Peter Jordan

Northern Ireland

Peter, have you lived your entire life in Belfast?

I was born in Belfast in 1967 and I’ve lived here nearly all of my adult life. For the past 10 years I’ve spent term-time in Donegal with my family. My wife’s people are from across the border. We stay in a white cottage on the shores of Lough Foyle; it’s truly beautiful, and spiritual. The cottage was built in 1842 and it has little doors to each room — so, when I go up there, I spend the first two days bumping my forehead off the door frames — they must have been a lot shorter in the 1840s.

In my twenties I lived for a short time in the US. I was married over there as well, in New York City Hall. And I lived for a time in London.

Is Belfast an ideal place for a writer like you?

Like all UK cities there’s an abundance of coffee shops in Belfast. I can’t write at home; I’m inclined to do housework instead. I need to have things going on around me. I worked as a sports journalist for years, always in the middle of chaos. I dunno, maybe that’s why I need things to be going on when I write. When the writing flows, I’m not aware of anything: the passage of time, the people. That’s the place I want to get to when I’m writing; that place where the unconscious takes over. Then, in the rewrites, I pan for gold and throw away the crap, I hope.

Who’s currently the most famous fiction writer from Northern Ireland? Do you like his/her works?

Anna Burns recently won the Booker for Milkman.

In Belfast we use these types of monikers for our bogey men. During the Troubles there was a paramilitary called the Window Cleaner — he liked to kill Catholics by dropping a breeze block on their heads.

I’m eager to learn more about Northern Ireland and its people. What classic or contemporary novels should I read to get a picture of what’s going on in your country?

Bernard McLaverty’s short stories are superb. I was reading them recently; he’s great at the small things. McLaverty was part of the Philip Hobsbaum weekly workshop that included Seamus Heaney, Ciaran Carson, and Michael Longley. Carson ran that group up until the 2010s, in what became the Seamus Heaney Centre. I attended that class while studying there.

Peter’s Works

Peter, let’s talk about Calls to Distant Places. How many short stories are there in this book, and what are the main themes?

There are 40 stories; from flash fiction to longer 5,000-word pieces. The collection takes its title from a line in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. The theme is obsession, the underdog, and redemption. I spent over twenty years drunk, so, I guess that was always going to be the theme. Having said that, I wasn’t aware there was a theme until after publication. 

And why a short story collection? Why not a novel or a novella?

Writing a novel or a novella is an entirely different discipline to short story writing. And I’m a short story writer. In 2009, while taking an MA in Creative Writing, I was approached by a literary agent who asked if I could write a novel in the same voice as a character from one of my short stories. I told the agent I wasn’t ready, that I wanted to continue studying and learn everything I could about writing, before attempting to get a book published. She thought I was mad.

You’ve published so many short stories in literary journals. Which one of them do you like the best and want everyone to read?

I’m not sure which one I like best. It changes. I did hear someone say their short stories are like children and they just can’t pick a favourite. I can identify. I do like ‘At the Bottom of the Glass’ which was renamed ‘Frogs’. The story is published by Ellipsis Zine:


Do you have a fixed writing schedule, or do you write whenever you feel you’re in the mood?

I try to turn up at the page as often as possible. I write most days. Some days the work is awful — I’m just treading water — then, on other days, it just seems to come from nowhere and everything falls into place. Everywhere, I hear, ‘WRITE EVERY DAY!’ This needs to be put into context. I don’t know any writer who writes EVERY day. The ideal is to write every day BUT you need to be careful. Anyone who has young children, a job, a disability, simply won’t be able to write every day and there might just be the feeling that you are underachieving, or somehow doing it wrong. Write as often as you can. I wrote every day in 2009 – I had the money, health, and mindset to do that and my writing improved exponentially. But be careful with ‘prescriptive gospel’ that demands you write every day. We are not all Stephen King! 

What is the chief motive for you to write?

I’m not sure. It’s just something I have to do. A calling I ignored for so long. There’s a wonderful essay by George Orwell on this.

