Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Caroline Healy A Question and Answer Session with the author of "Omni(M)potent"

March 1 to April 21
Q & A with
Caroline Healy

Caroline Healy is a writer and community arts facilitator. She has recently completed her M.A. in Creative Writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre, Queen’s University, Belfast. She published her first collection of short stories, entitled A Stitch in Time in August 2012, having won Doire Press’s International Chapbook Short Story Competition. Her work has been featured in publications such as Wordlegs, Prole and the Irish Writers’ Centre Lonely Voice. Caroline is completing the edits to her second short story collection, The House of Water and is working on her second young adult novel entitled The Wolf Mirror. You can follow Caroline on Twitter @charliehealy8 and check out her wonderful website:

Having recently read her very intriquing short story, "Omni(M)potent" I was very happy when Caroline Healy agreed to do a Q and A Session for Irish Short Story Month

Caroline Healy

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?

My tastes are varied when it comes to short stories, it gives you that freedom I think. I enjoy reading David Foster Wallace (Incarceration of Burnt Children) and Junot Diaz writes in a style I admire (How to Date A Brown Girl(Black Girl, White Girl or Halfie) and of course Flannery O’Connor (A Good Man is Hard to Find). For Irish writers, I like Claire Keegan’s Foster, it was a really powerful short story and Mary O’Connor’s The China Factory is doing quite well. The Patio Man was my favourite in that collection. There is just so much to read and never enough time.

Best short story writers, I think Neil Gaiman (Fragile Things), Ernest Hemingway and F.Scott Fitzgerald should all be in that list somewhere.

2. when did you start writing? I cannot remember ever not writing and the same applies to reading. Weekend trips to the library were part of the very essence of my childhood. Writing has always been something that I just ‘did’ but now I see it in a more solid capacity, it is something that I can weave into the daily aspects of my life, in the hope of making it a sustainable career.

3.   The Fall of Celtic Tiger, the Irish Economy,has caused a lot of pain and misery.  Is there a positive side to this?  what lessons for the future can writers take to their work?  has it in any sense brought people closer to values other than consumerism?  Is it just another day in the life of the Irish?

I live in Northern Ireland so for me I am slightly removed from the plight of the fallen tiger. However, even when it was roaring and raging, I missed out. I was a poor student, or a badly paid graduate and lucked out on cashing in. The tiger seemed to bypass me and that suits me just fine given, and I hate using this expression, ‘the current economic climate’, I am able to adapt.
The demise and subsequent fall out will have an effect on the psyche of Irish people but I feel that perhaps the younger generation will bear the brunt of it. Elizabeth Reapy and Wordlegs’ recent short story collection, 30 under 30 reflect a diffracted youth, themes of immigration, displaced and struggle were common in this collection.
Only time will tell.

4. Tell us a bit about your non-academic non literary work experience please I am an archaeologist by trade originally, having studied English and Archaeology at University College Cork. I worked in that for many years before moving to more arts based project management. I now work with young people and community groups across Northern Ireland, teaching creative writing and art as a vehicle for acceptance, integration and personal development.

5. Why have the Irish produced such a disproportional to their population number of great writers?

We know how to tell stories, the Irish know how to weave a sceal or two to our advantage. I think that storytelling is engrained in our culture, perhaps in a more subtle way nowadays but look hard enough and you will find it. If you have an inclination towards the art then it is fostered by those who went before you, there is a plethora of literature for you to read, explore and examine. The landscape lends itself to the art of writing, inspiring the greats and of course the people. It is the people and their nuances that populate the pages for the story tellers of modern Ireland.

6. (This may seem like a silly question but I pose it anyway-do you believe in Fairies?-this quote from Declain Kiberd sort of explains why I am asking this:

" One 1916 veteran recalled, in old age, his youthful conviction that the rebellion would “put an end to the rule of the fairies in Ireland”. In this it was notably unsuccessful: during the 1920s, a young student named Samuel Beckett reported seeing a fairy-man in the New Square of Trinity College Dublin; and two decades later a Galway woman, when asked by an American anthropologist whether she really believed in the “little people”, replied with terse sophistication: “I do not, sir – but they’re there."

