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“When Black Dogs Sing”: The Evolution of a Debut Collection by Tanya Farrelly

Writing.ie | Magazine | Anthology

By Tanya Farrelly

This Saturday 17th September 2016 sees the launch of my debut short fiction collection When Black Dogs Sing and so Vanessa O’ has kindly asked me to pen a few lines about the process.

I began writing short stories, or should say began writing them with a view to publication, when I first joined a writers’ group back in 2001. The group met weekly in Tallaght library under the facilitation of writer, Martin Devaney – an excellent tutor who taught me much of what I know about writing. The Tallaght group petered out over the years, and in 2010 I sent in a proposal and had the pleasure of becoming facilitator of a writing course in the same library. I’ve since regularly run creative writing courses in South Dublin, including Ballyroan, Clondalkin and Lucan libraries.

When I joined the group, I was a novice writer. Being of a naturally happy disposition, my early stories were very upbeat with happy endings. Martin told me that while they were nice stories, happy stories were NOT likely to win any competitions or even get published – and so I was taken to the dark side.

Our group became slightly obsessed with winning or even being shortlisted for The RTE Francis McManus Awards. These stories, it seemed to me, were word perfect. I love the visual medium of writing for radio, the impact of imagery and the cadence of language. And Martin was right, the stories were dark, so much so that with close attention over the years, and (maybe a wry humour) I’ve concluded that to win this, and many other writing competitions, I need to write a story about one, or possibly all, of the following subjects: abuse, dementia, mental or terminal illness. Ideally, the story should be set in an institution of some kind, but the language, the language must be perfect. I’m not being flippant, well – a little maybe – but it seems that historically, people love a good tragic story. We’ve all written them, some brilliantly so, but maybe over the years themes of tragedy have been overused to the point, possibly, of cliché?

I have my share of dark stories. Yes, I’ve even got one or two set in institutions. I’ve dealt with themes of alcoholism, post-natal depression, and schizophrenia. Once, having submitted to the Stinging Fly journal, I received a lovely email from Declan Meade saying that there was no doubting  quality of the writing, but that I’d chosen too difficult a subject. When I checked back, I discovered that both stories I’d submitted dealt with suicide. Talk about writing myself out of the game!

So where do these stories come from, apart from writing to try to win prizes? Stories come from all around. They come from things we’ve experienced, things other’s have experienced and told us about, from conversations – had or overheard. There is no lack of inspiration in this world, tragic or otherwise. Most of the stories that I’ve written contain something true, whether that is an emotion, a personal quality or a location. The stories can be, and mostly are, fictitious, but there’s always that small element of the familiar. For example, I wrote the title story of this collection “When Black Dogs Sing” after watching a documentary about a teenage boy who went missing at six o’clock in the evening on his way to his friend’s house. Not a single person saw the boy –and if they did, they failed to come forward. I couldn’t stop thinking about the horror of that scenario and decided to write a story from the mother’s point of view. For any writer, empathy is crucial, to have the ability to put yourself in another’s place and feel their emotions. I do this all the time. Recently, at a Bryan Ferry concert, I found myself wondering what Bryan was thinking as he came on stage… was he happy to sing those classic hits, which the fans adore, or was he thinking, “here we go: the same old scene” Sorry, Ferry fans, the pun was totally intended. J

To get back to Black Dogs, while I, thankfully, have never experienced the disappearance of a child, the setting of that story is real. Carla’s house is my step-father’s house, and the dog, Bobby, was also Tom’s dog, I moved the house though, with writers’ license, from Clondalkin to the Blessington Lakes where some friends live.

tanya_farrelly 280Breaking away from tragic themes, many of my more recent stories are orchestrated with a lighter hand or intention. Some are laced, I think, with a dark humour. There are stories exploring gender, friendship (gone wrong) Internet dating and nude modelling. My favourite story in the collection “Exposed” opens with a girl walking in on her new flatmate photographing a naked (male) tango dancer. Now where’s the truth in that story? A certain friend of mine might tell you about it sometime… what a great kicking off point she gifted me. Every writer should have friends like that. J

To sum up, my debut collection is a mix of light and dark, of old and new. It is fourteen years work – a period of many personal and creative changes and challenges. I’ve met many interesting people on this leg of the journey, who have contributed to the colours that make up the whole. I hope the readers enjoy it.

(c) Tanya Farrelly

About When Black Dogs Sing

Tanya Farrelly’s debut short fiction collection, When Black Dogs Sing, introduces us to an intriguing range of twenty-first century Irish characters. A young woman rents a room, to her boyfriend’s horror, in the home of an eccentric, bi-curious photographer; a poet attends a party at his girlfriend’s family home to discover that the invite was made with nefarious intention; a husband is outraged to discover that his wife is posing at a life drawing class; two girls break into the flat of an internet date and stumble on a dangerous secret; a stakeout ends in dire consequence when a friendship comes undone; a woman leaves home on a freezing night in the hope of gaining her partner’s attention; and in the title story a mother is haunted by her son’s disappearance.

“Farrelly does an effective line in mood and intrigue as she weaves her narrative magic, effortlessly drawing the reader ever further into the unsettling tales she has fashioned. A collection at once bold and playful, and brimming with the assurance of a writer in command of her craft.”
– Alan McMonagle (Author of Psychotic Episodes)

When Black Dogs Sing is available online here!

Do come to the launch on 17th September 2016 @3pm in Pearse Street Library and pick up a signed copy!

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