Tag Archives: Nuala Ní Chonchúir

Telmetale Bloomnibus, the e-book, streaming live around the world!`

ulyssesTo celebrate Bloomsday we asked 18 writers to bring Ulysses into the 21st Century. As Joyce once took inspiration from the texts of Homer, the writers have taken the 18 episodes or chapters from Ulysses and transported them to modern Dublin. They have each written a story inspired by a title from Ulysses and will perform them in the Irish Writers’ Centre on the 14th of June. Stories will be told through prose, poetry and song. The only rule we gave the writers is that the stories cannot mention Ulysses, The Odyssey or Joyce (though inspiration from the texts is allowed).  The stories are all original pieces of work set in contemporary Dublin. Guided by love, lust, alcohol, drugs and ever present moons, our heros and heroines battle scangie-gangies in Adidas, hooded drug pushers, administrators, chauvinist school principles, tourists, junkies, priests, giant cannibals and catholic computers. Pissheads riding the storm. We wake up handcuffed to beds, sanitary towels on the kitchen table; we encounter a Dublin where stealing laptops is the new stealing bread. A Telmetale Bloomnibus embraces both the beautiful and the obscene.


Click on pic to buy the book!

When Joyce first started writing Ulysses 99 years ago the landscape of the city was very different from today. Globalisation, technology, independence, women’s rights, church scandals, Starbucks, Ryanair, Google and other such things have, in many ways, created a new city. But with all of these changes one thing has remained constant, high quality writers are constantly emerging. Writers that burst boundaries, challenge our perception. A Telmetale Bloomnibus celebrates Joyce by showcasing some of these writers and captures the modern landscape.

A Dublin of: HIV, Hep C, KFC, Twitter, Facebook, The Late Late, Dr Quirkey’s Good Time Emporium, the Pantibar, the millennium spire, Madigans, The Gathering and Viking Splash Tours.

You can buy the e-book by clicking on the pic, and you can watch the event streamed ‘live’ thanks to our partners at Breac via this link from 7pm tonight.

Line-up in order of appearance:

Pat Boran, Colm Keegan, Jane Clarke, Niamh Boyce, June Caldwell, Steven Clifford, Christodoulos Makris, Jude Shiels, Jack Harte, Maire T Robinson, Emer Martin, Niamh Parkinson, Deirdre Sullivan, Graham Tugwell, Alan Jude Moore, Oran Ryan, Doodle Kennelly, Nuala Ní Chonchuir.

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Filed under Benefit Reading, Bestsellers, Creative Writing, Dublin Event, Irish Writers Centre, IWC, James Joyce, literature, Ulysses

International Record Store Day – Twelve Writers Go On Record

The Irish Writer's Centre celebrates International Record Store Day 2013

The Irish Writer’s Centre celebrates International Record Store Day 2013

Like book shops, Record stores have never had it so tough – it’s a reality not lost on anyone reading this blog. However, today being International Record Store Day, let’s take a break from mourning for a moment and instead celebrate just a little. Celebrate the experiences these places afford us. Nothing beats rifling through the racks, pouring over the artwork, peering over the shoulder of the customer in front of you just to see if what’s in their hand matches your perception of the them – you judge them, yes you do. I’m romanticizing sure, but how could you not. Think about the hours you lost in the record shops  defining and refining your identity. Take a moment to consider what it is that we lose when another one closes its doors.

And now back to celebrating…To mark International Record Store Day this year, I contacted twelve of the finest writers, poets and journalists around, and asked them to share with me an album that has in one way or another inspired, seduced or fascinated them. What became apparent was that most writers have private, intense, and sometimes perverse relationships with particular records as much as they do with other books. Does what they listen to influence how they write? Keep reading to find out.

Oh, and more importantly, What do their musical choices say about each them as people?

Yep, it’s judgement time!

For your listening pleasure, here are twelve “masterpieces” as chosen by Kevin Barry, Siobhán Mannion, Paul Lynch, Janet Cameron, Peter Murphy, Nuala Ní Chonchúir, Gavin Corbett, Sarah Clancy, Jim Carroll, Dimitra Xidous, Ferdia MacAnna and Oran Ryan.

Kevin Barry

Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Don’t Stand Me Down  

Don’t Stand Me Down by Dexy’s Midnight Runners came out in the early summer of 1985 and it was considered outlandish and a touch bizarre and in commercial and critical terms it was a total disaster – but it is of course a masterpiece. There are lots of odd spoken-word bits, and there are tunes that take an age to get inside your brain, and it is resolutely and unfashionably passionate … I have no doubts that it’s one of the greatest records ever made. This Is What She’s Like is the stand-out track, probably. An interesting side-note: there are lots of Irish references – one of the many things the record is, is it’s a Brummie’s homage to his Irish roots. Kevin Rowland was then and remains now a God-like genius. We are not worthy.

Track: This Is What She’s Like

Kevin is the author of two collections of short stories, There are Little Kingdoms and Dark Lies the Island. His Novel City of Bohane is shortlisted for the 2013 IMPAC Award.


