Halloween Flash Fiction: No New Messages

No New Messages

by Marie Gethins

Originally published in Wales Arts Review

The fragmented phone screen clung together—ice pieces over a frozen data pond. She stroked it, her fingers registered minute fissures. When the battery went flat, a search of his bedside locker, desk, and khaki messenger bag found nothing. Theo misplaced chargers as routine. She considered buying another, instead she stitched a funeral sack for his mobile: midnight velvet, silk cords cinched the shroud closed.

Theo had been a reluctant smartphone recipient. Emma bought it for his last birthday, determined to push the forty-year-old into the Age of Modern Technology.

‘It will simplify your life,’ she said. ‘Bring you to a higher plane.’

He frowned. ‘You know technology and I have a fraught relationship.’

‘It’s super easy. I’ll set it up for you.’

She guided him through the art of email, texting, weather app usage, and uploaded his favourite classical albums. Over time he mastered the basics, yet locking his screen seemed to elude him. Theo’s muffled conversations with colleagues, accented by the sharp percussion of car keys and loose change interrupted Emma’s workday.

‘You’ve got to stop the pocket dialling, Theo.’

‘Is that a recognised term?’

‘I’m beginning to wonder if you invented it.’

Several evenings, Emma pointed out the tiny button at the top of his phone. Theo watched her demonstration, shrugged, and returned to his reading. The next morning or afternoon, she would sigh when she heard the whir of beans grinding, the hiss of steam frothing milk at his favourite café. If she worked late, yaps from their Shih Tzu, Chu Ci, punctuated a gurgle as Theo poured himself a Pinot Noir. She shouted into her phone: ‘Theo, Theo, THEO.’ However his background life chorus continued to pepper holes in her schedule.

She almost didn’t answer when Theo called with his news. That day his pocket dials had disrupted her concentration several times. Emma’s annoyance gave way to excitement as he said that his agent had found a publisher. She smiled at his torrent of broken phrases, pushed back her chair, and moved to the window. Mist fingers rose from the lawn, reached around the office park with a silver glow. She pictured him striding through the thickening twilight towards High Street—gesturing with one hand, the other cradling his ear. Traffic noises increased, he panted between exclamations.

At first, she scanned the office park entrance. The tyre squeals and crushing metal seemed close by, almost in the room with her. Confused voices, muted swearing followed. She pressed the phone into her scalp, called into the black box, ‘Theo, Theo, THEO.’ Hurried footsteps on pavement and a siren replied.

Days and nights blurred. She let others guide her through the memorial service and burial. When the sympathisers melted away, Emma sat for hours on the couch holding Chu Ci. Both of them waited for the measured pace that would not return. She tried to replay her mental soundtrack of that night, struggled to add what she must have heard but couldn’t remember: the heavy thump of flesh to metal, the mobile clattering against asphalt, and the fracturing of glass. Had Theo managed a few final words?

Silent now, the mobile rode in her pocket during the day. It swayed and tapped her thigh as she walked, a gentle weight in her lap when she sat at her desk. She carved out a hollow and placed it on his pillow every night, within easy reach. Chu Ci began to steal the phone, hiding it under cabinets and cushions. When she slipped it into her pocket, the dog growled.

On Theo’s birthday, she made his favourite meal, setting a place for him. The black pouch lay in the centre of his plate. Emma told the empty chair how much she missed him, the sounds of his moving through daily life. Her phone vibrated on the table: vmmm, vmmm. Theo’s name and face appeared on the screen. With shaking hands, she tapped the green circle and lifted the mobile to her ear.

‘Hello? Theo?’

Static clouded the speaker.

‘Theo, is that you?’

Emma closed her eyes and strained to hear. Soft, muffled voices. The faint tones of an orchestral string section. Laughter.

Chu Ci whined.

‘Quiet!’ Emma pressed her ear to the phone. ‘Theo?’

