I'm delighted that today this blog is the latest stop in Nuala Ní Chonchúir's tour of her wonderful new chapbook of flash fictions, Of Dublin and Other Fictions (Tower Press). As long-time readers of this blog will know, I'm a great admirer of Nuala's work: her control of language is wonderful, and her fiction is earthy and witty yet lyrical and always moving. This new and delightfully designed book may be little in size, but it packs a huge punch. The themes it covers are wide-ranging and huge, from a historical look at women's experience of the battlefield to a searingly vivid depiction of the grief of a widower to a wry insight into the experience of an immigrant hotel worker. There's also an impressive range in style. I'm always keen to know the processes of writers I admire, and I jumped at the chance to ask Nuala:
EB: Nuala, I'm amazed at the breadth of subject matter and worlds this little book covers, from the viewpoint of a statue of Jesus in 'Jesus of Dublin' and the historical piece about a battle, '12th July 1691', to the very contemporary 'The Road that Mills and Boon Built'. Could you say something about that, and what you find attractive or useful about flash fiction as a vehicle?
NUALA: I’ve been working on novels for the last few years and they are so time-consuming, as you know. So I think flash occur to me instead of poems. (My poetry well is dry just now.) It might be because I am in fiction mode, but when something outside of the novel strikes me, and I want to write about it, it emerges as a flash.
I’ve spent the last year on a historical novel and at least one bit of the research for that inspired a story in Of Dublin, ‘Treedaughter’. My novel is domestic (oh, crime of crimes!) so I was reading up a lot about 19th century baking techniques etc. and I came across some egglore that sparked ‘Treedaughter’.
'12th July 1691' was written in response to the Jacobite war. One of the battles took place five miles from where I live and we took that battle – Aughrim – as a theme for my Artist Collective’s annual exhibition.
I love flash as both reader and writer; I love that they support the surreal so well and that language is key. I also like that, unlike many poems, flash have a narrative thrust. They just suit me, I think. Here’s an example of the type of flash I enjoy, ‘Body of Sister Jean Marie’ by Emily Davis-Fletcher from Southword http://www.munsterlit.ie/Southword/Issues/23A/davisfletcher_emily.html
EB: ‘Treedaughter' and 'Jesus of Dublin' are surreal, yet others are grounded in a rich realism - such as the wry and touching 'Room 313' (about a hotel chambermaid) and the earthy 'Penny and Leo and Married Bliss' (a rewriting of Joyce's Ulysses). Can you talk about the fact that you use these two different approaches in your writing?
NUALA: I’m attached to the surreal in visual art as much as in fiction – I love a dripping Dali or mad Max Ernst piece more than, say, an ancient religious picture. In writing, I don’t make any decisions about what or how to write – things occur to me in certain ways and I follow them to see if they lead anywhere.
‘Room 313’ was a commission from a Serbian magazine who wanted stories set in hotels (I think I can’t write to order but sometimes it works out). 'Jesus of Dublin' is about a real statue in Dublin’s O’Connell Street and I love it and I wondered what he would say if he could speak.
I think because language is sacred to me that even in realistic stories I like to add a bit of something that is off-kilter or odd, even if it is just an unusual place-name or character name. The mundane doesn’t interest me and my brain often alights on the surreal, or likes to twiddle with things, to make them enjoyable to write.
EB: Many – though not all – of these stories are written in the first person. Do you think flash fiction particularly lends itself to this mode, and if so why?
NUALA: I hadn’t realised that, but it doesn’t surprise me. I’m obsessed with the first person and the second person as narrative voices. Third person doesn’t attract me that much. I like to ‘be’ the character I am writing about and that is so easy in first person POV.
Whether it suits flash in general better or not, I don’t know. It certainly suits me because the voice of a story is important to me – it has to sound right, like a real person, and if I haven’t got that, I don’t have a story.
Thanks so much to Nuala. Do buy the book, you won't regret it. It's available here.
Nuala Ní Chonchúir lives in Galway. Her fourth short story collection Mother America was published by New Island in 2012. Of Dublin and Other Fictions is just out in the US and Nuala’s second novel The Closet of Savage Mementos will be published in spring 2014 by New Island.