WEST Cork-based writer, Tina Pisco, who has been appointed as the sixth Frank O’Connor Fellow, says she suffers from impostor syndrome. She qualifies this, saying it should really be called ‘impostor voice’.
“Some people say there’s a little voice telling them they’re not good enough at something. My voice kind of says ‘why are you doing this? Instead of writing, you should be weeding the vegetable patch or visiting a sick friend - or maybe finding a job’.”
But Tina clearly loves writing, even if she says it’s “a difficult gig”.
The author of two novels, with her second short story collection nearing completion, as well as a collection of newspaper columns, comics, screenplays and internet drama scripts, Tina also finds time to teach creative writing.
She was the first writer-in-residence for Cork City Libraries in 2020. The position had a theme, which was climate crisis.
“It just so happened that I had already started a few stories on that theme, with a view to a collection,” says Tina. “It was a perfect match. I had a great response from the public. I did workshops, online.
“Apart from giving me the time to write, the great thing about these residencies and fellowships is that they give you money, which allows you to concentrate on your writing.”
The Frank O’Connor Fellowship, managed by the Munster Literature Centre and funded by Cork City Council, will allow Tina to complete her short story collection. She will also deliver a series of lectures on Frank O’Connor as well as run workshops on the craft of writing short stories.
Tina’s forthcoming collection has the working title of The Dithering: Tales From The Peri-Apocalypse. It will deal with her personal journey “from armchair activist to running the Repeal campaign in West Cork and volunteering in Nea Kavala refugee camp in Greece, compounded with the death of my parents in the last four years - and a close brush with terrorism.”
Tina, born in Spain and fluent in Spanish and French as well as speaking passable Italian, was inspired by former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson.
“I remember going to see her at the West Cork Literary Festival. She said that her first focus was family. Then it became women’s rights, then human rights dealing with refugees. And from that, she jumped to the biggest issue right now which is climate change.”
Living in West Cork since 1992, Tina settled there because of a desire to be close to nature and to live a slower-paced life than what she was used to.
Describing herself as a blow-in, she says: “A blow-in isn’t someone who isn’t accepted. A blow-in is clearly someone who wasn’t born in the place they live. I’ve always loved the term.”
Reared in seven different countries including the U.S (her father was American), Switzerland and Belgium, Tina didn’t learn English until she was five when she moved from Spain with her family to New York.
“Before I was five, I just thought I was a little Spanish girl with a Spanish grandmother and Spanish aunties and uncles. My mother was from the Philippines, but she was racially Spanish. My grandmother was from the Basque country in Spain.”
Tina’s engineer father “was a typical American ex-pat. He worked for a large American company.”
He also worked for the U.S government in post-war reconstruction around the world.
Tina studied psychology, first of all at university in Brussels before transferring to the University of Louvain.
“The students were striking for all sorts of reasons such as funding cuts. I got caught up in that, occupying buildings. It was great fun. But when my father found out, he said I had to come home to Brussels.”
A mother of four grown-up daughters with interesting careers, Tina always wanted a career that would allow her to write.
“That’s why I was a journalist for such a long time. I loved writing, but journalism was the only way to make a living writing. I was on TV news in Belgium for a while. TV is absolutely relentless. I was quite young, in my early thirties, and I was already asking myself what did I want to do when I got to 40. Did I still want to be doing TV news? It was all go, go and ambitious. I thought I didn’t really want it.”
Through her media job, Tina had visited Ireland and fell in love with it. She doesn’t want to say what part of West Cork she lives in as it’s “my private thing”.
Having read widely about climate change, Tina feels that we are doomed in that “there is no going back. I do think we’re getting to the point where we’ll need to focus on adapting to what’s happening. We know what sea level rising is going to do to the coast. So we need to look at what roads need to be changed and what needs to be put in.”
She says that in Ireland, we are very bad at coping when there’s “a big freeze. When it happens, the whole country just closes down.”
Looking at the U.S, she says that Seattle, for example, “needs to figure out what it needs to do when it gets really hot because nobody there has air conditioning and the electrical grid melts. These are not things that we can do much about as individuals. Governments, the EU or the UN needs to step up.”
Tina Pisco will be in conversation with Cónal Creedon at the opening event of the Cork Short Story Festival on October 12 at Waterstones.