Silence. Names raced up the screen as she scrolled to his mobile number. It rang out. Theo’s familiar voicemail message began.

A scramble sounded across the table. Emma looked up. The dog sat in his chair, yapping at the pouch. A white feather lay across the velvet, quivering with each bark.



The 2019 Kinsale Literary Festival

The 2019 Kinsale Literary Festival

Words by Water, hosted a variety of literary greats with a programme covering poetry, novel, short fiction, local history, and children’s books. UL had a strong presence at the festival. Journalist Sue Leonard interviewed UL’s Donal Ryan on his moving novel From a Low and Quiet and the writer’s life ahead of a packed enthusiastic audience. UL PhD candidate Marie Gethins won the short story competition category with ‘Noah Should Have Read Comics’. Bestselling crime writers Catherine Kirwan, Andrea Carter and Kevin Doyle were spotted perusing The Ogham Stone in the wild.

Creative Writing Competition

Hello everyone, and welcome to Autumn 2019 at UL. To kick off work on the 2020 Ogham Stone, we’re holding a university writing contest! Submit your poetry, short stories, and flash fiction to first.seven.weeks@ul.ie. Winners will be published in the upcoming Ogham Stone and receive another secret prize. The contest closes on October 10th,so get your work in as soon as possible!

The competition is open to all UL students. If you are not a current UL student, but would like to submit your work for publication in The Ogham Stone 2020, see our general submission page here:


Good Luck!

Sebastian Barry in Conversation with Joseph O’Connor

Laureate for Irish fiction, Sebastian Barry, visited UL last Thursday. He spoke in conversation with head of Creative Writing MA and bestselling author, Joseph O’Connor, at the Irish World Academy of Music & Dance.

The evening involved a reading from Barry’s novel, Days Without End; a historical book full of lyrical language that won the Costa Book of the Year award and was inspired in many ways by his Grandfather. This reading was an intense theatrical performance as he brought the words to life for the audience.

Sebastian Barry has written many novels with the powerful first-person voice, including The Secret Scripture. In adapting or finding a strong voice, he spoke of the importance of listening to the stories of those around us, and noticing how one story can often be told with different perceptions; this divides character.

Barry and O’Connor spoke about how their personal lives can inform but also disturb their writing. According to Barry:

“The first rule of a novel is to be beautiful”.

He claimed knowing too much about something can often be dangerous or limiting with fiction writing as it’s important to also break beyond what we know. Both O’Connor and Barry spoke about the ‘impossible freedom of the theater’ and recalled on their own experiences visiting the Abbey Theater. Growing up, the theater was a dominant part of Barry’s life and thus impacted his style of writing largely. 

Alongside his writing, they discussed all he has done in the community since being appointed ‘Laureate for Irish Fiction’ by President Higgins. He spoke of his involvement with migrant communities, as his aim is to bring his stories and book clubs to those who can’t come to him.

He described his experience working with prisoners in Mountjoy, and those in mental hospitals in Dublin. The saddening heartfelt words he heard from one lady were:

“No one knows we’re here.”

This sparked conversation about refugees in direct provision centers, communities Barry aims to share his book clubs with. As discussed, it’s important to know and have access to marginal groups so even if we can’t make a difference, we can have a better understanding.

Melatu Uchu Okorie, author of ‘This Hostel Life’, spent seven years in direct provision and spoke of this on a podcast with Sebastian Barry.  Melatu’s book was chosen for UL’s 2019 ‘One Campus, One Book’ and she’ll be visiting the University this Wednesday the 13th of March.

The evening drew to a close pondering today’s young generation and how unique styles and themes are emerging from successful young authors. Both O’Connor and Barry agreed that young people in Ireland have set a high standard for first novels. The discussion ended on the concern that burdens many writers of financial struggle, on which Barry commented:

“How do artists survive their poverty? Mysteriously, mysteriously.”  




