LISP 2nd Half 2021, Flash Fiction Finalist 'Scattered Sand' by Pippa Slattery
Can you please tell us about you and your daily life?
I was born in the UK to English/Irish parents, and I moved to Ireland full time in 1988, where I married and raised my children. We had spent a great deal of our childhood in Tipperary where my mother had renovated an old cottage overlooking Lough Derg, so Ireland was a place that had already stolen my heart. I lived in Cork for twenty-five years, but when my children all left home, I moved back to Tipperary and bought back my mother’s old cottage. I renovated it again and while doing so, found my own childish footprints set in concrete and all my families scribbled signatures on a wall in an old cupboard. It was a true coming home for me. I live here on my own now, with my companion dog and my wizarding cat and opened a private writers’ retreat in the old cottage late last year.
When and how did you get into writing?
I spent many years wanting to write, but never found the time. While living in Cork, I chose to be a full-time mum, cared for my ageing mother, owned a livery yard for a dozen horses and ponies and ran my own healing and meditation centre. I wrote a few articles for local magazines but nothing more.
Once my children were raised, I returned to Tipperary and ran a retreat centre for women, in the newly renovated cottage. After some poor health, I retired, and began writing full time. Not knowing if I was any good, I started attending writing weekends and workshops and began having some success with my short stories being published along the way. In the past couple of years I have been shortlisted by New Irish Writing, The Kanturk Arts Festival and long listed for the 2021 Fish Short Story Award. My stories have been published in The Galway Review, The Blue Nib, and the anthologies Vessel of Voices, Opening Doors and Ogham Stone.
In the autumn of 2020, I was accepted onto the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Limerick. I thought I would spend my days sitting in student cafes and lecture halls discussing Proust and Irish literary writing. Lockdown then came, and I ended up doing the entire MA from my kitchen, looking out over my garden, and only connecting to my teachers and fellow students through a screen. However frustrating that was, I managed to graduate with a First-Class Honours, only meeting my friends and colleagues for the first time on graduation day.
I am now a member of the Limerick Writers’ Cooperative, Writepace and also teach creative writing.
How often do you write? Do you have a writing routine? And what inspires you to write?
I write every morning now, as I am working on my debut novel. I find it impossible to write in the afternoons for some reason, but I do write again in the evenings, once its dark outside. I am a slow writer and a bit of a perfectionist, so I won’t move on to a new chapter or section of the book until I am happy with what I already have down on paper. I do wish I was more prolific, but writing is not a race and I produce work at my own speed.
As for inspiration, I believe it is of utmost importance for the creative community to see women engaging in a new phase of their creative life at a time when they are able to make space for it. I am particularly passionate about helping women find their voices, both from within my novels as well as by teaching. I have specific interest in expanding focus on women who have never been able to find their individual voices when they have spent their lives in a patriarchal society, working, rearing children and caring for others. I celebrate being part of my characters and students’ journeys, as they move into a place of personal empowerment.
My role as author of my debut novel is both as custodian and interpreter of a multi-generational story that contains insights about three real women and the lives they experienced. The women are my grandmother, my mother and myself so it is a very personal work.
How does it feel to have your work recognised?
Having work published or recognised in any way is what keeps my work alive. Being a writer, or any artist, makes one very vulnerable to critique, success and failure. If I did not want to be published, I would write a secret diary. But I very much want to be a successful and published author and all recognition along the way is paramount in keeping my confidence afloat. It is a tough lesson to receive the rejections that all writers receive and sometimes it can be difficult to keep going through them. The imposter syndrome and loneliness are two major things writers have to deal with on a daily basis. Then, an email arrives in, just like the one this morning from LISP, saying I was a finalist with my flash fiction, Scattered Sand and I was absolutely thrilled. Seeing my work on a printed page, in a book or online makes me feel very proud indeed and makes all the hard work worthwhile.
What's the best thing and the most challenging thing about writing a Story?
The most challenging thing about any form of writing is just doing it! I am the world’s greatest procrastinator and though I love the process, for some reason I will find anything to do but sit down and start writing. I am a member of a wonderful writer’s group and when we write together, either online or in person, it makes concentration so much easier. Not believing in myself is another major challenge – the what ifs – what if I am not good enough – what if this is rubbish – what if this never gets published – what if I am just wasting my time.
The best thing about writing is seeing my work on a page or being asked to read at an open mic or a writers’ festival. We write to get our voices out there and when we do – it’s the best feeling ever.
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 started writing Scattered Sand last summer when I was working on my novel. On doing some family research I realised that my great grandfather had left Ireland exactly 100 years before I returned to live here full time. He had been the Mayor of Waterford and the Chairman of a bank, but his wife left him and upon their divorce, he could not maintain his position in the bank if he stayed in Ireland because of the appalling attitude of the Church at the time. So he left in 1888, and was moved to London, where my grandfather was born, in his marriage to his second wife. I was looking at his life and wondered how he felt that I had returned to Ireland in 1988. I wondered what similarities we had in our lives. I too was divorced. I too had left the country of my birth. Very suddenly, I felt him talk to me through the page where I was writing. I had lost a daughter to stillbirth in 1992, and she has been my muse in so much of my writing and I felt he was showing me he too had lost a child. As soon as I felt him on the page, I wrote the piece of flash fiction straight away and have barely made any edits to it all. It just flowed onto the page in one go.
Can you please give us a few tips about writing a Story?
Write from your heart. Let your voice flow. Speak your truth. Whether you are writing fictional characters or about fictional places, use your own experiences to describe them or develop them. We all have stories in us and often our own lives are more extraordinary than anything we just create from a place of make-believe. And keep telling yourself, ‘I’ve got this,’ because you are probably right. You probably have.
What's the best thing and the most challenging thing about competitions?
The hardest, most challenging thing about competitions are the rejections and the time it takes to hear back. I keep an excel sheet of every story or poem or flash fiction that I write and where I am sending them – either to journals or to competitions. As soon as it is rejected, I send it out again. It’s a constant battle to find the right home for a piece of writing but when it does win, or get placed, or you are a finalist, then everything makes sense in the world again. Each time it happens, my back straightens a little bit more and I hold my head up just a little bit higher.
Lastly, do you recommend the writers give a go on LISP?
Yes, yes, yes. This is the first time I have submitted to LISP, and I am absolutely thrilled I am a finalist. To be able to sing and dance about it on social media, to my colleagues and family has been fantastic and I will certainly be submitting again. I just need to get my novel finished and then I’ll be back to short stories and flash fiction and submitting to LISP whenever I can.