Monthly Archives: March 2016

Review: ‘TASTES LIKE FEAR’ by Sarah Hilary

‘Tastes Like Fear’, the third book in the D.I. Marnie Rome series, will not disappoint fans of award-winning author Sarah Hilary or those passionate about crime fiction.

Set against the louring presence of Battersea Power Station, ‘Tastes Like Fear’ is about ‘getting under the city’s skin’:  the Garrett Estate with its brutal, concrete tower blocks, a graffitied subway  strewn with the lost and abandoned and an unfinished luxury penthouse  – all metaphors for a city in crisis. From the beginning we, as readers, are unsettled and, as the story progresses, are propelled into a world where nothing adds up and all assumptions are challenged. A fatal car crash is not as it seems. Girls running away from families, who may or may not be damaged, seek shelter and find it – with Harm. Who or what is Harm? And what is his motivation? As the story strands mesh together in a tapestry of loss, grief and terror, it is up to D.I Marnie Rome, suffering from her own personal tragedy,  to unpick the threads and make sense of it all. And only then can we breathe a sigh of relief and relax.

This is a riveting read. Sarah Hilary admits she doesn’t plot her novels before writing the first draft, yet there’s a complexity and deftness to the narrative with tension mounting as we are drawn through a labyrinth of dark spaces and dead ends. The revelations are unpredictable but not forced – completely true to the characters but we don’t see them coming. All the characters – victims, perpetrators and the police protagonists, Marnie and her sidekick D.S. Noah Jake, are drawn with skill and subtlety. We know these people – and people like them. That is what makes Sarah Hilary’s novels transcend the genre. The writing is superb: voices (and the story is told through a range of perspectives) ring true.  Description is nuanced but alive and the story pacy and completely unputdownable.

Tastes Like Fear  will be out in print on Thursday, April 7th.  Come along to the launch at Toppings, Bath to hear Sarah read and discuss her latest thriller. Tickets here . Or  you could write off the week and read the two equally compelling books preceding it: Someone Else’s Skin  winner of the Theakston’s Old Peculier 2015 Crime Novel of the Year and No Other Darkness , shortlisted for Best Paperback Original in the Barry Awards

Follow Sarah on Twitter @sarah_hilary


Sarah Hilary portrait. Photo by Linda Nylind.

Sarah Hilary portrait.
Photo by Linda Nylind.

‘I do have a dark mind,’ admitted award-winning crime writer Sarah Hilary in an interview with The Guardian, explaining how a friend pushed her into the genre, telling her to stop mucking about. ‘Your mind is in a dark place already, you should make some money from it.’ Her debut novel ‘Someone Else’s Skin’ is a startling exploration of abuse from an unusual perspective. Pacy, thrilling, often brutal yet deeply moral, it received brilliant reviews in all the broadsheets and praise from authors such as Helen Dunmore who found it ‘very disturbing and builds up to a terrific climax’.

Picked as a Richard and Judy Book Club read in 2014, it was The Observer’s Book of the Month, on The Guardian’s list of top thrillers of 2014 as well as a Silver Falchion and Macavity Award finalist in the US. In 2015, it won the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year and Sarah joined the ranks of Val McDermid and Lee Child, past winners of the award. Whew! Where do you go from there?

‘No Other Darkness’ published in July 2015 is a harrowing tale that starts with two small boys trapped in an underground bunker. Five years later they’re found. Dead. A chilling plot and 5 stars for ‘unputdownability’ so no surprises that it’s just been nominated for Best Paperback Original in the U.S. Barry Awards. And now Tastes Like Fear will be out on 7th April 2016. This is the third in the series, all featuring D.I. Marnie Rome, a complex and attractive protagonist who has suffered an unthinkable tragedy and now has to make sense of the darkest of family secrets. Another winner with its ingenious twist (which I didn’t spot) and, in Harm, one of the creepiest perpetrators ever. I was lucky enough to have an uncorrected proof copy and you can read my review here

You’ve probably guessed I’m a fan of Sarah’s writing and I’m not alone. In WH Smith’s Best Crime Authors of All Time Sarah was voted in at 33, one below Grisham and just topping JK Rowling, writing as Robert Galbraith. Ha! Is there no limit to her talents? She’s certainly prolific.

