Interview in Wales Arts Review


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It was great to meet John Lavin of Wales Arts Review at the Cork International Short Story Festival in September. John included one of my stories ‘Pete’ in a special issue celebrating the short story. 

During the festival in Cork he chaired an engaging panel discussion with Rachel Tresize and Kristiina Ehin at the Triskel Arts Centre and after the festival he interviewed some of the writers who took part: Colin Barrett, Paul McVeigh, Matt Rader, Órfhlaith Foyle, Nuala Ni Chonchuir, and myself. Read the interviews in the current issue here

John relates his own experience of the festival with characteristic enthusiasm for the short story here


Red Line Book Festival


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RLBF_Booklet_2014_final_Page_01Looking forward to reading at the Red Line Book Festival on Friday, October 17th along with Geraldine Mills & Eileen Casey. In conversation afterwards with MC, Sue Hassett. I’ll be reading from my forthcoming collection of stories. Check out my post on Geraldine Mill’s collection here. Our event and booking details, below.

readwomen-900-x-900-770x430 Are literary women writers undersold and undervalued by the current literary universe? In 2014 a small American literary journal vowed to cover women writers for a full year. Then, artist Joanna Walsh’s #readwomen2014 project became a popular meme on social media. Join three Hennessy award winning writers, Valerie Sirr, Geraldine Mills and Eileen Casey in this lively debate as they assess and redress male writers’ dominance in the literary world. The event is facilitated by local writer Sue Hassett. Presented by Red Line Book Festival @ South Dublin County Libraries BOOKING DETAILS HERE. Hope to see some of you there!

Cork International Short Story Festival


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I had a wonderful time at the Cork International Short Story Festival 2014. Thanks to all at Munster Literature Centre who helped to keep everything on track. Special thanks to Patrick Cotter, festival director, for inviting me to read, and to Jennifer Matthews for all her hard work too. They were both very kind and helpful to us all and acted as MCs for various events. The full line up is here.

It’s always such fun to meet Twitter, Facebook and blogging pals in real life and most of us resembled our social media pics which made introductions a bit easier. I met and chatted with some lovely folk during the days and evenings and into the wee small hours. We had fine sunny days, the Irish ‘Indian’ summer that often arrives in autumn and only had a few showers as we went from venue to venue. I read in the Central library on Grand Parade, with Orfhlaith Foyle, a writer whose work I admire, and we both got a great welcome from the audience.

Patrick Cotter interviewed us both after the reading and we discussed, among other things, whether we see ourselves as predominantly Irish (or female) writers, whether writing poetry has influenced our short stories, how important language is to us, and how literary fiction writers fare in a commercial market. We also discussed Richard Ford’s controversial statement the night before: that the short story is ‘lesser’ than the novel. We were lucky to have John Minahanphotographer of Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney, as festival photographer and I hope to see some of his photos soon.

Many thanks to the generous Paul McVeigh for sharing his photos of our readings. 


Cork Festival 2014, me,conversation,w P Cotter copy

Me, discussing writing

Orfhlaith Foyle

Orfhlaith Foyle, reading


Me with Orfhlaith Foyle discussing short stories, writing, and microphones...

Me with Orfhlaith Foyle discussing short stories, writing, and microphones…




We were well looked after …

Bank of Frank

Some of the generous festival tokens for food and drinks

My festival book buys:


May-Lan T & P Chapman books


Bernie McGill

Jaki McCarrick

Kristiina EhinCan’t wait to get stuck into these!


Creative Writing Classes Start Soon


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People's College enrollment pic


It’s that time of year again! Here are the details of my upcoming creative writing classes. Learn new skills and meet fellow writers in a relaxed, supportive, environment. Writers at all stages welcome:


People’s College Dublin:

Begins Weds, October 8th. Class runs from 6.15pm to 7.45pm.

Class listed here – page 2, scroll down to Weds night class, Description here: ‘Creative Writing Workshop

Please contact People’s College to enrol or call in and do it there. Enrolments from Monday 8th September and continuing till Thursday from 5.30 to 8pm. Then continuing during the day for the following weeks – until classes begin.

City of Dublin (ETB), Crumlin College of Further Education:

Begins Monday, September 22nd. Class runs from 6.45pm to 8.15pm.

Enrol here (you can download, fill in application form, and post it in advance) or call in to Crumlin College (ask for Kathy O’Neill, adult ed.). Enrolments commence week of 1 September 2014 between 6.30pm and 8.30pm, Monday to Thursday ONLY.

Tel: 01 454 0662

Fax: 01 453 8855


Valerie with students

Valerie with People’s College students


First drafts...shy folks out of shot (photos not compulsory!)

