BackStory: Five Questions with Olivia Fitzsimons

BackStory: Five Questions with Olivia Fitzsimons
Author of Shoes in the Wall

What inspired you to write ‘Shoes in the Wall’?

I renovated a cottage from 1920s a few years ago and my dad mentioned that there might be shoes in the wall for good luck. Another builder asked if I wanted to put shoes in the new wall to keep away the fairies. I had never heard of this tradition and was fascinated by it. I wasn’t writing then, I was just about coping with very small children but I the idea remained with me. Later I read a newspaper article that mentioned the shoe ritual and it triggered the memory. I started to research the idea a bit more and found that it happened all over the world.

What is your favourite piece of historical flash, prose poetry or hybrid work? What do you like about it?

I have to thank Nuala Ní Chonchúir for introducing me to historical flash. I did a one day flash fiction workshop with her in the Irish Writers Centre and from there I really started to explore flash and its possibilities. She is as supportive as she is talented and I’m beyond grateful for that. I love Nuala’s piece ‘The Day Leopoldine Hugo Was Lost’ from the wonderful Jellyfish Review. When I found Flashback Fiction I got very excited there might be a home for my historical flash and I hoped you’d accept my piece. I love the work you’ve published so far, I just hope mine can stand up.

[Editor’s Note: Nuala Ní Chonchúir also publishes under the name Nuala O’Connor.  You can read her piece, Eleanor’s Last, as well as an interview with her here at FlashBack.]

Who are your favourite historical fiction writers?

I love Barbara Kingsolver’s work. Her book The Poisonwood Bible has stayed with me. Its a beautiful, evocative and frightening read. Brilliant.

If you could live for one year in any historical period, when and where would it be, and why?

I used to think it would be Paris in 1789; as a teenager I was a bit obsessed with romantic notions of the French Revolution. However, as I get older I’ve realised I’d love to be present for historical events that happened in and around my home place, such as the Norman invasion in 1177 or the United Irishmen Uprising in 1798. To eavesdrop on my long dead ancestors and see what role, if any, they played in these exciting and turbulent moments in history would be fascinating.

What do you like most about writing flash?

I studied history at college and one of my lecturers suggested quite early on that I should think about writing. I would go off on a tangent too easily and end up researching something not quite related to what I was meant to be doing. Like exiled priests writing from Barbados in 1923 to their families back in Ireland. I couldn’t help but imagine what their lives might have been like. It’s a miracle I managed to get my degree. So back to your question (ahem!) I find that my mind wanders while researching and that leads me to something else. I still quite like that.


Olivia Fitzsimons is a Northerner living in Wicklow. She won the Friary Runner New Writer Showcase CISS 2018 (fiction) and has placed in multiple other competitions. Her writing has been published in the Honest Ulsterman, Crannog, Boyne Berries, The Bangor Literary Journal and Cabinet of Heed. She is a Words Ireland Mentee and currently working on her first novel. You can find her on Twitter @oneflawediris.