Climb into her Crawl Space , the most brilliant of blogs and you’re in for a treat. I began at the beginning on February 1 2008 and found a stash of writers’ gems. She generously shares the successes of other writers and details some of the critical advice she’s been given, including an agent’s debriefing of her work as well as offering her thoughts on point of view ; how  to get a literary agent  or not and so much more – just take the afternoon off and read right through. Enjoy the interviews, especially the ‘biggie’ with Ian Rankin which reads like a cosy conversation between two great crime writers playing, ‘Show me your technique and I’ll show you mine.’

Sarah’s short stories are also highly acclaimed and she won the Fish Criminally Short Histories Prize in 2008, the 2010 Sense Creative Award and The Cheshire Prize for Literature in 2012. She’s been shortlisted for several awards including the Seán Ó Faoláin competition in 2010 and published in too many anthologies and magazines to list here. A firm fan of Flash, she runs CrimeFest’s annual Flashbang. Bang Bang You’re Read contest where for a tiny fee and the lure of passes to CrimeFest weekend, entrants are invited to ‘commit a crime story in 150 words’. Sarah’s Flashes are widely published and you can enjoy a taste here

Other facts about Sarah. She’s often spotted on the panel at festivals or chairing events; she’s a member of  Killer Women – go Google it – and she writes copy for a well-known travel company. She lives in Bath and we’ve met a couple of times, first at our Evening of Readings in October and later in The Chelsea Café, where I found the writer with the dark mind has a light side and is as witty in the flesh as in the Tweets to her 7K+ followers @sarah_hilary . She introduced me to Fred Vargas in our local charity shop, offering to buy me Fred’s The Chalk Circle Man. We both like gin. Enough said.


  • ‘Tastes Like Fear’, the third novel in the Marnie Rome series, is out on April 7. Please tell us something about the process of writing it and what’s next for you – and Marnie?

 It was an exciting story to tell, partly because the voices were so strong in my head; a couple of characters in particular, who are unique to this story, gripped me and didn’t let go. The twists came very organically. I was still guessing right until the end as to who the killer was and why. I hope it’s as exciting to read as it was to write. I’m working on book four now, which is very different—still exciting, of course, but in an entirely different way. A big part of the story is about Marnie’s relationship with her foster brother, Stephen, who killed her parents when he was fourteen. It feels as if it’s time to tell that story now.

  • How did you get started on your writing career and when did you feel confident to list writer as your ‘profession’ on a document?

I’d called myself a writer since I was quite small in fact, but my confidence grew as I started to get short stories published. When I won the Cheshire Prize for Literature in 2012 that felt like a turning point. I was signed by an agent at around the same time, and after that everything happened quite quickly.

  • What is the essence of good crime writing and are there current trends you approve/disapprove of?

 Good crime writing is subversive. It asks the awkward questions and looks into the murkiest corners. And it’s psychological—people as puzzles, rather than ‘plot as puzzle’. I don’t pay a lot of attention to trends. A good book – good writing – will transcend all that.

  • You and Ian Rankin both confessed to not being plotters but how much research (e.g. accuracy of police details) do you do before you begin to write?

I read a lot of first person accounts, and I do an amount of research as I write, to pin down any niggling inaccuracies. I retrofit the rest of the research, because the momentum and the story always come first. I’m not writing a textbook. Most readers want credible characters, first and foremost.

  • What are the themes you find yourself drawn to and are keen to explore in your writing?

 Captivity. The idea of what imprisons us, and how we can imprison ourselves. Guilt, and redemption. The challenge of forgiveness. And legacies—of pain, of survival, of hope.

