• Urhi

Q&A: BENEATH THE NEEDLE WITH SAOIRSE NÍ CHIARAGÁIN

Updated: Jun 23, 2021

In the eighth of our Q&A features, we're joined by Saoirse Ní Chiaragáin, an Irish writer living in Berlin. We discuss our feelings on landlord-tenant relationships and Catholicism in the context of Saoirse's fantastic Short Fiction submission Hypostasis, alongside insight regarding Saoirse's experiences writing for film, Irish language freelancing, and the growing pains of entering the writing community within the Covid-19 pandemic.

Saoirse hails from Ireland, and currently lives in Berlin, Germany

Saoirse Ní Chiaragáin is an Irish writer living in Berlin, Germany. Though her writing background had been primarily geared towards television and film, she took to writing short stories as a way to escape the frustrations and fears of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her co-written feature film, Consentuality, received Screen Ireland development funding in 2020, and while the coming-of-age comedy project is incredibly close to her heart, she feels her true home is in writing horror.


So, Saoirse - Hypostasis highlights what could be considered a parasitic relationship between landlord and tenant, ‘deities’ and those devout. Do you enjoy Catholicism in horror, a subgenre that rose to prominence with The Exorcist?



Sometimes, but not always. I think in recent years a lot of Christian, and especially Catholic, iconography has become well-worn horror visual shorthand and to me it can sometimes feel shallow. Oftentimes you end up with the aesthetics of Catholicism but without a story that meaningfully engages with ideas of religious institutions or the numinous. So, while I really enjoy The Exorcist, I wouldn’t be as keen on, say, The Nun.

 

Addressing the conditions of the central apartment, was this inspired by any of your own renting experiences, or more of a general commentary on the dangers of private and often for-profit landlords?


A bit of both! I’m a grouchy leftie with a bone to pick with landlords at the best of times, but Hypostasis was very much born from current issues in my own flat. We’ve had a persistent leak – more of a deluge, really – coming from our bathroom ceiling for months. Every time it appeared to be fixed, we’d suddenly hear dripping again and the whole ordeal would start over. It got to the point where I could hear anything that vaguely sounded like the trickling of water, and my stomach would drop. It still isn’t fixed, and I intend to keep writing mean things about landlords in my fiction.

 

Also, you reference Padre Pio in a fantastic, clever little passage - does this evoke any of your own memories or experiences in your childhood, considering the prominence of Catholicism in Ireland?


Absolutely. In fact, I always associate Padre Pio with my late grandmother, who revered him greatly. I grew up thinking he was a fascinating figure, given his supposed stigmata and the Vatican’s apprehension over him. I always appreciated that he was something of a controversial figure within the Church, yet so many adults around me growing up held him in such high regard and would speak earnestly about his miracles.


My mother, grandmother and aunts went on a pilgrimage to Italy when I was about 12-years-old and brought back a pendant for me which (apparently) contained a piece of cloth from Pio’s robes. They also regaled me with stories of other holy sites they’d visited, about things like the Miracle of Lanciano, where it is said that the eucharist turned into literal flesh and the wine into coagulated blood. They showed me a photo of it on display in a reliquary, and it’s one of those images that really stuck with me. There’s something so wonderfully frightening about the sudden appearance of this mysterious flesh. I no longer consider myself to be religious, but I do love the sensual quality of miracle stories. There’s something uncomfortably tactile about them.


"I no longer consider myself to be religious, but I do love the sensual quality of miracle stories. There’s something uncomfortably tactile about them."

Delving a little deeper toward your diverse talents as a working writer, could you tell us more about your uptake of short fiction during the pandemic - perhaps a particularly memorable learning experience?


There’s certainly been a sharp learning curve. Content writing is my day job, so I was already at my most comfortable working with words. What I had absolutely no experience in, however, was submitting work for publication and handling rejection. It is said a lot, but it really cannot be overstated how many times a piece will be rejected, and how it’s not something you should feel discouraged by. I had no frame of reference starting out, and didn’t know many writers at that time who were regularly submitting, so I would sometimes receive a rejection and think “I’ve made a terrible mistake, why did I think I had any right to start writing fiction?”