First drafts…shy folks out of shot (photos not compulsory!)

Valerie with City of Dublin ETB,  prize winners & rapper TemperMental Miss E

Valerie with City of Dublin ETB, prize winners, Mairead Macconmara, Pat Gough, Jamie Moans, Ann Nugent & guest, rapper Temper-Mental Miss Elayneous


Below, some of my Crumlin College of Further Education class members who won the City of Dublin ETB creative writing awards. Pictured with guest writer, John MacKenna:

Susan Condon, first prize winner for short story, with John MacKenna

Susan Condon, first prize winner for short story, with John MacKenna

Doreen Duffy, winner poetry section, with John MacKenna

Doreen Duffy, winner poetry section, with John MacKenna


Ann Nugent with guest, rapper Temper-Mental MissElayneous

Ann Nugent poetry section winner, with guest, rapper Temper-Mental MissElayneous

Jamie Moans, winner in fiction section, with guest, rapper Temper-Mental MissE

Jamie Moans, winner in fiction section, with guest, rapper Temper-Mental MissE

Pat Gough with guest, rapper Temper-Mental Miss E

Pat Gough, winner in fiction section, with guest, rapper Temper-Mental Miss E

Hover on the Mentoring tab for more student success stories and teaching references

Louise Phillips gives writing & marketing tips


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Last Kiss final front cover

New novel from the author of The Doll’s House, published by Hachette Ireland. Winner of the Crime Fiction Book of the Year award, BGE Irish Book Awards 2013

‘A story as fast-paced and thrilling as a rollercoaster’ Jane Casey

I’m delighted to have the lovely Louise Phillips visit the blog. As well as being an award winning writer, Louise is a great supporter of other writers. Today she shares some of her experience about writing and marketing:

Valerie Sirr: I was intrigued to hear that Last Kiss was partly inspired by a short story you had written and I remember your short stories winning literary awards. Could you tell us a bit more about that? Didn’t it win a literary award too?

Louise Phillips: It was a story by the same name in fact, and it won the Jonathan Swift Award a number of years ago. The voice was that of a woman obsessed with her rather nasty male lover. She was damaged emotionally and I suppose even though she killed him rather viciously in the end, no one ever remarked that what she did was wrong. This really fascinated me, how someone so violent could be forgiven by the reader. She turned up again in another short story a year later called ”Role Play’, where a prostitute arrives at a hotel room of a rich overweight man. I didn’t realise it was the same character until it was published in Revival Literary Magazine. I suppose it was inevitable that she would end up in a novel. When a fictional voice doesn’t go away, it usually means they have more to say.

Valerie Sirr: You’ve been doing a great job of marketing Last Kiss. Where did you learn to market so well, or is it something you’ve picked up along the way?

Louise Phillips: Thanks Val! I do my best. I think everyone has to develop their own relationship with social media and other marketing tools at our disposal today. I did study marketing another lifetime ago and I remember being intrigued by behavioural psychology which was part of the course. I’m not sure this helped me though. I just think as a writer it’s good to share your news whilst at the same time still appearing human. It’s also important to think outside of the box, which is why I’ve tried to make each of my book launches entertaining for those who attend. The last one even had free killer lipstick in the shade the killer used. I create book trailers too, which in a visual world is a good way to get the heart of your novel over to readers in about 50 seconds – it’s challenging but fun. The bottom line is, it’s a very tough market out there and it’s very easy to get lost among the major International and well known Irish writers, so anything you can do to set your book apart is a good thing. I think I’m a people person too, which helps. My late mother used to be a trader in the markets before she got married, maybe the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree!

Valerie Sirr: One of the ways you drew attention to your book was to have an online publication day before the launch in Dublin. Any tips about that? I remember give-aways, props etc

Louise Phillips: I hadn’t planned to have one at all but then a reader from the UK who couldn’t attend the launch suggested an online party. I had no idea how it would go but thought sure why not give it a try? I invited people I thought would be interested and at 10 am that day I kicked it off with a question about the Book Trailer. All winning answers would be in with a chance of a small prize. Part of me thought no one is going to answer this but then the answers kept coming in and before I knew it there were nearly 100 people chatting and commenting online. So the day was filled with a quiz or two, or three – none of the questions too difficult and all connected to the novels. We had a Q & A too where readers could ask me any question about a character they wanted? Then it was more fun and games with people suggesting who would play each of the characters if the Kate Pearson series was turned into a TV drama or a movie. That was a lot of fun!! Guessing D.I. O’Connor’s first name nearly caused my laptop to crash!! By 6 pm I was exhausted but boy was it a great lark and I think everyone who took part really had a blast. I would definitely do it again! The prizes were not large, so most people got involved because they were enjoying themselves, and that can’t be a bad thing!