Do you have a writing routine? Favourite time, place and a specific writing process – journals, notebooks etc.? SH: I try and write every day. Straight into my Macbook Air. I keep notebooks of questions, but mostly it’s straight to work, typing the first draft, getting black on white.

  • If I say ‘Patricia Highsmith’ what would your reaction be? Please would you tell us about your latest project.

Highsmith is one of my writing heroes. Everything she wrote was different, odd, off-kilter. I was thrilled and honoured to be asked to write a special introduction to three of her novels which are being republished in special editions by Virago in June.

 Novels, short stories, flash and even poetry – are there any other forms you enjoy writing (e.g. screenplays – as surely Marnie would make perfect Sunday night viewing)?

My earliest writing ambition was to be a screenwriter. The Marnie Rome series has been optioned for television, and I’m delighted that a talented screenwriter is working on a pilot script. I’m happiest writing novels, but I do like short stories and flash fiction too. Poetry eludes me, as anyone who read my recent ‘Ode to the Ankles of Hugh Laurie’ will attest.

  • What do you think are the essential ingredients of a good short story?

Crystal clear setting and characters. Forward momentum. An ending that resonates. No wasted words.

  • Beginnings and endings – your thoughts on these? How do you decide when a short story should end?

I like an ending that echoes back to the beginning. My favourite short stories have this circularity. When the reader knows what will happen next—that’s where the story should end. The reader finishes it, in his or her imagination.

  • The Bath Short Story Award closes at the end of this month. What tips would you give entrants to help their stories stand out from the crowd?

A memorable and unusual first line that sets the tone and makes the reader curious to know more. If you can raise a question in that opening line, the reader will want to keep going, to find the answer.

  • How important is it for a writer to be involved in social media? How do you handle it?

Publishers like it, I find. More than that it helps to make the writing process less lonely and brings you closer to your readers—which is where all writers want to be.

  • Which writers, dead or alive, would you take to the Canary Gin Bar in Bath?

Great question. I’d have Dorothy Parker, Max Beerbohm, Georgette Heyer, Fred Vargas, Oliver Sachs and yes, Patricia Highsmith.

  • Which novels or short story collections would you take to Radio 4’s Desert Island?

Edith Pearlman’s Honeydew, Graham Greene’s short stories, and everything ever written by Helen Dunmore.

  • What is the single most useful piece of advice someone else has given you about writing?

 Be patient. Fail better.

Thank you Sarah and good luck for the launch at Toppings , Bath of Tastes like Fear on April 7th 


A Compilation of Writing Advice

It’s five weeks today until our 2021 Award closes on Monday April 19th, 2021

To help you edit and shape your short story before submitting it, we’ve compiled a selection of tips from some writers we’ve interviewed over the years. We first posted this advice back in 2016 and there’s some really useful comments on beginnings, endings, themes, creating a stand-out story, titles and that all-important fine-editing.

On Beginnings,Paul McVeigh says:

  • Beginnings are very important. Talking specifically from the point of view of judging competitions and reading stories in an endless feast with a view of festivals etc., I find beginnings are crucial to keep me reading. For these platforms (which I don’t think have to apply to stories in a collection), one way to get my attention is to see the first page as pulling the ring from the grenade. I will read to see if it goes off – I assume it will and cause the maximum amount of damage possible. If that grenade doesn’t go off and you’ve written an end I believe in and welcome, then I will tip my hat to you. I will also be a bit jealous.

In 2014, we interviewed Colin Barrett, winner of the Guardian First Book prize 2014  for his brilliant short story collection, Young Skins. He has more to say about beginnings-

  • Try to make something interesting happen as near to the opening as you can. Now this doesn’t have to be some showy eruption of plot or an aphoristic nugget of an opening line, though it may well be; it might just be the deployment of an unobvious adjective or unexpected detail seamed somewhere into your opening paragraphs. A nuanced little observation or moment, carefully placed. If you can get a small moment right near the start it sends a signal to the reader that you can trust me, you can keep reading. There’s nowhere to hide with short stories, if its five or ten pages long it’s got to start well, do well in the middle, and end well. No point saying it gets good half way through.

