Delays to this post included one fried computer, replacement, re-installation. Need I say more?
Selina Guinness was in conversation with editors Declan Meade and Thomas Morris (who’s also a writer) and writers Cathy Sweeney & Danielle MacLaughlin.
In her opening remarks, SG remarked that Danielle MacLaughlin’s stories have the quality of inhabiting many points of view at once, while Cathy Sweeney’s demonstrate remarkable composure – even their titles suggest parables for our time.
Asked why she treats animals so harshly in her stories, DMacL said she doesn’t set out to do it, they just come along – and when they do, bad things are going to happen to them. As a child she was fascinated by dead animals, maybe that’s where it comes from.
Is she a vegan? No.
SG said there’s a great unknowability about children in both writers’ work.
DMacL is interested in distances between people and how to bridge that gap, the difficulty of relationships. Referring to Belinda McKeon’s Introduction to A Kind of Compass, she quotes BMcK’s intriguing idea that distance is inherent to the short story.
CS likes writing about parent-child relationships from a sideways-on perspective. Something peculiarly unlikely might happen.
SG (CS’s stories) are almost about a symbolic order.
CS likes to go straight for the jugular so, for example, instead of going around the father daughter complex in a roundabout way, why not simply have a father and daughter who are married?
SG (to both) How self-consciously feminist is your project?
DMacL said that if she tries to pick a specific issue to write about, it doesn’t work, but she is interested in issues that women contend with. Sometimes she might explore something in that way and write a big long lump of a thing that stories eventually emerge from.
CS doesn’t have a specifically feminist agenda. Actually, she often enjoys writing male characters.
SG:Endings are a common problem for many short story writers. In DMacL stories, you often have a sense that the characters live on past their endings. Can they talk about that?
DMacL doesn’t know where her endings come from. Maybe, like films or plays, they just finish. Or she loses interest. The stories take a shape of their own.
She writes 50 or 60 drafts – (a frisson runs through the audience when she says this) – the story will change and may get a totally different ending. She can only work things out on paper: other writers might work things out in their heads but she can’t.
TM: what do you mean by ‘a draft’? – (Thank you Tom, we all wanted to know this) –
DMacL: The first drafts are handwritten. Probably a day’s work? She doesn’t have a neat work process – maybe around draft #20 she’ll see what might be a story and then later still she’ll think: no, that’s not it. She keeps them all, they’ll be used somewhere/sometime.
SG to DM: At what stage do you, as editor, step in and rescue this woman?
DM: I say this works or this doesn’t. Small problems are left until later in the editorial process. It took 2 ½-3 years to finish “The Smell of Dead Flowers”, for example.
CS is lucky that way. Her stories are very short and come out as a gulp and that’s it. When she wants to write a story, she has it.
In a general chat about Irish writing, TM said that he moved to Dublin when he was 19. If he’d stayed in Wales he probably wouldn’t have written anything, ever. Going to events here, people like Roddy Doyle & Colm Tóibín talk to you, they take you seriously if you say you’re interested – this is a city and a country that take writing seriously; there’s an extraordinary level of opportunity and encouragement here.
A few questions from the floor circled the real question of what the editors look for when they read submissions. The best answer came when DM said: You forget you’re reading it as a submission. You can’t say no to it, you want other people to read it.
Afterwards, we adjourned to the comforts and extensive wine list of McKenna’s Bar.