INTERVIEW: Roisin O’Donnell

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Roisín O’Donnell is an award-winning short story writer whose fiction has appeared in The Irish Times, The Stinging Fly, Structo, Popshot, Unthology and elsewhere. She is featured in the anthologies Young Irelanders, The Long Gaze Back and The Glass Shore. Her debut collection Wild Quiet was published by New Island Books in May 2016. She lives in Dublin. www.roisinodonnell.com

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Tell us a little about your background (where you grew up etc.) and your earliest experience/engagement with literature.
It sounds crazy but I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. Long before I was able to negotiate my freckled fist around a pencil, my first ‘stories’ were letters I used to dictate to my mum, who would write them down and send them to my granddad in Derry. We were living in Sheffield at that time, my parents having left Northern Ireland before I was born. Growing up in Sheffield -‘the city of steel’- I always felt Irish. We would make the long ferry trip over to Ireland every summer, and these visits were referred to as trips ‘home.’ It was my mum who really encouraged my early engagement with literature. She was studying at the University of Sheffield when I was born, and she had me enrolled in the library when I was just three weeks old.

Books, she seemed to say with this pre-emptive literary gesture, are as vital to your well-being as vaccines.

But even my mum could not have predicted just how important reading would become for me, or the impact books would have on my life.

 

When and how did you realise that you wanted to be a writer and which author/s inspired you to pursue a literary career?
Writing was with me from very early on, like an extra limb I took for granted. My writing ambitions cemented when, aged eight, I had the fortune to be taught by Mattie Doherty, a teacher who lived and breathed literature. Poetry and stories were intrinsic to the fabric of her daily classroom routine. She would wax lyrical about our humble scribblings, and would tack them to the wall above her desk, which was a fluttering patchwork quilt of pupils’ stories and poems. She made each of us feel like Booker Prize winners. And to cap it all, Mrs Doherty’s sister-in-law was Berlie Doherty, author of the spellbinding novels ‘Granny was a Buffer Girl,’ set in the Sheffield steelworks, and ‘Children of Winter,’ which takes place in the plague village of Eyam (my friends and I used to play at being ‘children of winter’ stuck in a plague village – rather morbid when I look back). Berlie’s books made me realise magical fiction can be crafted from everyday surroundings. She came into school to read to us one day, and the vagaries of my dreams congealed into something definite; I wanted to be a writer.

 

Describe your early writing habits and how you sustained the motivation to write. Have you noticed any differences/changes over the years?
Writing has been something of a personal resistance movement! I’ve had plenty of obstacles to overcome in life, and I’ve always had a sense of writing against the odds. I wrote my first novel when I was fifteen and I’d completed three novels by the time I was twenty-four. Yeah…I really should have had more of a social life. Anyway I never showed these novels to anyone (apart from my mum!). Lack of confidence I suppose. That might seem like a terrible waste of time, but I think that apprenticeship was vital. I learnt to be my own best editor and my own worst critic.

As far as routine goes, there isn’t one! I work Monday-Friday, so I have to squeeze writing around that. I prefer to write in the morning when my mind is fresh and my self-critical gremlins haven’t woken up yet, but that doesn’t always happen – the snooze button is very tempting!

The only promise I make to myself is to write SOMETHING every day, even if it’s only a few notes.

And I’m always ‘writing’ in my head –my stories have fairly long incubation periods before I write anything down. You can be writing without actually writing… if that makes sense.

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Your anthology ‘Wild Quiet’ is extremely multicultural with regards to topic, characters and locations; where did the idea to create such a mixed palette of stories come from? Do you think that this has helped people connect with the anthology in the multicultural world we are living in today?
I never set out to create a collection of stories about diversity in contemporary Ireland. I guess I’ve always been inspired by my current surroundings, and at the time when I started writing the stories that would become Wild Quiet, I was living and working in a very diverse area of Dublin. I’m not sure if the multicultural aspect of the collection has helped people to connect with the book or not. I’d like to say it has, but maybe not! The reaction to the book has perplexed me in some ways. The very fact that SO MUCH attention has been given to the multicultural aspect of the stories suggests that it’s still seen as something ‘new’ and ‘experimental.’ Surely at this stage, Irish stories featuring new-Irish characters should be the norm? No one should be batting an eyelid.

