Author Archives: jo-ely

19 Oct 2018

Paul McVeigh Interview


Mickey, the chief protagonist of your novel, seems hemmed in on every side by The Troubles and the necessity of staying out of No Mans Land or finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong accent or school uniform. Being called Mickey instead of Ian on the protestant side of town. But on the catholic side, he has to stay off the radar of the local IRA hard men. For instance, for those who haven’t read the book, and without, I think, too much of a spoiler, at one point young Mickey falls out with another kid in the usual playground sort of scuffle. Chillingly, the other child tells on him to her IRA connected Ma.

My question is, how important was it, growing up, not to hack off your neighbours. And did that create a pressure on relationships? Was there power play between those who were well connected with the IRA and those who were not? And how does that square with everybody keeping their doors open constantly?


To be honest, there was a lot of friendliness, support and generosity in the area. From what I gather, working class areas are like that throughout the UK and Ireland – or were back then, anyway. It’s known that poor people are the most generous in society – giving the most to charity, for example, which is a beautiful irony.

I was once ‘called in’ as a ten year old over something I’d said to another kid who told their mum. I was warned

I try to track a change in the area in the timespan of the novel with the ‘open door’ policy of Ardoyne. It all began to change with new mini-estates being added on, bringing people from outside the area, causing front doors to be closed instead of always open.

It definitely was the case that children used their parents or family members involvement with paramilitaries to threaten you. Of course, coming from a family who weren’t ‘involved’ would put you in a difficult situation as it was the ultimate throw down in an argument. Almost always, though, this was bluster and childish stuff, as in – ‘My Da is in the RA and will get your Da killed!’, was really just a version of ‘My Da’s a boxer and he’ll beat your Da,’ stuff. I was once ‘called in’ as a ten year old over something I’d said to another kid who told their mum. I was warned, like the posters in the novel, that ‘Loose Talk Costs Lives’. I took that incident as my inspiration, fictionalized the content, upped the tension and stressed the repercussions. I think we writers do that a lot with our lives.


That’s really great news about the sense of community, and the generosity. And on a related note, possibly, there is a lot of dark, sparky humour in the Belfast you depict. I’m thinking particularly of the banter between Mickey and his beloved Ma. The dialect itself seems rich in wry and poetic insults. How important is humour in the world you grew up in, and what was it used for?

Impoverished communities often have a dark humour that exclusion, want, making the best of it, and ‘don’t let the bastards get you down’, brings.


Again, I think it’s related to being working class. Impoverished communities often have a dark humour that exclusion, want, making the best of it, and ‘don’t let the bastards get you down’, brings. Those without agency become experts at mockery – those in power don’t seem intimidating when you’re sniggering at them, cutting those big figures down to size.

Humour was a weapon back then and also a shield. You were hardened by having mental strips torn off you from a young age. In ‘The Good Son’ Mickey’s mum is trying to toughen him up for the streets and provide him with some weapons (in the absence of physical prowess or brutality, he needed it more than most). Teaching him to be good at cruel jibes gives him a weapon to fight with others (and he’s smart enough to be the best at it) and by using them on him, getting him used to it, leathers his thin skin, providing a shield. They’re sparring.

Humour was a weapon back then and also a shield.


I think a lot of British people have a sense or a belief that the Catholic-Protestant divide in Ireland is chiefly an ideological or tribal divide. To be honest we’re quite uncomprehending about it. But you make it clear in the novel, in a hundred small ways, that the area was in fact a geographical, social and economic trap. And that if people supported sectarian violence then in many cases it was because they’d been cornered into doing so, or manipulated in one way or another. That these kinds of decisions and allegiances are the pragmatic ethics of survival. How do you spring people from a trap like this? And until you do, what hope is there?


Jesus, if I knew that lol. The community is not the same as it was during The Troubles and there have been major advances – equality in voting, the ability to work and access to housing (all denied to the Catholic community during the Troubles) and that has changed the tensions a huge amount. Not to mention the peace process and decades of relative harmony.

To a large extent the day to day trauma of The Troubles was endured by the poor of both communities – as Mickey says in the novel, when he first visits a posh area, something like ‘rich people don’t have The Troubles, as well as having everything else, it’s just not fair!’. I think in the years since, the poorer communities of Belfast have learned how much they had in common at that time and it has brought some to see they were manipulated by forces using, at times, their poverty and their religious beliefs to keep them apart.


Paul, you’ve spoken out about the fact that children and adolescents are dying in Belfast and not from sectarian violence, the youth suicide rates are well above average for the region. And in your novel you write about a group of youngsters who are glue sniffing. A quick internet trawl would suggest addiction levels in the area are also on a spike, which shouldn’t really surprise anybody. What is the role of the writer here? For instance, do you see it as the role of the writer to use story to communicate the issues involved to the outside world? To help young people find the words to fit their experience? And if so, can you tell us a bit about this? Has it been possible for you to have this conversation with other writers? This is about five different questions, sorry.