I think I waited six months between my first rejection and submitting the story elsewhere, and most of those six months were spent working up the nerve to submit again. Gradually, I’ve found myself settling into a groove where I’m writing a lot more frequently and submitting more frequently as a result. It’s difficult to be anxious over the fate of a story when you’re already knee-deep in another.

 

Consentuality is your co-written debut feature film - an incredible achievement. How do you tackle the screenwriting process in a collaborative manner?


I’m very fortunate that my co-writer, Natasha Waugh, is one of my closest friends and has been since university. We were both very active in our university’s film society and cut our teeth on a lot of terrible student films together. So, we already knew how one another worked and that we could write well together.


While the outline for Consentuality was originally drafted over pints and chicken wings in Dublin, the writing proper didn’t start until after I had emigrated to Berlin. Starting out, we would discuss which scenes we wanted to tackle, work on them separately and then edit together. Nowadays we’ve been hopping on Zoom and working together in real-time using different collaborative software. Largely, it’s a lot of fun. We’re very much of the same mind on what we want the film to be, so that eliminates any potential issues of ego. It’s not a story I could write on my own, and I don’t think I could write it with someone other than Natasha. It’s very much our baby.

 

You’ve also developed non-fiction Irish language works, something close to our hearts considering our placement in Wales and the importance of preserving such rich cultures. Is this something you hope to continue going forward, alongside your debut novella?


Well, I’m forever impressed and inspired by the Welsh efforts in language and cultural preservation. We have a lot to learn from our Cymraeg cousins.

Irish is something I care deeply about. I was privileged enough to attend Irish language schools for primary and secondary school, where we were not allowed to speak English and all subjects were taught in Irish. I feel lucky to be able to use my Irish, despite the fact that I now live abroad, and it’s definitely something I want to keep up with. It can be difficult, and I certainly have noticed that my skills have deteriorated over years of disuse, but I’ve found that the online Irish-speaking community has helped a lot.


As for the novella, I’ll get there! Sometimes I feel like I’m training for a marathon, and I don’t quite have it in me to go the distance yet. Hopefully by the end of this year I’ll have a draft somewhat finished.


"I feel lucky to be able to use my Irish, despite the fact that I now live abroad, and it’s definitely something I want to keep up with."

Do you have a particularly formative memory of the horror genre at large, i.e. a film or book you still revisit to this day?


I was a bit of a spooky kid and loved family-friendly horror like Gremlins from the age of four, and I devoured Goosebumps books for most of my childhood. My mother still reminds me that, as a small child, I inadvertently insulted women by telling them they looked like witches. At that age, I thought witches were the most beautiful women of all. I thought any darkly glamorous woman was a witch.


But in terms of something formative that I keep returning to, however, it would probably be Hannibal Lecter. I first saw Hannibal when I was 11 or 12, and the scene in which Mason Verger feeds his own face to his dogs scared me so badly that I couldn’t sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw that image. Now, as an adult, I’m a big fan of Thomas Harris and really relish the cartoonish villainy of Verger, and the flamboyant madness of those latter two Hannibal novels.

 

In three words or less - what can our readers expect from Hypostasis?


Anxiety, guilt, housework.

 

Thank you for your participation and fantastic fiction, Saoirse. Hypostasis will be available in The Needle Drops… Volume One - don’t miss out.


Saoirse's stories have been published in Novel Noctule, Not Deer Magazine, and The Piker Press. Upcoming works will feature in the anthologies 99 Tiny Terrors from Pulse Publishing, and Blood and Bone: An Anthology of Body Horror by Women from Ghost Orchid Press. Her first novella is slowly, painfully coming into existence. You can remind her to get back to writing it by tweeting her at @MiseryVulture. You can find all her published work on her website, saoirsenichiaragain.com.



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