BackStory: Five Questions with Robert Barrett
Author of Footprints in Water
What inspired you to write ‘Footprints in Water’?
I went to a boarding school in the 1980s. It was a sort of Irish Hogwarts where television was non-existent, the internet wasn’t invented yet, and a phone was something you put coins in. We told stories at night to entertain and impress each other. I can distinctly remember a boy telling an incredible story about a girl who had fallen from an aeroplane and survived. It had an apocryphal air to it but he also had some delicious facts which lent truth to the story, such as the fact that she was still attached to the seat when she fell. I can remember imagining her fall that night and trying to work out the million different lucky breaks she needed to survive. The story sat dormant in the back of my brain for decades until I accidentally fell on the true story of Juliane Koepcke and the events of that fateful Christmas Eve in 1971…
What is your favourite part of the writing process? Your least favourite?
My favorite part of the writing process is the revision and editing process. It wasn’t always so, but that’s where I am now. I think perhaps the more you write the more you realise how important editing is, and the more enjoyable it becomes. I’m trying to see my writing as more of a process that just sitting there waiting for some sort of a magic ink bullet to hit the page.
My least favourite part is actually that moment when you press the send button. For me, that usually happens about 2.4 seconds before I find a typo, and minutes before I decide that the piece was no good anyway and I want to suck it back up through the fibre optic cable and change it again.
If you could live for one year in any historical period, when and where would it be, and why?
This is an easy question for me because I have always fantasised about living in Elizabethan London. Perhaps not the safest place for an Irish person (or any person for that matter) but once you survived the plague, the rampant crime, and the poison water supply, you would find yourself in an incredibly exciting time of change and discovery; a time of Shakespeare and witchery and foreign spies; a time of short lives, lived hard and fast.
What do you like most about writing flash?
I have always loved flash fiction, even when I didn’t even know it had a particular name. I am attracted to the brevity and the power of it. Great flash for me isn’t just a beautiful thing on its own but it’s also a gateway drug to other literature. I love the way good flash opens up your imagination and gets the creative juices flowing. Good flash sits somewhere between prose and poetry, because even though it’s composed of prose, its brevity means that most of the story happens in the reader’s imagination, as it does with poetry, or with a story told around the campfire on a dark night.
How important is historical accuracy to you in your own writing?
Personally, where historical fiction is concerned, my interest is always piqued by accurate detail. Detail is hard to fake, and accurate detail in historical fiction adds belief to the imagined parts of the story. There is always a leap of imagination involved in writing historical fiction, and where you are putting imagined actions and words onto real people, the important thing is to do it with respect and care. The greater the stretch of imagination, the greater the responsibility to take care. You need the reader to trust you and to come with you on the narrative journey.
Robert Barrett lives in Wicklow, where he writes flash fiction, plays, and short stories. He won first place in the RTE PJ O’Connor Awards in 2017 and 2020 and his work has been published in the Fish Anthology, Bath Flash Fiction 4, The Incubator, New Flash Fiction Review, and on RTE Radio 1. He was shortlisted for the 2021 Bridport Flash Fiction competition and was a runner-up in the Fish Flash Fiction Competition in 2015 and 2016. He is co-editor of @splonk1. You can find him on Twitter @barrettrob.
Detail of photography by Steph684 via Pixabay.