I think in the years since, the poorer communities of Belfast have learned how much they had in common at that time 


Personally, I found it shocking when I returned to live in Belfast to find out that the teenage suicide rates were the highest in Europe, prescription drug abuse was at epidemic levels, in some areas of Belfast 50% of the population were on disability benefits and the paramilitary punishments and extortion still going on – nearly always, in poor areas only. During The Troubles so little of what was going on in Northern Ireland appeared on the news down South or in the UK. I spoke to a reporter who used to take what they’d filmed and motorbike it down South to try to get it on the news down there (which we wouldn’t see up North nor would people in the UK). The invisibility and lack of reporting on the North continues which is part of the reason, I believe, that terrible things still go on here including the denying women and minorities like the LGBTQ community their rights and equality.

I was frustrated when I moved back home, asking,‘where are the writers talking about this?’ My theory is we all have gifts, and we have a responsibility to use that gift, share that good fortune, for the benefit of our fellow humans, especially for those who lack the thing we excel at. If the young people of Northern Ireland are so frustrated, so desperate, unable to express what it is that ails them, that they are compelled to take their own lives then who best to help them find those words? Who best to give a voice to the voiceless? Who better than a writer?

I said this in a pub about a year ago and two tables of writers disagreed with me, bar two of my generation, saying that their only duty was to their art. They said they saw no link between The Troubles and what was going on now. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. They more or less got up and walked out. They said I was angry and of another generation. They were right. I’m glad I am.

In the end, I realised though, every writer must chose their own path. And who am I to tell them otherwise.

The invisibility and lack of reporting on the North continues which is part of the reason, I believe, that terrible things still go on here 


Well I agree with you in that, if they’re really not feeling it, and they don’t care, then there’s absolutely no point in them writing about it. Their lack of interest will come across to the reader and no one will be listening anyway.


Reading Wendy Erskine’s brilliant recent collection made me feel there was another writer who was tackling the stories I wanted to read about Belfast – we’re of a similar age, so maybe it is a generational thing.


Paul, would you consider turning The Good Son into a screenplay to make it more accessible to the kids who don’t read books and to find a wider audience generally? The book definitely lends itself to that kind of treatment, doesn’t it? It shouldn’t surprise us that with your writing background much of the novel is dialogue.


I wish. Firstly, I’ve never written a screenplay (not the same as a play) and would have to spend a some time learning the craft, when I want to write other things too. Also, it took years to get out of plays and into prose, so it would feel like going back. And it’s very, very hard to get a film made – a historical film, even harder. We were made some offers but my agent and I weren’t convinced at the time so we didn’t go for it.


I was just thinking about Mickey, and how a smart thoughtful kid in a rundown school, a tough community, has to be quite careful outing himself as a poet. And then I remembered how Kundera said that the house of your childhood still exists just as it always was, it’s just that the way home, the road back is gone. Is it ever possible to return to your roots, and what does it mean to you to go home now?


I’m home; it feels like that. I’m very happy (for the most part) to be back and living with my family, discovering parts of the city and countryside I wasn’t able to visit back in the day, when going there would have been dangerous. They say all Irish people end up coming home and it’s certainly true of all of my family. I said I’d never come back here but really, in the end, I’m just a cliché. I think as you get older, life becomes so simple – be near the people you love and who love you.

They said I was angry and of another generation. They were right. I’m glad I am. 


You are that rare thing, Paul, a male writer who writes strong nuanced female characters. Who inspired your women and girls?


Try growing up with a Ma who would take on the Brits and the IRA too if she had to, and all the while bringing up seven kids single-handedly and holding down two jobs. Never met anyone I admired more. I had five sisters I adored, who also helped bring me up and were my best friends.

Maybe the key for a male writer to write ‘strong, nuanced female characters’ is to love women; to have the utmost admiration and respect for them, as well as, an understanding of your debt to their strength.


How much of you is there in Mickey Donnelly, Paul?


Mickey is braver, funnier, smarter and more resilient than me. In the early short story and attempts at the novel he was more similar to me. But the more I wrote, the more I edited and rewrote, the less and less Mickey was me and the more he was his own person. Certainly, there is nothing he does that isn’t emotionally true, but the things he does and what happens to him are mostly fictional.


Can you tell us what you are working on right now, Paul?


I’m putting the finishing touches to a collection of short stories which will being going out to market. I’m writing a commission for Sky Arts 50 for television to be in by November (you haven’t seen me on here). I’m also working with the Jaipur Literature Festival in India on an international short story strand. And, hopefully, I’m going to start another novel. Yikes!


Well that’s something for the rest of us to really look forward to!

Thanks so much Paul!

Website: paulmcveighwriter.com/

The Good Son: Winner of The Polari Prize

‘A work of genius from a splendid writer’ Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Olen Butler


09 Oct 2018

Paul McVeigh – The Good Son

Young Mickey Donnelly is growing up in a trap. Hemmed in by the No Mans Land between Belfast’s catholic and Protestant communities, in the shadow of the Shankill butchers, he’s learning how to navigate his way though a morally complex world which is macho and anti intellectual to say the least.

