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.
The Shelter of Neighbours
(Blackstaff Press, 2012)
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
with Éilís Ní Dhuibhne
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.
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
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.
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.
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
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"
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
does the word "story"
mean to you?
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.
Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?
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.
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.
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?
it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
END: It feels fantastic.
What are you working on now?
END: Lectures about the Brothers Grimm. And a memoir about myself.
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
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
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.