The Splonk Five – interview with Danielle McLaughlin

Danielle McLaughlin

Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with flash? Why it appeals and what frustrates you?

I’m usually working on some flash fiction alongside longer stories and/or a novel, and more recently, maybe a poem. Some ideas, from their earliest spark, have the shape or feel of a piece of flash and I’m not sure that I can explain why that is. Flash can feel like a sort of Sudoku with words instead of numbers – it’s fun and can be compulsion forming! The frustration, for me, usually comes from attempting to inject enough depth of story into such a small space of text, to go beyond having fun grappling with words, and into the territory of feeling and emotion.

In terms of construction/technique, how is flash fiction different, in your view, from other genres – in particular poetry (including prose poems) and the short story?

 Sometimes there’s a tiny element of story to be excavated from something, and I’ll know that it isn’t meant to be any longer, but that it’s still very much a story that wants to get onto the page.  In the early stages of a piece of flash, I’ll find myself drawn to a couple of key words and images and they in turn, by association or perhaps by the strange workings of the subconscious, will spawn more words which will in time join together to build into a flash. In contrast, stories and novels tend to begin, for me, with a situation and their characters take a long time to reveal their strengths and failings.

Fundamentally, for you what makes a flash piece successful?

I like flash that has the word weight of poetry and also has a narrative running through it. I like flash that trusts me enough as reader to allow me to keep on writing the piece in my own head after the last line. Sometimes that space after the last word of a piece of flash is where the really powerful stuff happens. I admire work that leaves me with a sense of a puzzle having been delicately constructed by the writer, and the writer has very generously offered it to me to finish, has saved for me the pleasure of putting in the last few pieces myself. In those stories, I’m a participant alongside the writer, not a passive onlooker.

What flashers do you admire and why? Are there any specific pieces that you found compelling?

There are way, way too many flashers that I admire to list them all! However a few writers and stories that stand out for me :

Ingrid Jendrzejewski – here’s an example of her work: ‘Roll and Curl‘ in Bath Flash Fiction Volume 1.

Tania Hershman for her collections My Mother Was an Upright Piano and Some of Us Glow More Than Others.

Helen McClory – I remember being totally grabbed by this flash when I was editing Southword magazine: ‘Automaton‘.

Richard Brautigan – his short short stories from Revenge of the Lawn – I particularly like ‘A Study in California Flowers’ from that collection.

What flash piece of your own are you most proud of?  Where can we read it (if it’s available)?

My story ‘Hook’ was published as part of the New Yorker Flash Fiction Series in Summer 2017 and you can read it here.   In terms of word count, this one is pushing the outer boundaries of flash in length, being over 1000 words long. In terms of shorter flashes, I’m fond of ‘Beached’ published in The Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology Volume 7, and approximately 250 words long.

About Danielle McLaughlin:

Danielle McLaughlin’s flash, short stories, and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The Stinging Fly, the Irish Times, and many other publications. The 2014 Bristol Short Story Prize and 2015 The Best Small Fictions anthologies included her flash fiction, as well as The New Yorker 2017 summer flash series. Her many honours include the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award and the Windham-Campbell Prize for fiction, both in 2019. Danielle’s debut collection of short stories, Dinosaurs On Other Planets, was published in Ireland in 2015 by The Stinging Fly Press, in the UK and US in 2016 by John Murray and Random House. Danielle’s novel Retrospective will be published in January 2021. Together with Madeleine D’Arcy, she co-runs Fiction at the Friary, a free monthly fiction event in Cork which takes place at the Friary Bar, North Mall on the last Sunday of every month. Her regular updates are posted at Danielle McLaughlin.ie

Back to Splonk Issue 2