The Good Son is a unique insight into a time and place like no other, Northern Ireland during The Troubles, through the eyes of a smart, artsy, principled and not particularly streetwise kid. But Mickey has his rich imagination to save him. That and the filims, which give him a window into a world outside the terrifying grey trap into which he was born. Young Mickey plots to save his family and become a filim star in America, all the while with a deep understanding that not everyone in his story will get out alive.

McVeigh could have written this novel as a tragedy or a misery memoir, instead he chooses comedy. But in this writer’s capable hands Mickey’s hilarious one liners and rich flights of fancy do not mask or distract us from the tragedy at the heart of his story, rather they reveal it. In some ways this entire novel is an exercise in bathos.

For me The Good Son has been enlightening. If I ever believed that Northern Ireland’s troubles were due to entrenched ideological differences, or a kind of wilful nationalistic self abuse, I do not now. The Belfast McVeigh renders, through the eyes of a child, is a Kafkaesque system. One in which individuals are trapped, against their wishes, their beliefs and very often their values, into a thousand daily decisions. This is not ideology at work, for many families, but the pragmatics of survival. Every politician ought to be made to read this book.

The novel’s other revelation for me has been the richness and humour in the local dialect. Cleverly and poetically woven by McVeigh into the main narrative. As I turned the last page of The Good Son I found my own vocabulary had been somewhat expanded: I’ve never felt scundered so much in my life, or told so many people, affectionately, that they’re a wee shite.

A must read.


02 Aug 2018

Rose McGinty Interview

This conversation with the stunningly talented debut novelist Rose McGinty started out as a chat over coffee, which turned into cocktails, and wound up two days later as an interview on the page. Rose is a thoughtful, wise and generous writer and there are lots of useful tips here for getting started with writing your novel.

Rose McGinty is the author of Electric Souk, published in 2017 by Urbane Publications and Spokenword Audio. Rose lives in Kent and is a creative writing tutor and editor at Retreat West. Previously she worked for the NHS for twenty five years, and has worked overseas, including the Middle East. She is an alumni of Trinity College, Dublin and the Faber Academy. Rose has won a number of writing competitions and had short stories selected for various anthologies. She also enjoys facilitating creative writing workshops in support of social causes.

Electric Souk is a thriller about forbidden love, corruption and an encounter with evil in the desert, set in the Middle East as the Arab Spring erupts. Rose says of her story, The parts of the story that are true, I probably wish were not; while the parts that are not, I probably wish were true.

Rose is now completing her second novel, a thriller that has taken her to some rather gothic hospital corridors!

Follow Rose on Twitter @rosemcginty and rose.mcginty.wordpress.com


Rose, you’ve had a really exciting year as a writer. You’ve not only recently published your debut novel Electric Souk, but also several short stories in book anthologies. Can you tell us a bit about your journey to publication? Where and when did the writing urge begin?


I have been writing as long as I can remember, all sorts of things, especially letters. My grandmother used to write to me every week and that developed my discipline for writing, and also story telling as I tried to make the dull routine of school life more vivid. I love receiving and sending letters and postcards and it’s one of the things I miss most since the internet revolution. I don’t write letters nearly enough myself now, although for the last year I have been writing to a friend on the other side of the world and I find taking the time out, usually late at night, to write is such a quiet and precious time. It’s reminded me of the joy of letter writing.

Letters help you so slow down, think, understand, and change perspectives. Once you’ve written a letter something that has been troubling you has often lost some of its sting and you’ve come up with a new way of dealing with it, or else you’ve captured a memory that stays with you so much more now that you have blessed it with words. I even miss work memos and wonder how the relationships between countries and cultures would improve if we returned to the diplomatic letter, with its finely crafted turn of phrase, rather than the quick fire, blunt tweet.

I love reading the letters of writers, seeing the wide span of the minutiae of their domestic lives to the emotional sweep of major life events. I would pick out the letters of George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Colette and Anais Nin for their intimacy and integrity.

My time in the Middle East was extreme, both enchanting and brutal

Writing letters, also led me to my pathway to publication. Once I had graduated with a literature degree, life and the long hours of working in the NHS and commuting took over for some years until I went to work in the Middle East. The work day started and ended early so that people could have a siesta in the 50 degree heat, but despite the fact I had always craved an afternoon nap, I found I just couldn’t sleep. I started to write instead, long letters home and a journal. I was living in an intensely verbal culture, little was written down, books not in abundance, but nevertheless I was surrounded all the time by stories. The local girls in my office told me about their lives. Words became the focus of my day as we wondered over so many shared words between our languages, for example the word hal means moon in Arabic and has comes from the aura around the moon, the night goddess.

My time in the Middle East was extreme, both enchanting and brutal and friends urged me, once I had returned to England to write a memoir for publication. I tried but it was all too raw, and I couldn’t believe anyone would really want to read it anyway. Yet, I had a story burning within in me and one day as I was struggling with the memoir a shadow caught my eye, walking down the garden path. I could see this earnest man with a fire in his belly and he demanded to be in my book. At that point I knew it had to be a story not a memoir, drawing on my experience, but soaked in the old perfumes, desert colours, dusty souk and the heat.