Short story writer and novelist Annemarie Neary adds this:

  • Delete that first paragraph (probably). In any case, take us right into your world before we have a chance to back out. And voice your story. Breathe it. Make sure you’ve read it aloud before submitting.

On Standing out from the crowd Vanessa Gebbie has this to say:

  • All a writer can really do is learn the craft well, then forget it, and just tell a brilliant story. It does not have to be the ‘bells and whistles’ sort – quiet will do – but write your heart out onto the page, write the story you can’t not write – and keep your fingers crossed. And if, as happened to mine many times, your stories don’t make it – roll with the punches. Writing is not an exact science. Learn to accept the knocks along the way, and never, ever give up.Having given a sermon – for this reader,  a distinctive voice combined with great characterisation makes a piece stand out fast.

Novelist and short story writer, A L Kennedy, who we interviewed in 2013, adds this

  • Just try to say something you really care about as well as possible – as if you were writing for someone you love and respect. That will help.

Novelist, short story writer and poet Gerard Woodward says:

  • Make use of the limitations the form imposes on you. You can’t get everything into a short story, so don’t try to.

Second-prize winner BSSA 2015 Dan Powell has this to say:

  • Read the very best examples of the short story you can get your hands on. Look closely at how good stories work. Then write the story only you can write. Write the story you want to read that no one else is writing. Make it a bold and unique vision which can’t help but stand out when the judges make their selections.

On themes and subject matter:

Short story writer and poet Tania Hershman has this to say:

  • When I’ve judged competitions in the past we’ve seen certain topics that tend to be popular – elderly parents with dementia is one, for example. I’m not saying avoid these, but do think about whether you have something new to say about it, a different take. I think anything can be a great story, it can be a moment in time or a whole life in a few pages. A short story competition can only be won by one person, but if the deadline has inspired you to write something new, then you’re already a winner. Being longlisted and shortlisted are huge achievements, it means your story stood out to the judges and it should give you a real boost.

On endings, acclaimed short story writer Danielle McGaughlin says this:

  • As for endings: stop in the right place. Easier said than done, I know, but a short story can be ruined if the writer insists on carrying on past the ending. “… already in that space the light begins to fade into the calm gray even light of the novelist.”That quote is from a paragraph in The Lonely Voice where Frank O’ Connor is discussing an aspect of the work of Mary Lavin, and whether or not you agree with his assessment of Lavin’s work, I think the analogy of the fading of light is a good way of explaining the loss of intensity, the loss of explosiveness, that can occur when a short story continues on further than it should.

On editing, Antony Doerr says this:

  • Reward the generosity of your reader!  Try to examine every single word in your story and ask yourself: Is it a lazy choice?  Does this adjective/article/noun/verb absolutely need to be there?  If someone is nice enough to spend a half-hour reading something you’ve written, try to make your prose absolutely worthy of his or her time.  Make the dream that unfolds inside your sentences so persuasive, seamless and compelling, that your reader won’t put it down.

And our first prize winner BSSA 2015,, Safia Moore adds this:

  • There is no such thing as too much editing – you must be prepared to constantly read your own work, re-read it, make changes every time, cut anything that adds nothing to the storyline or characterisation, tighten up dialogue and enhance your descriptions with details that sound fresh, not clichéd.

Novelist, short story writer and winner of our second prize in 2014, Kit de Waal comments:

  • If you’re entering something for a competition, work it and then pull back. By that I mean, work over every line, work the tale, work the character, work the paragraph, work the ending and beginning, work the jokes and then look at what you can edit to leave only the essence. I suppose it would be like Coco Chanel says about getting dressed. She said that you should get all dressed up and then just before you leave the house take one thing off. Less is more.

