Gillian Purvis Award winner 2016: Stephen O'Shea

Stephen O'Shea, a Creative Writing PhD student at Strathclyde, is the 2016 winner of the Gillian Purvis Award for New Writing. The award - in memory of Glasgow woman Gillian Purvis, who died in 2004 at the age of 33 - recognises Glasgow students working in the creative arts.

The Texan student is writing a collection of short stories titled 'From the Land of Genesis'. His critical analysis is titled: 'The Rifts of War: Discovering the Role of Authenticity in the Fictionalisation of Combat Narratives.'

Stephen was awarded £1,500 from the Gillian Purvis Trust for his PhD study, which focuses on combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Find out more below about Stephen's PhD study and his reaction to winning the award.

When did you first take an interest in the topic of combat veterans?

At the end of my third year in the University of Texas A&M, I was invited to participate in a research project that was concerned with the moral injury of returning combat veterans. This year-long programme revealed my own ignorance to the issues that returning veterans face, but also exposed a cultural gap of understanding between veterans and their civilian counterparts.

My intention, then, became to bridge this gap by producing a work of recognisable literary quality that educated the public to the issues, isolation, and very human emotions that veterans struggle with while reassimilating into civilian life.

Why did you choose Strathclyde for your PhD?

I stumbled upon Strathclyde’s post-graduate creative writing programme while researching UK universities with international scholarship programmes. I was attracted primarily to the faculty at Strathclyde after perceiving the quality of Dr Beatrice Colin’s research-based novels, and the relevance of her craft to my own.

Stephen O'Shea, Creative Writing PhD student

I was also drawn to Glasgow for its large veterans community. Since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were the first international conflicts to involve both American and British soldiers since World War II, my intention was to broaden the scope of my interview pool to include UK veterans: which I have successfully done since moving to Glasgow.

Were you surprised to learn how much of a veterans' community there is in Glasgow?

At first, no. I was fully aware that veteran demographics are more concentrated in city centres immediately following a conflict, and I suspected that Glasgow with its industrial heritage would attract the overwhelming number of Scottish veterans who served in the armed forces.

What I didn't anticipate was the number and quality of support systems that veterans were allowed access to.

After becoming involved with the Coming Home Centre the Bellrock Close, I was amazed by the facilities and resources available to the veterans residing there."

How did it feel to win the Gillian Purvis Award?

Stephen O'Shea, Creative Writing PhD student

Initially, I was excited. It’s an enormous honour to win the Gillian Purvis Award, especially considering it’s a Glasgow-wide competition between Strathclyde, Glasgow Uni and the Glasgow School of Art. But ultimately, winning the Gillian Purvis was a form of affirmation, that the value of what I was doing, and how I was going about it, had been recognised by an organisation outside of myself and my university.

What do you hope to do with the Award money?

Initially, a small portion of the Gillian Purvis Award money contributed toward a research trip that I took to interview female helicopter pilots stationed at the naval base in Guam. The remainder of the sum will contribute to the completion of my short story collection and to the continuation of my PhD into the final year.