I shared some of the chapters with friends and they urged me again to think of publication, but I knew absolutely nothing of that world, had no connections and didn’t use social media, so was unaware of the resources and incredibly vibrant writing community out there. Eventually one of my friends took things into her own hands and booked us on a day long workshop about how to get published. It was a boiling hot day and a long, difficult journey to get to the church hall where the workshop was being held. I nearly didn’t go, but the allure of seeing chickens in the local bookshop drew me.

What a day! Sitting in the cool, plain Georgian church I was transfixed hearing about most elements of the publishing process from authors and industry professionals, and even got to vote on the cover design of a novel that was due for publication. By the end of the day I was hooked and wanted more of this – talking with writers about their process. It was my first glimpse into the writing community, and it was generous and stimulating. The chickens couldn’t compete.

That weekend also forced me onto social media. I started to link up with other writers and attend more workshops and was recommended to go to the West Cork literary festival, as I was told it was particularly friendly and everyone mingled together. I was pretty terrified about going to my first festival alone so I decided to book onto one of the courses as a way of at least speaking to a few people in class each day. This was led by Richard Skinner, Director of the Faber Academy. The course was life changing. It gave me my own writing community and I am still in touch and count some of my class mates that week as my dearest friends and beta readers. Richard is an exceptional coach, the most important gift he gave me was the confidence to write, as I had been about to cast my first draft out into Bantry Bay.

When I got back to London I enrolled at the Faber Academy, where I completed my novel. I went through the usual ups and downs of the submissions circuit, and those long days, weeks and months waiting for an acknowledgement, that never comes, that your submission has arrived and isn’t lost in the ether. Whilst I thought all hope was lost in the ether, with my new Faber writing group we started to attend more festivals and it was at the Margate Bookie that I sat next to Matthew Smith of Urbane Publications, who encouraged me to send him my manuscript for Electric Souk. At Christmas 2015 I got the email that said he wanted to publish my novel, the best Christmas present ever.

Publication though is only the first stop on the journey to being an author, it’s base camp.

You quickly discover that once you have got to base camp there is still an enormous mountain ahead as you want to develop a career, to push your writing abilities further, to experiment, to try out other forms, such as poetry. While I was in West Cork I heard Ben Okri speak about the  puzzle of the short story, of creating a whole, authentic world, in so few words and I have become passionate about writing short stories too. I started entering competitions as these were a great way of prompting me to write and I found myself drawn to those which were in support of social causes, such as Stories for Homes in aid of Shelter. This in turn has led me to get involved with facilitating creative writing workshops, for example for the Hounslow Young Women Writers project. I’m not one for running marathons or shaving my hair off, so this new pathway has been rewarding as it has allowed me to bring together my passion for reading and writing with my commitment to social causes and my NHS experience. It has also opened up other pathways and I am now a creative writing tutor and editor for Retreat West. The journey to publication for me has become much more than the battle to get a novel published. It’s been about developing the confidence and skills to immerse myself in a creative life.


Rose, I know that you are a writer who is strongly influenced by a sense of place, and your setting in Electric Souk really comes to life, almost as a character in itself. Can you talk a little here about the Middle East, and how it inspired you?


There are two seemingly very different worlds in Electric Souk, one is the hot, dusty desert world of the Middle East and the other is the grey, rainy landscape of County Kerry, Ireland. The desert world is also one of extreme contrasts, ancient souks, abandoned fishing villages and the unforgiving sand dunes set against the new glittering skyscraper cities with glamorous malls and ex pat compounds, where anything goes. But there is no real escape from the sand djinn and the dust storms that batter the new cities, scratch the surface and the brutalities of the desert world aren’t far below. Aisling, my protagonist, is unusual as she sees into both the seedy ex pat world where everyone is chasing a fast buck and fast woman, and also the lives of the local women, who are intrigued by a young woman on her own in such a hostile environment and take her into the secrets of their bedouin tents.

A sense of place hugely influenced the novel as the intensity of the desert fuels the paranoia and claustrophobia of the story as Aisling finds herself caught in sinister circumstances. She longs for the rain back home and the wide vista of the sea, for her freedom, as she loses this the minute she steps off the plane in the desert.

But although these worlds seem remote Aisling’s friendships with local women and her relationship with Hisham, a revolutionary, help her to find parallels, the Arabic love of poetry, folklore, an oral tradition, the passion for freedom, and the importance of blood ties.

Equally, in the novel I am currently working on the sense of place influences the story as it is set in a dilapidated hospital, that was once a Victorian workhouse. Everything and everyone is falling apart as the past catches up with them. Colour is always important to me, I think because I am also a painter and fascinated by colour mixing, how from just three primary colours you can create every shade on the planet, so there are stark colours in this novel – the dazzling white mortuary, grey shadowy wards, the hierarchy of nurse uniform colours and the blood red corridors that run through the hospital.

Everyone I know likes to think they are in my stories and I do magpie


Where did you draw your characters from, Rose?


