Interview by Mary McCarthy, August 2019.
English was always my favourite subject at school but it wasn’t until a playwriting module in my third year in university studying Theatre and Film that I discovered I loved to write.
After university I worked many casual jobs—in a bar, a card shop—before I did a Masters in Creative Writing. Much low-paid work, and internships that are often not real jobs, can be pretty disenchanting and my anger towards that did seep into my short-story collection.
If you want to be a writer, it’s a good sign if you are not satisfied with the standard of your work. It takes time and effort to get there. I did not publish that first year of writing; it was a learning process.
When you first decide to write there is this bubble when you are not looking for outside validation. It does get harder to remain impervious to reaction. Young writers can get obsessed with the zeitgeist and trends, but this can distract and detract from the writing. You need to write for your gut feeling.
I received an awful review recently. Every writer will get comments on their work that will upset them; you have to expect this as you can’t appeal to everyone. Yet this particular review was cutting in quite a personal way. I’m surprised it was published.
I’m working on a novel set in Andy Warhol’s New York art studio and am fascinated how relevant he is 30 years after his death. It is as if he predicted the current obsession with celebrity in today’s world of Love Islandand influencers, where you can be famous without any real accomplishment. He is a difficult person to get a handle on as he was very much the detached observer.
I’m curious how celebrity can change people and, in particular, how it affects those around them. My short story, ‘Track’, looks at the girlfriend of a famous narcissistic comedian. How do the people around a celeb view this person who is worshiped by the world? What happens when the limelight moves on?
When I need to get away from writing I watch a lot of films. At these times reading can be dangerous for me as I can be susceptible to taking on someone’s voice. I’ve just finished the essay collection The Empathy Exams from Leslie Jamison and for a few days found myself thinking like her.
I’m never recognised, not even in Mullingar where I am from. I find it so strange to read about myself. When I recently read a bio of myself I was reading the words ‘Nicole Flahery in her 20s’ but it was like it was describing a different person, and then the realisation ‘yes this is me’.
Before you are published you have a hunger and a need to prove yourself. With the second book there is a degree of security and I’m not sure if that is a good thing.
A friend suggested I write a happy story for a change. I could see his point but this seems so manufactured to me, so untrue to the ups and downs of life. Like writing a pop song. Also, happiness is never that funny and I like the space a dark story creates for humour.
I would advise writers just get the first draft done. This is where I fall down. I’m constantly revising and I find it hard to get the momentum going. If you get the first draft over the line then it is easier to go back and work from that.
Find a writer you like to read and find out who they like to read. For instance I love Lorrie Moore and Mary Gaitskill and I like to explore what writers they turn to.
Writing can be a lonely experience and I love going outside looking for distraction. Overall, I would say my attention is easily diverted, but only up to a point. Then everything falls by the wayside. I love that moment when the first thing that you want to do when you wake up is to get back to the work.
I wrote a short story set in a petrol station that my sister worked in and where I used to hang around. I originally had a male narrator but once I changed to a female one the story just completely changed.
I find social media can be a strange place where there is often a gap between somebody’s online posts and their actual behaviour and real life. I find monitoring what you say with the aim towards being perceived in a certain way is just too weird. I am thinking about leaving Twitter; it’s just not useful for me.
Nicole’s collection of stories Show Them A Good Time was published by The Stinging Fly Press in February 2019.
Mary McCarthy is a freelance journalist writing for a number of publications. She is an avid reader and an iron-willed book club administrator. @maryknowsbees