2 minutes with… Aoife FitzpatrickPublished 19/10/2023
This year at the Dublin Book Festival we are thrilled to yet again be hosting another event with some of Ireland’s most exciting emerging writers. We had the great opportunity to speak with one of these amazing writers, Aoife Fitzpatrick about her debut novel The Red Bird Sings (Virago).
Aoife Fitzpatrick is a native of Dublin, Ireland. Her debut novel, The Red Bird Sings, won the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize in 2020 and is a Sunday Times pick for best historical fiction of the year, 2023. The winner of the inaugural Books Ireland short-story competition, her work has also been recognised by the Séan O’Faoláin Prize, the Elizabeth Jolley Prize and by the Writing.ie Short Story of the Year award.
What was it about the genres of historical fiction/southern gothic that drew you to them?
When I first heard the story of the trial of Trout Shue for the murder of his wife, Zona Heaster Shue, it stopped me in my tracks. It is fascinating by any measure, packed with twists and bizarre real-life happenings. I knew that I wanted to write about it when I learned more about the urgent problem of domestic homicide. It became very clear that little has changed since Zona’s death (1897). The Red Bird Sings is not just a novel about her murder. It is a book about every woman—before or since—who has been killed by a man known to her. In this case, historical fiction allows us to observe chilling continuity, stretching across centuries. And to cast a fresh eye over a cultural secret that our contemporary society not only deplores, but also seems to take for granted. The spectre of the Southern gothic is inescapable when writing about an alleged ghost in nineteenth-century West Virginia. I was very interested to see how expectations of the genre—the irrational, the grotesque, ideas of heightened transgressive desires—might collide with the true story of real people who have lost a loved one in tragic circumstances.
How did you discover this story and why did you choose to tell it?
I first heard about Zona Heaster Shue, ‘The Greenbrier Ghost,’ and her courageous mother, Mary Jane, on a BBC Science podcast. It got under my skin—the story of this farmer’s wife, who had no public voice, setting out to gain justice for her murdered daughter by claiming to have spoken with her ghost. At its heart, this is a novel about voice. The voices of the isolated and the disempowered. In the case of the women in The Red Bird Sings, to what lengths must they go to be heard? Or believed? Or for meaningful change to happen?
In recent years there seems to be a large influx in books that have also included a supernatural element, why do you think this is?
In The Red Bird Sings, both Zona’s ghost and Mary’s Jane’s spiritualism might be read as, allegedly, authentic. Or as phenomena arising from trauma. (The onset of supernatural experiences is not uncommon in families bereaved by domestic homicide.) In this way, the book straddles an unusual line between fact and fiction.
More broadly, ghost stories and horror allow us to experience intense emotion—fear—in a safe way. And in gothic novels, the uncanny is often a fragment of the self. (Think of the red-room in Jane Eyre—especially the mirror.) This makes the supernatural a great medium for contemporary themes, allowing us to explore the frightening ‘other,’ or those parts of ourselves which are unknown, potentially dark, or that harbour transgressive power. Any literary genre that delivers across a large spectrum—everything from the most tremendous fun to biting insight into sociocultural evolution—will be very attractive to modern readers and writers.
What historical time period would you have liked to live in yourself?
I’d enjoy a day out in The Republic of Venice, circa 1580. An afternoon of intrigue, looking over the shoulders of the Doge (duke) and the Council of Ten. Followed by some ultra-modern, transcendent, wall-of-sound choral music at St Mark’s Basilica. A plague-free night out at the carnival would be a wonderful bonus.
Can you tell me about one of the other events during the Dublin Book Festival that you are looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to the Dublin Review Conversations: The Edit Suite. And Anne Enright & Claire Kilroy in conversation with Jessica Traynor.
Be sure to join us at the Emerging Writers event on Thursday 9th November, 5:45pm to hear Aoife Fitzpatrick, Clara Kumagai and Declan Toohey in conversation with Jan Carson about their stunning debut novels! TICKETS HERE