EM Reapy, writer
In the first of two parts, I caught up with two previous contributors to The South Circular, the digital magazine of short stories which I’ve published since March 2012. Adrian’s story “Chicken Lane Manifesto” was the first submission we ever received and was published in issue 1 in March 2012. “Spurned” by EM Reapy appeared in issue 5 in March 2013. Part two of this conversation will continue on Monday with Danielle McLaughlin and Andrew Meehan.
Aoife Walsh: Bring us up to speed on your work right now.
EM Reapy: I’m currently interning with Salmon Poetry in County Clare, Ireland, learning about poetry publishing. I’ve just started a local writers’ group here and drafting new—very raw—short stories, getting them down on the page to start fixing over the next few months. Hopefully they’ll be fit for submission next year. I’m also in the final editing stages of my first novel and in second draft stages of a new project.
Adrian Duncan: I am currently working on a first novel, and a collection of short stories. I am also preparing for an exhibition and art publication with Scriptings in Berlin (run by curator/publisher Achim Lengerer), scheduled for December this year. I also work as an editor with Paper Visual Art Journal, and we have a hard copy edition that is due later this year. PVA is an online and hard copy visual art journal founded by Niamh Dunphy in 2009, and I have acted as co-editor on it since 2010.
Aoife Walsh: Can you tell us about the publications (Irish or otherwise) you look to for new writing and publication opportunities?
Adrian Duncan: My finger is not terribly on the pulse regarding new publications or publishing opportunities, but of the ones I have worked with I found The Dublin Review, gorse, and of course the South Circular (all Irish, or at least originated in Ireland) as offering very different reading experiences, and in turn all three offer very different editorial experiences to me as a writer. I usually try to find editors that I think I might like to work with first, and if that is the case, I seek to continue working with them. Then the publication itself then becomes slightly less important to me.
EM Reapy: The Stinging Fly, Southword, Penny Dreadful, and The Bohemyth are great Irish journals; very fresh and innovative. Internationally, I would recommend Litro Magazine, 3:AM magazine, SmokeLong Quarterly, Flash International, Necessary Fiction, Going Down Swinging, Overland, Meanjin.
Aoife Walsh: What are you most concerned with when you write a story?
EM Reapy: Being honest, which is a paradox, since stories are fictional, but I try to write truthfully and towards the truth. Another concern would be having the story in its natural narrative mode. Usually if the piece isn’t working, it’s because I’ve forced it somewhere and so I have to investigate, try it out in different styles, points of view, tenses, or see if I’ve intruded and then get myself out of the text.
Adrian Duncan, writer and artist
Photograph by Finn Richards
Adrian Duncan: At first I try not to have a clue as to what the story is or how the story will end, and to begin writing almost from the subconscious—to let things emerge into the world of the story at the point of writing. Then near the end of the “process,” I try to see if I actually have a story, i.e. does something happen within the piece, does something essentially change. No matter how odd or subtle a story, I believe it must have a dramatic arc of some sort: Daniil Kharms, in his “Events,” taught me this probably more than any other writer of short form fiction.
For me it takes a long time for anything complete to emerge: for one (perhaps extreme) example of this, my short story in the current edition of The Dublin Review was first drafted in December 2010, its final draft was June 2015, it went through countless versions … the story is only about 2,000 words in length, so I am not sure if this process is even worth talking about, but there you have it!
Aoife Walsh: Can you speak about an Irish writer you think deserves more attention?
EM Reapy: Christine Dwyer Hickey’s novels and short stories are compelling reads; skillfully crafted and diverse. I don’t know how she isn’t huge globally.
Adrian Duncan: Peter Geoghegan is one young writer that springs to mind. He is an Irish investigative journalist based in Scotland and who I think has done consistently good and, at times, great work over the last few years. For example, he wrote The People’s Referendum: Why Scotland Will Never Be the Same Again, published in January 2015 by Luath Press. He’s a contributor to the Times Literary Supplement, The Dublin Review, The London Review of Books, the BBC, Al Jazeera, and Ireland’s official broadcaster, RTÉ. He is now also part of the team The Ferret, a new long-form investigative journalism platform in Scotland.
On the visual art end of things, I think Rebecca O’Dwyer is a very fine thinker and writer on contemporary art. Her style is more on the academic end of the spectrum, but her writing always invites me to consider an artwork or an artist in a way I had not previously.
Aoife Walsh: Are there Canadian writers on your radar who influenced you over the years?
Adrian Duncan: Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian writer/media-theorist is one I would definitely recommend. His writing (and lectures) would aid anyone in understanding at least something of the foundations of the hyper-media-driven and hyper-connected world we live in today. Reading McLuhan’s work now, though not without its criticisms, at least portrays a very prescient and daring researcher, writer, and educator.
EM Reapy: I adore all of Alice Munro’s work. She is a genius. Alistair MacLeod’s Island is an essential text. Also, “Miracle Mile” (from Light Lifting) by his son, Alexander MacLeod, is possibly the most exhilarating short story I’ve ever read.
Aoife Walsh: What were the formative moments/people in your life in terms of encouraging you to write?
EM Reapy: About ten years ago, I joined a writing group in my hometown and there I met John Corless, who was a great early mentor. He encouraged me to develop my skills and to apply for a Masters. I was accepted into the Creative Writing program at Queen’s University, Belfast and gave it my all. It was a huge year for me and from it, I got the encouragement and confidence to pursue a professional writing career.
Adrian Duncan: The novelist Greg Baxter and his Some Blind Alleys reading/writing courses that he ran in Dublin from about 2008–13 had a huge formative effect on me, particularly, at first, Greg’s editing style, then his course on the Russian short story. By 2008, I was thirty, had left my career as a structural engineer to study a degree in fine art and decided to take these evening creative writing courses with Greg, though I had no idea who he was. The short stories that Greg introduced us to in this course broke open, for me at least, what a short story could be.
I think sometimes in Ireland, largely because the short story has such a towering position as art in our culture, that there is a certain reverence for it as a form. Greg’s courses fractured the reverence I had for its cultural standing in my mind, and, by extension, fractured my reticence toward the short story as a thing to be written. It was from this small rupture that I started writing stories in such a way that if any art lay in them, that it came from the action of writing as opposed to the stories sitting within a tradition, or a certain aesthetic. The emphasis of my concerns when I then tried to write short stories moved from form to action, which I found and still find encouraging.
Adrian Duncan is an artist and writer based in Ireland and Berlin. His visual art work is primarily installation-based, most often using video and sculpture. His process of making and the aesthetic of his works derives from an interest in building, language, and the processes of construction, amateur, and professional. His writing has been published by The Dublin Review, The Irish Times, gorse, The South Circular, Enclave Review (IRL), Sculpture (USA), Eyeline (AUS), and Frieze, among others. He contributes editorial work to Paper Visual Art Journal (IRL/DE), and Texte zur Kunst (DE).
EM Reapy is from County Mayo, Ireland, has an MA in Creative Writing from Queen’s University, Belfast and was a founding editor of wordlegs.com. Her work has been published internationally and she has read at festivals and events in Ireland, the UK, USA, Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand. In 2013, she represented Ireland and was listed for the PEN International: New Voices Award. She received an Arts Council Literature Bursary to complete her debut novel.