Of Dublin and Other Fictions by Nuala Ni Chonchuir Review and Interview

Of Dublin coverBeing a flash fiction aficionado it was my pleasure to be able to review Nuala Ní Chonchúir’s chapbook of tiny fictions Of Dublin and other fictions. Published by Tower Press in the USA it consists of eleven flash fiction gems. What I particularly love about Ní Chonchúir’s writing in general and this collection in particular is the diverse mode of her writings. She explores both territory that is otherworldly and situations that are utterly real and feelings that are both tender and terrible. In stories such as Penny, Leo and Married Bliss and in the voice of Jesus of Dublin she evokes the colloquial and colourful. We feel a strong affection for the characters in these slices of life. Her stories are lusty, vibrant and irreverent, grabbing you right into the heat of the moment, and with her stories, it’s definitely heat.

In Room 313, From Ugly to Alice and Fish the undercurrent of sexual tension reveals the very human vulnerability of the characters. Throughout, and very much in the more fantastical and philosophical stories such as TreeDaughter, Vincent in the Yellow House and The Road that Mills and Boon ®Built the book is both sensuous and gorgeous in language and sentiment. Striking moments of connection leave the reader with an sense of humanity’s enduring journey throughout time – no mean feat for stories that are only a few hundred words long. Whether it is because of this brevity, the flash fiction stories in this chapbook had, for me a particular potency and resonance. It is a collection that will stay with you long after the read and I highly recommend it.

Nuala on flash fiction…

I had a chance to ask Nuala about the particular characteristics and strengths of flash fiction.I wanted to know what she felt the power of flash fiction is. “I love the way flash stories suit the surreal and the odd; they can be about anything and can be driven by language or mood or by the ‘what-happens’, so there’s a lot of scope for experimentation and/or fun within flash. Their power lies in their brevity coupled with the ability to set the mind ticking; they beg re-reading when they are done well. I like that.

As a reader I enjoy a range of flash: a quirky chunk of banter like Kevin Scott’s ‘Sheltered’ (http://www.fracturedwest.com/issue-4/sheltered/); or an emotion-driven short like Thisbe Nissen’s ‘Deer at Rest’ (http://www.obscurajournal.com/Nissen_Deer_at_rest.pdf). I also love short-shorts that delight in language, like ‘Funky Little Blaze Orange Pork Pie Hats’ by Michael Gillan Maxwell (http://www.metazen.ca/?p=13207)”

Since she works also as a poet and a novelist as well as producing this book of flash fictions, I wanted to know if Ni Chonchuir thought that the subject or sentiment dictated the form and what she thought made something fit into flash rather than poetry mode.

“I have really been neglecting poetry for the last year or so. It’s like that part of my brain has shut down while I get on with writing novels. But I can manage flash (maybe because I am in fiction mode?) The other thing, and it just occurs to me, is that my poetry tends to be confessional (not a dirty word, in my book) and I’m not going through any major upheavals lately, so maybe the poems are not there because life is good.

My flash tend to be language-  and narrative-driven – so the two things have to collide in my mind and offer me a first line that will take me somewhere interesting. So it’s subject coupled with language coupled with a forward impetus. I think the sentiment (the emotion) grows out of the rest.”

Given the great humour in several of these short fictions, particularly ‘Jesus of Dublin’ and ‘Penny and Leo and Married Bliss’ which comes out best in the voices of your characters. I wondered what Ní Chonchúir thought could be achieved with humour in a very short piece.

I think humour is unexpected in literary fiction – people expect lit fic to be dour and worthy. And I think we are all guilty of feeling this and acting on it – very few writers enter funny stories into lit comps, I find (having judged many of them). I love funny. To me Anne Enright is funny because she uses the self-deprecating, rueful, dark humour that Irish people are good at – we love to laugh, to slag each other, to poke fun. Ulysses is funny, but it’s not the first thing that springs to mind when people think about it. ‘Penny and Leo and Married Bliss’ is a rewriting of the Penelope episode in that novel and I had great fun transposing Molly Bloom’s bawdy humour to the 21st century.

I guess humour works best when it is wedded to something more profound (in Molly’s case, infidelity), so that it achieves more than a mere gag or extended joke – it makes you feel for the character(s). So, while the reader is laughing, she is also being made to think.”

