Author Danielle McLaughlin talks to us about short stories, the importance of literary journals for reaching readers, and her debut collection, Dinosaurs On Other Planets (The Stinging Fly). Danielle will be taking part in RTÉ Radio 1’s Arena Live Show.
Q: Your debut collection of short stories, Dinosaurs On Other Planets (The Stinging Fly), was published earlier this year. How long have you been working on the stories within it? Was it your aim for them to form a collection?
The earliest of the stories is ‘All About Alice’. That was written back in 2011. Most of the collection is comprised of more recent work. When I began writing, I wasn’t writing with a book in mind, I was just writing stories and sending them out. Even when I did begin working towards a collection, I wasn’t writing to a particular theme, although looking back over the stories I can see certain preoccupations emerging.
Q: How important was it for you to have your stories appear in publications like The Stinging Fly, The Irish Times and The New Yorker? Does the positive reception you receive help give you confidence to continue?
Writers need readers, without readers we are writing into a void, so it’s always a huge encouragement when a story is accepted for publication. It brings a sense of the possible. Having journals and newspapers that publish and champion short stories is crucial. Recently I was reading New Irish Writing 1, a 1970 anthology of stories from the early days of The Irish Press New Irish Writing pages. I was struck by the opening sentence of David Marcus’ Introduction where he said: ‘The day of the literary periodical in Ireland is not merely dead – it never really dawned.’ I wondered what it must have been like to be a new writer back then and to have practically nowhere to send your work. And as a writer starting out, I’m grateful that things are different now, that we have a range of excellent literary journals publishing short stories.
As for confidence to continue: I’m inclined to think that very few writers have any real confidence in their own work, not writers in the early stages of their careers anyway. It’s one of the hazards of the job, the constant self-doubt. So I’m not sure that publication brings confidence as such, but it does encourage us to keep going.
Q: Is the short story the form to which you are most naturally suited? Will you continue with them or do you think there could be a novel forthcoming in the future?
When I first started writing, I started with non-fiction articles for newspapers and magazines but quickly switched to short stories. I love short stories and can’t imagine not writing them. I have a few new ones currently under construction, I like to write them in batches. I’m also writing a novel at the moment. It’s hard to explain, but to me, it has the feel of a very long short story. That may have something to do with the fact that it started out as a short story. It has its origins in a writing exercise I did in Nuala Ni Chonchuir’s workshop at Waterford Writers Weekend a few years ago and it still has the same title I gave it that day.