turn a certain street corner, you’re going to find something that will massively change your life. And that nearly never materialises, but I was interested in capturing that feeling.

The book is a multivoiced narrative, knit together by the phenomenon of a whale stuck in the Thames. What made you decide to use this device?

I wanted to write a book about lots of different people over a short space of time. And I wanted something that could knit those people together. [The fictional whale] speaks to kind of lots of themes in the book, both about ecological crisis but also being stuck somewhere you don’t quite belong, which is something a lot of characters feel at different stages in the book.


Ivory, born in 1993, has published fiction in the Stinging Fly, Banshee, the Tangerine and Fallow Media. Her debut short story collection, Free Therapy (Jonathan Cape, March) was acquired along with a novel, in a two-book deal. It explores characters who try and fail to connect, and comes endorsed by Sally Rooney.

How did Free Therapy come about?

I always wanted to write but never managed to finish a story until about seven years ago. When the Stinging Fly published my first story, I decided I’d keep trying, and that maybe the work would get better over time. Often I feel like I am writing in response to something that has happened to me or someone else, and I use an experience as a point from which I go off in a tangent and that’s how the stories are created.

What prompted you to use therapeutic practices as an organising factor in the book?

I’m very interested in the inner lives of people and the characters I write about. I think that going to therapy is a bit like writing a story, in that there is something to process and when we read or write a story, we’re spending time with someone as they process an event or a feeling. I don’t believe that there’s any such thing as a dull inner life. I think, if asked, everyone would have something compelling to say about their experience.

How have Ireland’s literary journals informed your career to date?

I don’t know that I’d have a career without the Stinging Fly (or Banshee, or Fallow Media, or the Tangerine). It was the connections and community I found that provided me with the essential support and encouragement I needed to pursue writing in any serious way. I think I would always have been a writer, but I’d probably still be doing it in secret, too afraid to ask anyone to read the work.


Belfast writer Walsh holds a PhD in Irish literature and cultural history. Her fiction has been longlisted for the London Magazine Short Story Prize and published in Extra Teeth. Her debut novel, Exile (John Murray, May), follows Fiadh, a young woman whose life is turned completely upside down on a night out in Belfast.

What was the impetus behind Exile?

The after-effect of living through the late 2000s – the misogyny of it all, the near constant critique of women. The book is set in the pre-MeToo era, when feminism was scrambling to find its momentum again. But in 2018, the catalyst for writing Exile was the rape trial in Belfast and the social media debates around that. They nearly felt like being in a pre-MeToo-movement Ireland.

Was this a difficult topic to broach as a writer?

I think it was difficult to broach the sexual violence element. [I was] working full time when I was writing this, coming home at night, and then inhabiting this world where justice didn’t exist. So, I guess the most challenging part of writing it was doing justice to the stories of assault and survival. Inhabiting that world where justice is few and far between was a really angering place to be, but I felt that the story needed to be told.

Who are your influences?

When I was growing up, I always loved reading, but [writing] felt like an ivory tower sort of job. It didn’t feel attainable. But there were a few writers who opened the door to an idea that I could write fiction, and that the stories that were living inside my head for years could actually matter to somebody else. The one that jumps out is Anna Burns. I saw her in the Lyric in 2018, after her Booker win. She was giving a talk about writing Belfast and writing female experiences in Belfast. That just blew open the doors on possibilities for women writers in Belfast to write about sexual harassment and to write about these uncomfortable experiences.


Christine Anne Foley

Originally from Kilkenny, Foley lives in Dublin and works part-time in the fashion industry. Her debut novel, Bodies (John Murray, June), emerged out of the “pure frustration” she felt as a single woman in her thirties and centres on a young woman dealing with complex and coercive relationships with men.

Claire Coughlan

Coughlan worked as a journalist for many years and is a graduate of the MFA in creative writing from UCD. Her debut novel, Where They Lie (Simon & Schuster, February), marks her as an exciting new voice in crime fiction. It is set in Dublin between 1943 and 1968 and tells of an actress’s disappearance and, years later, an investigation that ends up in the “tangled underworld of the illegal abortion industry”.

Orla Mackey

Mackey, a former winner of the Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair, is a teacher and writer (of fiction and educational texts for children). Her debut novel, Mouthing (Hamish Hamilton, May), follows a series of characters in a small Irish village, from the mid-20th century to the present day.

Richy Craven

Active users of X (Twitter) might have encountered Craven’s viral thread recalling the Christmas he worked at M&S and his hilarious attempts to procure Christmas dinner for his family. He also recounted the tale in an article for The Irish Times. Now his debut novel, Spirit Level (Eriu, April), brings his comic voice to print. A drink-driving accident leaves twentysomething Danny hospitalised, and his best friend dead. But Danny discovers he can see ghosts when drunk.

Róisín Maguire

Maguire, a graduate of the MA in creative writing from Queen’s University Belfast, lives in Downpatrick, Co Down, and has worked as a bouncer, bus driver and primary schoolteacher. She is also a keen scuba diver and fisherwoman and her debut novel, Night Swimmers (Serpent’s Tail, February), is set in a quirky coastal village. It gives shades of Olive Kitteridge, according to her publisher.

Vicki Notaro

Notaro spent many years as a magazine editor and journalist, and from 2019 until 2022, was managing director of the VIP Publishing Group. She has since pivoted to freelance writing and added novelist to her CV. Reality Check (Sandycove, April) inhabits the world of a Real Housewives-esque reality star from Kerry and her two daughters – one a New York-based screenwriter, the other a lifestyle influencer.

Catriona Shine

Norwegian-Irish writer Shine has published work in the Dublin Review, Southword, Channel and elsewhere. In her debut novel, Habitat (Lilliput, March), seven people are faced with a strange problem: their mid-century apartment block in Oslo is inexplicably disappearing. Author, Lucy Caldwell describes the book as “an uncanny fable of [and for] a disintegrating world”.