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20 Questions with... Keely O'Shaughnessy

KEELY O’SHAUGHNESSY is a fiction writer with cerebral palsy, who lives in Gloucestershire, U.K. with her husband and two cats. She has been shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award and won Retreat West’s Monthly Micro contest. Her micro-chapbook, The Swell of Seafoam, was published as part of Ghost City Press’ Summer Series 2022 and her flash fiction collection Baby is a Thing Best Whispered was published with Alien Buddha. Her writing has been published by Ellipsis Zine, Complete Sentence, Reflex Fiction and Emerge Literary Journal and (mac)ro(mic), and more. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions as well as being selected for the Wigleaf Top 50. She is Managing Editor at Flash Fiction Magazine. Find her at

Twitter: @KeelyO_writer

Instagram: @keelyoshaughnessy

Please introduce yourself. Where are you from? What was your life like growing up?

I’m a short fiction writer and editor and I live in Gloucestershire with my husband and two cats. I was born and raised in Devon. Dartmoor is my spiritual home. I’m currently Managing Editor for Flash Fiction Magazine. I love writing flash fiction because of its sense of urgency. When I’m not writing or editing, I work in a primary school as a teaching assistant, where I also teach creative writing and tutor English. I’m a huge David Bowie fan. I watch too much TV and my TBR pile is beginning to outgrow our house.

Did you always want to be a writer? If you also work, what do you do / did you do?

Yes, I think so. But it was always more of a dream when I was growing up as it wasn’t considered a “proper job” by my family. (Side note: it still isn’t. Although, they do begrudgingly buy my books.) There were lots of other jobs I imagined myself doing, I wanted to be a historian, a zookeeper, and there was a time when I became obsessed with special effects makeup. I used to practice stippling bruises on myself all the time.

In my day job, now, I work with children with special educational needs and disabilities. Working in a school is challenging and rewarding. No day is the same, it can be noisy and chaotic, but it’s also fun and enlightening.

Tell us about your most recently published work in a sentence.

My last publication was a double feature with Sage Cigarettes: one story is about bikes and a ghost boy and the other is about an enchanted forest taking back what it’s owed.

What are you working on right now?

Nothing. And I wish I could say it feels liberating, but I hate not having a writing project on the go. But I’m trying to take a mindful rest from writing as I’ve had two collections come out this summer (a micro-chapbook The Swell of Seafoam and my debut flash fiction collection Baby is a Thing Best Whispered) and my creative well is feeling quite depleted. I’m just reading and noting down ideas and seeing what takes.

Do you have a writing routine, and if so what is it?

I don’t really have a writing routine. I’m not disciplined enough. I write when I can carve out some time in my day or in the middle of the night when I manically type up story notes on my phone.

Where do you write – always in the same space, or different places? Can you write ‘on the move’?

I have desk at home but will often write sitting on the sofa or in bed or sometimes in a café in town when I’m feeling fancy.

What advice do you have for other authors who are starting out? What is the best advice you’ve heard?

Read and read some more. Reading is such an important part of the writing process. I’d also say learn all the writing rules you can before having a go at breaking some of them.

Do you enjoy doing live readings or are they a necessary evil – or somewhere in between?

I love listening to a live reading, but I’m a painfully shy person and I hate my voice. It’s so odd because I can read aloud to a class of thirty children every day and not be bothered in the slightest but ask me to read my own work at a reading and I’m an instant anxious, blithering mess.

Are there recurring themes in your work? Where do you feel these emanate from if so?

There are always themes I find myself drawn back to. Motherhood and womanhood are big ones, but I also like to write about the sea and travelling. I think this for sure comes from my own sense of longing and wanderlust.

Should writers have a moral purpose? What is the purpose of a writer in today’s society?

I can’t speak for other writers, but when I write I try and stay true to myself and my voice and follow that wherever it leads me. I don’t think there is a need for a moral purpose, not all stories need to be didactic, but it is the writer’s responsibly not to create a platform for hate of any kind.

Do you write between genres or not?

I mainly write literary fiction and horror and sometimes I blend the two.

Which living writers do you most admire?

This is a too long list to list. Every writer I follow on Twitter.

Which dead writers do you most admire?

Again, there are so many Angela Carter and Raymond Carver are two of my favourites.

What’s the book you wish you’d written?

Little Feast by Jules Archer. I go on about this book all the time to anyone who’ll listen. It’s such a good collection. The stories are dark and odd and delicious.

What other external influences do you have: nature/place, music etc?

I try and be influenced by everything and anything. I’m always drawn back to David Bowie. He was such a creative visionary. I love nature and the sea. I also like to write about other countries and travel. Maybe it grows from a longing to be somewhere other than where I am, but I often feel other parts of the world offer up more vibrancy, texture and interest.

Do you suffer from ‘writer’s block’ and how do you overcome it if so?

I’m very good at procrastinating and not so good at focus and discipline. I will often pile on the pressure to write, which doesn’t end well. If I’m struggling to write, I like to read and read until my own words start to bubble up. It’s like they get jealous and begin to whine about how they need a turn. If that fails, I will always turn to artwork as a prompt.

What’s been your favourite reaction to your writing?

My most favourite thing is when someone who has read my stories goes to the effort of reaching out to tell me they like it. That’s ace.

How do your family and friends feel about your writing?

I come from a family who don’t read, at all, so they struggle to understand most of my writing life. But they are mostly supportive in their own ways. My Gran always reads my stories and without fail asks why there wasn’t more of them.

Do you have a favourite bookshop?

I recently discovered The Cotswold Book Room in Wotton-under-Edge. They stock a great range of books, including lots of lovely indie titles.

How do you see the future of writing? Will we become more or less dependent on Amazon?

Gosh, I hope less. Don’t get me wrong; Amazon can be a good marketplace for books- its vastness and worldwide reach-but it would be nice to have a little more love and passion for physical books. Going to an independent bookshop and finding your new favourite read... I’m all for a full-on revival of tiny local, independent bookshops selling books from indie presses and indie authors. It seems to be happening more and more in the US and maybe the UK is missing out.

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