Siobhán Mannion

Throwing Muses – The Real Ramona

Back in the early nineties, one of my best friends was a great mix-tape maker, bringing the likes of Cocteau Twins, Cowboy Junkies and Mary Margaret O’Hara into my world. Throwing Muses featured frequently in these compilations, and on Side B of one particularly beloved cassette, I had their 1991 album ‘The Real Ramona’. ‘Counting Backwards’ – the first track – sets the tone, with its catchy rhythm and jangly guitars disguising something much darker in the undertow. Today, all I need is the opening beats and the intervening decades dissolve.

Track: Counting Backwards

In 2011, Siobhan won the Hennessy Award, and in 2012 her play The Big Picture took the World Bronze Medal for Best Writing at the New York Festivals International Radio Awards.


Paul Lynch

Wayne Shorter – Speak No Evil (1965)

Large parts of Red Sky in Morning were written listening to Wayne Shorter’s classic 1965 album Speak No Evil. I find that jazz loosens up the deep place of my mind, lets me find my own strange rhythms. The music here bridges the period when post-bop began to slide towards the avant-garde. Shorter’s powerhouse five-piece cook up something exotic and sinuous — an inviting yet eerily elegant mood-piece. Even the titles seem mythic — Witch Hunt; Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum; Dance Cadaverous — and their imagery crept unconsciously into the book. A dark-glistening gem.

Track: Witch Hunt  

Paul Lynch is the author of Red Sky Morning (Quercus UK; Little, Brown, USA)


Janet E. Cameron

Kate Bush – Hounds of Love (1985) ‘If I only could, I’d make a deal with God, and get him to swap our places…’ Want to know what it’s like to be an unhappy hormonal teenage girl? Listen to Hounds of Love. No other album does it better. Big drums! Big drama! Shrieking and howling! Everything’s here: fear of sex (‘Hounds of Love’), longing for romance (‘Running Up that Hill’), mother guilt (‘Mother Stands for Comfort’), father worship (‘Cloudbusting’), and strange tortured impulses towards self-annihilation (pretty much everything on Side Two). In the penultimate song Kate even blows up the entire world (‘Hello Earth’). The dancing and kissy-faces in the video for ‘Running Up that Hill’ look a bit silly to me today, but I remember something very different. It’s after school, there’s a thundering rain storm outside, I’m in my room huddled next to the speakers, and this album is on the stereo, loud. Very loud. Perhaps my mother tells me to turn it down and I think, ‘After this song,’ or ‘You don’t understand me!’ Ah, youth. How does anyone survive it?

Track: Hounds of Love

Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World (Hachette) is Janet’s first novel.


Peter Murphy

Robert Johnson – King of the Delta blues Singers  

Most great artists have an air of the abducted alien about them. Robert Johnson’s King of the Delta Blues Singers sounds like the work of a man who landed on this planet by mistake and can’t wait to get off. Songs like ‘Hellhound On My Trail’, ‘Me and the Devil Blues’ and ‘Come On In My Kitchen’ are Gnostic lamentations set to music. This may be the scariest record ever made.  

Track: Hellhound On My Trail

Peter’s journalism has appeared in Rolling Stone, the Irish Times, the Sunday Business Post, and Hot Press magazine. His second novel Shall we Gather at the River (Faber & Faber) was published in 2012. 


Nuala Ní Chonchúir

Rufus Wainwright – Want One

From the resigned exuberance of ‘Oh What a World’ to the heartbreak of ‘Dinner At Eight’, Rufus’s lullaby-lament for his relationship with his father, every song on Want One is worth singling out. This is the album I discovered Rufus on. Not the first CD of his I owned, but the one that made me fully appreciate his poetry, his emotion, his genius. I choose ‘14th Street’ as my stand-out track. It reminds me of New York. And I have seen Rufus close so many shows with this song that it always conjures his brilliant live performances. Also I adore the banjo solo, performed on the CD by Rufus’s late, great mother Kate McGarrigle. Here’s a note I made when the album was new to me: “14th Street’ makes me shout-sing and thump the air. While driving. The words ‘Vaguely missing link’ – and the way he sings them – purely brilliant!” Says it all, really.

Track: 14th Street

An author and Poet, Nuala’s latest collection of short stories is Mother America (Little Island).


Gavin Corbett

Flipper – Generic  Life is hard, and it’s too exhausting to be sad about it the whole time. That’s why, for me, the cynical and distasteful Generic by Flipper is the ultimate escapist album. The best track on it is ‘Sex Bomb’, which I genuinely think is one of the greatest pieces of art ever created. It sounds like John Coltrane and R2D2 having a competition to make the most noise; ‘John Coltrane’ wins, although I suspect he’s not playing the saxophone at all but merely letting the air out of a balloon. If I were a professional snooker player, ‘Sex Bomb’ would be my entrance song.

Track: Sex Bomb

This is the Way (Fourth Estate) is Gavin’s second novel.


