PENNING HER FUTURE Elizabeth Reapy, writer and founding editor of online literary journal wordlegs.com.
From an Australian orange factory to John Lennon’s island
Thomas Edison once said ‘there is no substitute for hard work’. Living by this ethos, Elizabeth Reapy (28), a writer from Claremorris, has carved out a prolific career in the short time since she took the plunge and picked up the squat pen.
Although Elizabeth immerses herself in taking inspiration from everyday life for her ‘very real’ short stories, and is also busy attending screenwriting classes, she found time to organise a three-day writers’ festival in Co Sligo – from the other side of the world.
From its inception in an orange factory in the Australian outback to a booked-out Ocean Sands Hotel in Enniscrone, the Shore Writers’ Festival, which took place just last weekend, was Reapy’s ambitious brainchild – and she nurtured it like any mother would.
A former English teacher, Elizabeth has had a love of words for as long as she can remember. “I’ve always loved it [writing], since I was small,” she says. “I became a teacher and then I realised I wanted to be a writer.”
Elizabeth went on to complete a masters in Creative Writing at Queen’s University Belfast, graduating in 2009, and has since been recognised by Mayo Arts Council and been invited to read at many writers’ festivals.
The founding editor of the online literary journal wordlegs.com, which was established in 2010, Elizabeth also shares short stories through podcasts.ie. Her main aims are to expose young Irish readers to literature in an accessible way and to support young writers.
“It’s probably connected to my teaching background, I want to encourage people and want them to enjoy the language,” she says passionately.
However, she is under no allusion about how difficult it is to crack the notoriously impregnable industry. She is aware that it takes lots of time and effort, and so, before she embarked, she set herself a limit. “I knew it was going to be hard, but I gave myself ten years to become a professional writer.”
Elizabeth started taking her own writing seriously after reading one of her short stories at Belmullet’s Force 12 writers’ festival in 2008. Afterwards, writer and poet Kevin Higgins invited her to read at Galway City Library. “From that point I thought, oh God, maybe people will read my stuff … and maybe they’ll like it.”
Elizabeth heralds this ‘big turning point’ in her career as one of the reasons she decided to organise the writers’ festival.
Although one of her short stories, ‘Getting Better’, made it to number one in the Irish podcast charts on iTunes earlier this year, she remains modest about her achievements, putting much of them down to being in the right place, at the right time.
“I think I’ve had loads of breaks, well loads of little ones anyway,” she laughs. She highlights the Mayo Arts Council’s decision to award her the Tyrone Guthrie Centre Regional Bursary in 2011 as ‘very significant’. “I went there, and it was brilliant … From there I was picked to go to the Varuna Writers’ House in Sydney. This year has been massive,” reflects Elizabeth.
Seeds of an idea
Like many Irish down under, Elizabeth completed 88 days of regional work in the outback in order to get a second-year visa.
She describes, with equal amounts of fondness and lament, how eleven-hour night shifts spent sifting through oranges in an Australian fruit factory gave her the head space to develop the idea for the Shore Writers’ Festival. “It was really long hours, and you just sort of switch off a bit and ideas start coursing your imagination. The idea of a writers’ festival has always appealed to me.”
An invitation to the Australian Young Writers’ Festival made up her mind, and she put the wheels in motion and got word out.
Organising a one-of-a-kind writers’ festival in the west of Ireland – and editing a book of short stories to be launched at the festival – from 12,000 miles away while working in an orange factory is no mean feat. Elizabeth had some work for doing.
“It was really hard,” she admits. Coming home at 4am from a nightshift, Elizabeth would go to sleep at 5am, wake at 9am and to go to the local library to access the internet. Obstacles along the way included neighbours who wouldn’t share an internet connection and sharing a computer with a room full of people. But her passion and determination were ever present.
The Shore Writers’ Festival, which was run last weekend with the help of volunteers, was a huge success. It featured readings, poetry performances, workshops and talks, all of which were free. During the festival, Elizabeth also launched the print version of ‘30 Under 30’ in collaboration with Doire Press. A collection of short stories by 30 of Ireland’s most promising young writers, the title was originally published as a two-volume e-book. The print version contains many stories from the e-book, as well as many new works.
Steering a course
The festival might be over, but Elizabeth is not one for sitting on her hands. She is now turning most of her attention to another of her goals: getting a collection of her own short stories published.
Meanwhile, she is also writing a screenplay based in Mayo about Dorinish, the Clew Bay island that was once owned by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. It’s a different world to short-story writing, but Elizabeth is relishing the challenge. “I really like the idea of that sort of writing, working with a whole team of producers, directors and casting people who have their own skills,” she says.
Elizabeth’s passion, drive and talent are steering her deftly towards a prominent place in the Irish writing scene. And if she has her way, she’ll bring as many talented young writers as she can along with her on that journey.