Thanks to Louise for those great tips and below you can find information about the book.


He made the mistake of thinking that he was in control. But he was wrong. And after the final blows of the knife, she stole his last breath with a kiss.

At a hotel room in Dublin, a member of the Housekeeping staff makes a gruesome discovery: the body of art dealer Rick Shevlin, covered in stab wounds – the results of a frenzied attack – and arranged with artistic precision, laid out like the Hangman card from a Tarot deck.

On that damp, grey morning criminal psychologist Dr Kate Pearson receives a call from the Special Detective Unit asking for her help in investigating Rick Shevlin’s murder. While the detectives work to reveal relevant details from the victim’s past, Kate uses her skills and expertise to build a profile of the killer: female, highly intelligent, filled with anger. Her signatures: symbols from the Tarot card deck and a red lipstick mark on the victim’s mouth – one last kiss. Kate is sure that she has killed before – and that she won’t be easy to catch.

Meanwhile, across the city, Sandra is frantic with suspicion – her instincts tell her that her husband is having an affair, and that the woman has been in her home, moving things. Is it all in her mind?

And what connects her suspicions to the hunt for Rick’s murderer?

As Kate and DI O’Connor are plunged into an investigation with links to Rome and Paris, they uncover a vicious trail of sexual power and evil. And they must work quickly, as the killer has another victim in her sights…

Featuring criminal psychologist Dr Kate Pearson and Detective Inspector O’Connor, Last Kiss is the chilling new psychological thriller from award-winning crime writer Louise Phillips.



Louise Philllips

Red Ribbons, the bestselling debut novel by Dublin-born crime author Louise Phillips, was nominated for the Ireland AM Crime Fiction Book of the Year award at the BGE Irish Book Awards in 2012. Louise won the award in 2013 for her second novel The Doll’s House. Louise returned to writing in 2006, after raising her family. In addition to her three published novels, Louise’s work has been published as part of various anthologies and literary journals. She has won the Jonathan Swift Award, was a winner in the Irish Writers’ Centre Lonely Voice platform, and her writing has been shortlisted for prizes such as the Molly Keane Memorial Award and Bridport UK. Last Kiss is her third novel and she is currently working on her fourth.


‘On a cold January day in 1984, Ann Lovett, aged fifteen, having started labour, took a detour to the local graveyard instead of returning to school. She laboured for hours in the rain. Ann and her baby died that day. The inquest into her death said: ‘Death was due to irreversible shock caused by haemorrhage and exposure during childbirth.

Last Kiss is not the story of Ann Lovett or her son, nor is it the story of the moral outrage their deaths caused at the time, occurring in the same year as the Kerry babies scandal. But nonetheless both of these true stories have stayed with me and they were in fact the impetus for this fictional tale. A question arose in my mind: What would happen if a baby survived the death of their mother and, in the context of this fictional story, was reared by someone evil?

In writing Last Kiss, the theme of nature versus nurture, good versus evil, fascinated me. The fictional killer I created pushed my boundaries as a writer, and I hope you agree it was a story worth telling.’

‘A dark and terrifying psychological thriller that grips you from the start and doesn’t let you go’ Virginia Gilbert, BAFTA-nominated, award-winning writer and director

For more information, or to arrange an interview, please contact Frank Cronin, Plunkett PR on or 01-2807873



Vienna Short Story Conference


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I attended the 13th International Short Story Conference at the University of Vienna last week and was thrilled to hear that a story I entered into the conference short story competition received honourable mention along with Adnan Mahmutovic, Bosnian-Swedish writer; winner Lisa Smithies. I enjoyed Lisa’s talk on closure in the short story. The judges were: Bharati Mukherjee and Clark Blaise. Bharati Mukherjee gave an impressive reading at the Literaturhaus event.

The prize money will be a welcome injection of funds into my bank account after an expensive week…

Vienna was stunning, exciting and exhausting (due to being glutened on the first night!). I wouldn’t have missed it for anything and the conference was a wonderful opportunity to meet fellow writers from Ireland and all over the world. I read my work, introduced others, heard some stimulating readings and learned from the panel discussions on myriad aspects of the short story form.


Vienna Irish Embassy reading

Vienna Irish Embassy reading, taken by Ron Davis


Vienna Irish Embassy audience

Above, my reading at the Irish embassy in Vienna, along with Nuala Ni Chonchuir, Alan McMonagle, Billy O’Callaghan, Evelyn Conlon and Madeleine D’Arcy. Thanks to Ann Luttrell, Maurice A. Lee and Ambassador James Brennan.