On finding the right title

Short story writer and poet, Tania Hershman has this important advice on titles:

You want your work to stand out from the beginning in the huge pile that the judge has in front of him or her, and a good title will do that better than a quirky font or odd layout (avoid those). If a judge has ten stories called “The Visit” or “The Day it All Changed”, he or she might be rather jaded by the time it comes to the 10th. But don’t make your title too interesting or creative if your story can’t live up to it – make sure it does!

And finally, we love this comment by Tessa Hadley who we interviewed in 2013 –

 A title clinches something, it crisps the story up and seals it like a top on a bottle.

Interview with Paul McVeigh

Paul McVeigh

Photo by Roelof Bakker.

We originally published Jane’s interview with Paul in March 2015 and have now updated and reposted it this year for more of you to read and learn from before submitting stories for our 2016 Award. Since our interview, Paul’s debut novel The Good Son has achieved massive success, has been translated into French and German and chosen for Brighton City Reads 2016. We’re excited that an audio book of the novel, narrated by Paul, is now available. Paul is a brilliant reader. The Good Son is also up for another award – The People’s Book Prize  so if you’ve read it and loved it, do vote for Paul. Voting ends in May. If you haven’t read the book yet, buy it, read, then vote. We guarantee you’ll  fall in love with Mickey Donnelly the ten-year old protagonist.

Jane’s updated interview

About Paul

Google Paul McVeigh and a canary shirted 1st Division footballer pops up and you think, are there no limits to this man’s talents? No it’s not the same Paul – but writer, blogger, playwright, teacher and festival director Paul McVeigh has created such a powerful presence on the literary and, especially, short story scene it seems he’s everywhere . His Twitter account @paul_mc_veigh has over 10,000 followers and his blog, which has had over 1 million hits, is one of the best sources of reference for any writer

Paul’s a Belfast boy and The Troubles in 80s Northern Ireland create a dramatic context for his debut novel The Good Son (Salt) which was published in April 2015, is now in its second edition, is currently nominated for The People’s Book Prize It was also shortlisted in The Guardian’s ‘Not The Booker’ Prize, 2015 Longlisted: Waverton Good Read Award.ELLE Magazine Best Books of 2015.The Irish Independent Top Reads of 2015.One of The Reading Agency Staff Picks Best of 2015.Wales Arts Review – Fiction of the Year.Number 1 Beach Read The PoolA Gransnet Best Christmas Read for 2015. Savidge Reads and Pam Reader Blogs Books of the Year

Paul’s also a playwright and co-founded the Armada Theatre Festival and Scarecrow Theatre Company. His plays have toured the UK and Ireland, been nominated for a BBC Entertainment and Media award and his comedy shows performed in London’s West End. His masterclasses on a range of subjects from writing to social media sell out and create an enthusiastic buzz on Twitter and Facebook from London to Melbourne. He ran a very successful workshop for us in Bath last autumn and entertained us, along with novelists Sarah Hilary and Rachel Heath at a wonderful evening of readings afterwards

Paul was the co-founder and Director of the highly successful London Short Story Festival, is Associate Director of short story salon The Word Factory and has had short stories published in Flash Flood Journal, New Century New Writing, Rattle Tales 2, Harrington’s Fiction Journal, Unbraiding the Short Story,The Stinging Fly and upcoming The London Magazine. Listen to his story Tickles, originally broadcast on Radio 4

Interview with Jane Riekemann,

  • You are such a presence in many areas of the literary world with your blog, masterclasses, multi-festival involvement etc. so when and how do you find the time and impetus to write? Can you jump in where you left off or do you need space for ideas and stories to develop? Do you have a routine –a special place to write? And what about journals etc.?

