Short Story Finalist, LISP 2nd Quarter 2020
- Can you please tell us about your daily life?
It’s not very exciting, but sure. I’m not naturally a morning person, so I spend the first two hours returning to something akin to human. A bowl of porridge and lots of fruit helps with this. I spend far more time than I’d like at work, but hey, don’t we all? I work in a busy hotel, though, and there’s hardly a day that I don’t get an idea of something to put in a poem or story. After work I love to go for a long run or do a strength and conditioning class. I love to keep fit. It’s a great way to get rid of pesky, unwanted energy. After that I would ideally take an hour to read at a cafe with some lovely coffee. Friends will see books in public sometimes and assume I’m behind them. They’re more often right than wrong. I’ll try to fit some writing into the day at some point, if it’s at all possible, but there’s no fixed time to do this. It is when it is. I might visit family or hang out with friends. I love live music so we’ll often seek out a gig. Hopefully during all of this there will have been at least a few opportunities to fuss over people’s dogs in the street. I am notorious for this.
- When did you start writing? How often do you write?
I started writing in 2006 after finishing a degree in English and Media. I was attending poetry events in Limerick, where I’m from, and decided to try my hand at some verse. For a long time I was writing horrendous stuff but of course I thought it was a shoe-in for the Nobel Prize at the time. I got a lot of encouragement when it mattered (it always matters), and I started taking it much more seriously. Soon I was publishing poems in reputable journals. I acquired a monocle and more tweed. Okay, okay, I didn’t really do that. My first poetry collection, The Rain on Cruise’s Street, was published by Salmon Poetry in 2014 and was Highly Commended in the Forward Prizes, so I presume I didn’t put enough in the brown envelope I sent. They published the follow-up, Bad News, Good News, Bad News, in 2017, and I must say I feel blessed to be published by Salmon Poetry, spearheaded for 40 years now by the amazing Jessie Lendennie. Getting into fiction was more recent. I came across the books of Dan Rhodes and started writing my own darkly comic stories. Cheat Sheets, my first book of stories, was published by Truth Serum Press in 2018, and has 108 flash stories on the theme of infidelity. Some of these are flash stories in every sense of the word. I’d modestly say that it’s probably the funniest book you’ve never read. I’ve a third book of poems, Exquisite Prisons, being published this year. I don’t think there’s any infidelity in it, though. I mean, I don’t want to get a reputation.
- How does it feel to have your work recognised?
It feels great. I’m no different to every other writer in my need for praise and validation. Beneath this calm, assured veneer, is a man crippled with self-doubt and fear of rejection. Seriously though, it is huge to receive recognition, and sometimes it can come when you really need it. It can be a lifeline. I shared a poem of mine called ‘Prayer’ a few days ago on Twitter and somebody I didn’t know responded to say they were in tears after reading it. I was so uplifted by that. For me, there is no better recognition than when somebody is moved by what I write. That has to be the highest recognition. If I ever doubt why I bother writing at all, and I do, I think of moments like that one. There are other ways, too, like competitions, and while I rarely enter any, I am honoured if my work stands out to the judges. When I send something to a contest, I just hope the judges will enjoy reading it. Everything beyond that is gravy because, of course, there will be fierce competition. It’s absolutely ridiculous how many talented writers are out there looking to come between you and a much-coveted accolade.
- What's the best thing and the hardest thing about writing a Short Story?
I have no idea what the hardest thing about writing a short story is. Writing is really, really hard. Maybe the first line is the hardest. The second line is probably a tiny bit easier. Every line after gets a tiny bit easier again, for a while, and then somewhere in the middle, the lines start getting a tiny bit harder, one after another, so that the last line is around the same difficulty as the first. The best thing about writing a story, for me, is easy. It’s the moment when I know I’m jealous of a character in it. He/She will have just gotten to say something I wish I’d had the opportunity to say in a suitable real-life situation, and I’ll be jealous. I’ll wish it could’ve been me. My characters are forever upstaging me. I suppose I wouldn’t have it any other way.
- How did you come up with the idea for your LISP selected story? Is there a story behind your story? And, how long have you been working on it?
I have no idea how the idea for this story came about, but when the initial premise of a man’s body parts one by one turning into poems came to me, it had that quirk factor that I always love, and it was just a case of building it, segment by segment. I was conscious that I wanted to write a book of stories largely about love, but I wanted them to be very unusual. I’d read the stories of Ben Loory and they had opened up my eyes to new possibilities. They’d given me a broader sense of what sorts of stories I might like to write. At this point I’ve written two collections of stories about infidelity, and while I’m proud of these, and they’re great fun, and they are surprisingly romantic at times, there was a sense of wanting to go back and just be a hopeless romantic again. It’s just a manuscript still, but it’s called Are You Waiting For Love? I think I worked on this particular story for a day, but I edited it a few times over the course of a few months, and it grew by about 150 words doing so.
- Can you please give us a few tips about writing a 1500-word short story?
Well, I don’t ever set out to write a story that’s a particular length. You don’t really know what the story is going to need, you find that out as you write and make decisions, hopefully the right ones. A story should be no shorter or longer than it needs to be. I think that’s in the submission guidelines for an Irish journal called The Stinging Fly, and I think it’s a great thing to keep in mind as a story writer. If there’s a piece of advice I would give for writing any story, though, it’s this: get your characters talking to each other quickly, and don’t ever go on too long without them saying something. What they have to say is what will make the story live.
- What made you send your story to LISP?
I’m not very experienced when it comes to entering contests, and I generally don’t write specifically for them, but if one catches my eye, I’ll try to send something in. It doesn’t happen often. It was actually a LISP author interview that caught my eye when it came up in my news feed. His name escapes me now, but he is a student and he was very interested in ghost stories, and I enjoyed reading what he had to say about developing his ideas into stories. There were up and down moments he described. He talked about discussing them with his girlfriend, and I identified with his sense of process, the sense of being on the lookout for the things that will focus an idea. It’s all part of it, but sometimes that side of things doesn’t get a fair airing, and so LISP stood out to me because it wasn’t all about the story itself. I liked that the story’s story was given great importance also.