Dr Ruth Gilligan

Dr Ruth Gilligan

Department of Film and Creative Writing
Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing

I am a bestselling author and journalist who joined the University of Birmingham in September 2014. I have published four novels to date, including most recently Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan (2016 UK/Ireland; 2017 US/Israel) which was inspired by the little-known history of the Irish-Jewish community.

My research interests include transcultural fiction (eg. the works of Colum McCann) and contemporary Irish fiction (eg. the works of Eimear McBride), with a particular emphasis on structure and form. I am also an ambassador for the global not-for-profit Narrative 4.


  • 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.

However, I decided I wanted to take my writing in a more literary direction, so took some time away to earn an MA Creative Writing from UEA and a PhD from Exeter. In 2016 I published Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan in the UK/Ireland/US/Israel to huge critical acclaim.

Meanwhile 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.

For more information, please visit: http://www.ruthgilligan.com/


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.


University of Birmingham at Hay Festival 2019

My fourth novel, Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan, was based around the history of the Jewish community in Ireland, and combined extensive research with formal experimentation.

My critical research, meanwhile, examines the way in which contemporary novelists likewise devise unique formal/structural strategies, either when a) writing about ‘other’ cultures (eg. in the case of Irish-American author Colum McCann), or b) drawing on the formal experiments of the Modernist period (eg. in the case of Irish author Eimear McBride).

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 (see below).

Other activities

Since 2014 I have been working for the global not-for-profit Narrative 4 (www.narrative4.com); founded by a group of writers and activists, N4 uses the power of personal stories to break down barriers and foster ‘radical empathy’ between diverse young people around the world. They have run ‘story exchange’ across the US, Mexico, Israel, Palestine, South Africa and beyond, and their work has featured in the New York Magazine, Esquire and Oprah’s O Magazine.

In 2016 I organised the first ever N4 ‘story exchange’ project in England, bringing together diverse youths from across Birmingham. In 2018 I ran a large-scale storytelling initiative between teenagers from Birmingham and Limerick, which formed the basis of a major feature in the Guardian ) and which ultimately inspired the documentary Some Stories (watch the trailer).

I am also the Impact Lead for the School of English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies.



Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan. Atlantic Books/Tin House/Penn Israel. 2016/2017.

Can You See Me? Hodder & Stoughton. 2009/10.

Somewhere in Between. Hachette Books Ireland & S. Fischer Verlag Germany. 2007/8.

Forget. Hachette Books Ireland. 2006/7.

Academic Articles

‘Eimear McBride’s Ireland: A Case for Periodization and the Dangers of Marketing Modernism’. English Studies. 2018.

Review of Israelites in Erin: Exodus, Revolution, and the Irish Revival. Dublin Review of Books (2017).

Review of Colum McCann's Intertexts. Nordic Irish Studies. 2017.

‘Towards a Narratology of Otherness: Colum McCann, Ireland and a New Transcultural Approach’. Studies in the Novel. 2016.

Review of ‘Something Dreadful and Grand’: American Literature and the Irish-Jewish Unconscious. British Journal of American Studies. 2016.

Review of Literary Geographies: Narrative Space in Let The Great World Spin. British Journal of American Studies. 2015.

‘The Empathy Man’. Dublin Review of Books. 2013.

Short Stories

‘And Each One of Her Bones Shall Be Broken’. Wasafiri. 2017.

 ‘The Museum of Childhood’. Ambit Magazine. 2016

‘The Night of the Big Wind’. Banshee Lit. 2016

‘Slaughter’. The Irish Pages. 2014.

 ‘Dear God.’ The Letters Page. 2013

‘The Flotilla’. The Istanbul Review. 2011.

‘One Day in Dublin, 1904’. Story. Vintage Script. 2011.

 For more information, please visit: http://www.ruthgilligan.com/

View all publications in research portal