 

What do you like to do to relax? (Do you have long walks, or do you enjoy holidaying, which I’m sure helps to give you material for your short stories?)
Luckily we live within about equal distance of the Wicklow Mountains and the Mourne Mountains, and I love getting out of the city, into the hills. Holidays are great –we were in Galicia recently, where we had intended to do part of the Camino de Santiago but then life intervened. I’d love to go back and do the Camino one day, or at least part of it- I know my own limitations! Sure, I often find inspiration on my travels, as you can see from the collection, but I equally find stories in the everyday. Often the cure for ‘writers block’ is just a change of scene.

camino-de-santiago-routesCamino de Santiago Routes

Wild Quiet’ explores the current state of acceptance of the ‘Foreigner’ or refugee, and the impact of the multicultural society of today in Ireland and the United Kingdom – where did you draw your inspiration for ‘Wild Quiet’?
Gosh, thank you… Well, the thing is that I’m as much a ‘foreigner’ as any of my characters. Don’t be deceived by the red hair and freckles! As I mentioned earlier, I was born in England with Irish parents, who were from different communities in Northern Ireland. To add another twist, my parents then moved to live near Dublin when I was eighteen, and I came over here with them. So when people ask me ‘where are you from?’ I really get quite flummoxed. There is no easy answer. So many different influences have converged to forge my identity, I don’t feel a single allegiance to any one place.

I have the classic dilemma of being Irish in England, but English in Ireland. I will never quite fit into either world. The way I see it, you have two choices in this situation. Either you can feel sorry for yourself and get bogged down in resentment, or you can embrace your status as a shape-shifter, able to flit between worlds. I like to think the latter is the path I’ve taken, seeking out connections with other outsiders and exploring the perspectives of those experiencing marginalization and isolation in Irish society.

 

We believe that your work which can be found in ‘The Long Gaze Back’, ‘The Glass Shore’, ‘Young Irelanders’ and ‘Wild Quiet’ is some of the best writing coming out of Ireland and I personally feel that you will be one of the defining voices of a generation – How have New Island books helped to harness and guide this substantial talent?
Thanks… Well, I get on very well with the editors at New Island. The commissioning editor Dan Bolger was brilliant to work with, in that he would never impose his ideas on me, but would simply ask the right questions, which would deepen my understanding of where I was trying to go with the text. And of course being commissioned by New Island to write stories for Young Irelanders, The Long Gaze Back and The Glass Shore was massively encouraging. Those anthologies have played a huge role in guiding my writing journey so far; lighthouses on the stormy seas of writing!

new-island-new-logo-blk-hi-res-1Discover more about New Island Books here

Out of your portfolio of work is there one story that stands out as a personal favourite, what is this story and why?
Stories, once they are published, become memories. That’s the funny thing about editing; you can never quite get back to the place you were in when you wrote the original story. In that way, I view my stories as snapshots in time. ‘How to Learn Irish in Seventeen Steps’ is a particularly special memory for me, partly because it marked the start of my serious career as a writer. It was my first major publication, and it had been commissioned by the editor Dave Lordan for Young Irelanders. I was being published alongside really famous writers like Collin Barrett, which scared the crap out of me. I was so worried that the story wouldn’t be good enough, so I really went above and beyond to make it as good as it could be.

 

Are there any tips you might offer first-time writers on what makes a good anthology? Also do you have any advice for those who may want to begin writing?
What makes a good anthology is really a matter of taste. I love anthologies in which each story is very different – there’s a wonderful collection Strange Pilgrims by Gabriel Garcia Marquez which is a really eclectic mixture; another example is Ben Okri’s first collection Incidents at the Shrine. It’s okay to have a collection in which each story is a miniature universe of its own, so don’t worry if your stories are diverse. As for people starting to write: turn off the laptop, get away from social media, get a cheap notebook and a pen (I make a point of either robbing my pens from work or getting them in the euro shop – writing should be free, right?!) and get back to basics.

Don’t worry about what everyone else is writing. You can’t run a good race if you’re constantly looking over your shoulder.

