Éilís Ní Dhuibhne as born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1954 and lives in Wicklow. She has published four collections of short stories: Blood & Water (The Attic Press, 1988); Eating Women is Not Recommended (The Attic Press); The Inland Ice and other stories (Blackstaff Press, 1997); Pale Gold of Alaska and Other Stories (London, Headline Review, 2001) and Midwife to the Fairies: New and Selected Stories. Her novels are The Bray House, Dancing, The Dancers, Fox, Swallow, Scarecrow and Dún an Airgid. She also writes as Elizabeth O’Hara, for children.

Short Story Collections

The Shelter of Neighbours
(Blackstaff Press, 2012)

reviewed by Nuala Ní Chonchúir

Midwife to the Fairies (2003)

Pale Gold of Alaska and Other Stories

The Inland Ice and Other Stories (1997)

Eating Women is not Recommended (1991)

Blood and Water

Interview with Éilís Ní Dhuibhne

The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

Éilís Ní Dhuibhne: It’s ten years since my last collection. The stories were written over a period of about six years, the majority during a period of about two years before the book was finished.

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

END: No. I think short story writing is one of the more spontaneous narrative arts. Each story is written when it needs to be written. For me, writing "with a collection in mind" would damage, if not destroy, the sense of catching a story from the air. One of the things I love about the short story is this easy relationship with time. It’s an omelette, not a turkey with all the trimmings. Having a specific kind of collection in mind from the start would – for me - make short story writing more like the marathon that is novel writing.
   On the other hand, like most writers, or people, I have certain interests and obsessions. And then there is the fact that "tarraingíonn scéal scéal eile": one story suggests another. Therefore, common themes run through the collection and will be easily identifiable to readers, but that does not mean that I identified them in advance of writing.  One theme is writing itself.  Another subgroup of stories focuses on people living in one neighbourhood; I’m interested in examining the networking of social groups, to some extent. 

TSR: How did you choose which stories to include and in what order?

END: I chose stories that I thought were good and I left out stories which seemed weak – because they were superficial and lacking in sublety. A bit flashy. Usually they were quite short stories (under 2000 words) that had been written on one sort of commission or other; they served their purpose at the time. I was very pleased that the commissioning editor of Blackstaff, Patsy Horton, and I, were of one mind on this selection process (i.e. without consultation, Patsy suggested leaving out the three or four that I also felt were "fake" stories.)
   The ordering is somewhat intuitive. But basically the collection falls into two parts:

    •    Stories about stories, writing, literature
    •    Stories about  people who live in suburbia, mostly on the same road, Dunroon Crescent.
   The collection also consists of stories which are highly invented, and stories which are a mixture of biography and fiction (the two ways in which I – and I think most people – use their imagination – as outlined actually in The Man Who Had No Story)
   I placed The Man Who Had No Story in the initial position. It’s about a writer who is blocked and learns a lesson about the nature of storytelling from an traditional folktale (of the same title). I wrote this story at a time when I was blocked myself – at least in the sense of not having written short stories for several years. It opened a door for me – it may not do so for the protagonist in the story!
   I placed Bikes I have Lost and The Blind last, because these were among one the latest stories I wrote and because I am moving into an interest in childhood and the past myself - my next book will be a memoir. So another arc of the book is from age to childhood: it reverses the pattern of say Dubliners. Although I wasn’t terribly conscious of this arc, it fits in with my sense of the short story as a genre that delves deep; or perhaps one could say, with the idea of the short story as "the backward glance"!

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

END:  It means delight. I have always loved the word "story', as one loves certain words more than others: the promising bite of the "st", the generosity of the big vowel, "o", and then the lovely roll of the closing "r." Every child loves the word "story", don’t they? And the word "lollypop".   Writers are more childish than other people. I am.
   At a more lexical level, it means something happens to someone. That’s enough. God is in the details. The short stories I like to read and write dig deep, rather than spread wide. And they are suggestive, poetic. They yield their meanings slowly. 

TSR: Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?

END:  Not really. But perhaps: Alice Munro. Luz Mar Gonzales. Anne Fogarty. Helena Nolan. People like that. Good readers. Sympathetic too.  Some of whom read my stories and some who don’t.

TSR: Is there anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?

END: Did you have a favourite? Why do you like it?

TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?

END: It feels fantastic.

TSR: What are you working on now?

END: Lectures about the Brothers Grimm. And a memoir about myself.

TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

END: It so happens that over the past few weeks I’ve been taking books down from my bookshelves at home – exploring my own library, which is a very pleasant thing to do from time to time. So my last three are not new collections, and one is very old. Elizabeth Gaskell, Cousin Phillis; Andre Dubus, Dancing After Hours; John Updike, Problems
 I also  read a short story by Alice Munro more or less every day. I’m addicted to her. I tried to break this habit at one stage but failed so now I just keep all her books in a heap beside my bed, and snatch one before going to sleep.
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Find out what other authors, from Aimee Bender to Sana Krasikov, said about their collections, what the word "story" means to them, and how it feels to know that people are buying your books! More interviews >>>