A few year’s back Mary Costello had her first short story collection published by The Stinging Fly in Dublin. I loved it and invited Mary over to London to read at Word Factory and then again London Short Story Festival. With the launch of her first novel, Academy Street, Mary has enjoyed huge success and is fast becoming a household name. Take a look at this interview with Mary about short stories and her writing just after the release of that first collection.
McVeigh: Mary, I love the story of how your collection The China Factory came about, would you share that with us?
Costello: Thanks, Paul. I never had any dreams of being a writer when I was young. I grew up in the west of Ireland and came to college in Dublin when I was 17. I studied English in college and was a moderate reader. When I was 22 something began to gnaw, some indefinable pang took hold. One sleepless night it just dropped down me out of the blue: I want to write. I have no idea where that came from, nor did I know where to start. I enrolled in an evening class in a local school, then later went to Listowel Writers Week where I discovered the names of short story writers – the Americans mostly – who, when I read them, sated an ache, big-time.
I sent out my first two stories and they were published, and one was shortlisted for a prize. I wrote one or two more, but had no luck placing them. And then I gave up sending work out. I had gotten married when I was 23 and moved to the suburbs, and I was teaching fulltime and I couldn’t seem to accommodate everything. Writing began to slip in the list of life’s priorities. But it always hung over me, a shadow, a burden, a half-secret. I did try to give it up – I didn’t write for long periods. I just wanted to be ‘normal’ again.
Of course it wouldn’t go away. Stories would push up and plague me until I had to write them.
The marriage broke up after ten years and I continued to scribble away. And then in 2010 I sent two stories to the literary magazineThe Stinging Fly. Both the editor Declan Meade and the writer Sean O’Reilly, who was guest editing an issue, liked them. Then Declan – who also runs Stinging Fly Press – asked if I had more. And I had, and he liked them well enough to want to publish a collection.
McVeigh: When you look back at your journey as writer is there anything you would change?
Costello: No, I don’t think so. I’m a relative late-comer to publishing, but I don’t think I could have done it differently. I don’t have any great facility to do a few things simultaneously, to multi-task. I suppose it took this long to surrender to writing. I’m writing fulltime now and this is a gift.
I’m a great believer in fate, too. Maybe things happen as they’re meant to happen. I don’t like to interfere too much or tweak fate’s buttons. And I don’t have regrets either. I feel very fortunate, incredibly grateful that people are reading these little stories of mine. When I think about this, it floors me.
Read the full interview here with a video of Mary reading her story ‘Barcelona’.