Sarah Clancy

Paul Simon  – One Trick Pony

One of Paul Simon’s least well-known albums is a movie sound track called One Trick Pony and I love it. It was released in 1980 but it was around 1985 or 86 before I came across it. I would have been about 12 or 13 or so then and I was in secondary school in Galway. Bear in mind that this was the 80′s the era of Stock Aiken and Waterman, of Bros and Wet Wet Wet and even Wham.

The school I was in though, was pretty grungy artsy and left field, people in the years ahead of us were all into The Smiths and The Cure. Musically I wasn’t in either camp; not the cool brigade nor the pop fans, I was in some weird little subset of my own that only I inhabited and I often sat in the corner with my yellow Christmas present Sony Walkman on listening to a strange mix of country music and folk; people like Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rodgers, I was a mad Buddy Holly fan and I also would have listened to Makem and Clancy though I wouldn’t have confessed that to anyone. I had one Bob Dylan album- ‘The times they are a changing’ but I only really listened to one song from that album and I played it over and over again – (that was Spanish Boots of Spanish Leather) Dylan lead me down a path to discovering or rather re-discovering other music like Donavan, like Guy Clarke and a few other greats, but I was fickle and the bitter sweetness of Simon and Garfunkel when I came across them, immediately captivated me. … songs like for Emily, Wherever I may find her, Homeward Bound and I am a Rock became my constant sound track until, running out of new (to me) material of theirs to listen to I started on Pauls Simon’s solo albums.

Oddly enough this was just before he landed back into popularity with the big huge hullaballoo that was Graceland, and so in some strange way the fact that I had seriously old-hippie taste in music had suddenly placed me ahead of the posse in terms of having cutting edge music interests. I found this very confusing, also at that time I was totally confused about other things; there was another Paul Simon fan in my class and we had become friends in that intense and sudden way that only teenage girls seem to do.  I was very, very innocent at that age and though it seems odd now in the light of all the information that floats around these days, I had never even heard of the existence of lesbians or gay people, anyway my new pal and I swapped mix tapes of Paul Simon songs (she had older brothers who had LPs of some of his earlier albums) and on my birthday she made me a tape of the album ‘One Trick Pony’ which we listened to sitting on the wall outside her house. The album is a mix of world weary melancholy and band on the road type story songs. It’s an album full to the brim of restlessness, thwarted love and longing, and so when later that week my friend embarked upon her first relationship with a young lad who played guitar or at least carried a guitar case around with him and left me to my own devices it formed the perfect soundtrack for a summer I spent moping around not knowing what it was that I was so, so sad about. If you want to join in a little of my teenage world-weariness then I recommend the track…

Track: How the Heart Approaches What it Yearns  

Thanks for Nothing, Hippies (Salmon Poetry) is Sarah’s latest collection of poetry.


Jim Carroll

Marvin Gaye’s – What’s Going On

From day to day and week to week, the musical homies by the stereo shift and change. Your mood changes so your musical moods change too. There are days when only a piece of superbly pitched pop fluff will do the trick, the musical equivalent of a bar of dairy milk chocolate. Other times, it takes one of those dusty grooves which once captivated you on some euphoric dance-floor to break through the noise. With increasingly regularity, new tunes pop up to take their place in the firmament.

The problem in a time of plenty is that competition for your ears and attention is fierce. Your ranking and filtering system are shot to bits because the width and depth of what you’re gauging changes size and direction and scope and shape with such regularity. If your ears are truly open as opposed to you thinking that they’re open, the music which seeps through to your cranium should always be changing – new styles and tones, new takes on old music, old takes on older musics. You need to have the head-space for 360 degrees and not have your head spin trying to keep up with all those spans of longitude and latitude.

And then you should also be fierce enough to stick to your guns. Years ago, I remember drawing up a list of my favourite albums. There was a berth near the sharp end for Miles Davis’ “Sketches Of Spain”, an album which still sends me on a bus journey around the hills of Almeria. There was room for DJ Shadow’s “Endtroducing”, a sampledelic jamboree which changed how I listen to and hear music. There was space in the single digits for Dusty Springfield’s “Dusty in Memphis”, an album of blue-eyed soul which threw light into the shadows. There was a spot reserved for Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska”, an album which turned a young Tipperary lad’s head westwards towards the prairies and deserts and badlands of America.

But the album at the top of the list then is the album which is still at the top of the list now. I listened to it yet again the other day. I’ve forgotten how many times I’ve listened to it at this stage. I have it on CD and vinyl and ripped onto the hard-drive for good measure too. You can never have too much of a good thing.

I know Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” as well as I know my own skin. It’s a peerless, magnificent, earth-moving affair, an album full of awesome music which I’m so in awe of because I have no idea how they did it. Sure, you can read all the stories and books you like but unless you were there, you really don’t know.

Last year, I found myself in Detroit for a week, that once grand, proud city now up to its neck with abandoned buildings, social strife, crime and a serious lack of municipal funds to do anything about the above. I walked to the Hitsville USA building over on West Grand Boulevard, paid my dollars for the tour and found myself in the studio. Weirdly, there was no music playing. As the rest of the tour party went through to the souvenir shop, I sneaked on my headphones, closed my eyes and pressed play on “Inner City Blues”. The shivers ran up and down my spine. The best music sends you somewhere else and “What’s Going On” does that every damn time.

