ON the surface, Kelly and Sandra are two work colleagues who appear to be simply shooting the breeze as they exchange emails, talking about night- clubs in Cork, romances, and other gossip.
The older of the two, Sandra, talks about her husband and little boy.
But under the surface lies a murky story of sexual harassment...
This is the premise for this year’s Summer Soap story, which returns to the Evening Echo next week.
The fictional story by Siobhan Ryan-Bovey begins on Monday and runs every day in the newspaper for two weeks, as well as on our website.
Siobhan’s story, called Work Wives, was selected from the MA in Creative Writing class at UCC, with another Summer Soap story to run in August.
“It’s about normal Cork lives,” explains Siobhan of Work Wives. “But there is an undercurrent of sexual harassment in the office. The two women look out for each other.”
Siobhan, 23, would ultimately love to write for television, praising series such as The Young Offenders set in Cork and Derry Girls. She is multi-talented with a BA in English literature from Alcorn University in Mississippi, USA.
“I went to America and played college tennis for four years,” she says. “I wasn’t aiming to be a professional tennis player, I just wanted the experience of playing at college level.”
She has played tennis at a high level in Ireland and among her victories was the Irish Open Doubles title some years ago.
Being from a small town like Cobh has its advantages for a budding writer who can extract the universal from the local.
But Siobhan says she “always wanted to spread my wings and travel”.
“The tennis has allowed me to do that,” she adds. “I’ve seen most of America and I’ve also seen a lot of Europe. I’m returning to work in a summer camp in Pennsylvania this year. It’s a sports and arts summer camp.”
It was while living in Belgium that Siobhan got to see much of Europe. She did a masters in western literature in KU Leuven, a university in the Flanders region of Belgium.
“I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped to so I went to UCC,” she said. “I realised I want to do more on the writing side of things.
“I’ve always loved writing. I wanted to put myself in a space where I’d be around other writers and have people around to nurture me because I didn’t really know how to find that myself.
“Also, the UCC degree is only two days a week. It allowed me to do other things; to write and to work at tennis coaching.
“I finish my masters in September when I’ll hand in my thesis. It has been a tough year, paying for the masters after coming out of another one.”
Undertaking the Masters in creative writing at UCC was hugely beneficial for Siobhan. The course requires a lot of writing on demand.
“That really suited me because I like having a deadline and being busy,” she said. “Every week, you’d have the beginning of short story and a lot of other smaller writing assignments. So I’ve been writing a lot and coaching.”
Siobhan has enjoyed attending UCC writer-in-residence, Tom Morris’s workshops as part of the degree.
“He would come up with a theme or give us a few words as a prompt to write something.”
Waiting for the muse to inspire writing is not an option for her. “The big thing the lecturers told us is to keep writing. It will probably be a bit terrible in the beginning but eventually, you’ll find something to write about rather than just waiting for it to come.”
While some of the students focused on poetry, Siobhan’s chosen genre is fiction.
“I took fiction workshops and we also went to a ‘Writing the Self’ class given by Eibhear Walsh. That’s memoir and autobiography. I really enjoyed that. I’ve had a personal essay published.”
Siobhan’s thesis is a piece of memoir. “It’s based on my first year at college in America when I went to Sacramento State University in California,” she explains.
Revealing herself in her writing is a challenge that Siobhan rises to. “I don’t have a problem with it, which is helpful. A lot of people would have a concern about this genre of writing. We talked about it in class. In personal writing, you obviously don’t want to offend or hurt anyone. I know it’s hard for some people to disclose certain things about themselves.”
Writing 12 episodes of the soap for the Evening Echo was challenging in that each episode is relatively short at 600 words.
“I wasn’t used to writing such short pieces and I had to find a way into that,” says Siobhan.
The two characters in her soap communicate through email — despite being in the same office.
“It’s not technically dialogue. It’s the two women having a conversation back and forth by email,” explains the writer. “There wouldn’t be much descriptive writing there. Some of it is abbreviations and text speak. It’s pretty informal. I hope it’s funny because it’s intended to be. Some of it is influenced by my favourite TV show, the US version of The Office.”
Siobhan’s story was selected after her UCC class were invited to take part in the Summer Soap. John Dolan, Features Editor of the Echo, who judged the entries, said it was difficult choosing just two stories to publish.
“But Siobhan’s winning story struck me as being a story our readers will enjoy,” he said. “I was particularly enamoured by the writing style and characterisation, as well as the frothy nature of the story, but with a dark and topical undercurrent of sexual harassment running through it.”
Associate Director of Creative Writing at UCC, Mary Morrissy, who teaches the Masters class, said: “We’re delighted to see the third series of the Summer Soap going ahead this year. Getting published is always a challenge for new fiction writers, so this is a great opportunity for our students to get into print and reach a wide readership.”
“The Echo is way ahead of the game running serial fiction — both online and in the newspaper. It’s a real innovation on the Irish journalism scene. The format demands great skill in writing in short bursts and keeping the reader hooked from day to day over 12 episodes.”
There were 16 students in Siobhan’s class at UCC. “We talk about what writing might be like in the real world, “she says. “It could be tricky.
“It’s easy being given assignments every week. Now we’re kind of on our own and being a writer is obviously an isolating experience. We agreed that we will try to meet and have group chats and will encourage each other to enter competitions. We’ll give ourselves deadlines.”
That sounds like a good plan. Who knows? Siobhan may get to realise her ambition and write for TV. Watch out, Ricky Gervais!
Don’t miss episode one of Work Wives by Siobhan Ryan-Bovey in Monday’s Evening Echo.