Sophie Grenham talks to NICOLE FLATTERY about fame, form, female friendship and The Factory
As I walk briskly through Temple Bar to meet Nicole Flattery, I realise it’s late January and the winter chill has only just swept Dublin. Minutes later, the critically acclaimed writer rolls up to our corner table in the IFI Café Bar, swaddled in a voluminous wool scarf. She tells me she needs to buy a proper coat, particularly as she’s soon taking off to New York, where she worked as an assistant with Melville House Publishing when she was 24. Over pots of mint tea, our chatter segues from the frost outside to Dunnes Stores’ thermal vests. Flattery, originally from Kinnegad in Mullingar and now living near Galway city, is smiley, laidback and breezy. Utterly unaffected by the attention swirling around her debut short story collection, she laughs gaily and often.
Show Them A Good Time is a compilation of eight distinctive tales about female friendship, familial bonds, manifestations of grief, a hopeless crush, lost souls in work limbo at a fake roadside garage, a 41-year-old woman who dares to date, and an ageing comedian for whom fame and the company of a younger girlfriend defines his self-worth. Some titles were previously published in literary journals such as The Stinging Fly, with which Flattery’s relationship began in 2015. Her work has also appeared in The White Review, The Dublin Review, Winter Papers, BBC Radio 4 and The Irish Times. Show Them A Good Time, combined with her first novel, secured her a six-figure advance. It’s admittedly unusual for a book deal of this scale to include a story collection, but very telling of the form’s widening appeal.
My choice of interview location was rather fortuitous, as Flattery has a BA in Drama and Film Studies from Trinity College Dublin. She graduated in 2011 before taking an MA in Creative Writing. She enjoyed The Favourite, starring Olivia Colman, and admires the work of comedy writers and performers, like Sharon Horgan. The dark side of fame inspired Track, for which she was awarded The White Review Short Story Prize in 2017. She says, “I am interested in celebrity. I know a lot of people aren’t, but we live in a shallow culture where social media allows anyone to become famous, where it’s very difficult to get to know an actual person.”
Track was notably mentioned in The Guardian by Jon McGregor, who said Show Them A Good Time “demands repeated reading. These stories are very funny and very sad, usually at the same time.”
McGregor’s analysis of the book came as a relief – I was worried I read it wrong. When I revisited the text, everything crystallised. Show Them A Good Time, in my opinion, should be read at least twice. With every fresh approach, the work becomes shiny and new. The effect is due in part to the author’s non-specific details such as place locations, quantities and even character names. This recent trend of literary freewheeling was given a spotlight by Mike McCormack and Anna Burns. Flattery’s work couldn’t be more timely if it tried.
“Detachment definitely works across the collection. I don’t think I’m great at specificity,” she explains. “With certain stories I don’t think it would have been useful to name a place. A lot of cities are becoming very alike – Dublin, London and New York. They’re becoming so capitalist that they start to become homogeneous. That’s a really frightening thing.”
Flattery uses many tricks from dramatic composition to build a natural sense of movement and space. Such meandering is true of everyday thought processes and patterns. Through her characters, she examines the roles we play in society; many are performers in life and on stage, many are survivors of trauma. “When you’re traumatised, time is not linear – it breaks,” she says, earnestly. “I wanted to do something where time felt fractured and weird. I wanted to not really know, in certain respects, what was real and what was unreal – the dreaminess of it. That’s a real thing of trauma too – ‘Did that happen? Did I make it up?”
Fittingly, before either of us realise, an hour whips by and Flattery has to leave – she really needs to buy that coat. The focal point of her Manhattan pilgrimage is a definitive Andy Warhol exhibit at the Whitney Museum. The Factory is the subject of Nothing Special, her novel in progress. “There is so much to discover about Andy Warhol but at the same time, he’s still completely unknowable,” she says. “He just completely invented himself, and was quite prophetic in his writing and thinking. He’d develop obsessive relationships with people. I’d say it was suffocating to be under his gaze.” I wonder how much detachment applies to Flattery’s own life. One could understand the need for a quiet remove, while it’s optional. As she swishes off into the night, I suspect those options are limited.
Show Them A Good Time (€12.95, The Stinging Fly Press) is out now.
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