Track: Inner City Blues

Jim is a music journalist, blogger and editor for The Irish Times He runs a blog titled On the Record for the newspaper. 


Dimitra Xidous

Pearl Jam – No Code – Those Three Words That Define Joy For Me

Pearl Jam was my youth – and, even though I left them for a bit when No Code came out (I couldn’t understand the shift), I made my way back to them – have stuck with them well into my thirties. Say what you will about Eddie Vedder, I like him. I like the way he commits his face when he sings. It’s raw and it’s visceral and it’s all there. And even though it was the album that made me leave them for a while, I love No Code. I love Hail Hail, and Lukin, and one of the greatest little lines in any song for me is ‘circumstance, clapping hands’ from Who You Are. Those three words define joy for me, as a feeling and a complete state of being. The album also holds a memory of a good-bye, of having to say good-bye to one of my dearest friends in Edinburgh some years ago. I cannot listen to Smile without thinking of her, of our good-bye at the airport, and of the friendship that continued on, even though we no longer spent every day together. I am a romantic with all things and so it is that No Code lives and breathes for me, for the way in which it feeds my memory; that even when something is done and gone and off in the past, a song – or two, or even a truckload – can bring it all back, and you can cry, or you can laugh at it all, and how it all amounts to a life lived well. Between my two hands, as I type this, there is great joy in knowing that.

Track: Who You Are

Dimitra is a Greek-Canadian writer and poet whose work has appeared in  Bare Hands Anthology (2012), and Words and Wonders: A Guelph-area Anthology (2001). In 2011 she was long-listed for the Montreal International Poetry Prize.


Ferdia Mac Anna

The Allman Brothers – Live at the Fillmore

When I was 16, my Dad returned from directing plays in the USA and brought me a new LP – The Allman Brothers Live at the Fillmore. Wide-angle, rollicking, rambunctious, gritty, soaring, often achingly beautiful rhythm and blues music played by six long-haired chaps from Georgia. They had two lead guitarists and two drummers. I loved it so much it’s still my favourite record, over forty years later. There is one tune – ‘In Memory of Elizabeth Reed’, written by guitarist Dickey Betts, that I listen to at least once a week. Shortly before my dad passed away, I asked him how he knew to buy me this treasure. I figured he must have known his eldest son very well well. He told me that he had walked into a record store at the airport on his way home and asked the guy behind the counter what music 16 years listening to this year. The guy recommended the Allmans. Somehow, that only made the gift more precious.

Track: In Memory of Elizabeth Reed

Novelist and screenwriter Ferdia has written three novels, including The Last of the High Kings which was made into a successful Hollywood movie. It was recently republished by New Island Books as part of the Modern Irish Classics series.


Oran Ryan

Hawkwind – Hall of the Mountain Grill

It’s hard to quantify the effect the Hawkwind album ‘Hall of the Mountain Grill’ (1974) had on me when I heard it first. I was fourteen years old. I saw the cover of the album while browsing in Caroline records on Richmond Street. It was a painting of a half-sunk spaceship, mired in a misty lagoon. I remember buying it, bringing it home and putting it on. Holding it in my hands, imagining I was there in that lagoon looking at this ship, hearing the music, the slow rhythmic build of a music that mesmerised me. I was sitting in my father’s rooms, all alone, listening to Hawkwind playing Psychedelic Warlord’s Disappear in Smoke, and I was transported. Then came the howling haunting Wind of Change, then, D Rider. Before the album was half over, I had become a lifelong fan of this band. The album title is a nod to Grieg’s Hall of the Mountain King and a restaurant the band used frequent, the Mountain Grill. I named the main character in my novel One Inch Punch, Gordon Brock, after Dave Brock, the lead vocalist of Hawkwind at the time  What a wonderful album!

Track: You’d Better Believe it.

One Inch Punch (Seven Towers) is Oran’s third novel.


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Writer Nuala Ní Chonchúir is guest blogging at the Irish Writers’ Centre Blog for the month of June. Today we host her final post.

My last blog post for the IWC today – aw! So I am back to where I began: with novels. Thanks for reading and commenting over the past month; it has been a pleasure. To round off my stint here I am giving away a copy of the brand new Stinging Fly magazine. Leave a comment to win! I will post to anywhere in the world.

~ * ~

Writing a novel is like making a jigsaw with blank pieces – not only do you have to fit all the shapes together, you have to paint the picture too. That is hard and it can feel very confusing and frustrating early on in the work. And the sorriest bit of the whole game is that each time you start, it is like starting over. No two novels come together in the same way.

So, as a budding novelist, what can you learn from those who have gone before you? Maybe the most helpful thing I can say is that there is no one way to write a novel. There is no right way. Just start writing, continue with it and push through to the end. You will learn more by finishing one novel than by starting ten. Whatever way you do it, as long as you end up with a novel at the end, you’ve done it ‘right’.