No, I’m afraid I don’t really believe in fairies.

7. Do you think the very large amount of remains from neolithic periods (the highest in the world) in Ireland has shaped in the literature and psyche of the country? 

Yes, heritage and archaeology has always been important to Irish literary development. The impact of the Irish Literary Revival brought about by W.B. Yeats, Lady Gregory and E.Martyn in the early 20th century was of immense importance to the shape of literature and the psyche of Ireland.The movement was associated with the revival of interest in Ireland’s Gaelic heritage.The Irish Literary Revival went on the become the Abbey Theatre. The organisation put on productions such as Countess Cathleen and the Playboy of the Western World to riotous reviews (literally). The archaeological heritage and iconic images of an ancient Ireland became symbols of a new emerging Ireland. The Abbey Theatre today still uses the image of CuChulainn and his hound as their mascot.

8. When you write, do you picture somehow a potential audience or do you just write? 

I just write. If I constantly thought of a potential audience I would drive myself to distraction, changing my mind infinitum. I just write but then I rewrite, edit, edit, delete, redraft, edit, scrap, start over, write, edit (you get the picture). It’s not a simple one stop shop, it is a lot of work.

9. In your short story, "Omni(M)potent" who or what is the narrator? why did you make use of a non-conventional mode of type setting?

I wanted to make the writing on the page a piece of art form in itself, challenging the reader in their preconceptions. For me, the text on the page and its layout is as important as the meaning of the actual words.
The narrator in Omni(m)potent, on a simple level is the writer, having untold knowledge of their characters and the motivation of those characters. That is the concept I started out with for this short story. Then I began to feel a kind of empathy for the narrator, understanding the weight of responsibility and possible loneliness this omniscience (all knowing) has. I thought about omnipotence (all powerful) and what would happen if you were omniscient (all knowing) but not omnipotent (all powerful) but impotent to do anything for the people (your characters if you are a writer).   The layout is just a final layer to the readers’ experience.

10.Tell us as much as you like (a lot would be nice) about your experiences while getting your MA in creative writing at the Seamus Heany Centre?

It was like being thrown in to the deep end of a swimming pool of books and told to sink or swim, taking chunks, pieces, pages, lines, words from these books to act as your life buoy. It was the most amazing, thrilling, scary and unsatisfying experience. Unsatisfying because it opened up, even more, the world of literature for me and now I know I will never have enough time to read all the things I want to read but I will make a good attempt at it. I learned a great deal from my lecturer, Professor Ian Sansom, a walking bibliothèque. However it was reading and marking other people’s work that I learned the most. Trying to understand, unravel and explore writing enables you to learn about the craft of writing. This was one of the lessons I will take with me from this Masters.

12. Do you think poets have a social role to play in contemporary Ireland or are they pure artists writing for themselves and a few peers? No, I think poets like many artists have a role to play in any society. If someone’s work has an impact on another person then they are contributing in some way to society and how it functions.

13. Does Belfast get anywhere near the literary respect it deserves?

I think it has a number of excellent writers but the scene is smaller than in Dublin and a little bit more removed from London and the literary scene over there. It holds its own quite admirably with writers like Glen Patterson, Bernie McGill, Ciaran Carson, Paul Muldoon. Belfast and Northern Ireland is overflowing with poets and that adds gusto to the goings on up here. The Belfast Book Festival is coming up soon and that is always a very well attended event.

14.  Tell us something about the work of a community arts facilitator please?

I work a great deal with young people from immigrant backgrounds, using arts and writing as a means to address issues around racism, ethnicity, belonging and integration. Arts and the written word has the power to achieve a great deal and luckily I see this every day in my work.

15.    if you could invite three famous writers to dinner who would you invite and what would you try to get them to talk about-?

Hilary Mantel, Shakespeare and E.L James, and I would ask them to discuss feminism in our modern society, paying special attention to campaigns such as SlutWalk and EveryDaySexism Project. The conversation would be interesting given their backgrounds.

