On the first National Flash Fiction Day it is a pleasure to welcome Valerie O’Riordan to this blog. Valerie is a prize winning writer of flash fiction and has just released her debut short fiction collection Enough. She is co-editor of the #NFFD Jawbreakers collection. Ladies and gents, put your hands together for Valerie O’Riordan’s Life in Short Fiction:
1. The first short story you remember enjoying.
As a kid I was familiar with Frank O’Connor’s My First Confession – I think it must have been anthologised in some primary school reader – and I loved it, though I’m not sure if I actually read it or had it read to me. The first short story I remember reading myself was something from Joyce’s Dubliners when I was in secondary school, probably The Dead – it wasn’t on the syllabus, I just got a bit ahead of myself, and I couldn’t get to grips with it at all. Several years later, in my final year at University, I chose a module called ‘American Short Fiction’ – mainly because it was one of the few courses that concentrated on relatively contemporary writing. And there I came across Cheever, Carver, Barthelme, Hemingway, Junot Diaz, Jhumpa Lahiri, Eudora Welty, Katherine Anne Porter – it was a whole new world of fiction. I can’t remember which particular story I enjoyed first, or most, but I know I got a particular kick out of Welty.
2. The short story that turned you on to writing short fiction.
I don’t think it was any one story that did it, in a kind of Eureka moment – but one author whose fiction (novels and short stories) really made me get my arse in gear was (and is) Denis Johnson. I read Already Dead one summer a few years ago and thought, I have to do this. And his story, Emergency Room, in the collection Jesus’ Son, knocked me sideways. Also, if I’d read it earlier, I think anything out of Helen Simpson’s Hey Yeah Right Get A Life would have kick-started me. Maybe it’ll kick-start somebody else instead, now.
3. A story by the author whose body of work you feel has most influenced yours.
At the moment I’d have to say Kevin Barry. He’s got two collections (and a novel), but I’d pick a story from the first book – maybe See The Tree, How Big It’s Grown in There Are Little Kingdoms. Barry has the most amazing ear for dialogue and the rhythms of language – he makes me want to try harder every time I read him. His characters are both grotesque and achingly human and the stories follow their own pattern – there’s never a tidy, manicured arc, and yet they’re complete. He makes the form his own.
4. The story from your own body of work that most reveals something of who Valerie O’Riordan is.
I wish I had a large enough body of work that I could delve into for this! The story I won the Spilling Ink Flash Fiction Prize with, You Might Call It A Start, won’t be published for a few months yet, but I was pleased with the blend of peculiarity and realism in that one. (I’d been reading a lot of Kevin Barry at the time.) I like to think it’s got a good dollop of humour to balance out the main character’s rather bleak circumstances. That’s not to say my own circumstances are bleak, though! But in my work I increasingly try to go for a type of black comedy and I think it comes across in that story.
5. Your all time favourite short story.
This is an odd one: the story that made the most impact on me, ever, is one I’ve only read once: Lawrence Sargent Hall’s The Ledge. It was so good, so absolutely perfect, but so harrowing that I bawled like a child during it, and though that was years ago, I haven’t yet been able to bring myself to do it again. But it’s the one story I’d urge everyone to read. If anybody thinks that short fiction can’t have the same impact as a long novel, then they haven’t read The Ledge.
Valerie O’Riordan is a graduate of the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Manchester. She was the winner of the 2010 Bristol Short Story Prize and the 2012 Spilling Ink Flash Fiction Prize. She co-edited Jawbreakers, an anthology of flash-fiction to celebrate the inaugural National Flash-Fiction Day in 2012. Her first chapbook, Enough, is out now with Gumbo Press.