Writers of WHQ: An Interview with Rachel O’Cleary

10 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 two boys from Meet the Robinsons, one wearing a fruit-covered hat. The other points in his face and says: "that is an excellent question"

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 today we are chuffed as heck to introduce you to WHQer, short fictionista, and flash fiction powerhouse, Rachel O’Cleary.

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

It feels like I have always been a writer. I went from writing little booklets about family vacations as a 6-year-old, to angsty teenage poetry, to short stories and blogs about traveling. The only time in my life I really wasn’t writing was the first few years of motherhood. And it made me really depressed not to be doing it. So when the pandemic hit, and everyone was banging on about Shakespeare writing ‘King Lear’ during the plague, I just decided (to quote… hmmm, someone) to quit fucking about and start writing.

Now, the funny thing is that even though I always wrote, I never even dreamed that I could just…submit my writing and actually get it published. It always felt like a fantasy, like saying I want to be a unicorn princess and win the lottery. Then I started doing Flash Face Off, and suddenly there were very kind people telling me that my writing was publishable, and that I should send it out, like it’s no big deal. Anyway, now I’ve been lucky to have quite a few of my stories published in some fabulous lit mags and anthologies and I’ve even won a few prizes. And even more importantly, I feel like my writing just gets better the more time and effort I put into it, and it really feels good to see the progress I’ve made in the last couple of years.

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

Ha! I have three children under 9, and I’m not one of those absolute nutcases who is about to get out of bed at 5am to do anything, not even to write. Also the school system in Ireland, where I live now, is very intense for parents, so I do four different runs in and out of my childrens’ schools just for the basic drop-offs and pick-ups. All of which is to say that I write in the spare moments when all is even halfway quiet: standing up in the kitchen, on the sofa with a sick child, in the car while Paw Patrol plays in the backseat, in my head while out for a walk, or often after everyone else is asleep.

I do dream of actually having a real writing routine one day, because my best writing happens when I have a little time to work my way into it, and I can really get into the flow. So cross your fingers for me that one day, we will find a way to expand and stretch time.

Gif of David Tennant as Doctor Who saying "ehh wibbly wobbly timey wimey"

What are you working on at the moment?

Well, I’m supposed to be working on my novella-in-flash, but now that I have a larger project in mind, I keep having story ideas that have nothing to do with that. So lately, I’ve been drafting a lot of slightly surreal stories instead of my much more realistic novella. My brain is very good at diversions.

I’m also in the middle of a community writing project. Last year, I participated as a ghostwriter for a local immigrant, writing her story in a small publication. This year, I’ve been asked to coordinate and edit a series of interviews with local artisans, so that’s keeping me nice and busy as well.

What advice would you give to a writer starting out?

Join Writers HQ.

And I’m not just saying that because it’s you asking. The idea that writing is a lonely, isolating occupation is just so ridiculous and alienating. And wrong. It’s obviously a team sport. Meeting like-minded writer pals has given so much energy to my writing, and it keeps me accountable. Also, not only do I have wonderful readers for my stories, but reading and critiquing other people’s work has made me a much better writer, more quickly even than writing my own stories, because it has taught me to spot what works and what doesn’t from a more detached perspective.

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

Oh lord, that’s like asking me to choose a favourite child! I’m not sure if I can pick any one particular story, but there are two that I’ve written somewhat recently that I’m very proud of because they were hard. Like, every word was dragged out kicking and screaming. The first, because your own Kathy Hoyle wrote a blog about writing hopeful flash fiction, and challenged us all to try it. It was something I’d never been successful at before, but I persevered and wrote a story called The Invisible Woman which I ended up really liking, and was published in the gorgeous Milk Candy Review.

The other is a flash story called Hungering, which was a concept I just loved but which I could not get right. I had to start over and completely re-write it four times before even finishing a first draft (and then all the editing started!). But I finally got it out, and it will be published this summer in The Forge, which just makes all the hard work worth it because I love them and I’d been trying to get them to publish me for nearly two years when they finally said yes to this story.

What are the main challenges you face with your writing?