16. My brother and I are coming to Ireland for the first time on in May and will be there 18 days so I have some tourist questions I seek your advise on.

a. In driving from Dublin to Donegal, will the drive be more interesting if we go through Northern Ireland, we have been told there is awesome scenery? is there much delay or hassle at the border crossing? There is no border crossing anymore and yes the scenery is amazing, well worth the drive but at present it is covered in a few feet of snow, so best check the weather forecast first.
b. Belfast-worth a day trip and do we need a Frag jacket? I think perhaps paying attention to reliable sources of journalism in relation to the political scene in Northern Ireland might be worthwhile. Arm yourself with a realistic portrayal of Belfast and Northern Ireland instead of a frag jacket before your visit. Belfast is an excellent city with a great deal to offer the tourist. George’s market, the titanic museum, lots of great places to eat, City Hall, Linen Hall Library, Queen’s University, the list is endless.   
c. Best literary tourist experience in Dublin? That’s hard to answer as a native Irish person, I don’t tend to do literary tours in Dublin, but the One Book, One City event (Strumpet City is the book for this year) is ongoing at present. The Irish Writers Museum and Centre is worth a visit. The National Library has an excellent exhibition on W.B.Yeats and of course there is Trinity College with the Book of Kells.  
d. best place in Dublin to see a stage show of a classic Irish drama? The Abbey Theatre.
23. If you were to be given the option of living anywhere besides Ireland where would you live? That is a really difficult question, someplace warm with nice weather would be a good start. France perhaps.

24. If you could time travel for 30 days (and be rich and safe) where would you go and why?

India. I worked on a project for a year with the Heritage Lottery Fund learning all about culture, art, heritage and dance and I would love to spend some time travelling the continent. (Caroline-later in the year I will be devoting six weeks to Indian short stories-I hope you can share your knowledge of Indian culture with us then-note added by Mel u.)

25.. Flash Fiction-how driven is the popularity of this form by social media like Twitter and its word limits? Do you see twitter as somehow leading to playwrights keeping conversations shorter than in years past? 

I definitely think that the attention span of audiences is shorter, not necessarily shorter but they are less tolerant. Their time is precious, you need to catch their attention from the word go and deliver something bite size but high quality. Social media definitely has a lot to answer for in terms of the way we consume literature today.

27. How important in shaping the literature of Ireland is its proximity to the sea?

Like the influence of the heritage and geographical landscape, the sea has its part to play too. What you see all about you is bound to impact your creative processes.

28.  When you are outside of Ireland, besides friends and family, what do you miss the most?  What are you glad to be away from?

I miss the Irish sense of sarcasm and humour and I am glad to be away from traffic jams.

29. Quick Pick Questions
a. Comedy or Drama? Drama
b. dogs or cats cats no dogs no cats no dogs (too hard a question).
c.  city in Ireland with the biggest literary ego? Dublin
d.  favorite meal to eat out-breakfast, lunch or dinner? Brunch.
e. RTE or BBC (sorry RTE but BBC for its variety but it is reflective of the number of population is represents, RTE does a good job)
f. Belfast or Dublin-friendliest town, cleanest, safest Dublin, Belfast, Belfast.

30. OK let us close out on this note-what is your reaction these lines from a famous Irish poet?
This poem makes me sad and hardens me to excel and prove the neigh sayers wrong at the same time. As Flannery O Connor once said, “It's easier to bleed than sweat, Mr. Motes.”  The poet may be born to these things but he is not tied to live by them, they shape his past and his present but they do not dictate his future.

I was born to the stink of whiskey and failure

And the scattered corpse of the real.

This is my childhood and country:

The cynical knowing smile

Plastered onto ignorance

Ideals untarnished and deadly

Because never translated to action

And everywhere

The sick glorification of failure.

Our white marble statues were draped in purple

The bars of the prison were born in our eyes

And if reality ever existed

It was a rotten tooth

That couldn't be removed.
Michael O'Loughlin


I offer my great thanks to Caroline Healy for taking the time to give such interesting and well considered responses to my questions.

Mel u

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