Nuala Ní Chonchúir 2013

Nuala ni Chonchúir lives in Galway. Nuala’s awards for her writing include RTÉ Radio’s Frances McManus Award and the Dublin Review of Books flash fiction prize. Mother America her fourth short story collection was published by New Island in 2012, her second novel will be published in spring 2014.

Of Dublin and Other Fictions will be available shortly on Amazon and from Tower Press direct.

More about Nuala here www.nualanichonchuir.com

#fridayflash Anise Fish and Colin behind the Glass

#FridayFlash (check it out, anyone can do it) as I’ve said many times before has been the single most important influence and inspiration for me in my writing development over the last few years, since I began calling myself a writer, writing everyday and striving to say things that were important to me but to say them new. There are phases when we beaver away in the background – I haven’t posted in FridayFlash for some time while finishing novel work. Due to the inspiration of Fridayflash I wrote a flash fiction about a girl eating the world that is forthcoming in wonderful mag The Stinging Fly. But the story didn’t end there, various vignettes arrived, which will be combined into a very human tale of psychotic consumption, loss, love, depravity – all very human things, many of which are rooted in the excesses and tragedies of the Irish economic boom and bust. Anyhow that’s for later, for the novel but here is a taster as my fridayflash piece today. All feedback very much appreciated.

“What is the sickness that you have?” Colin behind the glass wondered.

“Too much world,” said Anise Fish.

“We have that in common.”

“I’ve always had it, since I was tiny.’ Anise stroked the glass. ‘I ate four cots. They had to keep replacing them… I ate the curtains and the table legs like a puppy. Things used to go missing – pegs, toothbrushes, spoons…”


“Yes, and yoghurt cartons an’ all. One day a man came to the house. He lifted me up and spun me around and I jingle jangled. They did an x-ray and found all sorts of things inside. Once my uncle said that I must have eaten the constituents of a garden. Mud, worms, flowers, rocks, bits of twigs. ..So in a way I have a garden inside me…“

“You do?” he said, then he reached out for her and their fingers touched through the glass.

She saw him pale as wafers, as edible as the moon. “Come outside with me, you can’t live in here.”

He felt: homemade lemonade and the assault of her eyes. He took a deep breath and turned the handle of the window.

“Come into my room,” he said.

He stepped back as she leaned on the window sill and clambered up. He felt the oxygen of the world as she opened the window wider and climbed through. He relived for an instant that trip on the train when he was five and the countryside was moving too fast. The grass was a blur, the cows, dry stone walls, the sidings, wide motorways. Victorian warehouses with old kiln dried bricks, the metal skeletons of goods trains, graffiti filth, the onslaught of cities and their electric lights.

Anise Fish had brought the outside in. He covered his face with his hands and then he felt her hands on him. Her face so immediate, so close. He reached out for her.

There was no honey. There was salt, seaweed and sand, and yellow; the colour of buttercups under her chin. Her skin felt like paper first and feathers and old books, all those old musty books from his room that he had buried his nose in, face down flat on his bed. Her tongue was slippery and muscular like a fish.

She kissed every inch of the half-moons under his eyes, the dark inventive hollows, the hamlets of his temples, his lip topography, licked his cheeks of fragile dawns and fever.

He tasted the air on her skin and the sky with kites, sea spray, bog ale, moss and pine needles, forest floors and old dung at stiles with wind waves of dried sedge beyond, the snap of licorice dogwood, red twig fire between the teeth.

Come outside she had said.  “Come outside.” whispered Anise Fish. And she kissed him again, that soft fishy tongue in the salt of his mouth. And he sucked on her mouth for air and he held onto her shoulders and ribs for his scafenfolding.

He was inside now, right inside, inside this room, inside this girl, all sensation.

Anise: the tips of her fingers were popping, her groin was burrowing into the molten earth core, into dark tunnels of ancient trolls with groping gnarled fingers, down smooth slippery rivers of ice and fire.

Their legs had gone from under them. They sunk into the soft billow of sun sheets. They lay at the bottom of the pond, in the salty rockpools then; watching shoals of tiny two-spotted gobys, sea anemones waving fronds.

