Interview with Ellen Brickley : Q1 2020 Creative Nonfiction Essay Runner Up

Sunday, March 15, 2020
Ellen Brickley lives and works in Dublin, Ireland. She holds a BA and MA in English Literature from University College Dublin. Her creative non-fiction has appeared in the Irish literary journal Banshee, and she has performed at the Dublin Book Festival and Galway’s CĂșirt literary festival. In 2017 she was awarded a Literature Bursary from the Arts Council of Ireland to complete a collection of essays, which is underway.

Ellen’s writing has also appeared in the Irish Times, Inis, and on popular blogs including OffBeat Bride and We Said Go Travel. She is currently seeking representation for a contemporary young-adult novel.

Alongside her writing life, Ellen works in a castle, and is studying for a Masters’ in Public History at Trinity College. To read more of her work, visit Banshee, or find her online at or on Twitter @EllenBrickley.


WOW: Congratulations on your top ten win in our Q1 2020 Creative Nonfiction essay competition! What prompted you to enter the contest?

Ellen: Thank you! I heard about the competition on Angela T. Carr’s round-up of submission opportunities, which is an amazing resource for all writers, especially those of us working in shorter forms, and can be found at

I had a great time reading past entries and decided to send off something I’d written. The previous contest entrants showed such range, and because WOW is for and by women who write, it seemed like a great place to send a piece about writing.

WOW: Your entry, "Do Not Attempt the Following Personal Essays" is creative, enjoyable and contains truly good advice. What inspired you to write this particular piece?

Ellen: I started writing personal essays in my early thirties, having always worked on fiction that hasn’t been published (yet?). It was liberating but strange to write about my own life and share that writing. I realized quickly that the sense of validation I got from sharing my essays was potentially dangerous. The line between people liking the work and people liking me was less distinct, and I really want to be liked!

When writing personal essays I think writers necessarily create a second self; the stories that we choose to share and the way we choose to share them form a curated version of our real selves that the reader engages with as they read (the same observation is often made about social media). This piece came from all of that thinking--remembering that essays are not for a mythical audience desperate to hear about the minutiae of my life (none exists, and that’s good!), acknowledging that some stories aren’t mine to tell, even if I have strong feelings about them (that’s what a journal is for) and resisting the temptation to only work on essays that make me look cool and interesting (I wouldn’t write very much…). Essays are one of my favorite forms to read and to write, partly because of these questions and issues, and I wanted to take a self-deprecating look at myself as an essayist. It was easier to be self-deprecating and wry than to engage seriously with these questions, and I hope it was still effective.

WOW: Besides essay writing, you also write fiction as well as book reviews. How do you juggle the different types of writing that you do? Anything you can share about the process?

Ellen: I have a very short attention span, so it doesn’t feel like juggling! I love switching between projects, and when one starts to feel boring, it’s fun to be able to swap to something else. When I hit a roadblock with working on a novel, it is so satisfying to work on a short, complete piece and consider it DONE!

That said, the shorter pieces I write tend to have a deadline, usually a submission deadline for a journal or a competition, so one issue is that it feels easier and more productive to finish a shorter piece, and the novels are easier to let slide. I’m not always very good at protecting the time I set aside for novel-writing :)

WOW: You mentioned that you’re currently seeking representation for your contemporary young-adult novel. Can you tell us about your book, and how the road to publication is going?

Ellen: I’ve always loved reading young adult fiction, and a lot of my favorite contemporary authors are YA authors (Deirdre Sullivan, Claire Hennessy, Sarra Manning, Angie Thomas, Coe Booth, Elizabeth Acevedo, Holly Bourne, E. Lockhart, Helen Corcoran. . . I could keep going, it’s a great category!). It took me a while to work up the courage to write for teenagers, but I’m glad I did; it’s a lot of fun even when it’s challenging.

This book is about a gifted teenager who wins a scholarship to a very unusual boarding school in Rome, where she is on an even more unusual mission. There’s plenty of gelato, crypts, wisecracking and romance (the four food groups), and I’m hoping that my gang finds a publication home. I’m currently querying agents and have gotten some really useful feedback, so fingers crossed!

WOW: Best of luck with it--keep us posted! Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Ellen. Before you go, can you share a favorite writing tip or piece of advice?

Ellen: I was just talking to a writer friend this week about the importance of keeping the joy! Publication is great, competitions are wonderful, but ultimately the joy in the process of writing is the most valuable thing we all have as writers. My piece of advice would be to hold on to the fun parts with both hands and squeeze for all they're worth!


For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.


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