The anthology is hard to pigeonhole in to a specific genre; was it your objective to make it ambiguous in this sense?
I’d love to say that I made a conscious decision to be ambiguous, but I’m not cool enough for that! (Although now you mention it, I will definitely use that as an excuse next time someone tells me they didn’t understand one of my stories. Thanks STORGY…)

I suppose I wanted each of the stories to be able to stand on its own feet; for the stories to sing to each other, whilst functioning as entirely independent pieces. I’ve read a lot of collections which are really just variations on a theme, or which could even be read as a novel. While that can be very successful, I didn’t want that for my own collection. Perhaps it also comes down to my reluctance to pigeonhole myself at this early stage in my writing career. I wrote each story in the way that it demanded to be written.

 

Ebenezer’s Memories’ was a fabulous opening story, which transported me to Ireland and your characterisations were spot on, your storytelling masterfully delivered and the story itself was a gem; what was your inspiration behind this superbly crafted story?
Well, essentially it’s a story about miasma. It’s about how families often have to bury certain memories in order to function on a day-to-day basis, and in order to maintain some sort of equilibrium. In Ebenezer’s Memories, the narrator Catherine’s family must try to forget their past if they are to get along in the present day. Running parallel to the personal story of one individual family is the broader scale narrative of ‘the Troubles.’ A fragile peace has existed in the North for the past two decades, but you don’t have to scratch far beneath the surface to find old wounds and deep resentment. In my opinion, the conflict has never been really healed, just locked away – like Ebenezer, the monster of the title, who is locked under the stairs.

In its genesis, the story was inspired by my granddad, who used to always tell me that there was a monster living under his staircase. I suppose that as a child, visiting Northern Ireland in the 1980s was quite an unsettling experience –even though it was always referred to as ‘home’ it was very alien- and this was compounded by this notion of the monster under the stairs. It’s an image that has stayed with me for years, and when I came to write this story it seemed the perfect vehicle to convey something about memory, and about the dangers of remembering.

 

How to be a Billionaire’ took us into the awkward world of Kingsley; whom I believe many people will sympathise with as he attempts to impress the equally wonderful Shanika. What inspired this story?
I used to work as a Learning Support Teacher in a Dublin school, and I used to have wonderful chats with the kids. Kingsley was born out of a patchwork of different conversations with various children over several years. Most of the dialogue is drawn directly from the notebooks I used to keep during that time. You couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried. My favourite moment in the story is when Kingsley tells his teacher, ‘Stop nagging me, you’re always nagging me.’

She says, ‘I’m not nagging you, when do I ever nag you?’

He responds, ‘You’re nagging me right now!’

Then she shuts up.

The teacher in this sketch is definitely me! And the whole thing about fake teeth being made from china teacups… that really happened too.

 

Infinite Landscapes’ also featured in ‘The Long Gaze Back’, what inspired you to choose the Yoruban tribe and their religious practices (abiku spirit etc.); or is learning about other religions / spirituality a passion of yours?
I have a real interest in mythology and legends, and I had studied Ben Okri during the final year of my English degree at Trinity. This story is very much a homage to The Famished Road. I’d worked with a lot of families from Nigeria, and I was interested to put the abiku –or spirit child- myth into an Irish context. The idea of shape-shifting intrigues me, and I see the protagonist Simi as someone who transcends boarders, causing chaos and undermining linear concepts of identity. She’s also a real rebel and she was great fun to write because she doesn’t give a crap!

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Do you know why Sinead Gleeson chose to include this story in ‘The Long Gaze Back’? Could you explain how that process worked itself out?
That was a lovely moment. Dan Bolger (of New Island Books) didn’t tell me that he’d submitted the story to Sinéad for consideration. I guess he wanted to save me the upset in case she didn’t like it! So, the first I knew about it was when Dan emailed to say ‘I’ve just given Sinéad Gleeson your number. You might be getting a call…’ A couple of hours later, Sinéad rang me to ask if she could include Infinite Landscapes in The Long Gaze Back. We chatted for nearly an hour while she told me all about the anthology. Sinéad is such an inspiration. After she listed off the writers in The Long Gaze Back, I couldn’t believe my story was to be included.

