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Permission to Live a Creative Life by Olivia Fitzsimons

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In October 2017 I wrote my first short story on my mobile phone. I was a stay-at-home mum living in Wicklow with two small boys, short on time. When I started I knew no one in the Irish writing community. I wrote out of a need to fulfil myself creatively and my debut novel, The Quiet Whispers Never Stop (available in all good book shops now!) was published by John Murray on the 14th of April, 2022. I've been a published author for almost a month now and it's been a rollercoaster ride. 

Failure to create brought me to writing. Or what I saw as failure. Years spent trying to get films made that never left the development rounds. Missed deadlines because of life getting in the way. Feeling like I was never going to be good enough, simply, eventually, giving up. I gave up on my creativity but it did not abandon me. I've always wanted to live a creative life. I've always tried but perhaps it has taken me longer than it should have to discover that about myself. Being creative makes me happy and it can make me unhappy too but my life is richer, more powerful and more interesting with it. In truth I don't think I can disown my creativity anymore - I need it to be me in whatever form I'm working in. I'm happy to say my work is multidisciplinary. I'm mostly writing but I'm writing for different art forms, different practices that require different skill sets. I'm a  mother and a writer too. These things have bearing on my work, on the stories I tell. I need to challenge myself and remind myself to reach out and access the things I need and in some cases didn't know I wanted. I like connecting people and love being part of a community. In order to be part of that community I had to extend an invitation to myself to participate when I was an emerging writer who knew no one. 

I still remember vividly getting the courage to introduce myself to the Wicklow County Council Arts Officer Jenny Sherwin in early 2019. I was in the lovely space that is Arklow Library to listen to Clare Keegan talk about the craft of fiction and read from her novel 'The Forester's Daughter'. It was a wonderful event, Clare was generous and insightful. I said hello to Jenny, mentioned I was trying to write, and despite my northern accent I was a 'Wicklow' woman and had been living here for years. I can't remember what else we talked about, I just remember she was so friendly, she loved to know about artists in the county and what they were doing. 

I'm so glad I took that chance. Just to say hello, start a conversation. To be open to possibility. Allow myself access. 

I realise now that Arts Offices can't advocate properly for their artists if they don't know they are out there. I'd always known that access to the arts is a complicated, complex thing. I'm from a working class background and despite lots of education, lots of mind broadening adventure, sometimes I would feel overwhelmed entering an arts space for the first time. Yet every time I reached out, different arts organisation's welcomed me in; The Irish Writers Centre, The Stinging Fly, The Mermaid Arts Centre. Their welcome would dismantle my concerns about whether I should be in that space, about my place, my potential.

Sometimes I just needed to get out of my own way and make connections. Let go of my preconceptions of myself, of the arts, of what it looks like to be a successful practising artist today.

Be open. Become brave in the process of doing the very thing that makes me uncomfortable. Risk can bring the greatest opportunity for learning. The most interesting experiences have come from the times I took the risk, challenged my perceptions of what I believed I was capable of. 

This year I have given myself permission to think about my practice. Just think. Take time to reflect. Reflection. It sounds small, holding a mirror to yourself and your art, a very slight thing, but it is actually a huge shift in my creative life. In the way I see myself. I've come to realise it's essential to give oneself permission to create, to live a creative life. This ethos feeds into my practice and, over the last few years, through my engagement with lots of organisations, especially the Artist Connect Panel in Wicklow, I can see how it feeds into every aspect of an artist's work. Giving yourself and others permission to be creative (if that's what's preventing you from taking your space) is a very powerful act. I believe art is for everyone. Abundance in the arts is a good thing and the more voices, space and support we give to create access benefits us all. The arts is an eco-system, how can I support it? Supporting other artists supports your own work. It creates pathways and openings that might help someone just like you, or someone who's nothing like you, find their space in the arts. And isn't that a good, no, a truly great thing? 

I've discovered that artists can build resilience through community; share knowledge through peer to peer learning, provide support and understanding at every level of practice, while strengthening the ways we can advocate for ourselves, each other and our communities. 

This might sound like I live a charmed artistic life. I do not. I suffer (many, many) rejections like everyone. Missed out on a residency here. A journal there. So close to funding it might change my life but I don't get selected by one point. Community helps you feel less alone while you figure out strategies to create new ways of dealing with the setbacks. Community might bring collaboration or commiseration. Rejection rarely feels good but it is a key part of being an artist.

Community is the balm that soothes when disappointments sting. 

During the pandemic when the Artist Connect Panel met on zoom, coffee cups clutched in our hands, Susan Coughlan, our facilitator, would do a 'check-in' with us, everyone briefly offering up how they were doing. It became a space that we could be real in, we could talk about our bad day, our failed funding application, our woes, but it also became a place that we could share our successes, our small wins, our joys. Online community became sanctuary.  

This year I want to continue to build community, to meet new writers, to mentor new voices, to pass on the kindness shown to me. To build access and sustain it. I started writing this on Imbolc, and was thinking of spring and the light that is coming to us all. There's no doubt it's going to be another tough year in a world that seems to be thriving on upheaval yet I'm hopeful that by giving myself permission to slow down and reflect on my writing and ideas that I will be ready for new exciting opportunities to arrive despite all the uncertainty. I'm trying to leave myself open to the possibilities that lie ahead. Ready to challenge my vision of myself as an artist. Leave room to grow, despite the inevitable disappointments, while remaining hopeful that I will surprise myself. I hope that reading this will encourage you to do the same.

What are your intentions for yourself, for your creative practice and for developing community? Where will your practice take you? Give yourself permission to fully live a creative life. Go find it, do it. Surprise yourself. 

Artist's Biography

Olivia Fitzsimons is from Northern Ireland and now lives in Co Wicklow but never lost her accent. She studied History at Trinity College Dublin and Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, Netherlands. The Quiet Whispers Never Stop is her first novel and was an Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair Winner in 2020. Her short stories have been placed or shortlisted in many competitions including the Sunday Business Post/Penguin Short Story Prize, The Benedict Kiely Short Story Award and Dalkey. She has two feature films in development and is currently working on her second novel.

Find out more by visiting www.oliviafitzsimons.com