Everyone I know likes to think they are in my stories and I do magpie, without even realising it, little bits of people I know and meet, but at the editing stage I very consciously try to strip as much of this out of my writing as possible because I want my characters to come from the imagination as they can be more free that way, and often they come from and continue to grow in my dreams. The Chief Nurse in my second novel plagues my nightmares to the point where she seems quite real.

I may start with someone I know, almost as that base colour, but I soon mix in other colours and quickly they are left behind as I follow the new pigments and my imagination. I think this comes from how I read too. I’ve always loved taking the character an author has created and imagining different endings and adventures for them.  It’s the same with the characters I write. The only exception is that sometimes I may use bits and pieces from famous people or strangers I observe, because I don’t know them. I feel uncomfortable about taking from people I do know. However, despite all that people still read themselves in.


Who or what are the biggest influences on you as a writer?


Memory is one of my major influences. Those pin-pricks of the past that won’t leave you because they draw you time and again to questions where it is hard to find the answer. The pin-prick for the novel that I am currently working on is the memory of standing early in the morning at my bedroom window, looking out across to the hill where there was smoke pouring from a block of flats. I remember the curtains, they had lots of wildly coloured parrots on them. I was five years old and this was probably the first fire I had ever seen. In my mind’s eye I can still see the speed and density of the plumes of smoke and feel the sense of panic. Later that day we were told at school – we had to walk past the blackened flats to get to school – that Kevin, a boy in my class and one of my first friends, was not coming back to school as his family had died in the fire. I remember the mums in the playground telling us not to play with matches and the teachers blaming him for the tragedy. He was condemned as a bad boy. There was no compassion, only dire threats not to turn out like Kevin. But the Kevin I knew was a gentle soul, ostracised by the pack of boisterous boys. He played with me even though I was a girl and he would be picked on by the boys about that. That pin-prick has stayed with me – what happened to that gentle boy and what would being blamed so young do to you? I used this as a starring point for my current novel.

I also use photos and paintings to help me channel my characters. I went to K Fest, an art festival for up and coming artists in Ireland, a couple of years ago, and was really struck by a portrait of a young man by the artist Tom MacLean. I bought it and have had it by my desk as I wrote my second novel, as the young man was exactly how I saw my male protagonist, Jez. This was the first time I had written from a male point of view and it really helped me to get inside Jez’s head. I have a few of Tom’s portraits now as somehow I see my characters in his paintings. He captures a still moment, you can see a thought crossing the faces of the people he paints, and that draws me into their inner worlds.

Finally, I read avidly and return again and again to some novels and authors to help tune my writing. At the moment I am addicted to Patricia Highsmith’s writing.


A lot of writers seem to have what might seem to others like slightly eccentric rituals when they write. Things to trick themselves into exiting the real world and entering the imaginative space of their story. Do you have any special writing rituals, or tips for getting started?


I seem to be unable to really write much, or find my flow, before about eleven in the morning.  It was the same when I was a student, writing a dissertation. But that time up till eleven isn’t dead time, this is when my mind is at its dreamiest and lots of thoughts and images are swirling around that I can’t make much sense of, although I try to hold on to some of these in notes or even voice memos to myself on my phone if I am dashing for the train. By eleven it starts to settle down and I can grab one of those thoughts and get going. I think it’s important to work out your energy patterns and as much as possible go with these, even if it is intensely infuriating when you want to be one of those virtuous writers who can get up at four in the morning and knock out a thousand words before daybreak.

When I do settle down I like to read over what I have written the day before and tweak that, as it helps me to get going again. I’ve tried leaving sentences half finished but I’m too much of a completer-finisher to do that, but often in my reflective early morning period something else while have come to me that I want to add to the day before’s writing.

I started my novel as a letter.

When I first started writing, because I am such a letter writer, I started my novel as a letter. Isabel Allende does this in The House of the Spirits, one of my favourite novels, and I thought what a great idea, as it’s easier to tell a story when you have someone in mind that you are telling it to. If I get stuck now, I start to write a letter to a friend telling them about how I am stuck and usually as I do this my writing starts to morph back into my chapter and I can cut and paste back to my work in progress and keep going.

I don’t have any rituals like a favourite pen or piece of music, my only practical ritual is nudging the cat off the laptop, although that has probably evolved into an art form now.  This is possibly the most important skill a writer can learn, as I see on social media that many writers seem to have cats and dogs that are only too eager to be their editors.


Are you ready to talk about what you are working on right now, Rose?


I’ve almost finished what I hope is my final draft, before submission, of my second novel. It is set in a failing hospital and is about a nurse who has to kill to save her patients. It was sparked both by my memory of that childhood fire and by bringing this together with an experience I had in my first year of working in the NHS, where I worked with a nurse who was convicted of murder. She was hugely charismatic and drew her ward colleagues into her lies and alibis. It’s always had me wondering how you go from being someone who saves life to someone who takes it – what is the character progression there? I am also interested in how toxic work environments, such as the special measures regimes and target chasing in hospitals, can fuel psychopathy in those working under such conditions, after all 0.6% of the population have psychopathic traits and over three thousand people work in your average hospital. My research has included spending time in a hospital pharmacy, operating theatres and mortuary, and many fascinating and generous conversations with NHS colleagues – with stories I could never put down on paper as real life truly is stranger than fiction.