Mostly time. But also, there is imposter syndrome, and frustrating periods when the ideas seem to dry up, and the fear that I am a bad, selfish mother for devoting myself to something that has absolutely nothing to do with my children (stupid patriarchy – get out of my head!) But yeah, mostly time. I need a lot more of it than I have. But then I don’t think I’m so unusual in that respect. No one has time, so I just try to make the most of what I have.

Gif of an Asian man standing at a chalk board yelling "I need more!"

What are you currently reading?

OK, I’m currently trying to read three books that I haven’t decided if I like yet, so I’ll recommend two that I recently read. The first is an anthology called And If that Mockingbird Don’t Sing: Parenting Stories Gone Speculative, edited by Hannah Grieco. Full disclosure, I have a story in this anthology, but hand to god, even if you skipped my story, I’d still suggest reading it. The concept is so original, and I think pretty much all of the stories really deliver on that promise.

The second book is Bunny by Mona Awad, which I loved because it’s really fucking weird, it’s full of funny literary references, and the writing is phenomenal.

What’s your favourite part of the Writers’ HQ Community?

All of the people. I mean, I go through withdrawals if I miss Flash Face Off for more than a couple of weeks, so I guess that’s my most-used part of the online experience, but if I ever got off my ass and wrote a longer thing, like I really want to, I would just start haunting the novel plotting courses and forums, because everyone at WHQ is just so amazingly talented and helpful – I have made some very real friendships with people that I met through the website. And the sweary, irreverent, but ultimately respectful and supportive atmosphere just feels like home to me. So, yeah, all the people who created or contribute to that, are my favourite part.

And finally, give us three recommendations of writers or stories you love.

Performance Review by Kim Magowan Milk Candy Review (or pretty much anything by Kim Magowan)

Shit Cassandra Saw That She Didn’t Tell the Trojans Because at that Point Fuck Them Anyway by Gwen E. Kirby in SmokeLong Quarterly

Hive Mind by Melissa Bowers in The Forge

(This list deliberately omits stories by my WHQ friends, because I couldn’t even choose three among them without thinking of 5 others I love just as much! It’s like Sophie’s Choice. If you had given me seven more slots for recommendations, they would ALL be filled with Flash Face Off friends.)

READ RACHEL’S WORK HERE                       

The Invisible Woman in Milk Candy Review

Why I Hate, and He Loves, the Original Ghostbusters Movie in Wrongdoing Magazine

Eleanor Undomesticated — 2nd prize in the WOW! Women on Writing Fall 2021 Flash Fiction Contest

The Impenetrable Boundaries of a Temporal Loop in And If that mockingbird Don’t Sing: Parenting Stories Gone Speculative Anthology by Alternating Currents Press

Call Him Home in Sledgehammer Lit

Fight, Flight, and Freeze — 1st prize in Free Flash Fiction Competition 6

The Four Simple Reasons Why I Used to Wish Bob Ross Was My Dad — longlisted in the Reflex Fiction flash fiction competition, Autumn 2021

Night is an Unbroken Line — highly commended in Free Flash Fiction Competition 5

#MedusaToo & Because Mom Went to Night School, Once in Reflex Fiction

He May Be Human, But I Am Not Divine in Janus Literary, Issue 4

Six Ways to Start Something, and Five to End it in Ellipsis Zine

When Dad Came Home, But I Couldn’t See Him Anywhere in Growing Up Lifespan Vol. 2

Susan Is There — 2nd prize in the Round 6 Microfiction Competition, Mum Life Stories Micro-Fiction, Vol. 1

How Hungry I Was in Battery Pack IV by Neon Lit Mag

If a Tree Falls — 1st prize in the Strands International Flash Fiction Competition

Hungering — forthcoming in The Forge

<strong>Rachel O'Cleary</strong>
Rachel O’Cleary

Rachel O’Cleary studied creative writing at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, and then moved around Europe writing mostly in secret for many years before joining Writers HQ. She now lives with her family in Ireland, squeezing her obsession for flash fiction into the spaces between school runs. Recent and forthcoming publications include WOW! Women on Writing, Wrongdoing Mag, Milk Candy Review, the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology and The Forge. She occasionally tweets @RachelOCleary1

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