Guest Blog: HeadSpace

Naomi Elster tells The Incubator all about the wonderful work HeadSpace is committed to.

”There is a dearth of reading material in hospitals, and we set up HeadSpace, a literary and artistic anthology, to help remedy this.

Reading is an ideal entertainment to provide to wards as patients can choose to engage or not, a book or magazine can be stopped and restarted, and it doesn’t disturb others in the ward who might want to rest. Even with the best care in the world, hospitals can be stressful and lonely places and it is important to provide patients with a distraction to help them cope with the anxiety that can result of being there. However, with Irish hospitals currently so understaffed and under-resourced, hospital staff don’t have the time to organise reading material and libraries themselves, which is why we set up HeadSpace.

We chose the name because we found that in a busy, fast-paced world, sometimes there can be so much emphasis on efficiency and productivity that we can forget to take some time out for ourselves – we forget how important it can be to get some “HeadSpace.”

HeadSpace is focused on mental health. While there has been a great improvement in awareness of mental health in the last few years, this hasn’t been matched by an improvement in understanding. Some subjects are difficult to broach, and the fear of stigma associated with suffering with a mental health difficulty can make it hard to talk. The arts give us an avenue to express and communicate, and provide a safe starting place for conversation. For example, if I had an illness like bipolar disorder and wanted to confide in someone about it, I might find it very hard to broach the issue. If I had a painting, story or poem with that theme, I could start with a general discussion on the piece of art, a “what do you think of this?”

Reading something that reflects your own experience can make you feel less alone, remind you that there will always be people who understand. Then, as well as it being a safe avenue to communicate what you’re feeling, writing, and indeed reading, can allow us to escape from whatever stresses we might find ourselves in for a time, allow us to dream. All of these factors come together to promote positive mental health, and recovery from mental health difficulties and mental illness.

Within a few months of our first issue being launched in May 2013, all of our copies had been distributed. We received very encouraging feedback praising both the content of the magazine and the idea behind it, but best of all were the messages from people who wanted to let us know that the magazine had helped them through times of difficulty, given them some sense of hope.

We have copies in hospitals, day hospitals and support centres in Dublin, Cork, Carlow, Kilkenny, Laois, Limerick, Mullingar, Wexford and Wicklow. We even have some copies distributed in the UK. A full list of all the places with copies of either Issue 1 or Issue 2 can be found on our website. If anyone would like to suggest somewhere else to distribute to, request copies for their organisation or offer to do some voluntary work in terms of helping us to distribute copies, fundraise or raise awareness about the project, we’d be delighted to hear from them at

We cap the number of copies we sell to make sure that most copies go where they are most needed – into wards and support services. But we do have some copies of our second issue which can be bought online at We’re working on getting copies into independent bookshops as well. Issue 1 is out of print but an e-version can be read online for free on our website  Our next issue will be launched in the summer, and submissions will open on March 12th and close May 12th. To keep up to date, email with “Mailing List” in the title or like us on Facebook.”



Paula Matthews interviews The Incubator

Local poet Paula Matthews speaks to our Editor ahead of our submission period.

Paula: As a new writer, I’m conscious of the current changes in publishing and have found that there are a lot of publishers choosing online journals at the moment. I’m also aware that there’s a need for new forums in which emerging talent can be showcased. Is this what inspired you to launch The Incubator?

Ed: Hi Paula. Yes, I feel that reading short stories online is a natural progression. I read print journals too but I can see how, when work is online, it’s more readily accessible. It’s a good starting point for us.
The Incubator is primarily about the short story; whether writers want to send us a memoir of their prolific writing life, or perhaps it’s their first piece of flash fiction ever and first time submitting work too, it doesn’t matter to us. We don’t even ask for a biography until we are compiling each issue. But the forum part is very important to us, yes. Writing is a solitary task and online communities are vital for helping writers feel supported. On twitter we have photo prompts, we have this blog too and hope to have public readings with the launch of each issue, all those extra dimensions will showcase talent and add to community building.

Paula: I noticed some interesting posts on Facebook where The Incubator mentioned the point when a story begins to ‘ gestate’ inside the writer. Is this the central concept of the journal?

Ed: As a writer I’m sure you must find that you could sit at a desk for ages chewing on some idea or other, what tends to happen is that when you leave your desk and do something completely unrelated it suddenly clicks and you’re rummaging for a pen. To short story writer R. V. Cassill notebooks were “incubators” to document expressive phrases, ideas, and all those things writers are enthused by. I made a word document to hold everything I found inspiring in and saved it under the name ‘The Incubator.’ When the journal was in the planning stages I read about the 4 proposed stages of creativity: 1 being preparation, 2 incubation, 3 illumination and 4 verification. This further supported the notion of incubation, usually it’s helped by our dreams. Saul Bellow said, ‘You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.’ There’s something almost mystical and definitely fascinating about it for me. Sometimes I think we can look back at our work with a sense of ‘Did I really write that?’ sometimes negatively, sometimes it’s much more positive. It’s almost as if some unconscious part of us is helping out, securing the story’s strings behind its back. It’s really interesting to me and that’s why we will have guest bloggers on The Incubator talking about their individual creative processes. Hopefully it will be inspiring.

