Introduction to Issue Seven – Valerie Sirr

Valerie Sirr is the Guest Editor of Fiction in Issue Seven of The Lonely Crowd.

In my submission call for short fiction I asked for stories that are ‘instinctive, grown and shaped through an intense focus of perception and language’. The writers included here demonstrate those qualities of a close attentiveness to experience and a willingness to follow language deep into the imagination in order to discover the stories that are proudly published here in these pages. Some were published without any editing at all, some needed work, but I was happy to suggest edits because those stories were alive and almost fully achieved and I wanted to include them instead of some of the polished, technically perfect, stories that were essentially static. In every case, without exception, and to their credit, the authors I approached with edits were enthusiastic and grateful for suggestions and more than willing to rewrite. It was a friendly, lively, and deeply engaging process.

In the call out I asked writers to send me ‘a story that feels true but isn’t burdened by its own sincerity, a story that takes risks allowing confusion to reign while living with its own uncertainty’. The stories here have managed effortlessly to resist certainty—that smug story killer, so full of itself and the strength of its own idea, sincere emotion, strong belief, polemic, philosophy. These stories are free from that certitude conceptualising, philosophising, psychologising them out of existence by some dangerously safe design that simultaneously passively and aggressively manhandles leaden language and suppresses energy at all costs.

While I did want energy and madness—the wonder of inventive language and strange internal logic—the writers I chose do not write writing, they write stories. Even in the most apparently plotless story here there is conflict, the stakes are high. I asked short story writers to ‘make something happen’. American writer Tim O’Brien said ‘story-truth is sometimes truer than happening-truth.’ The stories here, whether lyrical, plainspoken, quiet, wild, intellectually or formally playful, each reveal their own ‘story-truth’. Their writers discovered it by that magical process of transformation that can only happen when writers abandon or at least temporarily distance themselves from the ‘happening-truths’ that can get in the way of their instinctive visions, following with slow patience the language of the unconscious, intuiting that maddeningly elusive logic of memory and imagination, always worth the inevitable bewilderment that must be tolerated right up to the end.

There were many submitted stories that I could have published here given more space. Some good work had to be turned away. I have recommended those that are still available for consideration for future issues. Some of the stories I rejected were beautifully written pieces that had much promise, but in their current drafts were episodic or anecdotal, reportage, elegant but schematic, often descriptionaries, not stories. Some of the stories published here do have elements of the anecdote, the informational, journalism, but their ludic ingenuity warrants their inclusion within narratives that play with facts. In other stories the language lacked precision or the construction struts were poking through the lines.

I wanted stories that are ‘simultaneously terse and conveying amplitudes’. Every story here is more than one story. These stories seethe with subtext. They demonstrate an awareness of the short story form from the traditional narrative worked through symbolism and metaphor to oblique Carveresque uneasiness, Beckettian absurdism or the modern satire of George Saunders; sometimes non-linear, polyphonic, fractured, always resisting the contrived epiphany, sometimes with the punch of terseness, or the seemingly endless sentence that threatens to fly away but lands safely on the page graceful and modulated as music.

It is heartening for me to note that there were just as many female writers as there were male writers submitting brilliant short stories for this issue. I was glad to see humour in the work too. There is little unleavened misery, portentousness or pretentiousness here.

In this post-truth era we live in it is comforting to know that fiction writers like the ones collected here are using the instruments of language and its architectures to go beyond any official version of experience, to subvert perceived reality and its boundaries, to question what those boundaries are, all the while bearing with the inevitable confusion this brings in order to share what they have lived and what they have imagined, allowing readers to discover things about themselves and the world they live in. Our readers will not find the fake news of false assurance here nor will they find absolute truths. What they will find is the real thing.

Valerie Sirr has published short stories, flash fictions, poems and reviews in Ireland, UK, US, Australia and Asia. Publications include: The Irish Times, The Sunday Tribune, The Stinging Fly, The New Writer, The Lampeter Review, The Lonely Crowd, Wales Arts Review. Honours include a Hennessy New Irish Writer award, Arts Council of Ireland literature bursaries, and other national and international literature awards. She holds an M.Phil. in Creative Writing from Trinity College, Dublin. Her short story collection The Beautiful Rooms will soon be published by The Lonely Press.

You can purchase Issue Seven of The Lonely Crowd here.

© Valerie Sirr, 2017. Issue 7 front cover image © Humberto Gatica, 2017. Author photo © Paul McVeigh, 2017.