the-long-gaze-back1Read our review of ‘The Long Gaze Back’ here

Titanium Heart’ (also appeared in ‘Fugue: Contemporary Stories’) I loved the science fiction vibe to this story and it reminded me of Isaac Asimov masterpieces. It’s not like the rest of the work in this anthology, what was your creative process for this short story and why did you include it in ‘Wild Quiet’?
The starting point for this one was a simple game of word play. I’d been reading about pataphysics, an intriguing brand of philosophy which explores the building blocks of meaning by breaking words down to their literal form. I won’t get too bogged down in that… but I was interested in this notion that our means of communicating (language) is essentially flawed. There is always a gap between language and meaning, and this gap widens into a chasm at the point of trauma. At moments of extreme emotion we’ve all had the experience of being unable to articulate anything meaningful. In Titanium Heart it is language which is decomposing – Eva’s inner meltdown has become external.

Humans have always turned to the imagination to articulate the most painful of narratives. When telling a story that comes close to the bone, I often find myself turning away from realism and embracing the ‘strange.’ By-passing realism allows the writer to cut to the heart of the story, without getting tangled up in realistic details. I think that a surreal story can convey emotional truths in the way that a realist narrative never could.

 

Is there a particular genre of writing you prefer to write in? Or is there a particular genre that troubles you? If so what is it and why?
I prefer to look for the playful and unexpected elements in a story, and I quickly lose interest if I try to write in cynical mode. I need to feel that I am writing something that hasn’t been written before, whether that’s by taking on an unexpected angle or adding a splash of magical realism, or telling the story backwards. It has to feel fresh and unique, or else there’s no point. So any genre that allows me to do that is something I enjoy writing.

 

Under the Jasmine Tree’ (Received an Honorary Mention in the Bath Short Story Award) deals with the subject of the ‘Lost Spanish Babies’ (for those who are not familiar with this – below is a link to the BBC article). Was this a particular passion project; or something you wanted to write about and in turn bring to light? How did you go about the creative process? (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-15335899)
About five years ago, I went on holiday to Seville and studied Spanish for the summer. One night on my way home from class, I got completely lost and found myself in the middle of a religious procession being held to celebrate the feast of Virgin Maria del Carmen. As the temperature soared over forty degrees, my dress clung to me and I was hypnotised by the candlelight, the ripple of hymns, and the marching band in their pristine gold-tasselled uniforms. Eventually, I stumbled home with the scene scalded onto my retinas. Without any definite purpose, I wrote reams of notes about what I had just witnessed. But a pile of descriptive notes does not constitute a story (at least not one people will want to read).

This is where as a writer you play a game of ‘what if?’

Here’s my thinking: Wow that was incredible… but what if I was caught up in that procession and I had a special connection to one of the participants?… Ok, what if I was romantically involved with someone in the procession?… Take it a step further, what if I was pregnant and the child’s father was one of the men in the procession?… What if this happened during the Franco era? What would have happened to a young, unmarried mum at that time?

That set me off on a chain of research as I began to imagine the lives of individuals caught up in the feverish intensity of that night. What I found out was staggering. Under Franco, babies were routinely removed from mothers deemed to be unsuitable, whether they were supporters of the left, or if they were unmarried or critical of the church. In the hospitals, nurses would present these mothers with someone else’s deceased child (‘they placed a frozen child into my arms…’) whilst their real child was whisked away and sold for adoption. In many cases, these women didn’t find out the truth until decades later.

So my final ‘what if?’ was something like this: what if a girl watching the procession is in love with one of the deacons? What if she has his baby? What if the baby is stolen from her? And what if that stolen child turns up on her doorstep thirty-three years later?

NOW you have a story…

 

I found ‘On Cosmology’ (shortlisted for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award 2016) witty, very well written and grittier than your other stories;

‘I considered that this particular condom had failed in its mission in life. David had only worn it for less than two seconds before whipping it off just in time to impregnate me’ 

Could you explain a little more about your creative process with this story?
I didn’t intend to write a story about a crisis pregnancy. Climbing through a forest at Glendalough one day, the narrator of On Cosmology sky-dived into my mind and refused to be quietened. On Cosmology is a story about searching for answers; perhaps writing it was my own way of grappling with the ineffable. I’ve always liked the ending of that story! People have climbed mountains searching for wisdom since biblical times. When Sinéad makes her climb up the hillside at Glendalough, she is rewarded with a comforting image of motherly love. The idea of the narrator being an astrophysicist came when I randomly learnt that ‘periastron’ refers to the closest meeting point between any two stars. This got me thinking about nearness and distance between people.