His hand fell from her as she rolled away. He heard water running and remembered trips to waterfalls; his own perpetual screaming at the overwhelming sound and the relentless pouring. He recalled his parents’ bemusement. He caught a glimpse of her hair and it was the sun in his eyes. He covered his face.

He rolled onto his back, naked, onto the sheets that were not too anything, feeling his own fingers in his own space, the ghosts of trains still clattering in his exerted heart. He put his finger to his lips and could taste the world from them.

He became aware of an insatiable yearning.

From the pale iced door, returning, Anise’s face contorted. He closed his eyes against the view of her and continued to chew. The bedstead tasted of meatloaf.

Copyright: Alison Wells

Lost Property by flash fiction maestro Calum Kerr

ckerr1smCalum Kerr is a writer, editor, lecturer and director of National Flash-Fiction Day in the UK. He lives in Southampton with his wife –  the writer, Kath Kerr –  their son and a menagerie of animals. His new collection of flash-fictions, Lost Property, is now available from Cinder House: http://cinderhouse.com/product/lost-property-by-calum-kerr/ I’ve known Calum (electronically!) for a few years now and enjoyed working with him on the two National Flash Fiction Day UK anthologies Jawbreakers (2012) and Scraps (2013). I’m talking to him today about his new release and once again that fab phenomenon flash fiction and how it has contributed to his writing.

About Lost Property

Cinder House, on behalf of Dead Ink Books, is proud to present Lost Property by Calum Kerr. This collection brings together four brand new pamphlets of flash fiction produced by Kerr. The pamphlets featured are Singsong, Soaring, Burning and Citadel. This paperback collection contains 83 stories that move from the hilarious to the sinister and demonstrate the unique nature of ultra-short fiction.

How did this particular pamphlet project come about and tell us about the how the four pamphlets fit together & emphasis of each (if there is one!)

Well, between 1st May 2011 and 30th April 2012 I did a project to write a flash-fiction every day for the whole year, posting the stories to my blog before midnight every day. Doing it so publicly was a good way to make sure it happened, as if it was nearing midnight I would start to get messages and emails from readers wondering where that day’s story was. I’m proud to say I never missed one – pre-scheduling stories if I wasn’t going to be around – and at the end I had written about 160,000 words of flash fictions, enough for at least four collections!

I let the dust settle when I had finished, and after a couple of months removed the blog from public access so that I could think about publishing them as collections of some sort. I put together a spreadsheet which listed all the stories and I assigned a variety of genre tags to them so I could look for trends etc. I also assessed which ones I thought were close to publishable, which needed more work, and which were probably beyond saving.

Then, at the beginning of this year, with an eye to National Flash-Fiction Day in June as a possible publication date, I approached Dead Ink in Leeds, a publisher I was already aware of and friendly with, to see if they wanted to publish a pamphlet. They came back and suggested four pamphlets as Kindle e-books and a single collection, gathering them together, as a paperback. Well, obviously, I was more than happy with that

So, I set about sorting them into pamphlets of about 20 flash-fictions in each. At first I started gathering them together by genre, but I soon realized that each pamphlet was going to be a bit ‘samey’, so I abandoned that idea. Instead, I looked through for four stand-out stories which contained themes which would make them a good centre piece for a pamphlet, and also provide a good title for the whole thing. These were ‘Lost Property’, ‘Sinaglong’, ‘Soaring’ and ‘Citadel’. I then went through the other 361 stories, plus other stories written before, during and after the flash365 project, and for each collection found pieces which would either compliment or work against the central story. That’s how they were gathered together in the first instance.

During the editing process, we decided to make Lost Property the title of the collection as a whole, as it seemed to say something about all of the pieces, and about the nature of flash-fictions in general, and we didn’t want to have confusion between the title of the book and of the pamphlet. So, that pamphlet was renamed after ‘Burning’, another story whose title seemed to encapsulate the other pieces in that particular pamphlet.

As to the ordering of the pamphlets in the book, my editor thought ‘Spellbound’ would be a great story to open the collection with. I wanted to finish the whole thing with ‘Revelation’ and its final invocation to ‘come and see…’, so the pamphlets Singalong and Citadel were placed first and last to achieve that. And I also wanted the pamphlet with the title story, ‘Lost Property’, to appear in the third quarter of the book, and that’s how the two middle collections were then ordered.

