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Incredible Journey Teaser: Q&A with Máire Fisher

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Máire Fisher is one of the 20 contributors to this year’s Short.Sharp.Stories anthology, Incredible Journey, with her story ‘Space’. She has worked as a freelance writer and editor for nearly 25 years. Before that she was an English teacher, a career that was interrupted when she and her husband took four years off to circumnavigate the world. She has recently published her debut novel, Birdseye.


You worked on the first anthology, Bloody Satisfied, with Joanne Hichens, as a co-editor. How does it feel to be on the other side of the fence?

It feels wonderful! I’m always so grateful to be edited. It’s a luxury to hand over the reins and say, “I’ve done everything I can here, what am I missing?” I think anyone who says they don’t need an editor is suffering sad and worrying delusions of competence. I wonder if that’s what happens to some well-established writers whose earlier books read better than their more recent ones. Are people scared to point out what isn’t working? No matter how good I may be at spotting plotholes and problems in other people’s stories, it’s almost impossible to do so for myself. I read the same thing over and over and glitches, small and large, slide by. What seems obvious to me isn’t always that obvious to the reader. And of course, what I sometimes think needs to be rammed home doesn’t need that much elaboration. So, to plotholes and glitches, add gaps and embroidery. All of which need a careful editor’s eye. I love being on the other side of the fence and hope to settle there more and more!


Your story could be described as a family drama. Do you have a particular interest in what happens behind closed doors?  

That’s the sort of thing that fascinates me. When the visitors have left and the tea is cooling in the pot, or the ice is melting in a half-drunk G&T, are the host and hostess as charming as they were when their guests were there? When a wife arrives home from a week’s business trip, what faces her as she walks through the door? When a father packs his bags and doesn’t come back home, what does a child see or understand?

I’m lucky. As a writer I can sit in the corner and watch what’s happening in that small confined space: the living room; around the dining-room table; in the kitchen or study. I also get to be a thought-reader and I can listen as a character says one thing but means something completely different.


You seem to have a strong attachment to your main character, a little boy. How did he develop for you in your writing?

Usually, when I start a story it doesn’t take long for one voice to become dominant, and it’s often a young one. When that happens it’s best to surrender and let that person tell the story, or allow myself to see it through their eyes. That’s what happened with Davey. I have scraps of story sitting in files on my computer, and many have this young, bewildered boy at the heart of them. So I’ve been attached to the feeling of him for quite some time, just had to find the right time (and space!) for him to appear.


Davey certainly doesn’t take any sort of traditional journey. What does this year’s topic, the ‘incredible journey’, mean to you?

I wanted to tell a story about space exploration, but I wasn’t quite sure where it would take me. I fell in love with the incredible power of Davey’s imagination, loved the feeling that he could go walking among the stars. The broad definition of ‘incredible journey’ quickly narrowed, the focus zoomed in on one small boy sitting inside an unhappy house, free to dream, to go on an incredible journey – space travel of sorts.


The use of the different meanings of the word space is captivating throughout your story; did you intentionally link these meanings?

The title of the story arrived at the end, but as I was writing I noticed how everything became about space. Space to play, space to think, space to breathe, space to grow. And of course, the wonder of exploring the infinite possibilities of Space. That’s all Davey wants. But then, with all that wide-open possibility beckoning, the story doesn’t take place in the untrammeled freedom of Space. It happens in small, confined rooms. I really liked that contrast. Maybe it’s because I had just seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Fugard. There’s the night sky, patterned with a gazillion stars, galaxy upon galaxy waiting to be discovered, and here we are: ‘crawling on the planet’s face, some insects called the human race. Lost in time, and lost in space … and meaning’.


Describe your fiction writing process. Is it disciplined and 9-5pm or do you need to be in the mood?

I’m always in the mood to write! My patient muse sits quietly, waiting for me to make the time to work with her. My best creative times are when I can get away from home to write in a café. I like the distraction of other people’s noise, the clatter of plates, the gurgle of the espresso machine.

My absolute best writing times are when I get away to the Grail, in Kleinmond. I go there on writing retreats called, aptly enough, ‘Just Write’. And that’s all we do. For six fantastic days incredible writing journeys happen.

I wish I could write from 9-5, or even 9-12, but sadly my day job requires my time too.


What short story writing tip can you share?

So many tips! Whether I’m writing a short story or a novel, I have to get to know my characters. I interview them, make sure I can hear their voices in my head. I try to slip inside them and see the world the way they see it. And once they’ve let me inside, I try my best not to make them do the things I think I have planned for them. Or rather, I let them do what I need them to do, but let them do things their way. Often they show me what they need … and the story takes a sharp, unexpected turn.


Do you believe you have a role in promoting South Africans’ interest in reading?

I hope so. I’ve edited books that have done very well, which people read, review and comment on, on social media sites. My own novel, Birdseye, seems to be appealing to a broad range of readers – so I’m doing my bit there too! And then I’ve also written and done some mentoring for Fundza and am happy to know that I play a small part in the amazing work they do promoting literacy in South Africa (and beyond). I must say, though, I think there’s a far larger interest in reading in South Africa than the doom-mongers would have us believe. More and more, that’s down to South African writers who are writing brilliant books faster than I can hope to keep up with! A fabulous breed, I’m deeply happy to be a part of.


What can we expect from you next?

I’m well into my second novel – working title Side Effects. In Birdseye the story is told in the first person by a young girl called Bird. This time around, several voices are chiming in to tell the story. I’m really enjoying the use of an ever-shifting, but very close, third-person point of view.


If you would like to learn more about Fundza and the work they do click here.


Interview by Liz Sarant



incredible journey cover copy Book details:

Incredible Journey: Stories that move you edited by Joanne Hichens
Book homepage
EAN: 9781928230182
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