It takes me about a year to write a novel. It might take you three months (like Kevin Barry) or it might take you ten years (like Arundhati Roy). How long it takes depends on lots of things: family and work commitments; time issues; your personal pace as a writer. I would definitely write books quicker if I had less children and therefore more time, but things are how they are and, truly, I wouldn’t want them any other way. )Though it will be nice when they are all at school and I have five blissful mornings to call my own. Only three years to wait…)

Some writers lay plans for a long time before they even begin to write their book: they think about their characters and their plot, they gather lots of notes and do research. Some write the end first and then compose the rest of the novel to work towards the ending. Others – like myself – have only the vaguest notions of who their characters are or what is going to happen to them when they begin the novel, and they write to tell themselves the story of these characters. I never know how a novel or story will proceed before I write it. I rarely know until I am near the end how it is all going to turn out. I can write scenes out of sequence and then slot the whole together, though I become more linear at points. It suits me to write that way but it may not suit you. Try things out and you will hit on the best way for yourself.

In a sense it surprises me that I wade in so blindly at the start, but perhaps if I didn’t, I wouldn’t write at all. I am super organised in so many areas of my life but when it comes to writing fiction, I free fall. It is a great feeling because when it is going well the act of writing is the best sort of relaxation for me.

To expand the jigsaw analogy I started with, most novels are made up of lots of different pieces that fit together well. You have gathered many of these pieces – ideas, phrases, fragments, observations, passions, interests – over the years and you will gather more of them as your novel progresses. Our brains are tuned in to disparate things as we write and so is our subconscious. It is important that you keep a notebook and that you jot down anything that occurs to you, whether it seems relevant to your novel-in-progress (NIP) or not. If you bring these snippets to your desk, you might be surprised where they can be woven into the narrative, or how they are relevant. Our antennae is out and probing for stuff that will fit, whether we realise it or not.

Novels are not sounded on the one note and it is best if they aren’t. If your novel is sad, you don’t want it to be sad on every page or you will wear the reader out, so make sure when you are fitting together the pieces – paragraphs, chapters – that you mix it up a bit. Lighten the tone after a dark scene; pick up the pace when things slow down; mix dialogue with narrative blocks; vary the conversation (repeated chats about the same topic are dull); get your characters moving – change the location from time to time. Think of it this way: your novel needs to be a little bit bipolar. There should be ups and downs, positives and negatives. These will create an energy within the story that helps move it along while keeping the reader interested.

Learn to love editing. You must, must, must be your own best editor. On re-reading your glorious NIP, if the prose seems a bit pedestrian or flat, liven it up with the senses. Readers love the sensuality involved in scenes where characters smell, touch and taste things – including one another. Don’t be afraid to show your characters enjoying food, or sex, or both.

I began with jigsaws, so I’ll end on them too: when the pieces of your NIP start to fall into place, there is nothing like the self-satisfied glow you get. Hell, you might even find yourself being nice to people. Good humour and literary novel writing rarely share the same space. (Or maybe that’s just me?) Suddenly, you understand what the book is about and why you have bothered to write it. Enjoy the glow, you won’t feel it again until the next novel is neatly slotted together and ready to be abandoned for the next one after that, and so on. Good luck!

Nuala Ní Chonchúir was born in Dublin and lives in Galway. She has published three collections of short fiction, including Nude (Salt, 2009) which was shortlisted for the 2010 Edge Hill Short Story Prize; three poetry collections – one in an anthology, one a pamphlet – and one novel, You (New Island, 2010). Nuala’s third full poetry collection The Juno Charm is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2011.

Blog: www.womenrulewriter.blogspot.com Website: www.nualanichonchuir.com


Filed under Beginning the Novel, Fiction, Irish Writers, Irish Writers Centre, IWC, literature, new writing, novels, writing


Writer Nuala Ní Chonchúir is guest blogging at the Irish Writers’ Centre Blog for the month of June to coincide with the short story course she will teach at the Centre on the 25th and 26th of June. Tune in here every Wednesday to see what she has to say.

Short story writer supreme, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne

Short fiction this week, ahead of the course I teach at the Irish Writers’ Centre this week-end. All welcome!

I think the first thing any budding short story writer must do is read good short stories. Read your contemporaries – Claire Keegan, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Yiyun Li, David Means, Wells Tower, Anne Enright. Read the greats – Chekhov, Alice Munro, Frank O’Connor, Raymond Carver. Read anthologies and journals that love and respect the short story form – The Stinging Fly, The New Yorker, Southword, The Moth. Seek out publications from those publishers who support and publish short stories: Salt, Comma Press, Faber, Cape, Granta. It is only by reading the masters and mistresses of the form that we learn what good short fiction is all about. So, read widely and, while you are reading, write and write and write.

The short story is a personal form in the same way that poetry is – it deals, often, with the individual passions of the writer. Figure out what you love to read and think about, what excites you and interests you. Chances are those are also the things that you will love to write about. For me, those things include visual art and artists, sex and relationships, and the breakdown of love. Throw in a baby, Paris or Dublin, and a river and I could write all day. Make a list of the objects, scenery, type of people – and their dynamics – and the places that interest you the most. Some of these combined will make good fodder for stories or, at least, good jumping-off points.