 

The stunning short story collection ‘Young Irelanders’ (ed – Dave Lordan) contains the beautifully poignant story ‘How to learn Irish in Seventeen Steps’. What influenced the prose in this story and what inspired you to write it?
It’s a story about a Brazilian girl who moves to Ireland and finds herself in the bizarre situation of having to learn the Irish language for her job. I was drawing on a lot of personal experience; I went through a similar ordeal to Luana, having to learn the Irish language in just under a year. Learning Irish was pretty head-wrecking at the time, but by writing about it, I was able to find the humour in the situation. This is the great thing about being a writer.

Even life’s most frustrating experiences can get turned into gold-dust when you write.

 

Kamikaze Love’ deals delicately with suicide and how it effects those left behind. How did you approach this difficult subject, what inspired you and what was your desired outcome?
In my current job, I work with a lot of Japanese students, and occasionally catch glimpses into their lives. There was one student who was deeply troubled because he had failed to get into the best university in Japan, and other students talked to me about the academic pressure they face, and the high instance of mental health difficulties amongst young people. The narrator of Kamikaze Love is struggling to reconstruct her life in the shadow of bereavement. She has come to Ireland to start a new life, but her ghosts have followed her. I wanted the story to sit somewhere between comedy and tragedy, and to capture the experience of being an outsider in every sense. It was also a lot of fun writing Anju, particularly about her experience of culture clash. The Japanese tradition of throwing the child’s first tooth on the roof… that was something my students told me about, and I instantly imagined an Irish child’s panic ‘what about the tooooffff fairy??’

 

Your title story ‘Wild Quiet’ is superbly structured and masterfully delivered – where did the inspiration for this astounding story come from and how do you feel about the story itself?
Thanks again… That story dates back to something that happened when I was working in the field of Language Support. One day a teacher asked to meet me with an unusual request. ‘There’s this girl in my class, I was wondering if you could fit her into your timetable. She has fluent English… The thing is, she doesn’t speak in school. She’s never spoken in school, ever.’

I was used to teaching English to Junior Infants from Poland, Lithuania, Romania and elsewhere, who cheerfully bulldozed their way into language with the help of flashcards and games of snap, but this was something different. This child had been living in Ireland for the last four years. But in all this time, she had not spoken a single word in school. Years of Speech and Language Therapy had achieved little apart from a diagnosis of Selective Mutism; a complex anxiety disorder characterised by a child’s inability to speak in certain social settings.

Years later, when I came to write Wild Quiet, I began to think about the possible reasons for the girl’s silence. She walked with a slight limp which gave her a strange shuffling way of moving, and I wondered was there an old injury there? Was it psych schematic? What had this child witnessed which had made her seal her lips? There was a stubbornness there too, even a bloody-mindedness, to have spent four years surrounded by noise, without saying anything.

There’s a strength in silence. And quietness is often misinterpreted. I was always very shy at school, and this shyness was sometimes misconstrued as lack of courage. In reality, I’ve done mad things in my life that many louder classmates would have balked at doing.

We live in a world that increasingly heaps value on the loudest and most confident individuals. But the bravest person in a room isn’t necessarily the one making the most noise.

I began to imagine this child was guarding a secret, and the more I wrote, the more I began to see her silence as a form of protest. Beneath this young girl’s silence there was definitely an untold story. As the saying goes, ‘still waters run deep.’

 

How do you feel about the reaction to your debut collection?
Wild Quiet was recently named one of the Irish Times’ Favourite Books of 2016! It was chosen by the dauntingly talented Danielle McLaughlin, which is such an honour. The book has sparked lots of exciting conversations around the topic of Irish identity and multiculturalism, and I’ve been invited to speak on RTÉ and the BBC and at festivals where I’ve met so many lovely people. It’s only early days, but being able to say that I’m a published writer still feels like a dream – I keep waiting to wake up.