When I am writing I find I work on a short story in my head for a long time, sometimes years, then when I sit down to write it comes out pretty much fully formed. I tend to leave that first draft for a few months between edits. At the next stage I can nibble at time and tinker with the text. With the novel I needed long stretches. I had to read the novel from the beginning to get into the flow and be in the moment of where I’d started back. The Good Son is written in the voice of a little boy and I needed to get into character, like an actor, then I could just play. Now I can get there really easily with him. If you asked what would happen if Mickey went to the cinema, I could write a chapter in an afternoon. Such a pity you have to leave a character when they are finally alive and part of you.

I keep a journal when I travel. When I kept one in the routine of my life I found I bored myself senseless. It became like a schoolboy’s homework project. Lists of things I did that day or had to remember. When travelling, the stimulus seems to shake my brain, I become detached from my world and new connections are made. I become inspired to explore and what I find internally and externally I record.

  • Tania Hershman, in a guest post for Aerogramme Writers’ Studio, says: ‘writing has no borders, that good stories are good stories’, adding, ‘I don’t need to write “like an American” for an American reader to connect with my work…’. Any thoughts on this?

I agree. I also think the more you reduce a story, an action, an intention, down to its basic human driving force the more universal the story becomes. I haven’t read the article but there is this outside pressure when considering publication, markets and readership and it can play with your mind.

When I write, it comes from the desire to get into an emotional need or truth and I connect with that via some other place, without considering the market for the work. In fact, I think that is why I have become stuck with my writing. Having dealt with the business of getting my novel published, the compromises and the worry of ‘will anyone publish this after years of work?’ have made me shy of starting something new. This is turning into a therapy session. Do you charge?

  • What is the essence of a brilliant short story?

I’m still relatively new to short stories. I don’t feel in any position to say what that essence is. As a reader, there are certain types of story I’m more likely to connect with, that will stay with me, and others that don’t engage me. I can tell you how things work for me as a reader. I like to be moved. I like to laugh. I like to come away enriched from the experience. If I think about brilliance I think about the author’s voice. And their eyes. What is it they see? How do they turn the world on its axis so the sun hits it at a new angle and things that were in the shadows become exposed and things I thought I knew now look different? I love it when a story makes the ideas I have about the world become more three dimensional.

  • Beginnings and endings – how important are they to a short story? Does the title really matter?

Beginnings are very important. Talking specifically from the point of view of judging competitions and reading stories in an endless feast with a view of festivals etc., I find beginnings are crucial to keep me reading. For these platforms (which I don’t think have to apply to stories in a collection), one way to get my attention is to see the first page as pulling the ring from the grenade. I will read to see if it goes off – I will assume it will and cause the maximum amount of damage possible. If that grenade doesn’t go off and you’ve written an end I believe in and welcome, then I will tip my hat to you. I will also be a bit jealous.

The great Australian short story writer Cate Kennedy said to me recently that at the beginning of a short story the writer makes a promise to the reader and that promise has to be fulfilled or the reader will feel cheated. Endings can be neat but they can also be open, more symbolic, a space for the reader to take a breath so that the story is still alive afterwards and not shut down.

Titles tend to have an after-effect with me. I don’t often remember the title of a story, perhaps because I’m reading a lot. However, I think a good title enters my head subliminally, like someone hitting a tuning fork before the music begins: it sets the key, the tone. It can also resonate for a while after. With stories I love, I go back, look at the title and think about it. A title can be a Rosetta Stone, unlocking the author’s intention.

  • Word limits? How short can a short story be? Your thoughts on flash fiction, prose poetry or any of the new trends?

I have written some ‘shorter than short story’ pieces and felt they were as complete as any longer story I’ve written. So, as a writer, I say write what you want and let it finish when you/it’s done. For competitions and journals the word limits seem to be getting shorter, averaging around 3,000 (not in the USA). Around 2,000 for radio and live readings (if you want to read a complete story). As a reader I prefer around 3,000 words but will happily read more if the writing carries me.

  • Do you have any advice for new writers finding their way? The best ways to access a wider readership?

