Writers of WHQ: An Interview with Fiona McKay

6 minute read
Author: Jo

In case you didn’t know, the Writers’ HQ writing community is the actual, literal best in the universe, full of amazingly talented and generous writers who make our little corner of the internet a very nice place indeed.

And so, we decided to show some of ’em off as a part of our monthly Writers of WHQ interview series.

Gif of a white man in sunglasses and a cap lounging on a bed saying "you're awesome, man"

Get to know our amazing WHQ members — how they write, what makes them tick, their influences, inspiration, top tips and favourite stories — and see just how different each and every writer is. ‘Cause there’s no one ‘right’ (write?) way to do things, right?

So please welcome WHQer, flash fictioner, novella-in-flasher, and prize-winning author, Fiona McKay.

Tell us about your writing journey — where did you start, where are you now, and how did you get there?

Once upon a time, I was going to be a writer, so I wrote a novel. And it’s terrible. So I wrote another one, and it’s a bit better, and then another, and another. Lots of novels waiting for something to happen to them to improve them. And I could only write novels – I didn’t know how to write a short story, and I had never heard of flash fiction.

Fast forward to 2020. I was homeschooling, and looking for every online opportunity to enrich my daughter’s learning, I saw a Facebook ad for a Kids’ Write a Novel in an 60 Minutes class from WHQ and signed my daughter up. I watched it with her, and it was fun. Then Facebook kept showing me ads for free WHQ courses. I did 7 Ideas in 7 Days. My daughter and I did Couch-to-5K Words (yay, no running involved!), and I wrote something every day for a month.

I did the Short Fiction Masterclass, and a lightbulb went on. Maybe I could learn to write short fiction? I decided to sign up as a paid member so that I could join the cohort doing Writing Short Fiction with Friends in October 2020.

My daughter was back in school by then, so I used the time to work on the modules. I learned how to structure short fiction. I learned how to critique. I found out about writing to prompts, sparking my brain, ekphrastic writing. I made writer-friends! I wrote some short pieces I was very happy with.

And then, In January 2021, when I was supposed to be revising one of the above-mentioned novels, WHQ ran the Beginner’s Guide to Flash Fiction for the first time. Well! I found something I really loved, and that had so much flexibility. I wrote things. I wrote more things. I stored them up like a squirrel stores hazelnuts. I joined the Flash Face Off (FFO) gang and started writing even more things.

Gif of Mamrie Heart saying "tell me all of the things"

Then I discovered that apparently we have to send our stories out into the world, for other people to read – and send back to us with form rejections! Oof! Not so keen on that, but then, after a while, one of those recipients actually longlisted something I’d written. Then I got an acceptance. Lots more of the sad grey stripes on my spreadsheet, but then more and more green ones, and my words started appearing out in the world! I definitely liked the acceptance-y emails better than the decline-y ones, but through WHQ I made a lot of writer-friends with whom I could talk about all these writer-feelings, and The Rejection Lounge is always open with a strong cocktail and a sympathetic ear.

Over the course of 2021, I had a number of publications, sold some pieces for actual money, longlisted, shortlisted, placed and even won a competition, and ended up the year with two nominations to Best Microfiction. I certainly never imagined that happening at the beginning of the year.

Because of each of these steps, I built up a writing CV, and applied to the Arts Council of Ireland for funding, and I was successful! The day I got that email, I changed my Twitter profile to ‘Writer’ and began to believe in myself.

One of the things I said in my application that I wanted to do was write a novella-in-flash about a teen character who kept nudging me to write about her. I had written some FFO stories about her, and some others. In January 2022, I decided to get the novella-in-flash together for the Bath competition. And then I lengthened it for the Reflex competition. One of my WHQ writer-friends beta-read it as I was writing it, offering me helpful critique and feedback to get it into shape. The novella longlisted in both competitions and I couldn’t have been more delighted.

I plan to spend a bit of time this year revising that novel (see January 2021!), and the novella, and luckily, I know just the course. I haven’t done Plotstormers II – The Editing Strikes Back yet, but I know it will teach me what I need to know.

I’m not ‘there’ yet, if ‘there’ = published novel in my hands – but I have travelled down that path at lightning speed over the last year and a half compared to previous progress. What was the difference? What took me from ‘I want to be a writer’ to ‘writer’?  Quite simply, WHQ did!

Do you have a writing routine? How do you work best?

I glue myself to my seat and write until I need physiotherapy (true story)

What advice would you give to a writer starting out?

Don’t glue yourself to your seat and write until you need physiotherapy…

Gif of David from Schitt's Creek wearing a sequin headband, shaking his head and saying "don't do that"

What’s the piece of writing you’re proudest of (and why)?

River of Leaves in Reflex Fiction

A Visit to the Azulejos Museum in Scrawl Place

Journey Without a Map in Lumiere Review

Grift in Twin Pies Literary

(the latter two of those are Flash Face Off pieces!)

What are the main challenges you face with your writing?

Needing physiotherapy because I spend too long at my desk!

Gif of Julia Louis-Dreyfus holding a cigarette and putting up her other hand, saying "seriously, don't"

What are you currently reading?

Anything by Madeline Millar – Circe and The Song of Achilles are both brilliant.

<strong>Fiona McKay</strong>
Fiona McKay

Fiona McKay lives beside the sea in Dublin, Ireland with her husband and daughter. She is a flash fiction writer and is also working on a novel. Writes with Writers’HQ. Her Novella-in-Flash Longlisted in the 2022 Bath, and Reflex Novella competitions. Words in various places, including: Reflex Fiction, Janus Literary, Scrawl Place, EllipsisZine, The Birdseed, Twin Pies, Bath Flash, Lumiere Review. Nominated for Best Microfiction 2021   

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