 

With the story ‘When Time Stretches’ you whisk us off to the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta. Is this somewhere where you have been on your travels? You expertly take the reader on that journey where we get a real sense of what that environment is like, what inspired this particular story?
Through random circumstances a couple of years ago, I found myself at an Indonesian Gamelan concert. I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it… it wasn’t really my kind of thing, but I found the whole drama of the shadow-puppetry fascinating. I started to research the background to gamelan music, and to imagine the perspective of a child growing up in the royal sultanate of Yogyakarta. I wanted the story to have a mesmeric, hypnotic quality, like the dance of the shadow puppets; the world of the story is half-idyllic, half-sinister, like a dark fairytale.

 

Death and the Architect’ delves into the story surrounding Antoni Gaudi and the building of the Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona. Again this story is a little different with its historical content. What stimulated your desire to write this story?
I lived in Barcelona for a year when I was twenty-four, teaching English in a small mountain town called Vic. On my excursions into the city, I was always fascinated by the figure of Gaudi and his artistic vision, particularly for the Sagrada Familia. Imagine taking on an artistic project which you know you won’t be able to complete during your lifetime. It’s something I find hard to contemplate; an imagination of such a grand scale. And then there was Gaudi’s reverence towards nature, which I find very inspiring. He was also a real eccentric of course. The story is a playful retelling of his life.

antonio-gaudi-e1412603607186Gaudí in 1878, by Pau Audouard

Crushed’ was a perfect story to end your anthology. It reminded me of my childhood, having grown up on an estate in East London and in the aftermath of the fatal incident of Damilola Taylor; I felt in someway that this story was a reminder of the issues our young people still face today. The story you deliver in such a tender way it’s hard not to be moved; where did your inspiration come from with regards to ‘Crushed’ and the fates of its characters?
I’m so glad you asked about this. In April 2010, Nigerian-Irish teenager was stabbed and fatally wounded in a suburb on the West of Dublin. His attackers were two white males, formerly known to police. When the incident happened, the boy and his friends had been on their way home from the local swimming pool.

I never met the boy, but about a year after his death, I found myself working in a primary school in the area where he had lived. Several of the children I was teaching had known the victim personally, and one of these children in particular would often bring up the story of his murder, telling and re-telling it, trying to make sense of a senseless act. The community is still haunted. I wanted to explore the impact of an act of violence on the collective memory of a community. What happens with something like this is that the narrative of the community has been shattered. Things become fragmented. Memories are tinged by the knowledge of the tragedy, which continues to reverberate into the future. This is where the structure came from: Inné, Innu, Amárach (Yesterday, today, tomorrow). It’s a cycle that the characters cannot escape.

 

I just wanted to ask you about ‘The Seventh Man’ which appears in the New Island Book ‘The Glass Shore’. Another masterstroke in retelling a mythical tale with a modern twist; was this a story you wrote specifically for ‘The Glass Shore’ or was it one that was left over from your anthology?
That was a brand new story. It wasn’t written specifically for The Glass Shore, but when Sinéad Gleeson asked me for a story, I knew it was the perfect fit for an anthology of women writers. Actually, when Sinéad contacted me, the story was under consideration for a really big journal but I emailed them and said ‘sorry but I need that story back!’ I think they were a little annoyed… but they agreed with my decision when I told them what it was for. I loved writing The Seventh Man, which is a modern re-telling of an ancient Celtic ghost story (it’s also a story about what happens when the Hag of Beara goes on Tinder!).

glass-shore_art2

What would you say is your favourite book or books?
I’m a sucker for beautiful use of language, and for that reason there are certain books that I return to over and over. Among them are Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, Anne Michaels’ Fugitive Pieces and Ben Okri’s The Famished Road. Garcia Marquez is still one of my favourites and I often return to his Collected Stories, finding something new each time. My favourite novel is still Toni Morison’s ‘Beloved,’ which I discovered when I was seventeen and must have re-read half-a-dozen times since. I recently listened to the audiobook of Morison reading Beloved, and that brought a whole new dimension to it – what a voice!

What is the one piece of advice you would give aspiring writers?

Write because you love writing. Don’t write for any other reason. If there is a real joy in your writing, this will shine through.

Oh and you don’t need an MA in Creative Writing. If you have the money to do one, fine. But I hate to think of young writers worrying that they will never get published without an MA. That’s simply a myth which the powers-that-be would like you to believe, but it’s not true. I don’t have an MA (and I don’t have an agent either!).

