The TV drama, Ballykissangel, is responsible for UCC’s new writer-in-residence, Thomas Morris, moving from his home in Wales to Ireland, where he has been living for over 10 years.
When he was 16, Morris (whose debut short-story collection, We Don’t Know What We’re Doing, garnered much acclaim) decided he wanted to have an Irish wife. He had a romantic
impression of his adopted country, fuelled by the BBC drama set in Ireland, and he enrolled at Trinity College Dublin for a BA degree, studying English and philosophy. To keep afloat, financially, he worked in the press office of S4C, the Welsh language TV channel, during holidays.
After graduating, Morris interned at a couple of literary publishing houses in Dublin and had “a horrible job selling education software to schools”. He quit that job and worked as an assistant editor at The Stinging Fly in 2011. Reading submissions and working editorially on books by the likes of Mary Costello and Colin Barrett, Morris enjoyed the work but wanted to have a serious year working on my own writing.
And so, he signed up for the prestigious MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia. Morris has no truck with the naysayers who claim that creative writing degrees “produce cookie-cutter writers. What it’s really about is carving out time and paying for other people to take you seriously as a writer. I got so much better and so much quicker at my writing during that year. It was very intense with editorial feedback on my work.”
“Put in the hours reading,” says the Cork college’s writer-in-residence position, a position funded by the Arts Council with €20,000, which involves workshops and readings on the campus. “The better the work you encounter, the more it sharpens your mind.”
He says he was privileged to edit The Stinging Fly magazine from 2014-2016. Some of the writers whose work he accepted for publication include Sally Rooney, and Nicola Flattery, whose debut short story collection will be published next year.
Morris edited an anthology entitled Dubliners’ 100, commissioning 15 Irish writers to write a ‘cover version’ of their favourite story by James Joyce.
“I spoke to a lot of the writers about Joyce and realised he had been a huge shadow over them. I remember Donal Ryan saying he felt hamstrung by Joyce for a long time. I find myself that, when writing a final paragraph in a short story, I often think it’s competing with the ending in Joyce’s The Dead. It’s one of the most glorious endings.”
Frank O’Connor is a huge influence on Morris. “That’s part of the excitement of coming to Cork. At college, I did an Irish short story course and the humour in Frank O’Connor’s writing just blew me away. For me, his story Guests of the Nation is one of the greatest short stories ever written. For years, I was writing Frank O’Connor rip-offs. I set stories in my home town of Caerphilly. One of them was called ‘My First Relationship’. It was all done in an ironic way with a backward glance at O’Connor. I still read him. His book, The Lonely Voice, really shaped my sense of the short story.”
Morris is amused at O’Connor’s theory that towns and cities are suited to a particular age. “He said Cork is 18-and-a-half. When pressed, O’Connor couldn’t really explain it. Anyway, I’m not sure if that is true anymore. You can live anywhere now and have access to film, art and culture. The internet has eroded borders.”
What, though, of Morris’s attempt to finding a wife in Ireland? “I didn’t find an Irish wife, but I had an Irish girlfriend for five years and we’re still on good terms. I suppose you could say I was looking for an Irish wife, and I found Frank O’Connor!”