Paula: As well as expressing an interest in new writing, I notice the interview with Catherine Lacey on your website looks at the process of the writer finding the voice. Are you hoping people can explore this through The Incubator?

Ed: I love that article almost as much as the story itself because she is Granta’s new voice talking about finding her own writing voice. New writers are inspired by what they read, and hopefully never stop reading, but they should have confidence to tell their stories their own way. A short story, to me, can have everything that seems beautiful on paper, perfect, but when it has a voice that you can really hear, you won’t forget it in a hurry. Of course it’s great to see new talent being highlighted too.

Paula: The website’s article on Anne Enright focuses on the Irish short story and the Irish love of form. Is this something that The Incubator plans to reflect?

Ed: I’d just finished reading that book and it just seemed apt to direct writers to it, even if just for Anne’s editorial, which is fantastic! There are a wealth of voices here looking to tell us something surprising about humanity and our surroundings, in fact we would love to read stories set somewhere else, they don’t have to be ‘the Irish short story’ in the traditional sense, just written by writers living in NI and Ireland. I’m not so sure that you have to write what you know either, as long as you are confident in the story you are telling and have done the necessary homework – go for it! Then email it to us.

Paula: When will you be opening for submissions and what kind of writing are you hoping to see?

Ed: We open for subs in March, from beginning to end, and this reading period we want flash fiction (1000 words max), short stories (no more than 3000 words) and memoir (3000 words max). This will change as there will be issues when we will want plays, essays or poetry, but you can be certain that we’ll always want to read short fiction.
We don’t give themes, we want to read whatever you want to write and to simply give another outlet. Submissions which are well written, succinct and told in a voice that will leave little imprints in our minds will catch our editorial eye.
Subs are open in March, June, September and December – always check our guidelines first. Also, Paula, people may be interested to know that we are always looking for guest bloggers and for queries from reviewers and interviewers; The Incubator is collaborative. At the moment we need a review of a short story collection written by an Irish writer, so get in touch!

Paula: I think I speak for a lot of writers when I say that The Incubator will be a very welcome addition to the literary scene and we will look forward to your launch later this year.

Ed: Thank you for your questions Paula and all the best with your own writing!

Paula Matthews is a Northern Irish poet and has recently completed a mentorship with Moyra Donaldson through Litnet NI. Paula has had poems published in A New Ulster and Four x Four. She has also taken part in the recently published Edi(t)fy poetry experiment with Poetry NI. Paula is completing her first collection of poems at present and has begun work on a new collection of short stories. Paula is on Facebook.

David Park reading

This video was filmed in 2010, at the John Hewitt international Summer School. CultureNorthernIreland met with David Park as he read a, then, new story; untitled, and about Amsterdam and George Best’s funeral.

Belfast born, 1953, David Park taught English in secondary schools for over 30 years before retiring four years ago. His first published book was a collection of short stories called Oranges from Spain. Since then David has published seven novels, including The Healing, Swallowing the Sun and The Truth Commissioner. He lives, with his wife and two children, in County Down, Northern Ireland.

David’s story ‘Learning to Swim’ has recently earned him a place on The Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award long-list. You can find details of the list here:

We wish David every luck!


Costa Short Story Award Winner

Costa Short Story Award Winner

Angela Readman’s story ‘The Keeper of the Jackalopes’ was awarded winner of the Costa Short Story Award, with Kit De Waal’s ‘The Old Man and the Suit’ and Tony Bagley’s ‘The Forgiveness Thing’ as runners up.

When speaking of her win Angela told The Short Review:

“I’ve been quietly writing for years… I was starting to think my stories just weren’t good enough. And then I won the Costa Short Story Award. It’s amazing to me, suddenly people are reading something I wrote. That’s all I’ve wanted. I really hope writers will find it encouraging, I didn’t have to be a big name to win it, all I had to do was write a story.”


Not only is Angela’s win encouraging but her acceptance also incredibly humble. We are certain that now she will be a ‘big name’ and we wish her every luck with her first collection of stories ‘Don’t Try This at Home’ which will be published by & Other Stories next year.

Congratulations to Angela, Kit and Tony and everyone shortlisted for the award!

All stories can be found here.