From Ireland to Italy: Marie Gethins on Harnessing the Creative Life Force



Welcome, Marie! Thanks for chatting with me today. Kathy and I are so excited that you will be joining us in Casperia, Italy next spring! It’s going to be magical!

Nancy: So the biggest challenge most writers have is finding the time to write. How do you “retreat” in your day-to-day life in order to honor your creativity?

Marie: I’m very lucky to have a little study of my own. For many years, I worked in a corner of our bedroom and since I’m a night person and my husband is not, it really wasn’t a great set-up. The downside is that I’m not very good at separating my medical writing from my creative writing time. A few years ago, when I was writing a novel, I took my laptop to a totally different space in the house, which was a great help. However, I haven’t been as disciplined since completing it.

For me the best driver is a deadline. I’m in a fantastic writers’ group that meets every two weeks and that pushes me to produce. So even if my professional life bleeds into my creative life, I am forced to carve out time for the creative.

Nancy: You’re coming to Italy from Ireland–what is the writing/ flash fiction community in Ireland like?

Marie: The literary scene in Ireland is amazing. There are ample opportunities to attend workshops, readings and interviews with high profile writers. However flash continues to be the poor cousin to the short story here. There are a few Irish lit mags that support flash: BansheeThe Stinging Fly has had a special flash issue,  The Incubator used to, but has moved onto longer form only. Also, there are a few nice competitions including Dromineer, Allingham, and Kanturk that have flash categories and Big Smoke celebrates National Flash Fiction Day in style every June. Nuala O’Connor/Ní Chonchuír is a novelist, poet, short story author, and superlative flash writer. ‘Yellow’  is one of my favourites of hers  but she has many fantastic flash pieces. She put out a wonderful short story collection last year, Joyride to Jupiter, with Irish publisher New Island. Of the nineteen stories, five are flash. When I hosted a flash special for the Cork monthly literary salon, Fiction at the Friary, Nuala was a guest (as well as another terrific Cork writer Denyse Woods, her winning flash ‘Wallpaper’ is here:  Nuala said that she sent many more flashes to the editor, but only managed to get those five into the collection. Danielle McLaughlin is a master long short story writer. She also does terrific flash. ‘Hook’ was an outstanding contribution to last year’s New Yorker flash fiction series. I’ve read at a flash event at the Cork International Short Story Festival and for Big Smoke a couple of times, but again, the longer short story form dominates here.

Nancy: Tell us about your relationship with flash fiction?

Marie: I admit it is my first love and the form to which I continually return. I am a compressionist, so it’s a good fit for me and I adore the challenge it presents. Playing with structure, enabling the reader to add their own truth/interpretation through the unsaid, the precision it requires – these all are elements I enjoy. I worked out that 64% of my almost 70 published short fiction is flash, with many generated out of Kathy Fish Fast Flash workshops. Clearly, I spend a lot of my writing time working on it. However, my agent would really like me to focus on longer forms, particularly the novel, as flash is a hard sell (unless you are Lydia Davis).

Nancy: I love that term “compressionist”! What piece of your own writing are you most proud of?  Where can we read it (if it’s available)?

Marie: It’s a bit of a cheat after waxing lyrical on flash, but the piece I am most proud of is ‘The Fog Harvester’ a longer story that was commended in the 2017 Australian Book Review Elizabeth Jolley Prize. In flash, I am quite proud of ‘Here Be Monsters’ recently published by Synaesthesia Magazine with a beautiful illustration by Moko. Also, I was quite pleased that my flash venture into Edgar Allan Poe territory ‘The Old Manwon the Dorset Fiction Award last spring. I do a fair amount of quirky stuff, which is hard to place, so I was thrilled when NANO published ‘Mammoth Task.’ It’s hardcopy only, but the editors kindly asked me to record the piece as well, so you can hear me reading it here:

Nancy: React to this quote by dancer Martha Graham: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.”

Marie: One of my undergraduate degrees is in Modern Dance, specifically in Graham Technique. UC Berkeley is one of two dance schools globally that Martha Graham sanctioned to teach her style. Obviously I’m delighted that you chose this quote. A dance instructor at Berkeley, Marni Wood, who had been a principal dancer in the Graham company, told me that Martha Graham was still choreographing in her 90s because she had to – it was a creative compulsion.

I think many emerging writers fear that someone may ‘steal’ their idea. I’ve seen this in workshops—a reluctance to show work. As Graham notes, ‘expression is unique’ and I think that’s incredibly valuable to remember. Just as every reader’s particular life experience weighs in on her/his interpretation of a piece, every writer has an individual approach to a subject. While some topics many seem tired and overused, a fresh angle or perspective can transform interpretation. When this happens in a flash, it can be amazing and intense.

I find that writers often have talents in other creative areas (music, art, dance, crafts, etc) and I wonder if this ‘energy’ that Graham describes will find another path, unless you actively suppress it. In this respect, I disagree with the last part of this quote. Creatives can use many mediums to express their ‘life force.’

Nancy: I had NO idea you had studied Graham technique before giving you that quote! Funny how the world world works! Speaking of the world, have you been to Italy before? What are you most looking forward to?

Marie: Yes, I’ve been to Sardinia. Sicily, Florence, and Rome, with plans for Venice later this year. My grandmother was from Piedmonte. She and my father always spoke a dialect at home. Unfortunately outside of food, my Italian is pretty weak. (The important stuff – I can order a glass of white wine in five languages. J) Coming from a very Italian household during my childhood, I love the combination of familiar and unfamiliar each time I’m in Italy. I think it touches all of the senses: warmth of sun on your skin, scent of flowers and wild herbs, taste of a morning cappuccino,  seeing time-worn architecture, hearing gentle rolling Rs and easy laughter. I can’t imagine a more stimulating and yet, relaxing setting for a flash workshop!

Nancy: Tell us something we don’t know about you?

Marie: For a short stint, I showed Toy Poodles in full lion trim . I can back-comb with the best. If you ever want to adopt Marge Simpson’s hairstyle, I’m your woman.

Nancy: Anything else you want to add?

Marie: Just that  I am incredibly excited to meet you and Kathy in person next spring and work on flash in a great setting with a bevy of outstanding writers. It sounds like the perfect opportunity to harness that creative ‘life force’ Graham talks about.

Marie Geth­ins’ work has fea­tured in The Irish Times, National Flash Fiction Day Anthologies, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, NANO, Jellyfish Review, Litro, The Lonely Crowd, Wales Arts Review, The Incubator, Firewords Quarterly, Banshee, Synaesthesia and others. She won or placed in the British Screenwriters Awards, Dorset Fiction Award, The Short Story, Tethered by Letters, Flash500, Drom­i­neer, The New Writer, Prick of the Spindle, and others. Additional pieces listed or commended in The London Magazine, Australian Book Review, Boulevard Emerging Writers, Bath Short Story Award, Bristol Short Story Prize, Brighton Prize, Fish Short Story/Flash/Memoir, RTE/Penguin com­pe­ti­tions and others. Marie is a Pushcart, Best of the Short Fictions nominee and a recipient of the 2016 Frank O’Connor Bursary mentorship under Zsuzsi Gartner. She lives in Cork, Ireland and has a Master of Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Oxford.

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