Thu 29 Nov 2012
Wikipedia , tells you that Nuala ni Chonchuir, born in Dublin, is a full time writer and poet; she has published one novel, four collections of short fiction and three poetry collections – one in an anthology, holds a BA in Irish from Trinity College Dublin and a Masters in Translation Studies (Irish/English) from Dublin City University. She has worked in a university library and in a writers’ center and as an arts administrator in theater as well as a translator and a bookseller. She teaches creative writing on a part-time basis. She is also listed as a writer and poet, but Wikipedia doesn’t say much about Nuala ni Chonchuir, the writer and poet.
You could, of course, walk your fingers over to her website, and read all that Wikipedia states in much greater detail, including her long list of awards and accolades. You could then go to her blog: Women Rule Writer and keep yourself updated about her latest publication and other news and opinions. By the time you’re done, you’ll find something fresh, something new about Nuala, another publication, another honor, another feather in her cap, plus announcements for writing contests, posts about her writer friends and colleagues, a recipe for Emily Dickinson’s coconut cake, and then you’ll know that you’ve come to the right place to get to know Nuala ni Chonchuir, the writer and the person, better. Meanwhile, here at Flash Fiction Chronicles, we bring the Nuala whose heart beats for short short stories.
Rumjhum Biswas: How old were you when you read Seán O’Faoláin’s “The Trout?” I understand the story had a very deep impact; can you tell us a bit more about how the emotional and intellectual/cerebral processes you adapted from the story into your own mythology?
Nuala ni Chonchuir: I must have been about ten when I read that story. The landscape of the story – a laurel walk which was a ‘lofty midnight tunnel of smooth, sinewy branches’ – is identical to a place I grew up near, which we called ‘the Sleeping Beauty passage’. In the story a young girls finds ‘a panting trout’ in a well. At some point I wove this story into my own memories and thought I was the girl. It wasn’t until I re-read the story as an adult that I realized it was a story and had nothing to do with me. The power of imagination and fiction rolled together.
RB: I understand that Flannery O’Connor is another writer who has had a great impact on you. Please share with us your relationship as a reader with her stories.
NnC: There is so much to love about her work: the colloquial voices; the feisty female characters; the weaving in of religion, the nasty and the bizarre. I also love that Flannery didn’t plan her stories; I don’t plot and plan either and it helps to know that one of the greatest short fiction writers was the same. It gives me confidence.
Writer Ann Beattie also said: ‘Because I don’t work with an outline, writing a story is like crossing a stream, now I’m on this rock, now I’m on this rock, now I’m on this rock.’ I love that!
RB: Did you start writing short stories and poetry at the same time? In what way did short story writing give you more than poetry?
NnC: I’ve been writing since I was a child, some stories but mostly poetry. When I got really serious about writing, short stories became my passion.
RB: In your interview which appeared on Dan Powell Fiction you mentioned that a short story is “like watching someone dive into a dark pool. They go under, you see the ripples fan out and fade, but you know the diver has to come up for air at some point, so you wait for that.” What is a really short-short story, a flash fiction, like? Does the length of this form allow the same experience as that of a regular short story?
NnC: Defining short-shorts is so hard because they vary so much. But, for me, the flash story is, like any piece of fiction, a seed that grows. I think in shapes and so I see the shape of the story as it grows before me and, because of flash fiction’s brevity, the ending also.
I think readers come to all fiction with hopes and expectations and, in a way, they have to be trained to expect a different ‘hit’ from the various forms. The punch of flash is different to the experience after reading a longer short story, which is different to the feeling after finishing a novel. Flash delivers a similar gut reaction and illumination to that given by a poem.
RB: When did you discover the writer in you?
NnC: I’ve always been writing, really. I came second in a national poetry competition at the age of nine, so that spurred me on. I didn’t get deadly serious about it until my late twenties though. It took a while to figure out the whole getting published end of things.
RB: You clearly love short stories. Does this affect the way you approach your novel writing process?
NnC: Yes, I approach the long haul of the novel with deep trepidation. I faff about a lot before I begin a novel; I write small sections, like stories. I think and take notes. Eventually I get going properly. It’s daunting to begin a piece of work that will take a year or more, when you are used to smaller things like poems and stories.