Trust your instincts. I personally think that getting out into the real world, working and interacting with people is far more beneficial than sitting in a classroom talking about writing. Don’t trap yourself in a writing bubble – get out and live your life.

 

What is the best piece of advice you received?
What is it that Oscar Wilde said about good advice? ‘the only thing to do with good advice is pass it on; it is never any use to one’s self.’ I’m sure I’ve been given plenty of great writing advice over the years, which I have promptly forgotten. Some practical writing advice that has stayed with me came from the editor Dave Lordan, who said ‘THINK – WRITE – RE-WRITE.’ He advised me to see each step as an equally important part of the process. He was the first person to articulate the notion of waiting to be ready to write a story; taking time to think it over first.

 

We here at STORGY are big lovers of the short story. Can we expect another anthology from you in the future?
I love short stories too. They will always be a big part of my writing. Not to make any commitments here, but hopefully there are more stories on the horizon. I can reveal that I have a story in a new anthology of contemporary work by women from the North of Ireland – Female Lines will be published by New Island next autumn.

 

Maybe an anthology including your thoughts on motherhood?
Hmmm… possibly. I’m due to become a mum for the first time in January, and it has certainly been occupying my thoughts and feeding into my creative process. But then, motherhood has been on my mind for many years. Family is a central theme in Wild Quiet, and I see this as a lifelong preoccupation – something I could grapple with my whole life and never really get a handle on.

 

Are you currently working / writing anything new? Short story or Novel?
I never tell anyone what I’m working on. I’m afraid I can’t make an exception, even for you lovely folks at STORGY. Perhaps it’s down to a good old dose of Irish superstition, but I find that as soon as I start explaining a new project to someone, it’s the equivalent of taking the story out back and shooting it. When *something* is still in gestation, I need to keep it secret. Sorry!

 

What are you presently reading and what books or authors would you highly recommend?
There are so many! I’ve just started reading Himself by Jess Kidd, a wonderful piece of Irish magical realism, and it has me captivated so far. A contemporary writer I really admire is Kevin Curran, whose story Saving Tanya appears in Young Irelanders. Kevin is massively talented and he really has his finger on the pulse of contemporary Ireland. Jan Carson is another writer I would highly recommend. Her collection Children’s Children is fabulous and utterly original, unlike any other Irish short story collection.

Are there any short stories that didn’t make it into your final anthology ‘Wild Quiet’? If so what were these and why? *
There was a story written from the point of view of a dog… Yeah, I probably don’t need to explain why that one didn’t make the cut. It’s a story called Boomerang Baby and it’s about a young Irish man returning from Australia. Essentially it’s a story about being left behind – and no one hates being left behind more than our canine companions. It won a prize in the Carried in Waves radio competition and was shortlisted for the Brighton Prize. Dan really liked it, but it just didn’t sit well with the other stories so I left it out in the end.

 

For those who may be unfamiliar with your work, how best would you describe your writing; and how best would you describe ‘Wild Quiet’?
Oh Jeez, that’s difficult… well, without wanting to sound up my own arse, I like to think of Wild Quiet as a collection of stories about figuring out who you are as an individual, and about searching for home. The stories range from realistic narratives to more magical realist explorations, and in every story I was concerned with language; how it trips and tangles us up at the best of times. The stories are about love and friendship, family and loss, learning and forgetting. I like to think there’s a good dose of humour in there too, and that it’s a little different from other Irish short story collections, but who knows. Perhaps an author is the worst possible person to describe their own work. Like all books, it’s a shot in the dark. You shout out and wait for the echo, hoping someone will answer.

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Coming Soon!

STORGY Interview with author Max Booth III.

Available online from Sunday 22nd January 2017.

Read more of Ross Jeffery‘s Interviews:

Ali Shaw

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Padrika Tarrant

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Oisin Fagan

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Chuck Palahniuk

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Leila Chatti

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Carys Bray

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Read Ross Jeffery‘s reviews:

Sweet Home by Carys Bray

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Fates of the Animals by Padrika Tarrant

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The Trees by Ali Shaw

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Dodge and Burn by Seraphina Madsen

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Or check out:

Top 14 Horror Books

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For more book reviews click here

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For more interviews, click here

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