I’d say read, read, read, and read some more. Be suspicious of any ‘rules’ that seek to limit the words available to you as a writer, or the ways in which you might use those words, and remember that language is only bad when it fails to express its intended meaning. Join a writing group – I’m very fortunate to belong to a writing group in Cork and my stories don’t get sent out into the world until they’ve been through the group first.
I first read Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, a prequel to Jane Eyre, when I was a teenager and it had a big impact on me. It’s a book that set me thinking about whose story gets to be told and whose story doesn’t, how a story may change depending on who does the telling. Recently, I discovered the work of Elena Ferrante (yes, I know, where have I been…). The Lost Daughter is remarkable – intense, intimate, sometimes raw, and at the same time controlled and assured. After that, I read The Days of Abandonment, also brilliant, and I’m now about to start on her Neapolitan trilogy. I’m a big fan of Anne Enright’s work, I loved The Forgotten Waltz and The Gathering, so I’m looking forward to her new novel The Green Road. Mary Costello’s Academy Street is stunning, as is spill simmer falter wither by Sara Baume.
I probably read more short stories than novels. It’s pretty much impossible to pick a favourite short story writer, in that the story we need one day may not be the story we need the next, but Alice Munro is someone I keep going back to, I’m currently reading Too Much Happiness, and also James Salter, I recommend his Collected Stories. Other collections I love include The Lemon Table by Julian Barnes, There are Little Kingdoms by Kevin Barry, Married Love by Tessa Hadley, Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett, The Loudest Sound and Nothing by Clare Wigfall, Young Skins by Colin Barrett, Waiting for the Bullet by Madeleine D’Arcy, Goodnight Nobody by Ethel Rohan, Cheating at Canasta by William Trevor, and I could go on, but I’d better stop now.
Danielle McLaughlin’s stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines such as The Stinging Fly, The Irish Times, The South Circular, Southword, The Penny Dreadful, Long Story,Short and The New Yorker. She is currently Editor for Short Stories in English at Southword Journal. Her debut collection of short stories, Dinosaurs on Other Planets will be published in Ireland in September 2015 by The Stinging Fly Press, and in the UK (John Murray), US (Random House) and Germany (Luchterhand) in 2016.