Interview with Bayveen O’Connell, Third Place Winner

Interview by Edward Bassett

Why do flash and microfiction appeal to you as narrative forms?

I love paring stories back to their essence, telling a tale in the most condensed way while creating movement and emotional resonance. My favourite thing about writing in this short form is the natural high of (sometimes) being able to achieve a first draft in one sitting.

And there’s nothing like being able to pack a punch into a tiny parcel!

Flash is also a really playful and malleable genre which lets the writer experiment with POV, Hermit Crab forms, and the cross-over between prose and poetry.

You’ve said that you’re drawn to “dark, macabre ideas, mythology, and voices silenced by history.” Can you say how those sources of your writing appear in “Lyrics for a Life at Sea”?

Growing up on the edge of the Atlantic, in the North West of Ireland, in a cottage on a crossroads really felt like I was between two liminal spaces where anything could wash up (sheep’s skulls or minke whales) or turn up (old jewellery and clay pipes someone had buried in the garden). When the wind whistled on a stormy night, it conjured the cry of a drowned fisherman, and the battered sails of 16th century Pirate Queen Grianne Mhaol’s ship weathering the huge breakers off the coast of Mayo.

I’ve found coral fossils with millions of years of stored memory strewn along Streedagh beach, but the fate of Captain De Cuellar (and the sailors washed ashore from the Armada wreck) is still only known locally, and that was something I wanted to include in my story.

Much of Irish history is of emigration and escape for a better life, those who made it to the U.S., Canada and Australia (but never came back), those who didn’t. Seafaring is a double-sided coin of risk and adventure, death or re-birth, which is a major theme in this piece. The main character in the story isn’t politicized, she is negotiating superstition, maritime practice, folklore and history guided by her father’s un-romanticized take on the sea. She’s on a threshold – should she stay or should she go?

When do you feel successful as a writer?

Firstly, when I’ve written, honed and polished a piece I’m really proud of, and then if I submit the flash to a journal I admire and love reading and it’s accepted – there’s a special joy that comes from someone appreciating my writing so much that they want to share it with the writing world. Seeing readers react to what I’ve written and getting positive feedback from fellow writers feels really great too. But success doesn’t have to be validated through publication, success is also identifying and executing what you really want to write for yourself.

What writers and other artists inspire and inform your work?

I’m fascinated by myth, folklore and history from around the world. I love Lafcadio Hearn’s translations of Japanese ghost stories, Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites and The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. I’m a fan of Angela Carter, Joyce Carol Oates, Hemingway, D.H  Lawrence, Collette, John Fowles, Fiona Benson and Carol Anne Duffy.  I love going to galleries and looking at paintings for ideas: Munch, Fuseli, Fredric William Burton, Goya and Frida Kahlo’s work really sparks something in me. In terms of flash (there are so many brilliant writers and facilitators in the community it isn’t fair to narrow down but) I’d say Francine Witte, Cheryl Pappas, Tommy Dean, Kathy Fish, Gaynor Jones, Amy Barnes, Damhnait Monaghan and Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar.

Who’s your ideal reader?

Someone who’ll be moved, shocked, amused (and maybe even inspired ) by my writing. Someone who’s open to my feminist leanings, visceral descriptions, exploration of cruel and tragic histories, fascination with death and how my characters, many of them children, negotiate it. Someone who wants to come on a short, intense journey.