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. annemarieneary.com
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.
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.