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By Clodagh O’Brien

Last week one of my short stories ‘Mission Improbable’ got reviewed on ‘The Reading Life’ blog. Along with being a great compliment, it was interesting to see what someone else got from the story and how it was described.

“The story starts out like a cross between ‘The Hunger Games’ and ‘Death Race’.  The race starter tells the 1000s of runners only one of them at best has any chance of surviving to live past race day.  As the story proceeds on it then seems to be taking place on some strange nightmare alternative world where 100s of runners die at once in macabre ways. We learn the runners were created just for this race in which most if not all will die a violent death.”

When I wrote the story I knew the ending was going to be a twist. I kept it intentionally vague so that you were guessing all the way along. Some people got it right, but the majority didn’t, which was a victory for me as it meant I had done something right. I had managed to draw people in and hit them at the end with the unexpected.

It got me thinking about what impact short stories have had on me. There is nothing better than discovering a great story that leads you in, twirls you around and hits you with a startling end. It is a literature rollercoaster.

So I decided to feature a few stories that I have enjoyed over the years that made me smile, gasp, squirm or wish I had written it.

‘Of Cats and Women’ by Laura Hird

This ia disturbing story of a woman consumed with rage, jealousy and violence over the break up of her relationship. It opens with her spying on the new girlfriend from her car, a practice she has done many times before. As her ex has gone ex-directory she can no longer ring them up and hurl abuse, so is intent on finding out the new number. She does this by kidnapping their beloved cat and torturing it. Vicious and unrelenting it hooks you till the end.

‘The Parting Gift’ by Claire Keegan

This story about a young girl leaving for New York drips with sadness. As her parent’s relationship crumbled she became the object of her father’s desire. It was a role she filled without  much choice. The matter of fact way the abuse is stated in Keegan’s writing, as it was just the done thing, as acceptance makes it all the more poignant. It explores a dysfunctional family that look normal from the outside.

‘The New Girl’ by Zoe Lambert

This story is only just over 3 pages long, but its impact is incredible. It explores the life of a girl who has spent her life around foster children. The fractured relationship between the girl and her mother is wonderfully painted, so much so it makes you want to tear into the page and give her a hug! Her mother’s choices always made her feel she wasn’t enough.

‘The Bath’ by Raymond Carver

Using such simple language and rarely calling the characters in the story by their name makes this story all the more powerful. It starts with a birthday party being planned and the boy begin knocked down by a car. At first he appears fine, but on going home slips into a coma. The rest of the story deals with the parent’s struggle of not knowing what is wrong with him and if he will ever wake up. In the background there is a malevolent presence of the baker who made the birthday cake and is calling the parents demanding money. It ends with a phone call, the details of which we never know.

There are many others, but those are just a few examples. When I reread them the same emotions come flooding back and I notice something new each time. It is writing to aspire to and sets the bar very high.

I also did a Q&A with Mel U on ‘My Reading Life’ which I will post at a later date.