Professor Ruth Gilligan

Professor Ruth Gilligan

Department of Film and Creative Writing
Professor in Creative Writing

I am a bestselling author and journalist who joined the University of Birmingham in September 2014. I have published five novels to date, including most recently The Butchers which won the 2021 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize (awarded to the book that best evokes ‘the spirit of a place’).


  • PhD English, University of Exeter (2014)
  • MA Creative Writing, University of East Anglia (2011)
  • MA English, Yale University (2010)
  • BA English, Cambridge University (2009)


At the age of 18 I published my debut novel Forget (2006) and became the youngest ever person to reach number one on the Irish bestsellers’ list. During my studies at Cambridge and Yale, I published two more commercial novels Somewhere in Between (2007) and Can You See Me? (2009) which also featured on bestsellers’ lists and were translated overseas.

I then took some time away to earn a Creative Writing MA from UEA and a PhD from Exeter; in 2016 I returned with the literary novel, Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan, based around the history of Ireland’s Jewish community, and in 2020 I published The Butchers.

My short stories have appeared in a diverse range of publications such as Wasifiri, The Istanbul Review, The Irish Pages, Ambit and Banshee Lit. I also write regular literary reviews for The Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement, The LA Review of Books and The Irish Independent where I was a columnist for a number of years.

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I teach across undergraduate and postgraduate Creative Writing modules, and have a particular interest in contemporary fiction, novel and short story writing, and writing for the stage. I also occasionally deliver English Literature lectures on contemporary or Modernist Irish writers.

Postgraduate supervision

I would be very interested in receiving proposals for postgraduate projects on any themes related to my research (eg. contemporary fiction; writing the ‘other’; experimental forms; Irish Studies). Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with any queries!

Find out more - our PhD Creative Writing  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


Ruth Gilligan introduces 'The Butchers'

My novels combine extensive research with formal experimentation to shine a light on lesser known aspects of Irish history and identity. My critical research, meanwhile, examines the way in which contemporary novelists also use unique formal strategies, either when writing about ‘other’ cultures or when emulating the experimentation of the Modernist period.

Finally, I am interested in the concept of empathy and its relationship with narrative and storytelling. This is exemplified in my Impact work, particularly my involvement in the global not-for-profit Narrative 4.

Other activities

Since 2014 I have been working for the global storytelling charity (Narrative 4 ). Founded by a group of writers and activists, N4 uses the power of personal stories to break down barriers and foster empathy between diverse young people around the world. I have facilitated ‘story exchange’ projects across the UK, Ireland and US, including a 2018 initiative that brought together teenagers from Birmingham and Limerick; this formed the basis of a feature in the Guardian magazine and ultimately inspired the documentary Some Stories (watch the trailer).

Since 2018, I have also been one of the academic leads working in partnership with the National Literacy Trust. In 2019, we launched Birmingham Stories, a literacy hub that combines arts initiatives with a place-based approach to tackle low literacy levels and inspire a love of stories across the region. You can read more about the hub and its activities at the National Literacy Trust site.


Highlight publications

Gilligan, R 2020, The Butchers. Atlantic Books. <>

Gilligan, R 2019, Unnatural. Atlantic Books.

Gilligan, R 2016, Nine folds make a paper swan. Atlantic Books. <>

Gilligan, R 2016, 'Towards a 'Narratology of Otherness': Colum McCann, Ireland and a new transcultural approach', Studies in the Novel, vol. 48, no. 1.

Recent publications


Gilligan, R 2018, 'Eimear McBride’s Ireland: A Case for Periodization and the Dangers of Marketing Modernism', English Studies, vol. 99, no. 7, pp. 775-792.

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

Gilligan, R 2020, 'The Tatty Hokers'. in P Scanlan (ed.), Voices: An Open Door Book of Stories. New Island Books.

Book/Film/Article review

Gilligan, R 2019, 'Echoes & Nods: The Pristine Beauty of John McGahern's Prose' Times Literary Supplement. <>

Gilligan, R 2019, 'Review of Jan Carson's The Fire Starters' Irish Independent. <>

Gilligan, R 2019, 'Review of Tana French's The Wych Elm' Irish Independent. <>

Gilligan, R 2019, 'Review of Tea Obreht's Inland' Irish Independent. <>

Gilligan, R 2019, 'Review of The Rockingham Shoot & Other Dramatic Writings' Times Literary Supplement. <>

Gilligan, R 2017, 'Form, autobiography, sex: Eimear McBride's second novel' Los Angeles Review of Books. <>

Digital or Visual Products

Stone, R, Gilligan, R, Littlemore, J & Hay, J, Empathy in/as creative practice, 2021, Digital or Visual Products. <>

Stone, R, Gilligan, R, Littlemore, J & Hay, J, Empathy with CREAM, 2021, Digital or Visual Products. <>

Other contribution

Gilligan, R 2023, Does Paul Lynch’s Booker-longlisted Prophet Song live up to the hype? The author’s fifth novel is a devastating portrait of a totalitarian Ireland. Independent News & Media plc. <>

Gilligan, R 2023, Kala by Colin Walsh review – a sizzling debut of nostalgia and secrets. Guardian News & Media Limited. <>

Gilligan, R 2023, Tell Me What I Am by Una Mannion: Coming-of-age tale with the plot and energy of a thriller. Independent News & Media plc. <>

Review article

Gilligan, R 2020, 'Top 10 Irish gothic novels', The Guardian Online. <>

Web publication/site

Gilligan, R, And Each One of Her Bones Shall Be Broken, 2017, Web publication/site, Wasafiri. <>

View all publications in research portal