‘It’s hard to aspire to something you cannot see’

The young writers in Fighting Words are not future writers – they’re already contributing to the literary community, writes Jan Carson

Growing up I wanted to be a football commentator. Jackie Fullerton lived across the road. I saw him on TV discussing the Saturday afternoon fixtures and sometimes in Spar buying milk. I didn’t know any writers. Ballymena in the 1980s wasn’t a very literary place. All the writers I read were dead or living in exciting places like Paris, London or New York. Though I devoured half a dozen books per week, I never considered becoming a writer. It’s hard to aspire to something you cannot see.

I was 25 before I picked up a pen and made my first clumsy foray into writing. I’d moved to Portland, Oregon, a city literally teeming with writers. I was a seasoned regular, sitting at the feet of every author who visited Powell’s bookstore, from Patti Smith to Douglas Coupland and Dave Eggers. I had living, breathing – occasionally approachable – models for what I wanted to be. Furthermore, I’d found my tribe: a bunch of musicians, filmmakers and fledgling poets who shared my off-kilter way of seeing the world. They were always up for artsy chats over coffee or hipster beer.

Most importantly, I’d identified the lack in myself. The first time I finished a short story, (though fully aware it was terrible, the kind of overly florid writing that would make Raymond Carver cry), I could tell I’d finally found the best version of myself. Julia Pimenta Galiza de Freutas, in her story, Margaret Roche: The Writer in Me, sums this feeling up when she writes, “I knew I wanted to write because I wanted more.”

I can tell from this impressive selection of poems and stories that these Fighting Words writers are seeking a similar sense of more. It isn’t easy being young. The movement from dependent child to autonomous, freethinking adult has always been a painful one. More so when you’re creatively inclined, wired to think and feel deeply, to find the means and measure by which to share these thoughts with the world. More so even in 2024, when the world feels fit to implode.


It’s no small thing to strive for more. Yet, the work here is uncompromisingly brave, accomplished and, above all, urgent, raising huge questions about the climate crisis, technology, war and mental health issues – all the issues of the day – with humour, imagination and an unwavering tenacity. The future of Irish writing is safe in these young writers’ hands. In fact, they’re not future writers. They’re already contributing to our community.

And here, I must pay tribute to the incredible work of Fighting Words, who offer so many emerging writers the essential support system teenage me would have adored. Generous and regular access to established writers through workshops, talks and mentorship, so young writers have a name and ‘sort of’ shape for what they are and want to become. A chance to belong to a tribe of similarly minded, word-obsessed, unique individuals so the journey towards adulthood feels a little less like a lonely road.

More than anything, Fighting Words gives our young writers a platform from which to share their experiences and opinions, their concerns, their hopes and dreams. These are words we all need to hear. They’re voices we need to be listening to. Those with the experience, influence and – dare I say it – funds, need to hold the door open and do everything we can to welcome the next generation in.