What will make your short story succeed? Well, resist the urge to write about the mundane. Ordinary things happening to ordinary people rarely make interesting reading. Something must happen in your short story; not something huge or life-changing, just something that’s maybe out of the ordinary for that particular character. So, bear in mind that although the short story is an urgent, concise form it cannot be about nothing in particular. Usually, the story is about a small number of characters and something happens to one or all of them; that event brings about a shift in circumstances or outlook.

Put a notice over your desk: ‘What happened next? Or what happened before?’. This will keep you focussed on the crux of your story – the tension. If you are floundering, read this notice aloud to yourself and write down your answers.

Don’t shy away from creating scenes – readers love to hear dialogue, particularly difficult conversations. Let us hear and see your characters speaking and reacting to each other. It is probably best not to provide oodles of background information. Set the scene briefly, then cut to the action. As Jim Dickey said, ‘If the story is about a bear, bring on the damn bear.’ There isn’t room in the short story for piles of personal history, long descriptive passages or lots of characters. Keep it all to the point. Raymond Carver aptly advised: ‘Get in, get out, don’t linger, go on.’

There is an immediacy to the short story that is unique to the form: it should open quickly, have a relevant mid-section and move at a good pace to the end. As I’ve said, there isn’t room for lots of characters, reams of back story and endless wads of descriptive prose. You want to intrigue your reader, not bore her. The details of the story need to be drip-fed in digestible and interesting lumps. Do what Charles Reade recommended and ‘make ’em laugh, make ’em cry, make ’em wait.’

Stories possess an intensity that is just not possible in the vast space of the novel. They often contain a delicious surprise – they are beautifully unpredictable when done well. Lovers of the short story hope to be moved in some way by what happens in stories – they want the hairs on their neck to stand on end with the unknowable yet perfect beauty of the story they are reading. Readers of literary short fiction do not mind discomfort and they enjoy characters who are mavericks – be daring in what you write, don’t censor yourself.

Short story writing is fairly instinctive, mostly you don’t need to plot and plan meticulously. To paraphrase Haruki Murakami, if you plan everything in a short story it will never find its own way. So you mustn’t worry if you start to write and don’t know where things are going. Just write your way into it – tell the story to yourself – and see what your characters get up to. What you are aiming for is some sort of tension – remember, something must happen! You want to seduce the reader; to have her believe in the small world you have created.

Be specific in your writing always. The more concrete detail you have in your work, the more real the story will seem to the reader. Unique and specific detail in stories makes them more vivid and interesting. Name things: give proper names to settings and characters as much as possible. Good naming anchors the reader to the story.

All writers love language and words – as a writer you delight in unusual word pairings and odd sentences. Don’t be afraid of your own language: the vernacular of your childhood or your home-place is full of authentic turns of phrase: use them. Mine your parents’ – or other older people’s – store of words for interesting sayings.

Each part of a short story must fit with the rest: so the tone fits with the language which also fits with what happens to the characters. This creates a unity within the story that is like the unity within a poem: everything works together to create a pleasing whole. Read some poetry to see how words and intent and content can meld together perfectly.

Readers pick up books to be entertained, to learn and/or for escapism; they want to feel along with your characters. Your story should resonate emotionally with the reader and will ideally have the power to smack her with its truthfulness. Flannery O’Connor said that stories should be ‘short but deep’, so the something that happens in the story will ideally illuminate the human condition in some way. Just because short stories are short doesn’t mean that they can’t be profound or make a deep impact – you can say a lot in a handful of pages.

The short story writer loves concision and brevity; she is willing and able to trim her sentences and paragraphs, to get the best out of them. We all overwrite to start with – this is normal. You just have to learn to edit well.

As a writer, I empathise and agree with John Banville’s feeling of separateness with life, which he often mentions in interviews. It’s what makes a writer in the end, I feel: a sort of aloofness, a feeling of not being wholly in the world. The writer is an observer on the sidelines: she is unobtrusively nosey and notes everything; she gathers up all the bits that other people miss and throws them into the mix of her stories. Joseph O’Connor noted that ‘a writer is always quietly looking and thinking. Not willing inspiration but just being open to the world. This quiet looking and thinking is the imagination. It’s letting in ideas. It’s trying, I suppose, to make some sense of things.’

Most writers procrastinate but you can feed your inner writer with good things. Stephen King says that ‘writing is at its best – always, always, always – when it is a kind of inspired play for the writer’. If you are struggling to find inspiration, or if you are trying to force a story out of yourself, move away from your desk. Take yourself out for a walk, or to the theatre, or a gig, or an art gallery. Freshen your mind with a good short story by your favourite writer. Hopefully, when you return to the page, you will have something new to offer yourself and your writing will be ‘inspired play’.

Writing is an apprenticeship; it takes lots of practice – years and years worth. But hard work and tenacity pay off, so stick with it and you will improve your art. Good luck!