The number of writers in English-speaking countries is rising each year. Do you feel this urge that you need to enhance your writing skills day by day? If yes, how do you do that?

I read a lot and write a lot. There is no other way. I took a PhD on Hemingway’s short fiction and I learned a lot from that. But you can learn too much. Having said that, a part of the process will always remain a mystery to me. So, each time I revisit the page a part of me feels like it’s the first time, and I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.

Have you any specific advice for aspiring writers?

Copy the style of your favourite writer until you find your own voice. And read Anton Chekhov. Constance Garnett’s translations are free online. But I would buy a collection — by a more recent translator — carry it with you, study it. Chekhov is the father of us all. 

More About Peter

Besides writing and reading, what other activities do you enjoy doing?

I play Texas Hold’em.

What are your biggest dreams/goals, Peter?

To stay sober for my children — everything will else follow.

If you were supposed to portray your own character (like a fictional character in a novel), how would you describe it in one paragraph?

In one sentence: the obsessive, saved by writing.

Christmas & New Year

As it is time to celebrate Christmas and New Year, would you please share with us the sweetest memory that you have about these two festivities?

I’m not sure it’s sweet, but it’s visual and aural, and something I’ll never forget. As a kid, I climbed up through the roofspace window and on to the roof of my parent’s house on Christmas Eve. I suppose I was looking for Santa’s sleigh. It was a clear, still night, and freezing. Across the soup bowl of Belfast City Centre was tracer fire coming from West Belfast. There was a delay between the sight of the tracer bullets and the sound they made. It was an odd disconnect. Beautiful, and sad, I suppose.

What is your most favorite Christmas/New Year story? 

Richard Yates writes a story about the patients on a TB ward. I think it’s called ‘Out with the old, in with the new’. It is devastating, and real. Yates spent years on a TB ward himself. The yearning and loneliness are palpable, without ever being sentimental; everything is conveyed indirectly, suggested. I would recommend Yates to anyone.

With regards to seasonal stories, the very first story I had published was about a gambler who bets on a white Christmas, while trying to quit gambling. In the story, the central character wins his bet, but loses everything in the process. It was sentimental, and truly awful.


Laura Besley

Laura, I follow your lovely Instagram page. By looking at the pictures you take, I’ve guessed that you don’t live in a big city. Am I right? And it seems that you do love your neighborhood. Has your surroundings had a positive influence on your creativity?

Firstly, I’d like to thank you for asking to interview me, Maysam.  

I actually live in a big city, but in a suburb which borders farmland, so in that respect I’m very lucky because I can walk out of my back door and into the countryside. Generally I don’t usually spend the whole day inside, but during lockdown it has become even more important to get out and get some fresh air. My surroundings don’t necessarily have a positive influence on my creativity, but I find walking often brings about ideas or solutions to problems within my writing. 

You’ve published quite a lot of stories in literary journals. Does a writer like you still get rejected from time to time? If yes, what are the three top reasons that journals reject your pieces?

Oh yes, definitely! Lots and lots of rejections. More often than not, editors of journals don’t tell you why they don’t want one of your pieces – they have too many to read and respond to, so in all honesty, I don’t actually know the answer to that question. However, I often find that if I go back to a piece a month or two later, I can see some things I’d like to change, so that’s always worth trying before sending it out again.

Do you write creative nonfiction, too?

I never set out to write creative nonfiction, but occasionally something grips me that I want to write about. These pieces are largely just for me. They’re too personal to publish. 

I know you have a lot of published micro fiction and flash fiction stories on the net, but let’s narrow it down to three. What are your three most liked short stories so far?

That is a really tough question, but these are certainly three that I really love.  

That Apple (Fictive Dream) was my very first journal publication in 2017 and I remain grateful to the editor, Laura Black, for publishing it. It appears in The Almost Mothers, although has been edited slightly. 

