Winning writer’s late dad her inspiration

Orla McAlinden with her award. INPT47
Orla McAlinden with her award. INPT47

A Portadown woman who began writing after the death of her father four years has won a top award for a story from her debut book.

Orla McAlinden, originally from the Armagh Road but now living in Kildare, found that committing to paper the stories her father John had told her as a child was a way of remembering him.

And it also sparked off something in the 44-year-old, who has been writing, with considerable success, ever since.

Orla, a mum to four children aged from 11-6, has just won the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards Short Story of the Year competition with The Visit, a story from her award-winning debut collection The Accidental Wife.

“I’m in shock,” she said. “It’s unusual for a debut writer to be nominated for a national award, and to have won it is honestly a dream come true.”

Although Orla is, and always has been an avid reader, usually with three books on the go at the once time, her original focus as a student was sciences, rather than English.

She is a qualified vet and practised in Belfast and Dublin for 10 years, but the incompatibility of having two vets in the family (her husband Patrick specialises in racehorses), prompted her to retrain as a science teacher.

However, having had her first child just a few days after graduation and another three in quick succession, she has never worked as a teacher and, with her latest award, it would seem that a new career beckons,

The Accidental Wife, which was released in the UK and Ireland in September, is published by Sowilo Press in Philadelphia, which awarded it their annual prize, The Eludia Award for first collection by a female writer.

The book is available in selected bookshops including No Alibis in Belfast and online from Amazon, while the winning story The Visit is available to read online.

Armagh County Library has also selected the book as its annual Big Read and will be promoting it during March. Orla is now seeking a publisher for her second book, a famine novel set in Kildare.