In which we invite you to read and re-read the fiction we published online in 2022.
Contributors: Nicole Flattery, Niamh Mulvey, Najat Abed Alsamad, Gianluca Nativo, Louise Hegarty, Roisín O’Donnell, Lisa Owens, Oisín Fagan, Chetna Maroo, June Caldwell, with an introduction by Editor at Large, Thomas Morris
Each year, in addition to the two issues of our magazine, we publish ten new stories on the Stinging Fly website, along with accompanying notes by the authors. Our brief for these notes is usually pretty open: Tell us something about the story, and how it came to be.
There’s a delicate balance that our writers need to negotiate here: we’re asking them to disclose a secret or two that can open up the interpretive space for a reader, rather than pin down or define their story’s meaning. As opposed to gripping their work tightly, we’re hoping they can gently tilt the story so that it catches new light. For these reasons, I generally encourage the authors to steer away from offering their own analyses of their fiction.
When I ask for these Abouts, I never quite know what I’ll receive in return. Each author takes up the task in their own particular way. Though in my experience, the notes often reveal something I didn’t anticipate, some hidden entryway into the story—a back door or side gate that allows me to go back in and see the house afresh.
I feel compelled to say here that when I inherited the role of Online Fiction Editor in 2021, I was tempted to scrap the story notes. I felt an aversion to writers “explaining” their work. Stories should speak for themselves, I thought—and I was suspicious of the idea of the author hanging around the house as some kind of advocate for their story, hovering beside the fridge as I took out the milk. (“Did you notice my metaphors? They’re very symbolic.”) And I feared, perhaps, that I would become a peddler of that very particular brand of soul-sapping How I Wrote The Book pieces, whose proliferation in recent years seems to me (from my own experience of writing this exact same brand of piece) to be the result of writers feeling pressured to promote their work, mostly by writing free “content” for online outlets, while simultaneously hoping, quite naturally, to come across as amiable, smart, and legit. As well as insightful. And inspiring. (“How I Wrote The Book—And How You Can Do It Too!”)
Deep down, I think I was worried that by hearing how the work was made, that something of its mystery would be destroyed. I was concerned, ultimately, that a story might suffocate under the weight of its author’s inventory of their own work’s aboutness. But neither of these things happened. The reflections turned out to be less concerned with the about, and more concerned with the hows and whys of meaning-making. And for me, the authors’ notes have actually served to deepen the mystery of stories and how they permeate our lives. As Chetna Maroo explains in her note for ‘Happiness’, our final story of 2022:
‘Sometimes it’s impossible to say where something in a story comes from. Sometimes, writing a story, that’s what I’m trying to figure out.’
One of the pleasures of putting stories side by side is the way they begin to chime with one another—and common concerns emerge and converge. Looking back at our online fiction this year, I’m not sure that a single theme or idea or style is eminent; but the stories do seem to share this quality of Figuring Out. Though maybe you could say the same for any group of stories? Indeed, perhaps this is even why we come to literature, as writers and readers? I don’t know, I’m still thinking these things through. But I do suspect that the real figuring out only really begins once stories meet their reader—and together, hand in hand, we try to make sense of it all.
Wishing you a very happy new year,
—Thomas Morris, Editor at Large
‘In order to respond to a story about fanatical routines, you have to question your own fanatical routines. I am fanatical about my own face. It’s not high-minded to admit this, but oh well.’
‘Sometimes, I think that everything that matters to a person happens in childhood, and that we are cursed to spend the rest of our lives circling it, picking over it, trying to remember if it really was the way we thought it was.’
‘Each of these stories tells the tale of somebody the writer met in her capacity as a doctor and humanitarian volunteer in Syria. Wanting to urge the world to see the humans behind the headlines, she began recording the things she was told.’
‘I am not Germano, the narrator of this story, but he quickly became the spiteful expression of my twenties. As is often the case, one encounters stories in the most unexpected moments.’
‘In pre-Cromwellian times, wolves were a major part of the Irish landscape to the extent that the Irish word for wolf is mac tíre (or son of the countryside). The last wild wolf is said to have been killed in Carlow in 1786.’
‘I was drawn to the idea of a story pushing through the cracks, like weeds/wildflowers growing where they are not supposed to. The spill of a story, where a voice has been silenced for so long and then begins to speak…’
‘When I acted at school and university, I was always fascinated with the precise moment of stepping onstage; the internal processes that make it possible both for the actor to be someone else, and for the audience to believe them.’
‘It used to be that you did not need to show ID to join the French Foreign Legion; that is no longer the case, but I have heard of exceptions. It is not necessary to know French, but only French is spoken.’
‘I don’t remember writing that line. I don’t remember what I intended in that moment, or what I was thinking. Sometimes it’s impossible to say where something in a story comes from. Sometimes, writing a story, that’s what I’m trying to figure out.’
‘My protagonist is not fitting in. She’s lost, lonely, itching for a bit of havoc. But communication between human beings can be difficult—sometimes impossible—and where logic fails, the body can be left to take over the task.’