Recommended reading:

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – Stephen King (New English Library, 2001)

Self Editing For Fiction Writers – Browne & King (Harper, 2004)

Short Circuit: A Guide to the Art of the Short Story – Vanessa Gebbie (ed.) (Salt, Nov 2009)

The Portable Creative Writing Workshop – Pat Boran (New Island, 2005)

Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular – Rust Hills (Mariner Books, 2000)

Making Shapely Fiction – Jerome Stern (WW Norton, 1991)

This article was first published at www.writing4all.ie under the title ‘Tips on How to Get Started as a Short Story Writer’

Nuala Ní Chonchúir was born in Dublin and lives in Galway. She has published three collections of short fiction, including Nude (Salt, 2009) which was shortlisted for the 2010 Edge Hill Short Story Prize; three poetry collections – one in an anthology, one a pamphlet – and one novel, You (New Island, 2010). Nuala’s third full poetry collection The Juno Charm is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2011.

Blog: www.womenrulewriter.blogspot.com Website: www.nualanichonchuir.com


Filed under courses, creative writing course, Eilis Ni Dhuibhne, Irish Writers, Irish Writers Centre, IWC, literature, short fiction, Short Story

Writer Interview: Órfhlaith Foyle

Writer Nuala Ní Chonchúir is guest blogging at the Irish Writers’ Centre Blog for the month of June to coincide with the short story course she will teach at the Centre on the 25th and 26th of June. Tune in here every Wednesday to see what she has to say.

Órfhlaith Foyle

Today I interview fiction writer and poet Órfhlaith Foyle. Órfhlaith was born in Africa to Irish parents and lives in Galway. Her first novel Belios was published in 2005 by Lilliput Press to critical acclaim. Patrick McGrath called it ‘a dark, rough, funny novel about a dying genius’. A collection of Órfhlaith’s poetry and short stories, Revenge, was published in September 2005 by Arlen House. Recently her short story ‘Somewhere in Minnesota’ was in the Faber anthology New Irish Short Stories edited by Joseph O’Connor. That story will be the title story of her forthcoming short fiction collection, due from Arlen House in September. She is currently working on her second novel.

Welcome to the IWC blog, Órfhlaith. Can you tell me what was it that first got you into writing and when did you start writing?

My family had a bit of a nomadic life. We lived between Africa, Ireland and Australia, primarily Africa and reading was just a natural thing for me to do as soon as I could do it. Television was never encouraged as a past time. My mother had a collection of books. She loved reading and still does. My father was more into non-fiction.

Reading meant I could escape into another person’s world. You don’t just read words, you imagine as well. I began to imagine little stories in my head. Usually they were just extensions or variations of some story I had read but, after a while, I began to make up my own stories.

I think I was about eleven or twelve when I got serious about stories – mainly reading them; not so much writing them. That happened later in my teens when I began to realise that I had to write things down.

Which writers have influenced you the most?

My mother’s collection of books contained Shakespeare and Dickens and a huge volume of American Plays.  My father had also bought us the twelve book collection of American Classics for children. I loved the American plays – the dialogue and how the words just drove the story. Lillian Hellman, Arthur Miller. I loved Macbeth far more than Romeo and Juliet. I loved Oliver Twist.

I didn’t read much Irish writing and right up to now, the writers who have influenced me the most are Katherine Mansfield, Anna Akhmatova, Emily Dickinson, William Faulkner, Emily Bronte – all dark and rather lonely, I suppose.

What kind of things do you write?

I write about things that frighten me. Most of my characters I would hate to have a coffee with but I also know deep down I’d want to find out their story – because something made them that way – not just what lies in their nature – but something else as well.

My first novel Belios is about a man who cannot love but craves it, and I find this is in all of my work. All my characters have that fear and longing for love and to belong to someone or somewhere.

What are you working on now?

Well, I am finishing up a collection of short stories called Somewhere in Minnesota and Other Stories. It is to be published by Arlen House this September. I am also still writing my second novel.

I am a slow writer, in so far as I have to feel and think a lot before I write. After Belios I had that clichéd idea that I now was going to write a marvellous post-modern ‘grown-up’ novel. It never happened. I have countless of useless drafts to support that fact.

Describe your writing day.

I usually prefer mornings. I write for about 3 to 4 hours. Sometimes I can work at night but not really.

How does poetry differ from the writing of fiction for you?

Poetry is the closest I will ever come to composing music.  I don’t rhyme much but I like words that move. Poetry condenses that movement so you have to reach right down into what you are feeling or seeing. You have to get that flow.

With fiction the borders go further. I always go by a ‘voice’. Whether it is a first or third person voice, it has to have a rhythm. I need to know what the main character is deep down afraid of. I need to know how his/her demons drive them. I need to understand how they dream they might be saved. The voice is the thing.

What advice can you offer the beginning writer?

Well, first of all, I am just beginning myself.

Just READ.

I was at a writers’ workshop once and the celebrated writer was telling us how he was going to write his next novel. Then he mentioned that he never read books. I lost a lot of respect for him after that. I don’t care what you say…if you don’t read books, then your words are missing something. If you don’t read other writers then your own work narrows down. I know writers write from their own experiences as well as how they react to the world – then all of it is coloured by imagination and that comes from reading in the first place. So, if your writing experience does not include reading anybody else’s – what kind of world can you write about?

