Exploring the art of prose


Author: Catherine McNamara

Author’s Note

I knew I wanted to write a story about Patti Smith. That impulse had been under the skin of my brain for a while. In December 2023 I came back to Italy after a month in Sydney promoting my first book published in my home country; I hadn’t written a thing in weeks and I was steeped in jet lag, stuck back in the wintry countryside after a stretch of big-city life. So my brain was alternately on a high buzz, or somnambulant. My way through jet lag is to get up at 4 a.m. and write.

To clarify, I didn’t specifically want to write a story about the now well-known Patti Smith, whom I don’t particularly know well except through her Instagram feed, a Horses CD that used to be in my car, and her appearance in a book of Robert Mapplethorpe’s, Polaroids, which I regard as a staple for 1970s counterculture, leading directly into all that became the 1980s. In the ’80s, I was on the cusp of adulthood, and like many, facing everything that decade threw at us – drugs, urban violence, big shoulders, new music, AIDS misinformation, the gay scene – although in my case it meant running away from suburbia to live in Paris in an artists’ enclave, dealing with anorexia and risk, following wafts of my literary heroes, and penning my first stories. Instead, I wanted to write about before someone like Patti S. and Robert M. became big – the out-of-town feeling; the grit and the artifice and the failure; the jobbing and the climbing in and out of beds.

I also have a niece who looks very much like Young Patti Smith, and this resemblance played about in my mind.

Of course, the story I thought I would write was not the story that ensued. I thought I would write something about the way both of these women have eyes that are spaced widely apart, and how the trait is attractively unnerving. Instead, the gay narrator of this story took control and I had to follow. My Mapplethorpe fascination surfaced, plus an affection for fennel bulbs. This is the beauty of 4 a.m., and one of the compulsive delights of the flash fiction journey.


CATHERINE McNAMARA grew up in Sydney, Australia, ran away to Paris, France, to write, and ended up running a bar in Accra, Ghana, while also working in Mogadishu, Somalia, and Milano, Italy, along the way. She is the author of the short fiction collections The Carnal Fugues, The Cartography of Others, Love Stories for Hectic People, and Pelt and Other Stories. She is flash fiction editor and a masterclass tutor for Litro Magazine, and was guest editor for Best Small Fictions 2023. Catherine currently lives in Italy. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @catinitaly.