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Lisa McInerney

16.02.2020

Contributing Editor, The Stinging Fly.

 

Literary journal The Stinging Fly has been publishing the best of Irish and international writing for over 20 years. In the year 2020, it will create a very special Galway 2020 issue, to celebrate and place one critical eye on the themes of language, migration, and landscape.

Guest editor, Lisa McInerney is a novelist, short story and screenplay writer and one of the most engaging voices in contemporary Irish literature.

Witty, warm and direct, Lisa chats to us in the cosy surroundings of Charlie Byrne’s about her love for everyday language, women’s voices in writing and the need to promote Gort as a literary stronghold.

How would you introduce the Stinging Fly to us?

The Stinging Fly is a literary journal in Ireland. We have been publishing the best of Irish and international short stories and poetry since 1998. Writers are at the centre of it, so it’s not just a journal, but a space for writers to develop their craft. We do a lot of workshops, events and of course, there’s also the Stinging Fly Press, which has published authors like Kevin Barry and Danielle McLaughlin.

 

When did you become involved with The Stinging Fly?

I think I was first published in The Stinging Fly in 2015. They asked me to do a few short stories here and there. Then, the editor at the time, Tom Morris, was looking for contributing editors to come on board. I think they just slowly assimilated me from then on.

 

How will the Galway 2020 edition of The Stinging Fly be different?

We want to keep the themes of Galway 2020 – we’ve got landscape, language and migration. That’s still such a broad remit, isn’t it? To a degree, we still want it to feel very much like a Stinging Fly book. We still want to have that excellence of the written word, that innovation. What we’re doing is: we’re casting a net out there and just seeing what’s going to come back. What is it about Galway 2020 that is going to either inspire people or provoke people? It’s going to be exciting.

What are you hoping to collect?

It’s good to not have too much of a set idea of what is going to come out. Hopefully, we’re going to capture much of the spirit of the city and county, in terms of the diversity. Galway City and County is changing so much – if we can capture this moment in time, that would be great.

 

How can writers and readers take part?

We’ve already opened and closed one submission window. We’ve got a number of short stories and essay proposals in for that. There will be another one at the end of February for people to submit their ideas. We’re also commissioning pieces from writers that we think are going to deliver something really amazing on the brief.

 

What keeps you busy as guest editor?

It takes a good year to put everyone into position, figuring out what you want, commissioning the writers, reading new work, making all those decisions and making sure that the issue is as full as it can be. That’s what I’m working on now, even though it’s not going to be published for another 11 months.

 

How can people get their hands on the publication?

They’ll be available to the subscribers of the Stinging Fly, on the website, at the launch in November and in all the bookshops. We’re going to have a number of events in around the launch of the issue in November and people can come along to that.

Being a writer, living in your head and trying to make something of it is isolating enough. It’s great to have a community that doesn’t compound those issues – by being there for you. That feeling of belonging is pretty good.

 

What is it like being a writer in Galway at the moment?

I am not going to say this is specific to Galway, I think this is an Irish thing – it’s a really nice community. Irish writers are particularly supportive of one another, especially of new writers coming up through the ranks. Irish writers tend to be very excited about reading new work and championing it. Being a writer, living in your head and trying to make something of it is isolating enough. It’s great to have a community that doesn’t compound those issues – by being there for you. That feeling of belonging is pretty good.

 

How have you seen women in writing evolve over the last ten years?

This is something that has been very easy to track. You’ve had the Irish canon; when we see the posters of Irish writers and we see the memorabilia, it’s all the fellas, isn’t it? For a long time, women’s voices didn’t appear as a part of that conversation at all. It wasn’t that there weren’t any women writers, it was just that they’d been lost to the canon in one way or another. People started asking questions about this and around 2015, The Irish Times asked who these women writers are that we’d want to celebrate. Around that time, Sinéad Gleeson put together The Long Gaze Back which was an anthology of Irish women writers over the last 200 years. That again started the conversation around the fact that women’s voices had traditionally been missing from Ireland’s cultural sense of itself, in terms of literature.

How do you think that shifted the mindset?

Because there was an appetite, because people were asking those questions, the publishers then realised that there is a space to publish more women – to read more women. Outlets like The Stinging Fly, Gorse, The Dublin Review, Tangerine in Northern Ireland, Banshee were made available. Women realised that if they had something to say, if they wanted to write something, there was an audience there. That creates an awful amount of confidence for writers who had potentially never thought that they can have a place in the sun. Then you have independent publishers, the likes of Tramp Press, who have been a huge force for good in terms of writing the balance. A lot of the very popular and praised Irish debuts of the last five years have been by women.

 

When you speak, you’re very expressive and colloquial. How is your voice in writing different?

It isn’t, really. I am interested in writing in the vernacular. Hiberno-English, in particular, is so expressive, it’s so lively, so full of slang; it’s different from British English. It has all of these characteristics – why would you not utilise that to write? We have a long history of doing that, if you look at Joyce’s Ulysses, that’s Hiberno-English. For me, it’s very much my voice I want to capture and I’ve always written that way. I’ve always written things that are close to my own experience, my community, the place I come from and my outlook.

 

What was the first thing you’ve written, the very early starts?

Do you really want to hear the very first? The very first thing I wrote was when I was 8 years of age and it was a ‘novel’ about a magical horse. I wrote the words, I did the pictures. It was full of bad spellings. After that didn’t win the Nobel prize, I became disheartened! I was always writing as a kid. I wrote through secondary school, I wrote all the way through college. I wasn’t trying to do anything with it, I didn’t look to get it published.

 

What was the turning point for you as a writer?