It’s been a fascinating process to see how you can go from over 400 individual stories to a collection which does have a series of coherent themes and structures via a series of seemingly independent decisions – some to do with theme, some with reader engagement, and some purely aesthetic.
Does flash fiction allow you to go places you wouldn’t normally with your writing?

Over the course of flash365 it really freed me up. I decided, very early on, that I would attempt to delve into as many different genres, styles, perspectives, voices, etc. as I possibly could, and so I ended up going to a lot of new places and discovering things about both the genres and my own writing. When I looked back across the spreadsheet I mentioned above, however, I was surprised to see how often I considered a story to be humorous, and how often they were tagged as ‘dark’. Very often these were the same story! It certainly taught me the areas I most enjoy writing in and so, after finishing the project and embarking on a novel, I was able to make the decision to have both humour and darkness in the work and know that I would be playing to my strengths.

I think also, because it is so short, flash allows you to try something new without having to commit a huge amount of time or energy to it. If it doesn’t work, never mind, you can discard it and try again. If it does, then you have discovered something new. It’s very powerful in that respect.

These stories ‘move from the hilarious to the sinister’ Which is your own favourite in the collection and at which end of the spectrum does it fall?

Many writers, when you hear them speak or get interviewed, say that they have a particular question which they get asked a lot and which they can’t really answer. The usual one is ‘where do you get your ideas?’ For me, it’s ‘which is your favourite story?’

It’s a really difficult question to answer, because they have all been included because I like them. They were written on different days and when I was in different moods, and so depending on the mood I’m in when I get asked the question, the answer will be different. One of my favourites is ‘The Saxophone’ the story which I partly analysed on Jonathan Pinnock’s blog yesterday (http://www.jonathanpinnock.com/). I think it is one of the better written pieces and, whenever I read it live, it still moves me and gives me a crack in my voice by the end. That’s a sad one, and a realistic one. But another of my favourites is ‘Animate’ which features all the fixtures, fittings and furniture in a man’s flat coming to life. It’s silly and funny and I had an absolute ball writing that one.

I think, though, that more than a particular story, there is a particular type of story which appeals to me. These are the ones which seem to occur in a perfectly ordinary world, but somehow it has become reflected in a funhouse mirror. Stories like ‘Idle Hands’ where a woman is able to split a tea-atom in her kitchen, or ‘The Carpet Man’ where the house-sitting son gets a visitor that is not who he expected at all. They edge towards magical realism, or sci-fi, or horror, but never quite take their back foot out of the realist camp. I do quite a lot like that, and I do enjoy them.
You’ve spent a couple of years under the discipline of writing a flash fiction a day, can you look back and see how this has developed you as a writer in terms of skills, persistence, motivation etc.

It has certainly honed my skills. Recently I have started doing flash-fiction writing as a performance art, displaying the word processor on a big screen, taking prompts from the audience, and writing a story in just 5 mins while they watch. They are never quite as good as stories crafted with a little more time and privacy, but they always work and they always have a certain something about them. I have learned that I can always write, as long as the pressure is there, and that I can write well in as many genres as you care to mention. That sounds immodest, but it’s really important for a writer to be able to actually know that they can produce good work. Because there are days when you feel you are nothing more than a hack, producing words with no meaning, so it’s good to know that you can actually do this thing!
Why ‘Lost property?’

Well, I mentioned above that it’s the title of a story. It’s not the kind of story that you would think, either. It uses the term as a metaphor, and that’s also how I use it in the title of the collection. Flash-Fiction exists, very often, as fragments of a story. Elsewhere I have talked about them as being the perfectly shaped jigsaw piece which allows the reader to extrapolate the whole of the finished puzzle. But as such, they are a piece on their own. The rest of the puzzle, and the box, are elsewhere, and this single piece has been found down the back of the sofa, or dropped down the back of a bookcase. It is all that remains, but it is enough to know what the whole thing once looked like. In that sense, I think all flash-fictions are, in some sense, lost and cut off from the whole. I think it’s a good title.

lostpropertyfrontsmLost Property, is now available from Cinder House.