This will hopefully be the first of a trilogy, focused around the three childhood friends of my nurse and how their childhood traumas reverberate through the years, erupting in fresh betrayal, with far greater consequences now they are adults.

I am also co-editing an anthology to celebrate a hundred years of women’s suffrage with Retreat West Books in aid of the charity Hestia, which supports people in times of crisis. Several well known authors have donated stories, including Angela Clarke, Anna Mazzola and Sophie Duffy and there will be new voices, with stories selected through an open competition.  The anthology will be published in November 2018.


I’m very interested that you have moved in the direction of writing crime fiction, and that you’re currently working on a trilogy. I’ve noticed there has been a big migration of writing talent from literary to genre in recent years, would you be prepared to speculate as to why that might be, and is literary/genre even a meaningful distinction anymore? Or are there just good books and bad books?


Commercially crime accounts for about a third of sales and sales of crime fiction increased last year by 14%, so there is a huge appetite amongst readers for it. At the same time, latest research indicates that over the last five years author earnings have slumped by almost half and the average author doesn’t even earn the equivalent of the minimum wage from their writing, so you can understand the temptation to follow the market. Literary fiction in particular seem to be really struggling to generate sales.

However, I don’t think I’ve ever met a writer who writes purely for the market, everyone always seems to have a story they really want to tell. Although my story centres around crime and a series of patient deaths I didn’t consciously set out to write a crime novel or series. I had that question about how do you become a killer needling at the back of my head and wanted to explore this. It’s as much for me about understanding people and how trauma affects them as it is about exploring a crime.

I think what we have seen in recent years is some first class genre novels, such as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, which although a psychological thriller is also an exploration of the brutality of the American recession.  Equally literary writers draw on the techniques of genre writers. Deborah Levy’s hypnotic Hot Milk, which explore family dynamics, also has the edge of a thriller, with someone stalking Sofia throughout. Good story telling is good story telling whatever the genre and whether it is genre or not.


Do people look for literariness in their genre fiction now and vice versa these days? Do they just expect good writing whatever the cover? (Which would be good news.)


I think the gap between literary and genre is closing, if there was ever a real divide other than for marketing purposes. I look at the classics and many of those if they were written and published today would be marketed as particular genres, no doubt Dostoevsky would be a crime writer and Henry James’ Turn of the Screw is possibly the first psychological thriller. Genre fiction as much as literary fiction deals with a range of emotions, relationships, dilemmas and transformations, for example, psychological thrillers take us deep into the hearts and souls of characters. Perhaps some genres have certain expectations, but there are always exceptions to the rules and the rules are being flexed more and more these days. Traditionally in crime fiction, readers have expected to know the who, what, where. But readers also have an appetite for ambiguity and making their own inferences.

We live in a world of fusions – in music, food, fashion, art – and storytelling is the same. Culture is increasingly globalised, complex and rich, a series of many fusions, and so are our stories, and it’s these sorts of stories that excite me the most now. Literature, as ever, is evolving, reflecting and playing back in its many shades and perspectives the world around us.

Whatever the genre, readers are looking for stand out characters, stories that reveal something of their world to them in new and different ways and something of themselves similarly. Ultimately they want novels they can’t put down and that linger with them after, leaving an imprint in this fast moving world.


Thanks so much, Rose McGinty!

You can buy Rose McGinty’s book, Electric Souk, here


Electric Souk

06 Jul 2018

‘The Ice Migration’, by Jacqueline Crooks, published by Peepal Tree Press, June 2018

‘The Ice Migration’, by Jacqueline Crooks, published by Peepal Tree Press, June 2018

Crooks’ collection of short stories is an exploration of the psychology of immigration and of migrant experiences, from the bittersweet pain of the older Windrush generation straddling two worlds while never quite belonging to either, to the frustration of lives not lived to their fullest potential. The stories are linked by one Jamaican family of both Indian and African extraction.

Crooks’ stories span from 1908 to 2013, set against the plantations and lush landscapes of Jamaica– cotton fields and cane ash, mountains and streams–through to the contemporary music scene of urban Southall, in London, peopled by young black professionals with their own preoccupations and frustrations. Throughout, Crooks draws on the connections between past and present, Jamaica and London, love and loss, family left behind and family leaving.

Crooks is an accomplished writer and has earned numerous literary plaudits, even inclusion in the British Arts Council special anthology, published by Faber. The originality of her metaphors is no surprise to those who know her work well. Crooks has been writing and performing these stories, from London to Zurich, for the last fifteen years, yet she can still take your breath away: a woman is held together from neck to waist by fluted bones; rivers rumor along while owls unscrew the night with their eyes; and, in Crooks’ subtle brand of wry humor, a drummer must not touch his coil-plaited dancing goddess-of-a-wife lest she ruin his rhythm.