I was heartened by Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer prize winner who praised my story after I read at the embassy, saying it was ‘full of yearning’. (Interestingly Adnan Mahmutovic’s work is described as ‘stories about longing and survival’). Further encouragement came from fellow Irish participants Billy O’Callaghan and Alan McMonagle sitting on either side of me after I read, from other established writers in attendance, from non-writers too, and I am grateful for their generosity. As most writers know, positive feedback from readers and listeners is invaluable.


Vienna after reading w M Mirolla

Above, chatting with Michael Mirolla with whom I shared a reading and Q&A. The generous and diligent Sandra Jensen was our introducer and did a fine job, researching our work and taking time to read a story of mine beforehand.

Here’s some pics of the city itself:


The Giant Ferris Wheel…tracing the steps of Harry Lime in the flim, The Third Man


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Rathaus building at the end of my street


Vienna, Parliament (2)

Vienna parliament building


Vienna, Mozart

Couldn’t have a Vienna post without Mozart…


Vienna, Tram, Superman

Superman ‘begging’ on a U Bahn


Vienna, old trams

Loved these old trams which ran like clockwork as did the U Bahn underground system. Got pretty hot down there – 35 degrees one day.



Vienna Schloss Gardens

Doing the tourist bit at Schloss Schonbrunn, the opulent residential palace and gardens

I feel very lucky to have been invited to attend and again big thanks to Maurice A. Lee conference director, Sylvia Petter writer and co-director, and Ann Luttrell organiser of the Irish contingent.



The Goodness of Men


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Hellkite Cover I’ve admired Geraldine Mill’s work for a long time now. I first came across her writing when her story ‘Lick of the Lizard’ won the millennium Hennessy New Irish writer award. Her winning story became the title story for her debut collection of short fiction published by Arlen House in 2005. I reviewed that collection here.

Hellkite, Geraldine’s third short fiction collection published recently by Arlen House, is a powerful and original work that explores the goodness of men, and the cruelty, sometimes indifferent, sometimes hellish, of women to men. There’s a lively, imaginative playfulness in these stories and the abandoning wife in the opening story is further developed in the final story, which allows an exploration of the humanity of the hellkite and frames the collection beautifully. Below, in this review/interview, we explore the many strengths of Geraldine’s collection. 

Valerie Sirr: The idea of a collection of hellkites for a book of short fiction is wonderfully inventive. How did the idea come to you? Did you come across the word somewhere, an image? Was it an emerging theme in your work?

Geraldine Mills: The collection didn’t start out like that at all. There was never a moment when I said I was going to write a book about cruel people or about men who have been cruelly treated by women. Like most writers, it is not the way I work. I go with the gut instinct of what is chipping away at my imagination; what will not give me peace until I start to give it some attention; until the image begins to hold.

So, for me, yes, it is the image, a picture that lodges in my subconscious and grows there until it demands to be fleshed out. The starting point of the collection was ‘The Centre of a Small Hell’ which was broadcast on RTÉ when it was shortlisted for the Francis MacManus competition. The idea for that story came after a friend of mine showed me a hunting table belonging to her father who had just died. That piece of furniture immediately grabbed my attention and as with the most rewarding parts of writing, the characters Bernard and his wife Margaret became flesh. It was then up to me to search out the words that might adequately paint their lives on the page.  Deciding to bookend the collection with Margaret’s death scene came about much later in the process.

I find with each collection that I am writing blindly, not seeing much before me. I am well into it before I see a pattern emerging and it was the same case with this one.  After I finished ‘Frost Heave’ and ‘Every Piece of Ivory a Dead Elephant’ I found that I was telling the stories very much from the man’s point of view, not knowing why that was. Only as the collection got more depth was I able to see a pattern emerging which was ‘the goodness of men.’

As I looked for more stories I was able to see that this theme resonated even in the very short story ‘The Devil’s Dye’. In this piece of flash fiction, Eliza’s father is the one who gives her the courage to go on despite the hardship of her young life. The final story ‘Feeding the Wolf of Lies’ was also an important one to include in it as there is an attempt at seeking atonement which comes too late. I was able to salvage the title Hellkite from an unsuccessful poem I had written a few years earlier. It is what we writers do, salvage, steal, unearth.

VS: There is a wide range of styles in the collection from classical realism in some instances to the comical surrealism of Fionn MacCumhaill appearing in a Dublin supermarket (‘Drinking his Strength Back’) and the Angel Gabriel turning up on the moonlit trampoline of an Irish garden (‘The Best Man for the Job’) to the darker Kafkaesque absurdity of a hopeless man’s metamorphosis into a pig (‘Foraging’). Even your traditional stories often read like tales, for example ‘Centre of a Small Hell’ – like an old Irish tale, ‘This Street with Looking-Glass Eyes’ with its echoes of Hansel and Gretel, ‘The Call’, with that vivid swan imagery, ‘Once Bitten’ – an unnamed man hovers between past and present love. Have you ever made a conscious decision to move away from social realism?