Thanks so much, Órfhlaith, for dropping by today. Next week for my blog post I plan to talk about the writer and self-promotion. Do tune in!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Nuala Ní Chonchúir was born in Dublin and lives in Galway. She has published three collections of short fiction, including Nude (Salt, 2009) which was shortlisted for the 2010 Edge Hill Short Story Prize; three poetry collections – one in an anthology, one a pamphlet – and one novel, You (New Island, 2010). Nuala’s third full poetry collection The Juno Charm is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2011.

Blog: www.womenrulewriter.blogspot.com Website: www.nualanichonchuir.com.


Filed under Fiction, Irish Writers, literature, new writing, poetry, Reading, Short Story, writing


Writer Nuala Ní Chonchúir is guest blogging at the Irish Writers’ Centre Blog for the month of June to coincide with the short story course she will teach at the Centre on the 25th and 26th of June. Tune in here every Wednesday to see what she has to say.

I was thinking lately about the novels I write, about themes and concerns that re-occur in them. What do they have in common, I wondered? I have one novel published, You (New Island, 2010), one novel-in-progess (my NIP) and a couple of failed attempts, which will live forever in that limbo where dead novels go. And here is what I realised as I pondered my obsessions as a novelist: all of the novels I have tried to complete have been about mad mothers. Well, maybe not so much mad mothers as unsuccessful mothers – women who are not very good at being mothers. And these mothers drink – they drink in public and they drink in secret. My own Ma doesn’t drink and I’m a half-bottle-of-wine-on-Friday-night kind of Mammy myself, so I’m not altogether sure where the obsession with drinking mothers comes from. And obviously that is not all that my books are about – they usually deal with the breakdown of love (separation/betrayal), and there are generally children involved.

Setting is also very important to me in my fiction. I am hugely affected by my environment – as are most people, I presume – and I like my setting to get under the skin of my characters and to be as important as the people it serves. You was set in my home place in County Dublin – I grew up across the Liffey from the Strawberry Beds. The river and the valley it runs through are crucial to that novel in terms of atmosphere and in terms of plot.

My NIP is set between Dublin and the Scottish Highlands. I worked in the Highlands for almost a year when I was younger and it has been a thrill to revisit it for the purposes of the novel. So far my visits have been imaginary and virtual; I have also been (excruciatingly) re-reading my diaries from that time. But in July I am going back there, to soak up a bit of the Scotland that I remember and to taste it anew. I feel like I couldn’t do the Scottish Highlands justice without a quick trip to make sure I am getting it right in my NIP. What better excuse for a few days away?

When I teach Creative Writing, I always urge the participants to be mindful of their fiction’s setting, both the place and the time. Characters, and their actions, have to be located in a physical reality, not in some grey nowhere. In our giddy rush to get the story down, we should never forget the importance of the setting and the atmosphere created by it. The setting, when well evoked, is like the glue that holds all the pieces together. The writer Nigel Watts has a better analogy for setting in fiction. He says: ‘The setting is like the flour in a cake: perhaps less compelling than the nuts and dried fruit, but if you forget to include flour in the recipe, you’ll have no cake.’

I like my reader to feel rooted in the story and by naming places and describing them with care, and by being succinct with detail, I think that is achievable. To that end, I keep a mini notebook on me at all times and I endlessly jot down what I observe around me. A lot of my writing ideas come to me on the edge of sleep, so I have made myself stick to the notepad beside the bed rule. It helps, particularly in the long haul of the novel, which is constantly on your mind, asking questions of you.

Jottings that have made it into my NIP include rain-flattened daffodils; the sight of hundreds of jellyfish on an otherwise empty beach; and a dead crow that hung from a wire between my two neighbour’s houses. It is funny how things present themselves just when you need them. My main character was going through a tough time and I wanted to conjure a foreboding atmosphere while showing that she was becoming slightly unhinged. I went for a walk with my baby daughter to get some clarity on the scene and I spotted the dead crow, lurid and menacing as it swung by one leg from the wire. It was the perfect detail to carry me through the scene.

So, if you want to write believable fiction, here are a few tips: be nosey and sensitive to the world around you; always write down your observations/thoughts/ideas as they occur to you; be specific: name things; use your senses when you write – readers love the sensuality of touch, tastes, smells etc.; gift yourself time to write; stick with it and be patient; read lots of good books; and, whatever you do, don’t forget to add the flour.

Nuala Ní Chonchúir was born in Dublin and lives in Galway. She has published three collections of short fiction, including Nude (Salt, 2009) which was shortlisted for the 2010 Edge Hill Short Story Prize; three poetry collections – one in an anthology, one a pamphlet – and one novel, You (New Island, 2010). Nuala’s third full poetry collection The Juno Charm is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2011.

Blog: www.womenrulewriter.blogspot.com Website: www.nualanichonchuir.com.


Filed under courses, creative writing course, Fiction, IWC, literature, new writing, setting in fiction, Short Story, writing