March 1 to March 31
A Question and Answer Session
There are lots of ways to participate in Irish Short Story Month-Please e mail me if you are interested.
I was first lucky enough to read a short story by Madeleine D'Arcy, "Clocking Out" during ISSM2 last year. (You can read my post on the story here and I will repeat my conclusions below. My post contains a link where you can read "Clocking Out". The story is protected under international copyright laws and cannot be published or posted online without the author's permission.)
"Clocking Out" is a very sad story told in the first person about the life experiences of a young woman fresh out of her home in an area in suffering through bad times, with few jobs to be found. The woman has seemingly very few inner resources and her low self esteem makes her an easy target for a sexual predator. At first the story seems as if it only narrating a few days but there are years and years in these few pages. I do not want to tell the plot of the story but I thought how D'Arcy managed the time span in just a few pages was really masterful
At first the story seems as if it only narrating a few days but there are years and years in these few pages. I do not want to tell the plot of the story but I thought how D'Arcy managed the time span in just a few pages was really masterful. "Clocking Out" by Madeleine D"Arcy is a wonderful work of art, fully in accord with Frank O'Connors notions of how the best short stories work.
Biography of Madeleine D’Arcy
Madeleine D’Arcy was born in Ireland and later spent thirteen years in the UK. She worked as a criminal law solicitor and as a legal editor in London before returning to Cork City in 1999 with her husband and son.
She began to write short stories in 2005.
In April 2010 she was presented with a Hennessy X.O Literary Award 2009 in the First Fiction category for her short story ‘Is This Like Scotland?’ and also received the overall Hennessy X.O Literary Award for New Irish Writer.
One of her stories came joint-second in the William Trevor/Elizabeth Bowen Short Story Competition 2011 and another was short-listed for the 2012 prize.
She has been short-listed in the Fish Short Story Prize 2008, the Bealtaine Short Story Competition 2008, the Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Competitions 2009 and 2011, the Bryan MacMahon Short Story Competition 2009 and the Bridport Prize 2009 (UK). She received commendations in the Seán Ó Faoláin Short Story Competitions 2009 and 2011.
Publishing credits include: the Sunday Tribune (April 2009); Made in Heaven and Other Short Stories (Cork County Library and Arts Service publication, May 2009); Sharp Sticks, Driven Nails (Stinging Fly Press, October 2010); Etherbooks Mobile Publishing (October 2010); the Irish Examiner (Holly Bough, December 2010); Necessary Fiction (US literary webjournal, March 2011); the Irish Independent (5th October 2011); and the Irish Times (26th November, 2011).
Actors Jack Healy and Cora Fenton have read Madeleine’s stories on stage in Theatre Makers fundraisers in 2011 and 2012.
Madeleine has read her work in Toronto at the 11th International Conference on the Short Story in English (2010), at Cork International Short Story Festival (2009 and 2010), in the Working Man’s Club, Dublin (2010), at Dromineer Literary Festival (2012) and at various other events. She will be reading at Listowel Writers’ Week in May 2013.
Her short film script, ‘Dog Pound’, was a finalist in Waterford Film Festival Short Screenplay Competition 2012.
Her debut unpublished short story collection ‘Waiting for the Bullet’ was short-listed for the Scott Prize 2012 (UK).
She’s currently working on a novel.
1. Who are some of the contemporary short story writers you admire? If you had to say, who do you regard as the three best ever short story writers?
A: To be honest, I’m not keen on lists. I admire many writers but my fear is that if I try to list those I admire I’ll leave some out and regret my omissions later.
However, one of the short story writers whose work I’ve read and admired recently is James Lasdun. The title story in his collection ‘It’s Beginning to Hurt’ is wonderful.
I also love James Salter’s ‘Last Night’, Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Nocturnes’ and the wise and deeply human work of Alastair MacLeod.
At the moment I’m dipping in and out of Chekhov’. The collection I have was edited by Richard Ford, who provides a useful and honest ‘Introduction’.
Recently, I’ve also revisited the work of JD Salinger and Richard Yates. I return, again and again, to Raymond Carver.
As I write this I realise that all the writers I’ve mentioned are men and none of them are Irish. Hmmm. I’ll have to think about that! On another day I’d probably list more Irish writers, and include many fantastic women whose writing I admire. Perhaps, at the moment, I’m trying to look outwards, beyond my own small country, and from a different point of view.
2. I have read lots of Indian and American short stories in addition to Irish, and alcohol plays a much bigger part in the Irish stories. What does it say about Irish culture?
A: I think we Irish self-medicate with alcohol because we’re a depressive bunch. Who wouldn’t be, with our weather? Then the alcohol cheers us up temporarily and we long for that feeling of being lifted out of our misery. We can ‘talk the hind legs off a donkey’ when we’re drinking, and from that we often find the beginnings of stories. We also sing a bit. We have terrible hangovers in the morning. Or maybe that’s just me.
3. I sometimes wonder why such a disproportionate amount of literature of the world, that is regarded as great, is written in the colder temperate zones rather than in the tropics. How big a factor do you think the Irish weather is in shaping the literary output of its writers? I cannot imagine The Brothers Karamazov being written on a tropical island, for example.
A: Yes, our weather here in Ireland can be wet and cold. It seems to be raining non-stop at the moment. Perhaps the weather here means that we spend more time indoors, in introspection and in writing. Or, as I’ve mentioned above, self-medicating with alcohol.
