Interview with Nuala O’Connor
Flash Fiction Award Judge
July 2018 – October 2018

Nuala O’Connor lives in Galway, Ireland. Her fifth short story collection Joyride to Jupiter was published by New Island in 2017; her story ‘Consolata’ from that collection was shortlisted for Short Story of the Year at the 2017 Irish Book Awards. Nuala’s fourth novel, Becoming Belle, is published in 2018.

Nuala has won many flash and short fiction awards including the Dublin Review of Books Flash Fiction Prize, The Gladstone Flash Prize, RTÉ radio’s Francis MacManus Award, the Cúirt New Writing Prize, the inaugural Jonathan Swift Award and the Cecil Day Lewis Award. She was shortlisted for the European Prize for Literature.

  • You write novels, short stories, poetry and flash fiction. We’d love to know more about your novel  Becoming Belle, set in Victorian England.

Becoming Belle is about a real-life music hall girl, with a scandalous past, who married an Irish viscount and eventually became the Countess Clancarty. Belle Bilton ended her days in Ballinasloe, in Co. Galway, where I live. From the moment I heard about her I was captivated. How or why did a beautiful young actress swap the delights of Bohemian London for rural Ireland? I started to investigate and after writing one poem and one flash about her, I began to write the novel. It’s out August in the USA and Canada, September in the UK, Ireland and Australia.

  • I loved your short story collection, Joyride to Jupiter which was published last year. Are you writing more short stories for a further collection at the moment?

Thanks so much. Publishing it with New Island was such a positive, joyous experience; they’re a great crew to work with.I have some new stories written and a ton of flash. I’ve noticed editors don’t really want to include flash in collections alongside longer stories, there still seems to be that weird bias against them. I hope to bring out another flash collection in the next few years. I have a lot of material. I seem to write flash now where I once wrote poetry. While I miss poetry a lot, my love for – and connection with – flash just grows.

  • In your recent post about your workshop on historical flash fiction which you are running at the Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol, 20-22nd July this year, you said you often discovered snippets that you turn into historical flash fiction while researching. Can you tell us more about this? Did any new flash fictions emerge from your research for your latest novel?>/li>

I think being immersed in historical language often makes me write historical flash. And then the novel research sends you down such rich gullies; I’m always finding things like peculiar words that grab me hard and that beg to be researched further and written about. I’m a research junkie; I’m beginning to think that I choose to write hist fic/biofic just so that I can spend loads of time on research. It’s one of my writing joys.I can’t remember if Becoming Belle prompted any flash (it’s ages since I began it) but certainly my novel-in-progress has spawned some. In fact, I started the NIP as a novel-in-flash but it soon ballooned into something different. However it retains a lot of short, punchy scenes that my eds will probably object to, but that I love.

  • It seems to us that flash fiction on historical subjects is growing in popularity? Do you agree – if so, have you some ideas of why this might be?

I felt I was out on an island with it for ages; I wasn’t reading much hist flash anywhere. And when I judged flash comps, or guest edited lit journals, I rarely received historical flash as entries Then the online journal of hist flash FlashBack Fiction came along and it seems there are loads of people writing it. I have no idea why. The Hilary Mantel effect, perhaps, whereby hist fic is no longer seen as bodice ‘n’ bonnet or warship land? Whatever the reasons, I’m happy to see it. (Though people treating 1980ish as historical feels problematic to me. I think the 50 years+ rule could be more stringently enforced).

  • What elements do you think need to be present in a successful flash fiction, historical or otherwise?

Oh, the usual: attention to language (pared back or zingy but carefully done); a lack of predictability (non-clichéd characters or plots); pathos; humour; absence; elusiveness; atmosphere.

  • And as a follow up to the last questions – what would make a flash fiction really thrilling for you?

Language that is worked on but not laboured. Something poignant or funny at the heart of the flash. A solid setting. Dialogue that has few words but is meaningful. A poisonous turn of events. A lack of blatant sexism. And, unsurprisingly, I love historical flash!

  • A top editing/revising tip for anyone writing a flash fiction of up to 300 words for our Award?

Read your work aloud. Edit. Walk away. Read it aloud to a non-commenting listener. Edit. Walk away. Read it aloud to yourself. Edit. When you can read it aloud easily, and every sentence flows the way you want it to, you’re done.

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