A book which should be mandatory reading for short story fans

Stinging Fly Stories, edited by Sarah Gilmartin and Declan Meade, published by Stinging Fly Press

Sarah Gilmartin.

Sarah Gilmartin.

THE STINGING Fly magazine was born in 1998 with the specific aim in mind of providing a platform in Ireland for new short stories, some of which are nowe collected in Stinging Fly Stories, edited by Sarah Gilmartin and Declan Meade, and published by Stinging Fly Press.

It is fair to speculate that the recent Irish short story boom – which has seen the explosion onto the scene of the likes of Kevin Barry, Mary Costello, Sean O’Reilly, Claire Louise Bennett, & Colin Barrett – would have been a more muted affair if it wasn’t for the engine that is Declan Meade’s Stinging Fly.

Contributors to Stinging Fly Stories include writers such as Lisa McInerney and Sara Baume [pictured below], best known for their novels. Truth is though, almost every fiction writer starts with the short story because of the training ground the form provides. An inexperienced writer can get lost in the longer, baggier novel form. Indeed, many who go unprepared into that heart of darkness are never heard from again. And said novels usually end up only partially written in a slightly mildewed bottom drawer in a largely unvisited room.

The practice of bringing a story to fruition, which the shorter form almost invariably forces on the writer, is essential. The short story also puts that necessary extra bit of pressure on language; indeed this is something it shares with poetry. The writer cannot afford to waffle on extraneously because there is no room for such self indulgences, whereas novelists can sometimes get away with a page or three of windiness.

The stories that particularly grabbed me included Kevin Barry’s ‘Last Days of The Buffalo’ which opens with characteristic panache: “An indisputable fact: our towns are sexed. Look around you. It’s easy enough to tell one from the other. Foley’s town is indisputably a woman...but she’s not a notably well-mannered or delicate woman.”

I also enjoyed the almost sociopathic detachment of the narrator in Nicole Flattery’s ‘Hump’, the opening sentence of which – “At seventy, after suffering several disappointments, the first being my mother, the second being me, my father died.” – is the sort of thing Albert Camus might have written if he’d ever had the good fortune to eat a ham sandwich at the afters of an Irish funeral.

A particularly striking voice is that of the narrator in Claire-Louise Bennett’s [pictured above] ‘Finishing Touch’. She is preparing to throw a “little party” and sounds like something from the fascist wing of the Mitford sisters when she asks “isn’t a party a splendid thing not only because of the people there but also because of the people who aren’t and who suppose they ought to be?” It isn’t enough that she is “in”; the cherry in her smoothie is knowing other people have been excluded. This is a view widely held in society, but rarely expressed in Irish fiction which tends to feel the need to at least nod in the direction of a rather shallow egalitarianism in which everyone pretends to be in favour of “equality” until someone with an actual inner-city Dublin accent has the temerity to turn up. Stinging Fly Stories is mandatory reading for both practitioners and fans of the short story.

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