Friday, April 20, 2012

The Stinging Fly: Sweet Pea

Published in Dublin, Ireland three times a year, The Stinging Fly showcases the work of emerging writers, and features new Irish and international literary short fiction and poetry.  I won the spring 2012  edition of this literary magazine, edited by Declan Meade, on Mel's blog, The Reading Life, compliments of writer Ethel Rohan. Yesterday I received my copy in the mail, and last night I had a lovely time reading it in bed (with my ginger-hued Persian cat nestled at my side--sublime).  In this cozy manner, I read a good portion of the short stories in this publication, but have not read much of the poetry yet.

One of the stories I read was Sweet Pea, written by Ethel Rohan, who was born and raised in Dublin, but now resides in San Francisco.  In this story, which is set in Ireland, the main (unnamed) character, a married woman raising a family, has an odd bit of anatomy, a white wing in place of her right shoulder blade.  It's a very unusual and fascinating story, written in the first person, about this woman and her best friend, Betty, whose face glistens when she talks about her Sweet Pea plants, and who's building a dollhouse for her daughter, Melba.  Like many close friends, the women have zany little adventures together, and take a trip at the suggestion of their husbands, to an IRA training camp in the forest, where they feel free enough to do handstands. 

I was touched by this short story, which is about friendship, the passing of time, and loss. Since the author and I had been emailing back and forth, I asked her to tell me how she came up with the idea of the character's chicken-like wing.  Ethel took my query a step further, and graciously elaborated on the inspiration behind Sweet Pea.

ER: The story was triggered by something my dad told me while I was in Ireland last summer. He's an avid gardener and has the most amazing Sweet Pea plant in the back garden. The bright green and baby pink Sweet Pea climbs right up the back wall of his house. Dad described how the Sweet Pea grows tall and straight, and that it's only if and when the plant comes in contact with another flower or plant that it curls round and round that other object. That was the kernel that kicked off the story. Then, shortly after our return from Ireland, my husband built the most amazing wooden dollhouse for our daughter, so that was the second trigger for the story. As for the rest, the characters and ideas flowed right out.

Interestingly, I read the story a few months ago when I was in New York and afterwards one of the audience members said, "You got that white wing idea from Nights of the Circus!" I HAD read and loved Angela Carter's novel, Nights of the Circus, years ago while in college and had entirely forgotten that book and the white wing. So who knows what influences and stays at the subconscious level. There's also of course Gabriel Garcia Marquez's short story, A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings, that I also love and that no doubt helped fuel this story. There are so many books I've read but have largely forgotten. It's heartening to think that we never really forget these stories we read and that the works continue to nourish us long after (we think!) we've left them behind.

That is a heartening thought! Ethel, thank you for taking the time to give us this background information, and for sending me The Stinging Fly, a wonderful literary magazine.  Thanks also to The Reading Life for hosting Irish Short Story Week (now extended through July 1), which has helped me to discover both modern and contemporary Irish authors.

As always, your comments are welcomed.


  1. I think writers' brains percolate all kinds of things to come up with their stories. I bet it was a treat to read that magazine.

    1. Kathy, it's been such a treat, and I still have a few stories left to read, plus the poetry!

  2. Thanks so much, Susan, for this kind post and shout out. I'm so glad you enjoyed "Sweet Pea" and The Stinging Fly issue. It really is a stellar magazine.

  3. Thank you, Ethel. It's been a pleasure to read your work and this impressive literary magazine.

  4. Not usually a fan of short stories as you know but I must admit I'm tempted by this.

  5. I like a lot your post and the way the author speaks about books. I like a lot too sweet-peas... Thanks, Suko .

  6. Glad you are enjoying The Stinging Fly Suko. How nice of the author to share where her inspiration came from. Sweet Pea sounds unique and moving.

  7. What an unusual title, but the story itself sounds compelling.

  8. This sounds like a great story - and what a great reading challenge. Irish short stories sounds fascinating.

  9. Great to learn about another wonderful short story by Ethel Rohan-Laura-please consider joining us for ISSW2, set to run until July 1


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