Publishing Day at UL


Q&A Joseph O’Connor with Sarah Davis-Goff

On the 5th of December, a range of experienced publishers and agents visited the university to talk with the MA in Creative Writing program. This was an enjoyable end to the semester at UL.

The day kicked off in conversation with Alan Hayes, a successful independent publisher for Arlen House, Galway. Alan has published many authors such as UL’s Donal Ryan and Martin Dyar. Alan claims his journey into the publishing industry was a ‘fluke’ and all worked out by chance, as he developed his interest in the field after studying at NUI Galway. His main word of advice for the students was “sell your writing, not yourself“, as he emphasized the importance of the writing itself rather than publishing something for the sake of being noticed and seen. This was an important point that many often lose sight of nowadays, with bookshops promoting the biggest names and trends.

Editor and writer, Brian Langan, was in conversation with Donal Ryan. They both discussed the relationship they have as editor and writer, and the challenges they often face. They described this as a three-way relationship between writer, editor and the book. Langan explained how making edits and offering feedback can be quite challenging, so it’s important for the editor to always be passionate about the book. Both Ryan and Langan stressed the importance of keeping the audience/reader in mind when re-drafting a book.


Brian Langan

Marianne Gunn O’Connor is literary agent to writers such as Cecilia Ahern, Pat Mc Cabe, and Mike Mc Cormack. Marianne discussed the importance of failure in life, as one learns to succeed through their response to failure:

“Failure is the fuel, and success is the breaks.” 

If she sees something in a writer, she will stick with them. This was the case for Mike Mc Cormack who faced many obstacles and refusals when attempting to publish his work. Mc Cormack, whom was once described as a “disgracefully neglected writer“,  won the Dublin Literary prize and the Goldsmiths prize, for his novel Solar Bones. Marianne is “looking for a person, not a book” when choosing clients, as who she works with and their connection is important.

Closing the day, Sarah Davis Goff, from Tramp Press, was in discussion with Joseph O’Connor, head of the MA in Creative Writing program.  Tramp Press is an independent publishing agency run by Sarah Davis-Goff and Lisa Coen. Since being launched in 2014, they have published award winning authors, such as Mike Mc Cormack and Sarah Baume. She discussed the importance of the quality of writing when selecting a piece. Tramp is always looking for diversity and promoting gender equality. The Q&A was concluded with Sarah reading a piece from her upcoming novel, Last Ones Left Alive. 


Marianne Gunn O’Connor






A reading with Danny Denton

“Write the story that you want to read”

As UL Frankenweek drew to a close on Halloween eve, we were lucky to be joined by upcoming Cork author, Danny Denton.

Frankenweek kicked off on Monday the 22nd of October and has offered great writing workshops, readings and screenings related to the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Denton read an extract from his new novel The Earlie King & the Kid in Yellow. It has been described in a review by The Irish Times as “A grim dystopian Ireland that is all too believable”. The plot revolves around ‘The Kid in Yellow’, who stole the babba from ‘the Earlie King’. The novel is set in a post-digital future and could be viewed as an Ireland without limits; where all of the problems the country is facing such as homelessness and addiction are amplified beyond control.

Denton’s reading was followed by a discussion with UL writer in residence, Donal Ryan. Ryan pointed out the obvious presence of the rain throughout the entire novel and how it’s almost a character in itself. Denton spoke of his admiration for texts/films where it’s raining throughout, Blade Runner was one of the examples he referred to.

In discussion, Denton spoke of the challenges many writers face when redrafting and trying to write a story to please an audience. His main advice to the room was to “write the story that you want to read”, as that’s what he did after years of attempting to write something the public would love, illustrating how it’s impossible to please everyone.

He described writing as a “craftsmanship” and stressed the importance of a daily writing routine. Denton’s hard work paid off with this modern authentic novel that’s now shortlisted for an Irish Book Award.

You can click on this link to vote for the best books of the year and be in with a chance of winning a 100 euro book token : https://www.irishbookawards.irish/vote2018/