Powerful Tales of Family: Baby is a Thing Best Whispered by Keely O’Shaughnessy

Oct 1, 2022 | Reviews

The great thing about hosting this site is all the amazing books that appear on my radar. Keely O’Shaughnessy‘s powerful flash fiction collection Baby is a Thing Best Whispered contains rare, startling stories that really jolt you. Featuring many characters on that awkward tilt between girlhood and womanhood, it shows how survival and fortitude can take many forms. We are given an unapologetic and raw insight into each of their worlds.

At times, we veer just on the edge of awful things. Darkness hinted or not-quite-seen that lurks under the surface, can only be ‘whispered’ for fear of revealing ugly truths. This is balances by beautiful points of light in the form of genuine human connection. Sometimes we push just past the tips of reality and find ourselves in a magical world, unsure if it’s the creation of the character’s mind or that the world has become a place without rules. It makes for startling reading.

I wanted to find out why so many of O’Shaughnessy’s stories revolved around family, how her fragmented and lovely style came to be, and her road to publication. Read on to find out more.

You can buy this beautiful collection here

The title and subject of your collection are fascinating. You touch on the more difficult or challenging aspects of parenthood and childhood. Why were you drawn to this as a topic?

At first, I didn’t even realise I was drawn to this topic. I was just writing stories; I’d have an idea, note it down and then sometimes it would grow into a narrative. It wasn’t until I considered putting together a flash fiction collection that I started to see that these themes were prominent throughout my work.

Once I’d seen that I always circled back to, womanhood, parenthood, and childhood, I tried to lean into writing stories around these subjects to see what would happen. The complex nature of these topics is fascinating. I find it interesting to explore when and how they intersect and how we are impacted and shaped by our formative and familial ties or the cutting of those ties.

I also loved the style of your writing. Some of it is fragmented and almost stream-of-consciousness, while others fit more with a ‘typical’ prose style. Does the style of your stories arrive at the same time as the idea or is it something you carefully craft?

A bit of both, really. Most of the time, after getting down an initial draft I spend a ridiculously long time editing, rewriting and crafting a story. That said, there are those joyous occasions where an idea will end up dictating the shape of a narrative. The story “Some Girls are Trashy and No Good” from Baby is a Thing Best Whispered is a great example as it seemed to flow naturally from the opening sentence.

“The funfair is our slice of Americana spread across the far playing field behind Marcie’s house.”

The narrative developed from my memories of going to a funfair as a teen, the food, the colour, the noise, but the story quickly took on a life of its own. The narrative has a chaotic energy that I love, and it gallops wildly toward an ending with the vibrancy and wide-eyed innocence of youth. It is the best feeling when stories happen this way, but it is very rare.

‘Some Girls Are Trashy and No Good’ was my favourite – such a raw representation of teenage release at a fair.

There are darker undertones in some of your stories such as suggestions of abuse. Are you often drawn to dark themes and why do you want to explore them in your fiction?

I’m quite a pessimistic person so I find that my writing often leans that way naturally. Personally, I love reading happy stories, but I have a hard time writing them. I do have a soft spot for horror and enjoy stories that blur the lines between genres. I set everyday moments against those elements of existence that threaten to tip us over so that these juxtapositions draw out what lurks around the corners.

Using darkness in my writing, I like to focus on fears and the strength it takes to keep moving forward despite them. I enjoy using the strange, odd, or uncanny to illuminate latent ideas within a story. Adding in a sprinkling of darkness can take a story somewhere unexpected and different, and can work to get the reader thinking about what they’re reading. I like to think that this darkness is balanced out by glimpses of hope though.

There are some lovely touches of magical realism in your stories. Sometimes, it feels as though we are pressing right at the edges of reality. How do these ideas develop in your stories and why do you use them so often?

In ‘What If We Breathed Through Our Skin?’ a son slowly turns into a beautiful frog.

I enjoy reading fiction with elements of magical realism in them as much as I do writing it. Angela Carter has long been one of my writing heroes. I remember devouring all of her books when I first started studying/writing and thinking, I didn’t know stories could be like this. Fun and odd, strange, dark, and moving and magical all at the time. So much of my writing is rooted in otherness that magical realism is something that just clicked with me straightway. It’s freeing to write realism that isn’t always inhibited by reality!

How did you go about publishing your collection and what tips or advice have you received or would you share with other writers?

Trying to get anything published is a long and arduous road. Make sure you stock up on persistence and reliance and be kind to yourself.

My main advice would be not to submit a manuscript until it’s ready. This might seem obvious but it’s easy to get carried away with the submission process, and with submission windows closing it’s so tempting to send off what you’ve got. As difficult as it can be, try to trust yourself, trust your words, the process, and allow yourself to take things at your own pace.

KEELY O’SHAUGHNESSY is a fiction writer with cerebral palsy, who lives in Gloucestershire, U.K. with her husband and two cats. She has been shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award and won Retreat West’s Monthly Micro contest. Her micro-chapbook, The Swell of Seafoam, was published as part of Ghost City Press’ Summer Series 2022. Her writing has been published by Ellipsis Zine, Complete Sentence, Reflex Fiction and Emerge Literary Journal and (mac)ro(mic), and more. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions as well as being selected for the Wigleaf Top 50. She is Managing Editor at Flash Fiction Magazine. Find her at keelyoshaughnessy.com

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