RB: Do you have any favourite flash fiction, anything that you read, even if it’s a long time ago. Any writer whose flash fiction you admire?
NnC: I love Tania Hershman’s science inspired story ‘The Party’, it’s surreal and it spirals upwards with such joy. She reads it aloud beautifully; it’s also available to buy as a BBC download, voiced by actors.
Nick Parker – a new voice to me – has a fabulous story about sibling rivalry called ‘The Boyle Curriculum’ in his collection The Exploding Boy. He uses repetition and humour to great effect in that piece.
RB: Can you tell us about your own flash fiction writing experiences?
NnC: They usually emerge in one draft, which is very satisfying. The urgency of the form takes over and I get it all out in one. It’s lovely to have something then, to start editing.
They are the one form of writing that I have managed using prompts. Poems I produce that way often feel stilted and unfinished but, somehow, many of the short shorts that I’ve written to suit competition themes etc. have worked. The prompt is usually invisible in the final version and maybe that’s the key – it gets lost in the composition. There’s enough space for that to happen, maybe.
RB: At what point do the rules for short stories stop working for flash fiction, according to you? If at all.
NnC: What are the rules for short stories except that they should open well, continue well and end well? The same goes for short-shorts. I guess in shorter works, more is hinted at rather than spelt out. I aim for clarity and also to deliver an emotional hit or depth. They should be ‘short but deep,’ as Flannery O’Connor said of all short stories.
RB: Can we gave a glimpse of a day in the writing life of Nuala Ní Chonchúir?
NnC: Well, I’m a bit whingy at the moment because all my time seems to be taken up with the peripherals of writing: my student work; reviews; blurbing; going to readings etc. I need to start saying no to things and get the head down with this new novel I have begun. Time to stop thinking and start writing.
I have five three hour mornings in which to write and I use them well. I’m a flitter so I jump between stories, poems, novel, non-fiction, blogging, other ‘peripherals’.
Afternoons it’s back to being a mother/wife. But I write on the fly a lot: on trains, planes, in the car, anywhere. I don’t need to be at my desk and, often, it helps to leave it and see a bit of the real world.
RB: Do you have a special chair or cushion, maybe a pet or person that you need around you when you write?
NnC: No. I like quiet at home, so it’s best if I’m alone in the house. My desk is very cluttered – there are lots of stones, shells, notes and pictures of people I revere, like Frida Kahlo and Sylvia Plath. But I don’t need them in order to write; I can pretty much write anywhere.
RB: Have you ever been so inspired that you felt compelled to write it (the poem/fiction/ideas) down then and there, even though it was not a place where you would write? Can you share the experience with us?
NnC: All the time. I always have a notebook with me, in my bag, by my bed, and I am constantly scribbling down notes, phrases, ideas. I feel panicky if I don’t have a pen on my person.
RB: You have some pretty good advice for short story writers – http://www.nualanichonchuir.com/shortstory.php. Is there anything else you’d like to add for flash fiction writing?
NnC: If you want to write it, read it. People think flash is ‘less than’ because it is short. Some of the best writing you will read is flash. Read Robert Olen Butler, James Kelman, Joyce Carol Oates, Tania Hershman, Robert Shapard, James Thomas, Nick Parker, Chekhov,and Lydia Davis.
RB: Did anyone encourage you or influence you in one way or another as a child regarding your writing. Would you like to share it with us?
NnC: My mother taught me to read at a very young age and then bought me all the books I could want. We used to go to sales of work (jumble sales) as kids and we were like vultures around the books table. I credit my mother with that part of it. I credit my father with the need to tell stories – he is a great oral storyteller and loves language, so I definitely think I got that need from him.
Rumjhum Biswas is a writer currently living in Chennai. She has been published all over the world, and her work has won prizes and commendations in India and abroad, including first prize in the Anam Cara Short Story Competition June 2012. Her novel, Culling Mynahs and Crows” and a collection of her short stories are slated to be published in 2013 by Lifi Publications, India.