If you’re read­ing very in­ter­est­ing stuff or things that aren’t quite there but have a lot of prom­ise, then it’s re­ally hard to say no

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE - Mar­i­tal strife: Mur­phy and Birthis­tle in

The power of brevity is om­nipresent in matters of the writ­ten word, and for some it re­mains the ul­ti­mate test of ex­per­tise. Sorry, I wrote you such a long let­ter, I didn’t have time to write you short one, as the age-old apho­rism goes.

With a soft chuckle, De­clan Meade agrees it is be­mus­ing that be­gin­ner writ­ers use the short story as a prac­tice ground in search of get­ting pub­lished, and that they do so in their droves.

He should know. For 20 years now, Meade and his lit­er­ary jour­nal The Sting­ing Fly have built a rep­u­ta­tion as one of the great mid­wives of Ir­ish writ­ing tal­ent, a place for those with the itch to send their work and seek ac­tu­al­i­sa­tion in print form.

Early May sees the re­lease of Sting­ing Fly Sto­ries, an an­thol­ogy edited by Meade and Sarah Gil­martin that picks a “great­est hits” from two decades and 55 is­sues. The names that crop up tell a story in them­selves about the Fly’s pas­toral role. Kevin Barry, Sara Baume, Lisa McInerney, Nuala O’Con­nor and Colin Barrett are just a smat­ter­ing.

The maiden voy­age in March 1998 showed Meade there was enough in­ter­est to fill an edi­tion (Is­sue 01, Vol 01 was a 28-page A4 edi­tion fea­tur­ing five short sto­ries). To­day, the up­com­ing Sum­mer 2018 edi­tion re­ceived some­where in the or­der of 700 sub­mis­sions, ev­ery one read and vet­ted by editor Sally Rooney. Rooney, who re­cently took over the role to free up Meade for the count­less other con­cerns of run­ning an in­de­pen­dent lit­er­ary brand and pub­lish­ing house, was “shocked” by the qual­ity. That’s a lot of re­jec­tion letters to peo­ple who have put their heart and soul into their work.

“Which makes the job a lot harder,” Rooney winces. “If you’re read­ing rub­bish, it’s eas­ier to say no, but if you’re read­ing very in­ter­est­ing stuff or things that aren’t quite there but have a lot of prom­ise, then it’s re­ally hard.”

And then there are the ‘usual sus­pects’, as Meade has called them, those who al­ways sub­mit but never quite make the grade.

“I com­pletely un­der­stand the urge to get pub­lished,” he con­cedes, “and for that to hap­pen as soon as pos­si­ble. It le­git­imises what you’re do­ing. In­evitably, when you say to peo­ple you’re a writer, they ask have you been pub­lished, and its dead­en­ing to say you haven’t. A lot of what we’re do­ing is of­fer­ing that val­i­da­tion.”

While feed­back for 700 sub­mis­sions is sim­ply im­pos­si­ble, part of the Fly’s re­mit is a men­tor­ing one. To help promis­ing writ­ers fo­cus on their craft, it of­fers writ­ing work­shops helmed by Sean O’Reilly, a long-time res­i­dent of Meade’s tal­ent sta­ble. As Danielle McLaugh­lin, au­thor of Di­nosaurs on Other Plan­ets, puts it, TheSting­ingFly gives emerg­ing Ir­ish writ­ers “a sense of the pos­si­ble”.

For Colin Barrett, whose col­lec­tion Young Skins, nabbed a Rooney Prize and Guardian First Book Award in 2014, get­ting pub­lished in TSF was his “only tan­gi­ble am­bi­tion” start­ing out.

“Even if noth­ing more ever came of my writ­ing ca­reer, it would be a marker, a sign that I had tried… I owe De­clan my ca­reer.”

Sara Baume, mean­while, was in­spired to sub­mit af­ter Meade gave a talk at her mas­ters in cre­ative writ­ing in 2009. The Fly pub­lished her and the rest is his­tory.

“I re­mem­ber feel­ing quite de­spair­ing as my stud­ies wrapped up and so hav­ing this story pub­lished rep­re­sented a ma­jor source of en­cour­age­ment,” she re­calls to­day.

Given Rooney is now the same age as Meade was when work­ing on that first is­sue, he con­cedes that the dreaded “elder states­man” tag might be start­ing to fit more snugly. Au­thor Joseph O’Con­nor said the world needs good read­ers as much as good writ­ers, ar­guably more so. Meade is proof of this. Some­thing of a frus­trated scribe him­self, the Ardee na­tive set up the Fly with then-James Joyce Cen­tre col­league Aoife Ka­vanagh (who de­parted af­ter two edi­tions) af­ter meet­ing fel­low ty­ros at writ­ing cour­ses who be­moaned the lack of out­lets for their work.

To­day, his eye for this no­to­ri­ously tricky form is re­garded as one of the best in the busi­ness. What is he af­ter, then?

Meade in­hales. “What you recog­nise in a good writer is that they’re writ­ing out of some kind of real ex­pe­ri­ence or en­gage­ment with the craft. They also have am­bi­tions and are writ­ing in con­ver­sa­tion with writ­ers and works they hold in high re­gard. Each in­di­vid­ual has their story to tell and their way of

The Delin­quent Sea­son

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