Around 2006, I started a blog called Arse End of Ireland. Blogging was big in Ireland at the time. It did OK, this blog, and it started getting attention from some of the Irish writers that wanted to champion new writing. These people started encouraging me and creating opportunities for me. I ended up writing a short story for Kevin Barry for his anthology Town and Country. From then, the door was open to me and I went through.

“Being a writer, living in your head and trying to make something of it is isolating enough. It’s great to have a community that doesn’t compound those issues – by being there for you. That feeling of belonging is pretty good.”

What was on the other side of that door?

My first novel was published in 2015, The Glorious Heresies and it went on to win the [Bailey’s] Women’s Prize for Fiction and Desmond Elliott Prize and the [Primo] Edoardo Kihlgren Prize in Italy. It did very very well. My second novel, The Blood Miracles was published in 2017 and that won the [Royal Society of Literature] Encore Award. Then there’s a glut of short stories from 2013 up to now that have appeared in things like the Stinging Fly. I write short stories and I write novels, a bit of screenplays as well. I try my hand to most things but my heart is in the novel. I’ve just finished writing my third novel; my editor has made some suggestions and I have to incorporate them. I’m looking at a lot of work over the next few months but it should be ready to go soon!

 

What Makes Galway magic?

I’ll tell you a story. I have a friend who is a screenwriter and he had a film at the Film Fleadh a few years back. We were walking down Shop Street together and all the buskers were out, there were people doing puppet shows, and he goes, “Wow and all of this is for the Fleadh?” I’m like, “No, no mate, that’s just Galway! It’s like this every day.” He was just really taken aback. There is an energy to Galway that you don’t get in other places. There is a dedication to making art that is seen as very normal in Galway. The fact that in Galway nearly everybody is an artist or trying to be one and the fact that they’re not all locals to Galway either. Galway is a great place for gathering like-minded souls from all over Ireland and beyond.

We’re in Charlie Byrne’s bookstore for your photos today. What makes it special to you?

The thing that I’ve always loved about Charlie Byrne’s is the chaos of it all. It doesn’t feel like a bookshop, it feels like someone’s private library. Everywhere you look, there’s books. There’s books on the floor, under tables, there’s books in little suitcases. That’s one of the great joys of being a reader – feeling like you’re utterly surrounded by books. Minimalism and literature don’t really go together I think. You want to almost be buried under words and that’s what it feels like in Charlie Byrne’s.

 

When was the moment that you began thinking about yourself as a writer?

This is going to be a really boring answer but I think it’s actually when you have to start paying tax! That’s when it feels real and inescapable in a sense. I’ve always thought of myself as a writer. I don’t necessarily think that writers are made, I think we’re born. I think it’s a certain way of looking at the world and a certain way of trying to make sense of it. I never wanted to be a writer, I just figured I would be. I think it’s a compulsion, more than anything else.

(If Galway was a piece of writing ), it would be literary fiction – something that you couldn’t quite pin down, something very nebulous and all over the place. You’d recommend it to your friends and say, “Just give it a chance, when you’re ten pages in, you’ll get it, I promise.”

Do you have an inner critic and how do you silence them?

Of course I do! I have an inner and an outer critic. I think every artist does and if an artist doesn’t, it probably makes for very bad art. You have to be your own biggest critic, surely. Nobody is as close to this thing you’re making as you and nobody is going to be able to see the issues with it as much as you. That need for perfection that you never reach, that’s the whole point in making art. As the saying goes, “A piece of writing is never finished, it’s just abandoned.” How do I silence the critic? I don’t really, I don’t think I can. At the end of the day, you just have to trust your readers, your editor, your friends when they say, “This is fine, relax.” If we didn’t have those people as writers, we’d never publish anything.

 

How do you get most of your writing done?

I am not one of those people that can go write in a cafe – I’m really jealous of those people. My environment has to be very quiet and very free of distractions. I tend to only write when I am at home and if I am travelling, I try and do reading. My rule is, if I am sitting down for a day of writing, I try and get 1,000 words done. They can be a 1,000 words that are very great or not very good. I can edit them later, as long as I get something done. I think you really have to be quite strict with yourself.

 

You’re from Gort. What’s it like living there?

Gort really needs to promote itself as an Irish literary stronghold because it is! Lady Gregory, the founder of the Abbey Theatre, lived in Gort, along with W.B. Yeats whose summer home was Thoor Ballylee, five kilometres outside of Gort. And of course, The Autograph Tree is in Coole Park, so Lady Gregory would have all these fabulous visitors – Seán O’Casey, George Bernard Shaw, Douglas Hyde. We’re all very aware of this in Gort but I would love to see more focus on that and how we can promote that part of local history to the rest of the country.

(If Galway was a piece of writing ), it would be literary fiction – something that you couldn’t quite pin down, something very nebulous and all over the place. You’d recommend it to your friends and say, “Just give it a chance, when you’re ten pages in, you’ll get it, I promise.”

 

If Galway was a piece of writing, what would it be?

I think it would be experimental and it would be chaotic and it would wreck your head a little bit to read, but you’d feel a bit better once you’ve had it understood. It would be literary fiction – something that you couldn’t quite pin down, something very nebulous and all over the place. You’d recommend it to your friends and say, “Just give it a chance, when you’re ten pages in, you’ll get it, I promise.”

 

The second submission window for The Stinging Fly is open Monday 17 February to Monday 2 March 2020.


Hundreds of creatives have been involved in the making of the Galway 2020 programme. In our Meet the Makers series, we meet the people who are making it  happen.

Photos and interviews by Julia Monard.

Videography by Lakshika Serasinhe.

 


Citations:

Keating, Sara. “Fired from the Canon: the Fate of Irish Female Playwrights.” The Irish Times, The Irish Times, 2 Dec. 2015.

 

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