BackStory: Five Questions with Davena O’ Neill
Author of The Colours in His Hair
What inspired you to write ‘The Colours in His Hair’?
This story came from a prompt exercise to write a sentence with using three colours, and having only an hour for something. The image of the sun catching the colours in someone’s hair fulfilled the first part. For the hour, I wanted to pack as much action and emotion into the short time. So came the young couple, expressing their love secretly, with all the hope of youth and the tragedy of war. I chose the romance with the World War 1 background in memory of so many young men cut down in their prime, including my great-great uncle, who died in Gallipoli.
Who are your favourite historical fiction writers and why?
Not flash but, I love C.J. Sansom and his Shardlake series, set in the tumultuous time of Henry VIII. Also, Steven Saylor’s Roman Sub Rosa series, featuring Gordianus the Finder. Both historical periods had so much intrigue and fascinating characters that provide such a rich backdrop for setting a story.
How much research did you do while writing and editing this piece? Did you discover anything that surprised you?
A different type of research, but while looking into our family history I found my great-great uncle’s New Zealand military records, detailing his signing up, posting and death. In it was a copy of his will, which all soldiers had to write. He had left his pension to his mother in Ireland, but he had left his watch to a lady in South Canterbury, N.Z. We don’t know who she was or what was the nature of their relationship; this story honours them and what might have been.
What is your favourite part of the writing process? Your least favourite?
My favourite part is the initial idea, springing from the smallest object, image, word or thought. I find it thrilling how a story grows; meandering, changing, taking on a life of its own. My least favourite part is editing that rambling mess into something coherent.
What do you like most about writing flash?
I have come to love writing flash more than any other form because of its purity. You must try to tell your story, simply, briefly, hopefully conveying all the power and emotion of a much longer piece.
Davena O’ Neill writes about moments, the small everyday events that shape us.
She is a published writer of poetry, flash fiction, and short stories, and lives on the west coast of Ireland.
Photograph of watch from page 102 of “Highland Echo 1915-1925”, taken circa 1915, courtesy of Internet Archive Book Images.