The Motherhood Contract (Ellipsis Zine) was my second journal publication in 2018. I wrote this story as part of a novella-in-flash (that several years later is very nearly finished). Elspeth, the main character, is one who is very close to my heart and there is a lot of me in this piece. This one is also in The Almost Mothers

Another favourite is Her Glorious Face (50 word stories). I’ve found, especially recently, that the stories I write are getting increasingly shorter and I really enjoy the challenge of the strict word count. 

Laura, what are some good characteristics of the English people? What do your people have in common that makes you feel proud of them?

Something, I feel, that has been noticeable during lockdown is how kind people can be. Not just English people, of course, but these are the stories I’ve predominantly heard about. I think people, as their lives have slowed down and become smaller in many ways, have been reminded to be kind. I’d like to think that this is something that we can hold onto when ‘normality’ resumes. 

Charles Dickens is my most favorite British classic writer. I call him Uncle Charles. Who’s yours?

I don’t read many classics to be honest with you, however my favourite would have to be Thomas Hardy. I received Far From the Madding Crowd for my birthday when I was a teenager and immediately fell in love with it and the 2015 adaptation is one of my favourite films. 

Let’s talk about The Almost Mothers now. What motivated you to write this book, and how long did it take you to write, edit, and publish it?

In 2018 I decided to do FlashNano (the idea being that you write a piece of flash fiction for every day in November). Every day, while my youngest son napped and my eldest was at school, I sat down and wrote a piece of flash fiction. Some days were better than others, but about halfway through the month, I realised that a lot of the pieces were about mothers and motherhood. In December I edited the pieces on that theme and put them in a collection along with previously published pieces about motherhood. I then entered the collection into a competition in January 2019 and was lucky enough to be long-listed, something I was thrilled about. 

And please tell us about this experience of cooperating with Dahlia Books. Did they find you, or did you find them?

In April 2019 Farhana Shaikh, editor and director of Dahlia Books, put a call out for short story and/or flash fiction collections to be pitched in a single tweet. I did this and Farhana replied requesting my full manuscript. It was honestly a dance-around-the-kitchen moment. Farhana contacted me in September asking to meet and we discussed publishing the collection. There was quite a lot of editing involved, far more than I thought, and she asked me to write some additional stories as well. This was done over the months October to January and the manuscript was sent to the printers in February and officially published in March 2020. 

Is it more accurate to say that “The Almost Mothers” is a flash fiction collection, or is it a novel/novella-in-flash?

The Almost Mothers is a flash fiction collection because it doesn’t have an overarching narrative, although there are a couple of stories that are linked. 

You generously let me have your book for free. I appreciate that. While reading the book, I felt curious to know which part you most enjoyed writing? And which paragraph(s) of “The Almost Mothers” would you select to read aloud for our readers now?

You’re very welcome. I’m so pleased to know that you enjoyed it. 

I don’t know that I particularly enjoyed writing some parts more than others, however, while I was writing this collection, I started experimenting with quirky and dystopian pieces. Until that point, I had never written pieces like that and some of those are the pieces I’m most proud of. 

If I was reading a paragraph aloud, I would probably choose the first paragraph from the first story: ‘Mothers Anonymous’:

We’re not here to judge, they tell us. Night after night, we sit in this cold church hall sipping teas and coffees, trying to get the good biscuits before they’re all gone. We’re here to support each other, they tell us. We’re here to listen.

Are you currently working on a new book, or are you busy with some other projects? What are your plans for the next five years?

I’m currently writing new stories and editing others for my second collection, 100neHundred, which is due to be published in May 2021 by Arachne Press. This is a collection of 100×100-word stories. 

As for my plans for the next five years, I very much hope there’ll be more writing and more published work.  

And my last question, has Laura Besley achieved most of her goals?

In terms of achieving writing goals, I feel I still have a long way to go. A really long way. I write a lot of short and very short fiction, and want to continue doing this. However, recently I’ve been reading a lot of short stories and would also love to write a collection of short stories, maybe even a novel, but we’ll have to see what the future has in store for me.