GM: Never. I go where all writers go; I sniff out the story and like a blood hound follow it until I can root it out of its covert. I am certainly attracted to the surreal and the power of story. I also believe it is important to write what gives me the greatest fun and contains the greatest primordial energy. Maybe it says something about my need for new things, not to stay in the one spot too long or I will atrophy.

Every story a writer starts is like starting from the beginning again so I am always working in the dark; I never know what I am doing until it is almost done. I don’t set out with a plan. After getting the image, I run with it until it takes on its own life.  There may be a battle, there will be a battle until the story comes or it doesn’t. The easiest ones are the ones where I hear the voice of my character in my head and they carry the story for me, such as ‘The Best man for the Job’. With this Angel Gabriel story, I was lying awake late one night in Cape Cod suffering from jet lag and I saw the image of the archangel swinging back and forth in the darkness. I transferred him to the trampoline at a later date so Jimmy could join him on it.

The Hansel and Gretel story was written one blistering afternoon in Cordoba when it was too hot for me to go sightseeing. My husband was going to visit a castle and I asked him to bring me back great stories. My own request had given me a new starting point, a first line. I immediately grabbed it and went through the revolving door of the hotel to its coolness and started writing. I had the first draft written by the time he came back. A wonderful exhibition I had seen by the photographer, Helen Levitt, in Madrid the week before was still there in the back of my head and that informed the looking glass scene at the end. Mad or what!

VS: Whether your stories are social realism with contemporary references to austerity measures and redundant men, or experimental stories like those already mentioned, they seem to me to be deeply felt. Is ‘truth’ in fiction something that matters to you?

GM:  In the preface to Creatures of the Earth, John McGahern wrote: Among its many obligations, fiction always has to be believable. Life does not suffer such constraint and much of what takes place is believable only because it happens. The god of life is accident. Fiction has to be true to a central idea or vision of life.

For me the story has to feel true; it has to have authenticity. Even though nearly all my fiction has little or no personal truth in it, when I write I subvert most details to satisfy the narrative I am writing. I have to believe it. I have to see it all happening as if I have lived it. I have to see Bernard taking the sledgehammer to the hunting table, I have to see the archangel swinging his legs on the trampoline, or Fionn MacCumhaill eating spag bol.

Hemingway also had something to say about it: Good writing is true writing. If a man is making a story up it will be true in proportion to the amount of knowledge of life that he has and how conscientious he is; so that when he makes something up it is as if it would truly be.

It has to ring true for me so the reader will be carried on that truth.  Otherwise it doesn’t see the light of day. The stories that I discard don’t have that ring of authenticity.

VS: Your poet is very much in evidence from your unusual word choices – ‘haem’, ‘grallocked’, ‘pangolin’, ‘latchico’ (which I haven’t heard in years), ‘gilly’, ‘grackled'; your striking symbolism, imagery, pathetic fallacy; your ear for language rhythms. The opening to ‘Drinking His Strength Back’ reminds me of Ginsberg’s ‘A Supermarket in California’. Do you ever use a story image as an inspiration for a poem or vice versa?

GM: As you know, the only tools a writer has are the words and they have to be the right ones. The short story is as tight as poetry and for me the joy is in getting the right word, getting the lines to flow with the rhythm of a poem; to make it the very best it can be. I have certainly started off something as a poem that ended up as a short story and vice versa. ‘Thwarting Zeus’ in my last short story collection was a poem in my very first collection ( Unearthing your Own, Bradshaw Books, 2001) which was inspired by my friend and fellow writer Eileen Casey’s daughter sitting beside me when she was barely able to talk, looking up at me with her beautiful eyes and telling me that I smelled of swans. Out of the mouths of babes! Such an imaginative line had to be given as much space as possible and warranted both poem and story as I wanted to explore it to its limit.

I have always loved the short story genre and never planned to be a poet but when my children were very young often the only way I could get down an idea was to distil it into a poem. I was fortunate enough to get the attention of Bradshaw Books after winning their poetry competition and they went on to publish my first two collections. After that Arlen House approached me and invited me to submit my short fiction. Arlen House has published my last five collections so I have been extremely lucky in the dedication of these two independent publishers.

Writing poetry makes you a stickler for ensuring that you chose the right word and that you don’t waffle. That the image is strong enough to carry the narrative; that you are giving it all the attention it needs.