How to write when kids just fight and other stuff

School’s out in this house and my eldest son whose twelve and a half has ‘graduated’ from Irish primary school so a nice sense of achievement and moving on.  In terms of keeping my ‘Head above Water’ writing wise I’m doing my best to get up in the early hours before the kids wake to work on my next book The Exhibit of Held Breaths (which I’m really pleased with so far, hurrah! 90,000 words, 2nd draft).

Still I’m thinking of writing a book called How to Write when Kids just fight in honour of the summer holidays and writing parents. My daughter tried to give me the old writing guilt-trip ‘but you were on your computer’ even though she was quite happily playing with her brother at the time. I’ll stick to the early morning mostly though and no-one will even know I’m a writer. I’ll have nice scones baked by the time they get up in the morning and…ah forget it, let’s just see how it goes!

During the week I spotted that Adam Byatt has been doing lots of posts on creativity so do check out his blog.

And Number Eleven is a wonderful new lit mag venture (now on Issue two). They’re eager to get feedback and build up a following so do check out their latest issue and like them on Facebook. They are open to submissions. Their online publication is very stylish and if you look carefully you’ll see they published one of my stories (and the title of my short story collection on submission) Random Acts of Optimism.

See what you think of my new post on writing.ie. It’s all about how we need to write the book that is right for the time in our lives. Sometimes our ambition might be beyond what we can manage or we might change how or what we write depending on what the circumstances of our life are.

I say “Write to take yourself away from the quicksand of your own life, where you cannot see out or through or write through your life, autobiographically to find an angle, a perspective that can help you tell both the story of yourself and the story of people in situations like yours, help you find that chord that resonates.”

Read the full post here and leave a comment if the post makes sense to you. Thank you!

Tomorrow I’ll have an interview with the fabulous flash fiction evangelist and organiser of National Flash Fiction Day Calum Kerr who’s launching a new flash fiction collection called Lost Property. It’s a very interesting interview about how flash fiction has contributed to his writing life so come and see tomorrow.

Now I’m off getting kids to camps and taking the youngest to the park to teach him to ride a bike without stabilizers.

Flash Bulbs and Free Books for National Flash Fiction Day

Me at flash bulbs

At Arthur’s Pub Thomas Street. Photo by Big Smoke Writing

Flash Bulbs

I had a wonderful time last evening listening to the readings at Flash Bulbs, Dublin’s flash fiction event, organised by purveyor of writing courses and drop in writing meets the fabulous Big Smoke Writing Factory. I also read my story Holographic Dog there in my new fancy The Flash t-shirt  at the fabulous Arthur’s Pub venue where I chatted to some lovely folk I’d only spoken to virtually including Maria Kelly and Nuala Ni Chonchuir before as well as catching up with others.

As well as the general reading which was of a fabulous standard, Dave Lordan was also present to announce the 99 competition winner Dervilla McKeith who won with her story “The Galleon”. Big Smoke Writing Factory run a range of courses and directors Claire Hennessy and Nicole Rourke could not be nicer so keep them in mind if you’re near enough to get to one of their courses.

FREE BOOKS (including my Stories to Read on the Train)

This one is free on Sunday & Monday as well.
This one is free on Sunday & Monday as well.

In honour of National Flash Fiction Day there are several books on offer for download for FREE on the National Flash Fiction Day site, many of the offers finish today so hurry. The free books on offer including the fantastic Jawbreakers, last years National Flash Fiction Day anthology. That, with this year’s Scraps are fantastic books so don’t miss out on the free Jawbreakers. There are also books by National Flash Fiction Day organiser Calum Kerr. He has also run the flash365 site, writing a flash a day so well worth a download. This year he also has a book out with his wife Cath who took over the mantle of the 365 flashes. David Hartley and Valerie O’ Riordan are accomplished authors and this is a chance to get familiar with their work. Finally I have one of my mini flash collections Stories to Read on the Train for free this time. If you enjoy of the free downloads, it would be great if you could leave a short Amazon review for the authors as a token of your appreciation or purchase more of their work in the future.

For more stories that have been published for this great event. Check out the Flash Flood (including my new flash This One Mindful Life) and Flash Mob’s site where there are links to many of the tiny gems of stories that are flash.

