LISP 2023 Flash Fiction Winner: Let Him Bury His Face in the Dust by Gillian O'Shaughnessy
- Can you please tell us about you and your daily life?
I’m a writer, reader and interviewer based in Walyalup, Fremantle in Western Australia. I spent most of my working life as a journalist and broadcaster and am now an enthusiastic student of creative writing, mostly short form stories. I’m an obsessive reader, and host author talks whenever I can. I love interviewing writers. I’m also a very keen amateur bird photographer and just spent six months traipsing around France stalking flamingos and vultures.
- When and how did you get into writing?
I wrote for radio, tv and online news for twenty-five years before I started writing fiction. I started writing short fiction about three years ago during a course run by Western Australian publisher’s Night Parrot Press. Its founders, Linda Martin and Laura Keenan are wonderful advocates for the form here in Western Australia, I’m not the only writer in WA that found a pathway to creative writing through their teaching. The flash fiction community both in WA and internationally is so collegial and lovely. I have made so many friends all over the world. Writing groups and workshops are the best.
I’ve been lucky enough to have wins in several competitions including Reflex, The Fractured Literary Anthology in 2021 and 2023, Writing WA’s Love to Read Local competition and I’ve had work published in Best Small Fictions 2023, SmokeLong Quarterly, Jellyfish Review and Splonk among others. I’ve been a submissions editor with SmokeLong Quarterly for a couple of years. I have five short fictions coming out in a new Anthology, Into Your Arms: reimagining the songs of Nick Cave, which I am very excited about. It’s available through Fremantle Press.
- How often do you write? Do you have a writing routine? And what inspires you to write?
I try to write something every day, however small. I don’t always succeed. I took up creative writing in my fifties, and it’s really the first time in my life I have been able to focus on learning a skill purely because I love it. I take all the writing courses I can afford, especially those run by SmokeLong Quarterly, Kathy Fish, Matt Kendrick and Tommy Dean, they have all been absolutely invaluable. I have a wonderful local writing group. We all love the form of flash fiction which is great. Western Australia has some brilliant flash writers, including Megan Anderson, Belinda Rowe, Alicia Bakewell, Ros Thomas, Sabrina Dudgeon-Swift, and Rashida Murphy. So many. Reading great writing inspires me every day.
- How does it feel to have your work recognised?
It’s the biggest thrill. Who wouldn’t be completely beside themselves? I also love the process of submitting, because if I didn’t have enforced deadlines, I’d tinker endlessly. I’ve ruined quite a few potentially ok stories by fiddling the life out of them.
- What's the best and most challenging thing about writing a story?
Identifying the heart of it. Knowing when it’s done.
- How did you develop 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 been working on it for about a year and have written many, many drafts. About three years ago I wrote a story loosely based on my grandma who lived on a very isolated sheep station in remote, drought-prone West Australia and died from suicide. I have always wanted to follow with a story reflecting a male perspective of grief and isolation. This story is much more heavily fictional, not my grandfather’s personal experience, but I know he had a tough life and found it hard to express emotion. My mother told me how he would ride the boundaries of the station, checking fences and be gone for months at a time on his own without even a book. Nothing to read. That’s horrific to me. The jackeroos would occasionally meet up and swap empty tobacco tins which had stories printed on the lids in those days.
- Can you please give us a few tips about writing a Story?
Read! There’s so much out there. I think flash draws from both poetry and the short story, so I recommend reading all three genres widely. I write many drafts and always read my work aloud, checking for good rhythm, and the sound of the language, even the way it feels in your mouth when you speak the words. I try to find unusual ways to express an idea without losing clarity. And while I think it’s important to let a story breathe, not to jam pack it with purple prose, I try and have one or two really strong images that stick. I would also say flash needs intensity and urgency and sometimes simply changing to second person/present tense for example can transform a piece. Be playful.
- What's the best thing and the most challenging thing about competitions?
Deadlines are the best. Deadlines are the worst.
- Lastly, do you recommend the writers submit to LISP?