VS: There is a primal earthiness in your writing. Nature, animals and the animal in human nature permeate this collection (‘Centre of a Small Hell’, ‘Frost Heave’, ‘The Devil’s Dye’, ‘Apidea’ and your final story, ‘Feeding the Wolf of Lies’ – the poignant bird imagery and the gecko that briefly echoes the lizard from your first book). In ‘Every Piece of Ivory a Dead Elephant’, once again the absence of animal connection breaks a marriage. What writers or poets might have inspired you in this regard? Do you live close to nature, or did you as a child?

GM: There is something very heartening about a reader getting it; discovering all the nuances and the symbols hidden within the text. You have certainly given the collection a very close reading and you have picked up on all the little symbols that are there. Yes, I grew up in the country in county Galway in what was the country then. Behind our house was a small hazel wood. When I think back to that time, I realise that those woods reared us. We were not so much feral as hunter-gathers that scavenged briars and branches throughout the growing season. We were out in them at all times, our mother only calling us in when it was time for bed. In fact in the summer we  didn’t even go in for meals but stood at the edge of the wood and shouted into her to bring us out a piece of bread which she dutifully did. We lit fires in the woods, roasted gooseberries on them, cracked nuts with stones, bruised our mouths with blackberry juice.

We were allowed to run wild, to live in moss and ferns. Just to smell moss now brings me back to that time of wildness. I spent a lot of time playing with snails, we made them race across the front step, climbed into walls and across the tops of gates. It was what we knew best and I felt totally at home among the trees and the birds. Moving to Dublin in the 1970s was great for 20 years but the lack of space and trees had me crossing the Shannon in 1992 where I lived in a mobile home every summer without electricity or running water until we finally built our own house and I moved back permanently in 1995. Here the scent of moss is never very far away. So, yes it’s a big part of me.

Writers who inspire me are another day’s work. I suppose everything we read informs us in one way or another in what way we want to write or not, as the case may be. I keep going back to Eduardo Galleano’s The Book of Embraces given to me by friend and short story writer, Alan McMonagle. It’s a book that blends poetry and parable, history and autobiography. I particularly like the surreal drawings attached to the text. I could write stories on those alone.

VS: I know you’re interested in art from your previous cover choices and you have an intriguing painting ‘Death in Florence’ by Pauline Bewick on your cover. You couldn’t have found a more apt image for your book. I love the ‘Alma Fetish’ story behind Bewick’s inspiration for the painting. Could you tell us a bit about it and how you came upon it?

GM: I was thrilled to be able to use the painting by such an esteemed artist. As you say it really sums up the collection. Arlen House is known for the beautiful books it publishes especially Bewick: The Seven Ages and Kelly Reads Bewick. They are collectors’ items at this stage and I am a fortunate to have copies of them. With Hellkite I was very clear that it had to be a very strong marriage between the text and the image. In choosing a new cover, I seek out new art work; go to exhibitions to see if I can find an appropriate image. It was the same with this one and when I went through Bewick’s art and discovered Death of Florence I knew it was the one. Nothing else came close to it in terms of how it captured the essence of the stories and what I wanted to portray.  It was much later that I saw it was part of the opera inspired by her work and the life of Alma Mahler.

VS: Hanif Kureishi recently commented in a Guardian article that most of his graduate students did not know how to tell a story. No matter what style of story I’ve read in Hellkite, there is always the sense of being in the hands of a writer who has a keen awareness of the power of a well constructed narrative. There is great dramatic tension in your disturbing title story, among others. Some of your stories, though they are mostly modern rural Irish voices, have speech idioms and phrases ‘as Gaeilge’ and local lore that remind me of the traditional seanchaí passion for the art of storytelling. For any writing students who might read this interview, what would your advice be about storytelling, or how important is it to you?

GM: I have a card on my computer desk which asks me three questions when I sit down to write a story. What story do I want to tell? Who do I want to tell it? How do I want to tell it? That’s what it comes down to. If I can get these elements working together then I feel I am onto something. I keep going back to those questions if I find myself in a quandary. The story telling is a major part of the process. I want to tell it to someone and tell it so that he/she can see it happening before his or her eyes. That is why it has to work on every level. It doesn’t have to be a big story. In fact, the genre is built on a something small that brings about an awareness of change in the character and the reader. The story has to hook me in order for it to be continued on in the imagination of the reader. It’s not enough to have a good story if the writing doesn’t stand up and equally no good if you have well constructed sentences and no plot. The alchemy is in the melding of the two. Everything has to click into place –  character, point of view, conflict, ending – like the tumblers on a vault door for the door to open. ‘What if’  is the carrot or stick that keeps me  moving the story forward.

