Life has kept me away for a while, but I’m back with the ongoing guest post series. It is my absolute pleasure today to welcome to this site award-winning author and writing teacher, Paul McVeigh. The highlights of his insightful responses are marked in blue.
1. At what age did you start writing fiction? What prompted you?
I came to writing fiction when I was in my 30s. Before that I had been writing for the theatre and stand up comics in London. An editor for an anthology saw a comedy show I’d written and asked me to submit a short story. I made my first stab at fiction – at prose – and have been trying to get better at it ever since.
2. In your opinion, what makes a successful novel?
Gosh! I think it’s somewhat down to personal taste – whether it has been successful for the reader. For me, personally, a successful novel has conjured a world I can see, hear and feel. It has created a character I believe in, engaged me emotionally, and told me a story that I must follow regardless of how difficult it might be at times.
3. What are the top three books on your reading list right now?
I’ve just finished June Caldwell’s electric short story collection, ‘Room Little Darker‘, and short story writer Tom Lee’s twisty debut novel, ‘The Alarming Palsy of James Orr‘. I’m reading Lidia Yuknavitch’s ‘Book of Joan‘ at the moment.
4. Which authors have been your biggest influences?
I’ve loved Dickens, Graham Greene, Claire Keegan, Anais Nin, Henry Miller, Maya Angelou.
5. What resources/ steps would you recommend to an author seeking to build a platform?
Find something you love and share it with everyone. Be as generous as you can to other writers online.
Resources: you can follow my blog for competitions and submission opportunities and links to interviews and writing articles.
Check out the author interview archives at Paris Review and the short stories in the New Yorker.
6. As a creative writing teacher, what advice would you give to aspiring/ emerging fiction writers? Could you talk about your own journey as a writer and writing teacher in this context?
Well, I’d say get used to rejection. It happens to us all. I know writers who got rejected even after 4 or 5 novels already published.
You will also have to get used to living with recurring, crippling doubt. Develop ways of ignoring it, side-stepping it, reasoning with it… whatever works for you, but don’t let it make you stop. I find taking the pressure off helps – ‘I’m only doing this for myself, no-one will ever see it’.
7. You’ve written short stories which have been received very well at some great venues. What tips would you give a short-story writer looking to break into good markets and competitions?
Read lots of short stories. Read the best. Read some classics from Chekhov and Hemingway, try some American Gothic from Flannery O’Connor and, modern masters like George Saunders and Kevin Barry and my personal favourite, Claire Keegan.
Read your stories out loud. You’ll find it really helps with the editing.
If you’re going to enter a completion, the first page is crucial – grab the attention of that judge/reader.
8. Tell us about your book: The Good Son. How did it come about and how has the journey with this book changed you as a writer?
When I wrote ‘The Good Son‘ it came from that very first short story I’d written. The character came out when I first tried to write prose and after the story had been published and well received it gave me the confidence that I had something to explore. I had so much more to say about the character and his life that it felt, at the beginning, like it was easy (I was so wrong!).
The novel developed from the short story as I decided to explore the setting – the environment and the time it was set in – and the boy’s family. It took a long time to learn how to craft a novel and develop all the characters – not just the hero.
9. You teach workshops on writing short stories: what are the next venues where writers can sign up?
I’m teaching in Singapore (sold out), in Adelaide on Nov 18th at SA Writers, in Melbourne at Writers Victoria Nov 19th & 20th (19th sold out) and in Kuala Lumpur on Dec 2nd and 3rd. I will also be participating in three events at the Singapore Writers Festival Nov 3-5, and at the George Town Literature Festival Nov 23-25.
The Good Son, Paul McVeigh‘s debut novel, won The Polari Prize and The McCrea Literary Award. It was shortlisted for The Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award, The Guardian’s ‘Not The Booker’ Prize and a finalist for The People’s Book Prize.
Born in Belfast, Paul’s work has been performed on stage and radio, published in print and translated into seven languages. His short stories have been published in anthologies & literary journals like The London Magazine & The Stinging Fly. They have been read on BBC Radio 3, 4 & 5. For more on Paul, his role as a writing teacher, co-founder of the London Short Story Festival, and Director of Word Factory, click over to his website.
Have you read Paul’s work? Have you worked with a writing teacher or conducted a workshop yourself? What was the experience like? Would you like to talk about the influence of a writing teacher? Do you have questions for Paul ? Have you checked out his shortlisted story? Paul is giving away a signed copy of his book to one of the commenters!
This post was written for the IWSG. Thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh for organizing and hosting the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG) every month! Go to the site to see the other participants. In this group we writers share tips, self-doubt, insecurities, and of course, discuss the act of writing. If you’re a writer and a blogger, go join rightaway! Co-hosts this month are:Tonja Drecker, Diane Burton, MJ Fifield, and Rebecca Douglass!
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