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Mania by Neleigh Olson

Mania by Neleigh Olson

What the judge said

'This story works in subtle shades, building a world from apparently inconsequential pieces. From the very first sentence, the author creates a world that expands outward from the story and the flavour of a complete life lived, before focussing in to present one key incident in that life. The tone is light and fluid yet manages to conjure intense need and emotion.' 


How I did it

'I’ve always been interested in stories; they’re how I engage with the world. In daycare I used to make up stories about cars going by. When I watched movies I’d wonder how I could create films myself. On a trip to the Vietnam Memorial I made up stories about the names on the stone. 

Short stories and narrative non-fiction are my main genres and I’m working on a research-based memoir about the complex and troubled companionship between people and horses. 

This story grew out of the research I was doing for my Masters, about the influence of The Beatles on music and society. I am interested in fandom and what it was like to be a teenage girl in the 1960s and how that ties in to Second-Wave feminism. For a lot of young girls, being a fan gave them permission to express big feelings – which were then ridiculed and dismissed as hysteria. But I think there’s something so raw and honest about those feelings. 

I got lost in videos of that time, of young girls being interviewed by old male reporters, and saying, ‘I don’t know why, but I just love Ringo. Ringo! If you see this, I love you!’ 

I was trying to write a story about a girl called Connie, living alone with her father after her mother died, but I couldn’t get anywhere with it. So I interviewed Connie as a role-play – I typed my questions and her answers. And she wouldn’t talk about her mother. She kept talking about Cleveland, and the Beatles, and how angry she was with her dad. And I realised that if she wouldn’t talk about her mother, the story couldn’t talk about her mother either, so I would have to come at it from a different angle.

I’ve done this before when it feels as though a character is blocking me in some way. It happens a lot with historical characters, and I know I have to back up and ask, what am I missing?'

NELEIGH OLSON is 37 and lives in Kentucky, where she teaches English 101 at the University of Louisville and is also a chalk mural artist. She spent 14 years on the US Thoroughbred racing circuit exercising horses and is working on an essay collection about the relationship between horses and humans – she was awarded a Kentucky Writers Fellowship for her essay ‘Heels down’. She spent 2018-20 in Liverpool studying for an MA in The Beatles, Popular Music and Society.   


The other finalists

  • Moira Dalgetty for 'The best-laid schemes'
  • Amanda Hildebrandt for 'Saltbush'
  • Brid Cummings for 'The window'

Meet the winners of all competitions