VS: Your short story collections and poetry have been taught at the University of Connecticut and Eastern Connecticut State University. You teach in NUI Galway. Do you find that mentoring inspires you to write, or do you put your own work on hold. while teaching?

GM: There is a balancing act to be achieved when you write and teach. It can be very time-consuming working with other people’s short stories but very rewarding when you see where the story needs salvaging and you can bring the story to another level.  Most of what I have learned about writing is by the hard graft of getting it wrong myself, understanding where it has gone wrong and learning how to put it right. Reading the masters in the genre is another way to see how it is done, but you really only learn by doing.

The advantage of mentoring is that you become sharper at editing because you are watching all the time for dud notes, for punctuation that affects the rhythm, a dubious point of view, a story that starts on page two. It sharpens my own writing and I see it as a plus both in terms of  what it brings to my writing and being able to earn money doing something I love. It also makes me write. How can I, in all reality, be critiquing someone’s work if I am not writing myself? I have to be up-to-date with new styles and not be a Luddite, stuck in the past. It also makes me much more disciplined. I will often do my own work first, knowing that the teaching will have to get done at a later stage. If I do it the other way around my own writing will be side-tracked into some other chore.

VS: You’ll be reading at the next Cúirt Festival in Galway (Cúirt Literary Brunch). Your Hellkite stories have appeared in the prestigious Willesden Herald New Short Stories 6 among other places and have been broadcast on RTE. Do you enjoy the promotion, performing side of writing?

GM: For me the writing is the driving force. Recently, I came across a quote from the songwriter David Crosby where he was talking about song-writing. He said ‘If you don’t have a song, all the production in the world is just polishing a turd.’ I am inclined to agree with him. The work has to stand up to scrutiny, to endure. The greatest fulfilment for me is the finishing of a story to the best of my ability. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than someone coming up to me after a reading and telling me that they like my work. To touch even one person with what you have written is a great achievement I believe.

I am delighted to be reading at Cúirt with Geraldine Mitchell and Edward O’ Dwyer.  The promotion side of things is not my strong point but I am always happy to accept an invitation such as this and to be reading in my own home town. American audiences have been hugely responsive to my work so it is always a great boost to read in Connecticut or Seattle. I also love to read at smaller festivals around the country because that is where you can pick out the pulse of people’s interest in literature.

A short story reading is a bit more difficult than a poetry reading. If you choose to read the wrong short story you could lose your listener soon after the first line. With poetry you can better gauge your audience and change tack if the first few poems don’t keep their attention. A short story doesn’t have that same opportunity and you make sure you chose a story better suited to the ear than the page so that listeners can see the story unfolding before their eyes.

I still believe that the work should be the yard stick but it is a different world now and it is important that in this social-media age to let the world out there know of new work and promote it at every opportunity. So Valerie, I appreciate very much you taking the time to structure these very interesting questions. I really enjoyed answering them and thank you for posting them on your blog.

VS: Thank you too, Geraldine, and congrats on another impressive collection of work. Best of luck and Beir bua!

Geraldine Mills Biographical Note:

Geraldine Mills is a poet and short fiction writer. She has had two collections of poetry published by Bradshaw Books, Unearthing your Own (2001) and Toil the Dark Harvest (2004)

Arlen House has published her short story collections Lick of the Lizard (2005) and The Weight of Feathers (2007) for which she was awarded an Arts Council Bursary.   She is a recipient of a Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship for her third poetry collection An Urgency of Stars published by Arlen House in 2010.

She has won numerous awards for her fiction, including the OKI Award, the Moore Medallion and the RTÉ Guide/Penguin Short Story Competition.  She has been a finalist in the William Trevor Short Story Competition and has been shortlisted six times for the Francis MacManus Short Story Competition. She was the Millennium winner of the Hennessy/Tribune Emerging Fiction Award and the overall winner of the New Irish Writer Award for her story ‘Lick of the Lizard’.

In 2011 she toured the United States where she launched a poetry collaboration with New England poet, Lisa C. Taylor, titled ‘The Other Side of Longing (Arlen House 2011) and presented the prestigious Gerson Reading at the University of Connecticut. Her short story collections have been taught at the University of Connecticut and Eastern Connecticut State University.

She is a mentor with NUI Galway and is an online tutor in the short story with Creative Writing Ink. Her recently launched Hellkite (Arlen House) is available at Kennys Bookshop, Galway.   Geraldine’s website

Creative Writing Classes Start Next Week


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Valerie with students

Valerie with students

My creative writing night classes start again next Wednesday, January 22, at People’s College, Parnell Square, at 6.15pm. Course description here. Gallery of rogues from a previous year pictured above!