All things Flash

As you may know Saturday 22nd June is when this year’s Summer Solstice falls, thus making it the Longest Day and the shortest night of the year. Of course in Australia it’s the shortest day so in the spirit of all things International and short, fictionwise it will also be International Flash Fiction Day.

There are a variety of things going on to celebrate the day. I’ll be at Flash Bulbs as one of the guest readers at an event organised by The Big Smoke Writing Factory Saturday 22nd June 2013, 6-8pm, Arthur’s Pub on Thomas St, Dublin. Please come along to have a look and enjoy some quick tales if you’re in the area.

There’s also what’s called a Flash Flood of flash fiction stories being loaded up throughout the day on the Flash Flood Journal blog. They’re open to submissions to be included in this flood of fiction just until midnight TONIGHT so get your entries in NOW.

There’s also an International Flash Mob with offerings from around the globe, the submission date is over but their site is going life in a few hours with news of the competition winners and posting of a variety of flash.

And finally, of course there is Scraps, the National Flash Fiction Day UK anthology in all it’s sparkling glory. I’ve raved on about it enough and yes it features my David Bowie: Man Who Sold the World Inspired Story ‘Egg’ (all stories are inspired by art or culture of some kind) and I also have my fun Dot to Dot Man Micro Fiction story in there. There are 65 stories in all and you can get the anthology on Kindle or paperback from 22nd June.

Cheerio for now, am in the middle of furniture moving!

Flash Mob: Holographic Dog


It’s far from holographic dogs I was reared. We had Shep, Fido and Bounder – good sheepdogs they were. We had a mongrel named Patch, apt that. He was gone in the head, didn’t know you he’d go right through you.

Thing was, there was a ‘spate’ of burglaries round our way. More used to spats than spates, I’d give them a fistful but I got married and that put manners on me. Then on account of the child’s allergy to dander there was no chance of a wee pet, a nice sharp toothed Rottweiler, a manic spaniel or any sort of homicidal Hooch. We had to go holographic.

The chap from Holographic Guard Dogs Dot Com was prompt fair play to him. The Guard Dog was up and running in a jiffy. The wife thought the dog ‘loomed large’ across the driveway. The child said he was ‘slick.’ He had a big head on him and a mouth full of teeth like knives and the sound of him was atrocious.

There’d been two chancers days before – made off with my wife’s handbag and the child’s Nintendo DS, some ructions that caused. But the word was they were desperate see so I lay in wait watchin’ what might conspire and was the holographic dog any good.

In they came again, eejits really, all innocent looking and laughing mind you. Only then they looked up and got an eyeful. I hadn’t bargained on what happened next. I’d just nodded when the lad said about the upgrade, the wife was insistent. The gadget jiggery poked them somehow and they got thinner on all sides. The screams of them as they flattened into electronic wafers. The holographic Rottweiler roared, he went right through them and ate their digital signatures for breakfast.

Flash Mob is being run in honour of National Flash Fiction Day UK on June 22nd. This is the last day for entries so hurry. You need a piece of flash of under 300 words to post on your blog and then you email your entry, with a short bio and picture to the flash mob site. Experimentation is called for and there will be prizes on the day. All the details here!

Dot to Dot Man

Upcoming family occasions, recent family events and getting submissions ready mean that I haven’t been able to blog as much as I’d like. I so enjoyed making new acquaintances during my creativity month in January and I have more posts on the subject to come so hopefully normal service will be resumed shortly. Having said that, everything goes in phases and I’m eager to finish as many writing projects this year as possible so there’ll have to be a balance.

Another area that’s slipped through the net in the last while is posting a regular #fridayflash fiction on the blog. I was delighted to find out today that my fun 100 word story Dot to Dot Man was Highly Commended in the National Flash Fiction Day microfiction comp. You can see the full list of winners and commended here and if you click the link beside my name have a read of my little story. Lovely to see pal Anouska Huggins made it to the commended list too and her story My Grandad was Roy Rogers is great, so much packed into such a short space.

And to make you either jealous or really happy for your fellow writers, here’s a post about some interesting books from debut authors that caught the imagination of publishers at the London book fair this week.