Dig deep. Ask yourself why you are writing? What do you want to say? If your foundations are strong then you’ll endure the inevitable knocks a writer can’t avoid. Social media can be useful in getting people interested in you and your work, building a readership as you grow.

  • Your debut novel The Good Son, published by Salt, was out last April, 2015. What have you been up to since?

It’s been a wild year. I’ve been to Mexico and Turkey with The British Council. I met inspiring writers and seen wonderful places. It’s been fascinating to look at wildly different cultures and see similarities, especially coming from Northern Ireland, I found deep stirrings in the history and current dilemmas these countries find themselves in. The London Short Story had an amazing second year and Word Factory continues to regularly hit that level of quality that if you look over is history, is pretty mind boggling.

The novel has kept me busy; launches, festivals, interviews, promotion… it’s a part time job. I’ve been writing some essays, tinkering with some stories and dancing around a novel.

  • Which writers have influenced and inspired you the most? And which short story collections would you take to BBC Radio 4’s desert island?

It’s hard to say who have influenced me the most. When I first fell in love with writing it was with Hemingway, Henry Miller, Carson McCullers, Anaїs Nin, James Baldwin, Tennessee Willliams, Maya Angelou, Gabriel Garcia Marquez… I’m not sure who has replaced them. I read so much for work now, that reading hasn’t brought as much joy as it used to. Some switch clicks in my head and activates the technical part of my brain and that gets in the way of inspiration. The same happened to me in theatre after a few years. My mind would pick apart the mechanics of the production rather than the flow of the words accessing something deeper.

I’d take George Saunders’ Tenth of December to laugh, and marvel at his imagination and the brilliance of his ideas. Anything by Claire Keegan for nourishment of the soul.

Thank you so much Paul for sharing your thoughts with us.

Jane Riekemann, (orginal interview, March 2015)

More about Paul, his writing, interviews and the courses he teaches here

Interview with novelist and short story writer, Annemarie Neary

Anne marie pic

Annemarie is an Irish-born, London-based novelist and short story writer. Her novel, Siren, forthcoming from Hutchinson (Penguin Random House UK) on 24 March 2016, is one the Independent’s ’10 best book club reads for 2016′. Annemarie’s stories have been published in Ireland, the UK and the US and broadcast on RTE radio.Her short fiction awards include the Bryan MacMahon and Michael McLaverty short story competitions (Ireland), the Columbia Journal fiction prize (US), the Posara prize (Italy) and prizes in the Bridport, Fish, UPP Short FICTION, KWS Hilary Mantel, WOW! and Sean O Faolain awards. A Parachute in the Lime Tree, set in neutral Ireland in 1941, was published by The History Press Ireland in 2012. 


 You can read Annemarie’s story, ‘Gon-do-la’, in our 2014 Bath Short Story Award Anthology, still available from Amazon in  the digital edition. We’re really looking forward to reading her novel, ‘Siren’, published later this month.

Interview by Jude, March, 2016.

  • Siren, your forthcoming novel is described by Random House as a “dark and suspenseful

    Pre-order Siren from Amazon. Published 24th March

    psychological thriller” Can you tell us more about the novel and what inspired the story?

Róisín Burns has spent the last 20 years becoming someone else. When her new life in New York starts to unravel she learns that Brian Lonergan, the man who blighted her Belfast childhood, has also reinvented himself. He is now a rising politician with a wipe-clean past and a sharp suit. But scandal is brewing in Ireland, and Róisín knows the truth. When she travels back to the remote island where Lonergan has a holiday home, she means to confront him with a demand of her own. But Lonergan is one step ahead. When she arrives on Lamb Island, someone else is waiting for her.

The story was sparked off by a notorious incident that took place in Belfast in the Seventies, and by more recent stories of personal trauma pitted against political reality. I’m interested in outsiders, and both my point of view characters are people who, for very different reasons, have been left behind. As for Lamb Island, it is strongly influenced by various islands in Roaringwater Bay in West Cork, one of my favourite places. Aspects of the geography are taken from Cape Clear, the most beautiful island of them all, but Lamb is a place of its own.