Crooks makes use of Jamaican myth and legend, of duppies and ghosts, to symbolize the shared history, the connections not only between the diaspora, but between the dead and the living. And in Crooks’ hands, duppies are not so much remnants of the dead but the soothing, fundamentally life-affirming presence of ancestors.

Crooks makes poetic use of Caribbean Patois in her stories, not just in her dialogue, but also weaving this inimitable language into her main narrative, and this is important. One of Crooks’ abiding preoccupations as a writer has been the question of who gets to speak, when, where and what they may say. The underlying power dynamic at work, which is essentially colonial, when a child is told that speaking in their first language, Patois, is ‘Talking Bad’.

The stories are arranged in historical sequence so that, as we transition from the savageries of plantation life, bodies brutalized by hard labor, and the early migrants’ tales of survival, we knock up against the quieter, and therefore, more insidious injustice of young talent circumscribed by a restrictive environment. For instance,“Gwaan” depicts a middle-aged woman on a barstool, but in remembering her also as the twelve year old she once was who’d danced, who’d had everything to look forward to, and every reason to expect the future to be gleaming, to receive her with open arms. Instead the tale becomes one about the death of a gifted child’s hope. The title ‘Gwaan’, with its implicit encouragement and the injunction to go on, becomes infused with quiet bathos.

Crooks begins her collection with a map of probable migratory routes for this family, dating back thousands of years. She ends the collection with the image of women lighting votive boats on the river, the narrator is “not sure what lifetime she is seeing”. Crooks collection is itself a reminder there’s more than one kind of map. And there’s more than one kind of mapmaker.


21 Aug 2017

Interview: Poetry in a New America

Ely: In this era of political upheaval, we’re seeing a proliferation of poetry events, poets collaborating with musicians, filmmakers, and other artists. And as poetry is very social-media friendly, poets are finding new audiences. Do you feel that there’s been a real renaissance in poetry?

Read more on the Woven Tale Press

11 Apr 2017
CM Taylor

Writer Interview: CM Taylor

CM Taylor is a literary, science fiction, and dystopian novelist who has published under the names Craig Taylor, Ed Lark, and CM Taylor. He has ghostwritten for an internationally famous author and contributed material to Plan B’s The Ballad of Belmarsh album. His journalism has appeared widely, including in The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph, and he is the author of five novels: Light and Grief’(both published by Thoughtplay), Cloven (Osiris), Premiership Psycho and Group of Death (Corsair). Grief was nominated for Best Book of the Year 2005 by the British Science Fiction Association. CM Taylor is Associate Lecturer at the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies.

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28 Feb 2017
Interview with Mark Miles

Writer Interview: Mark Mayes

A Multi-Genre Writer and His First Book

Mark Mayes has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies in the UK, Ireland, the United States, and Italy. His work has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and the BBC World Service. He has been shortlisted for literary prizes, including the prestigious Bridport Prize. He’s also had several stories published in the Unthology series (Unthank Books). His worked appeared in The Woven Tale Press Vol. IV #8
The Gift Maker is Mayes’s début novel and was published 23rd February 2017. The Gift Maker on Amazon.

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17 Oct 2016
Selena Gooden


Performance-poetry-sold-as-album is a natural extension of the thriving contemporary poetry scene, in which poets collaborate with other artists, and sometimes musicians, selling tickets to, and books at, their performances. It should surprise no-one that Salena Godden, author of Springfield Road, Fishing in the Aftermath, and contributor to The Good Immigrant, is at the vanguard of this particular publishing moment, as she has been at the forefront of so much else, including the performance poetry scene itself, many moons ago. Live Wire is a thoughtful compilation of some of Godden’s theatre and festival performances over the years, including BBC radio theatre, and the pieces chosen are strongly indicative of Godden’s range, both as a writer and as a performer.

And what a range it is, from the subtly evoked nostalgic pain of Under The Pier, the gaps between the planks, the ‘prisms of watery light’, the inky sea and the ‘tip of the lip and the bottle.’ There is the Godden of the freewheeling and unrestrained imagination in Not Bovvered, comically depicting the Sistine chapel half finished, Neil Armstrong sans ride home, from the moon, or, grotesquely, a brain surgery double wrapped with cellophane to save on stitching time. Then there’s Godden’s scabrous ode to the air hostess who refuses to lend her a pen on a short flight, forcing her to scrawl her inspiration in lipstick on the back of a sick bag (and here is Godden’s social observation writ large, her wickedly unblinking eye for pettiness, for hypocrisy, for the large and small power-plays in the human zoo, “I see you, Baby.”)

In Die Wasp, Godden appears to question her own place in the world of poetry, depicting the calm, ruler-wielding blue-stocking at the next cafe table, who seems to inhabit, just feet away, an unfathomably more tranquil world than her own. Writing about harps and butterflies, gentle nature and other anaemic literary subjects, as Godden, at the next table, twists, sweats and cavorts to avoid the wasps which endlessly dive bomb her. For Godden every word is a wasp, “How can I work in these conditions?” She yells, hilariously. And thankfully answers her own questions by recognising that it’s the heat, sex and rage (it’s the bloody wasps!) which give her own writing its purpose and heart.