Contact details for People’s College: 31, Parnell Square, Dublin 1. Tel: 8735879, email:

I’m also giving a creative writing class at Crumlin College of Further Education beginning Monday, January 27th for ten weeks. Registration takes place on the night, rather than online, and a few people are already signed up by phone or by dropping in to the college. If you’re a beginner or if you’ve already done some writing, you’re welcome to come along. Class begins at 6.45pm and ends at 8.15pm.

Contact details for Crumlin College: Crumlin College, Crumlin Road, Dublin 12  Tel: 01 454 0662

I look forward to seeing some new faces as well the familiar ones. Some of my students’ successes can be found here. Hover on ‘mentoring’ tab for references etc. Several students have won City Of Dublin VEC Creative Writing Awards, run annually for CDVEC colleges across Dublin. And students from both Crumlin College and People’s College have gone on to win prestigious writing awards outside of the colleges. Some have set up blogs you might like to follow:

New poem in The Poetry Bus


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The Poetry Bus Magazine is going from strength to strength thanks to the dedication of its editors Peadar and Collette O’Donoghue who have once again produced a wonderful issue (PB5) packed with new work from established and emerging poets and artists – there’s some stunning art work in this issue. And it comes with a CD of readings from selected contributors along with a track from Roger Gregg’s Serpent In The Bee-Loud Glade.

The journal is beautifully produced on high quality paper and the quality of the work is impressive too. I’m proud to have one of my first poems published here along with so many talented poets. Names familiar to me include Niamh BoyceMelissa Diem, Alan McMonagle, John Saunders, Oran Ryan, Stephanie Conn, Nuala Ni Chonchuir, Kate Dempsey, Ann Fallon, Liz Gallagher, Afric McGlinchey, Michael J Whelan, Karl Parkinson, Micheal Gallagher, Knute Skinner, Liz Quirke, Richard W. Halperin, Noel King, Brian Kirk, John MacKenna, Alan Jude Moore, William Wall.

Check out the brand new site of The Poetry Bus who are now publishing grimoires (a ‘grimoire’ is a book of magic) of poetry, art work and photography. The first grimoire published by the The Poetry Bus is Fiona Bolger‘s, The Geometry of Love between the Elements and is another example of high production values and quality content.

Fiona Bolger's Grimoire

Fiona’s book is available here and from The Winding Stair Bookshop in Dublin. You’ll find Peadar O’Donoghue‘s collection of poetry Jewel (published by Salmon Poetry) there too as well as PB5.

Get your ticket on the bus by submitting for the next issue!

New story in Wales Arts Review


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Cover Image

My story ‘Pete’ is included this special issue of Wales Arts Review celebrating the short story. Thanks to John Lavin, editor, for inviting me to contribute a story along with a piece on a recent favourite of mine by Czech writer Ivan Klima.

There are interviews here with Rachel Trezise and Will Self.

Read fiction from Shena MackayKaty Darby, Nigel Jarrett, Chrissie GittinsGary Raymond, John Lavin and Nuala Ní Chonchúir. 

In Favourite Short Stories authors Patricia DunckerMatthew FrancisAlison Moore,Stevie DaviesNuala Ní ChonchúirNigel Jarrett, Kate North, Tyler KeevilJim MorphyJimena Gibert and Chris Cornwell all talk about a work of short fiction that means something to them. Senior Editor, Gary Raymond, reflects upon Saul Bellow’s ‘The Bellarosa Connection’Adam Somerset discusses Somerset Maugham’s unduly neglected, ‘The Alien Corn’, and Georgia Carys Williams writes about the influence of Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper. Elsewhere, acclaimed novelist and short story writer Cynan Jones contemplates his on-off love affair with the short story and takes a look at a selection of his favourite pieces. And in recognition of this week’s announcement that William Trevor has been awarded The Charleston Trust/ University of Chichester inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award in Short Story Writing, John Lavin contributes this issue’s long form essay, an in depth look at what is perhaps the essential Trevor story: ‘The Ballroom of Romance.’

Dylan Moore, looks at Bernardo ‘Atxaga’s prize-winning, genre-defying ‘short story collection’ Obabakoak.’ In ‘New Short Story Collections’, acclaimed novelist and short story writer Jon Gower looks at the new books fromMary-Ann Constantine, Adam Marek, Eduardo Halfon and Hassan Blasim. Carl Griffin’s examines the connections between poetry and short fiction, in Stephen Dobyns: Finding the Short Story in the Poetry of a Novelist and Richard Gwyn’s dreamlike, short-story-like prose poem ‘The Days.’

Lots of great reading for any short story aficionados out there!


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