  •  You have another novel coming out next year with Penguin Random House. Is that novel also a psychological thriller?

It is, but with a very different setting and theme. The next novel is set in the present day, in and around a South London common. I’m still working on the first draft, but reluctant motherhood is an important element, as is sibling conflict and self-delusion.

  • You have won or been placed in many prestigious short story awards in recent years. Can you tell us what you enjoy about writing short stories and how you know when one of your stories feels ready to enter a competition?

I love when a story evolves from a fleck of detail into something I wouldn’t otherwise have discovered. That’s the joy of short stories for me. There is no responsibility to rein them in, at least not in that first draft.  As for when they’re ready, that’s one of the hardest things to decide. One thing is for sure, though — it’s never ‘probably fine’. I have quite a few stories that still aren’t ready, and might never be. The experience of writing those ‘failed’ stories is not waste of time, though. The act of expression crystallizes fictional elements and fixes them in the imagination. It’s surprising how often they find their place elsewhere. Having worked exclusively on novels for the past while, I feel a bit out of practice when it comes to short stories. I’m trying to write one at the moment, as it happens, but I have a good deal of chipping away to do yet.

 You’ve also judged several short story competitions, including the inaugural round of Bath Flash Fiction Award last year, and most recently the WOW! award in Ireland. What makes a winning story stand out for you?

In each case, I’ve been beguiled by a voice. That’s not to say that my winner is necessarily the ‘best’ story, whatever that it. There are usually about three or four very good stories. It’s the one that feels the most fresh and surprising and engaging to me. I think longevity is important, too. I read and re-read and leave them aside, though I rarely change my mind. I’ve judged about five competitions now, and I remember each winner vividly.

  •  In another interview on this site, I asked short story writer Danielle McLaughlin  how she thought being a lawyer had influenced her fiction. She said the skill sets of lawyers and writers are similar.  “Both jobs involve working with words very precisely and being tuned in to things like nuance and tone…Both jobs require a lot of creativity and both bring a lot of stories to your desk, a lot of drama...” Would you agree with this from your long career as a lawyer?

I agree with what Danielle says about precision and an awareness of nuance and tone. In fact, those qualities are very evident in her own work, which is sublimely nuanced. As for the drama of life as a lawyer, I think she might have had more thrilling subject matter than I did!  I worked with commercial contracts most of the time and didn’t find the job terribly creative or dramatic. However, I did find the ability to cut to the chase, to get to the nub of the matter, really helpful when I started to write fiction. Ironically, the story I’m trying to write at present is the first one that has any connection at all to my former career. During the first Gulf War, I travelled to Algiers to negotiate a contract and the story deals with the power play of the negotiations, the self-conscious Orientalism of the hotel and an unadvised solo trip to the Casbah. I think there’s a story in there somewhere. I hope so! 

  • Which short story writers would you recommend others to read? And why would you recommend them?

Since you mention Danielle McLaughlin, I’d recommend ‘Dinosaurs on Other Planets’ to any aspiring short story writer. Her work is so subtle and fine-tuned and emotionally precise. As a collection, it’s also a masterclass in the suppression of writerly ego — full of remarkable phrases, but without unnecessary showiness. People talk about how sad the stories are. Well, yes and no. There’s also a wry humour at play in many of them. In terms of the canon, I could read William Trevor forever. He is a master of restraint and empathy, and perhaps that’s the kind of story for which he’s best known. But he also has immense range. There is a jaded worldliness in many of his stories, particularly those set in Italy, that appeals to me.

  •  Finally, can you give us your top tip for anyone planning to enter a short story for our 2016 competition?

Delete that first paragraph (probably). In any case, take us right into your world before we have a chance to back out. And voice your story. Breathe it. Make sure you’ve read it aloud before submitting. I think that’s probably two tips, really!  Immediacy and voice.