Godden’s work often cedes into politics. In Public Service Announcement, the interspersed news reels and the imagery of bodies entangled in concrete, refugees suffocating under lorries, the click bate and the propaganda, “staring down the news lens” is rich and barbed. Or the joyous satirical romp of “My tits are more feminist than your tits”, Godden encouraging wild audience participation, hoots and chanting, cat calls, raucous laughter, in her taut poetic rant about the way women’s bodies are policed, judged and controlled by the public. And this piece is pure Salena Godden (imagine Amy Schumer, set to wild rhythm, music) but don’t make the mistake … Godden’s most wildly participatory pieces are her most controlled performances – she never loses the rhythm, knows exactly how to make the audience reaction chime with the piece and then to create and hold the silence after. When to whisper. When to let her voice break or rasp. Softly slap her guitar.

And politics could not get much more personal than Voodoo, in which the ten year old Salena Godden, in a perfectly timed piece of psychological Kung-fu, saves herself (and her best friend) from a beating by turning the gang’s racism against it, “Run, run, she knows voodoo.”

Godden can be tough on her own vulnerabilities. Like a lot of people who’ve known genuine tragedy, she can yield to an instinct to just power through it. Or to use grotesque humour to find the laughter at the bottom of pain, like turning the casual, intimate exploitation of Princess Leslie into wry humour soup. Or, in This Is Not A Eulogy, imagining her own suicide in magical realist terms, she survives with grotesque injuries, limbs inside out, and flayed all the way down the street by the sound of her own brutal, self-judging voice. And this is rage.

It’s also agony to hear, once you know that Godden’s own father committed suicide (and the poet has written movingly about him in Springfield Road and elsewhere). But I urge you to listen to This Is Not A Eulogy alongside the excerpt from Springfield Road – Godden describing the moment when her father left their home for the last time, and this moment itself prefiguring his later and more permanent desertion,

“We cried as we heard you turn your key in the ignition.”

The children’s palpable yearning is still fully present, as though untouched by time, in the tick and whir of this first line.

And this, finally, is Godden at her nuanced and poetic best,

“That afternoon became a shrine, a cave … I took a stick and scratched our names there.”

Yes, this writer knows how to find the comedy at the bottom of the big and the small pains. When she has to she can even power her way through grief. But she can also quietly turn and pick up the keys to its motor. And hold us there with her, in the turning moment.


You can read my interview with Salena Godden in Woven Tale Press http://www.thewoventalepress.net/2016/02/15/6875/


A version of this article was published by Woven Tale Press, ‘This is not a Eulogy‘.

12 Sep 2016
Indie Publisher Matthew Smith

Writing and book marketing tips, from a successful indie publisher

Interview by Press literary editor, Jo Ely

Matthew Smith has spent the last 25 years working with books, beginning as a Waterstones bookseller in 1991. He was a commissioning editor and manager at major UK publishers  Routledge, Longman, Arcturus, Hodder Headline, Pearson and Kogan Page. In early 2014 Matthew founded Urbane Publications, an independent UK publisher, producing print and digital books in a number of genres from fiction to poetry to business. Matthew has a special interest in genre-busting fiction, publishing debut authors, as well as new works from established writers. http://urbanepublications.com

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12 Sep 2016
alan mcmonagle

Check out my interview with writer Alan McMonagle for The Woven Tale Press

Interview by Press Literary Editor Jo Ely, with  Alan McMonagle of alanMcmonagle.com. Read his story “Bleeding Boy” featured in The Woven Tale Press Vol. III #12.

Firstly, congratulations, Alan, on your recent two book deal with Picador. This is wonderful news and well deserved recognition for your work. You are clearly one to watch. I wonder what first drew you to the short story form. [Alan has previously published two short story collections.] And what caused your later shift toward the novel?

Thanks a lot, Jo, and yes, it’s been an exciting couple of months, and, I suspect, yet to fully sink in (that would be down to the delay mechanism I come with). As to my leanings towards the short story, it was probably the manageability of the form initially that appealed to me. And an early belief that I was chock-full of ideas, and full of ‘look-at-me, aren’t I wonderful’ nonsense every time I thought I had converted one of these ideas into a short story. I also had a tendency to take words like ‘short’ and ‘story’ at face value and so quickly convinced myself that I was naturally prolific. Ha-ha. Of course, I eventually discovered that a short story is neither necessarily short or for that matter prepared to adhere to that age-old ‘once upon a time’ convention. As I developed and acquired some stamina as a writer I began to fathom how a novel or at least how my idea of a novel could accommodate what I was interested in writing about. I have just completed my first novel and having managed to get it done makes me want to try another, and another. That said, I enjoy flitting from one form to another. I have published poems, written a few radio plays, and so long as the ideas keep landing I will always have a yen to convert them into short stories.