We may also discover, in years to come, that our current economic recession has had an effect on Irish literary output. I get the impression that a lot of people are writing at the moment, even though there are so few places to send the work and almost no money to be made from it.
4. What did you miss most about Ireland in the 13 years you lived in London, besides family and friends? What were you glad to be away from?
A: I missed very little. In Ireland of the 1980s, there was no divorce and no contraception. Women were not respected in the law or in reality. It was a church-ridden country with corrupt and hypocritical politicians. It was illegal to be gay. There was abuse. I despaired of the place. Now, of course, it’s a very different country in many ways.
I left Ireland first when I was 17. I worked in Paris as an au-pair for a year. Not everything about my year out was perfect but I loved France and almost stayed there.
However, I came back to go to college. I studied law because my career guidance nun told me that only men became lawyers! When I qualified as an Irish solicitor, I ended up with a huge student loan to repay and there were few permanent jobs. I worked as an apprentice solicitor during the day and as a waitress at night until I had enough money to move to London in 1986. I was also in love. My ex-partner was a singer/songwriter who moved to London to further his career and after a while he asked me to go over there and live with him – so I went.
5. While in London, did you feel people give you extra status as a writer because you were Irish?
A: I was not a writer when I lived in London. I’m a latecomer to the writing life. In London, I worked as a solicitor, and later as a legal editor.
However, as regards being Irish in London, I can say that when I went to London in 1986 there seemed to be a wave of interest in Irish writers and in Irish bands. Being an Irish artist seemed to be ‘cool’ for a while. It was as if the English intelligentsia wished to make amends for historical trespasses. Then the wave of interest moved on. Fashion is fickle.
Ireland is so small that people have always had to leave in order to pursue careers, especially in the Arts. It is probably not so different these days, except that the Internet has changed our lives so much in terms of how we receive information. It’s hard to tell how things will develop for writers in the future.
6. How does your work experience as a solicitor impact on your writing?
The story I have sent to you for this year’s Irish month is called ‘Natalie and the Speedballs’. It’s the second story I ever wrote, in 2006, but you will see that it clearly came from my experiences as a young solicitor in London in the 80’s! Only two of my short stories are based on my experiences as a solicitor and neither are included in my draft short story collection as they didn’t seem to fit there.
I think all of my life experiences impact on my writing in one way or another, but I’m not consciously aware of this when I’m writing.
7. Did your work as a legal editor train you toward extreme precision in expressing your meaning?
I believe it is a disadvantage to think like an editor when one writes fiction. The mindset of a legal editor, or indeed of a solicitor, actually hampers the free flow of words. I sometimes find it difficult to switch off that analytical mindset in order to write well. However, after the main body of work has been written, in the final stages of tidying up work, my knowledge of editing does help. I love editing other people’s work though.
8. In remarking on your wonderful short story, ‘Clocking Out’ I said:
‘Clocking Out’ is a very sad story told in the first person about the life experiences of a young woman fresh out of her home in an area in suffering through bad times, with few jobs to be found. The woman has seemingly very few inner resources and her low self-esteem makes her an easy target for a sexual predator and a user who also happens to be the foreman at the factory where she assembles computer boards.’
I have three teenage daughters – what can be done to give them the resources to protect themselves?
A: This is a really interesting question Mel – I wish I knew the answer. Isn’t it heart-breaking to think that no matter how good a parent you are, you can’t protect your children from everything? You can’t wrap them in cotton wool.
I guess we need to encourage young people to analyse situations, to think for themselves and to trust their instincts.
A good education is very important too.
Honesty and openness are vital. We need to keep lines of communication open with our children so that they can always discuss anything that bothers them.
No one is perfect and sometimes things can go wrong. We all need to realise that.
Most importantly, we must tell our children that we love them, and that there is always a welcome back home.
9. Cork City – does it get the literary respect it deserves or is it overshadowed by Galway and Dublin?
A: I feel that Cork does not get the literary respect it deserves, despite the fact that we have the Cork International Short Story Festival here every year and many other events, such as O Bhéal which is a forum for poetry.
However, this is going to change.
A new Head of English, Dr Claire Connolly, has recently been appointed to the English Department in University College Cork. Claire is wonderful – I have known her and her lovely husband for over twenty years, long before I ever began to write fiction, so I can safely tell you that I know this as fact!
She is in the process of setting up an MA in Creative Writing in UCC, which will begin this autumn, and I have no doubt that this will be a great asset to the city. I believe that Claire’s work will set in train many good things for literature in Cork City, and in Ireland, in years to come.
10. At the close of my post on your story last year I said I hoped to post on a collection of your short stories one day. Are you actively writing now?
A: Yes, I have to keep writing – I don’t know what else to do now!
My draft short story collection ‘Waiting for the Bullet and other stories’ was short-listed for the Scott Prize (UK) 2012, but it still awaits a publisher. I would really like to get it published soon.
I wrote my first short film script last year, based on one of my own short stories, and this was short-listed by Waterford Film Festival in their 2012 script competition. I’m now a member of Cork Screenwriters Group, which was set up by Rossa Mullin. There are currently seven writers in the group, all in the process of developing feature-length film scripts. It’s great fun, they are doing excellent work and I’ve been privileged to learn a lot from them.
At the moment, though, I’m working on my novel again, after a short break.
I give my total thanks to Madeleine D'Arcy for her very interesting responses to my questions. I am proud to announce I will shortly be publishing a short story by D'Arcy that draws on her experience as a solicitor.