We recently published Steve's book In Fields of Butterfly Flames, a collection of short stories, so I've invited him on to my blog today to talk about his writing and this book in particular.
1. What do you write? Why this in particular?
I write literary fiction, in particular short stories, many of which are centred round characters within dysfunctional families. I also write anthropomorphic stories and fairy tales.
Most of my favourite writers employ literary fiction, so, naturally, I too am drawn to this genre. My interest in using anthropomorphism comes from my love of stories by Richard Adams, Rudyard Kipling and others. Limited as the market seems to be towards short fantasy stories, I especially enjoy getting lost in the creation of characters borrowed from the canon of Irish and world mythologies.
2. What got you started in writing in the first place?
I have always been creative, whether sketching and painting the birds I kept in aviaries as a teenager, or building the enclosures in which the foreign finches and parakeets were housed. Not until I went to college and compiled theses on the works of the playwrights George Bernard Shaw and Sam Shepard did I discover the pleasure to be gained by creating characters and imagining them into predicaments from which I must help them escape or allow them to succumb. This drive to create, to produce something new is summed up perfectly in a quote by Arthur Miller speaking about his own writing. It’s the drive ‘to cast a new shadow upon the earth.’
3. Do you have a particular routine?
In a perfect world, I would write first thing in the morning after breakfast. This is the period in which my mind is at its most creative. Alas, like most of mankind, there is the need to keep the proverbial wolfpack from prey-rushing me when I open the front door. Ironically, this awful pandemic, which has altered how we live and work, has given me the opportunity during lockdown to indulge my perfect writing routine, on and off, for a few months.
4. Do you have a dedicated writing space?
There are two places in my home in which I do most of my writing: in my bedroom at a desk, or in the living room on the couch, with my pc perched upon a laptop desk.
5. When did you decide to call yourself a writer? Do you do that in fact?
At the age of twenty-five, I had the dubious success of being awarded First Prize in the first writing competition I ever entered. I say ‘dubious’ because I imagined this would lead to instant publication and further successive wins. Of course, this isn’t how things went. But with quite a few years gone over since then, and with them more than fifty short stories included in periodicals, magazines and anthologies, along with a collection of twenty-two short stories published by Bridge House Publishing, I think I can give myself the title ‘writer’ without inwardly cringing.
6. How supportive are your friends and family? Do they understand what you’re doing?
To be candid, some members of my family, just like some of my friends, are more supportive than others. In the world in which we now live, a world where technology and handheld devices have, for many, replaced books, not everyone gets the idea of reading the printed page, let alone the dedication of those who aspire to write those pages. But I must give a special mention to my sister, Nessa, who set up my website, and who spends a lot of time improving it and updating it whenever I have a publication or a placement in a competition that needs to be add to it.
7. What are you must proud of in your writing?
Naturally, none of us writes in a bubble. That my work is read by others brings enormous personal satisfaction. But when I get feedback through comments or reviews, it makes all the hours of effort even more worthwhile. And then there is the socio-political aspect to a work of art. All art, even if its creator claims to be apolitical, is in some way socio-political. In this way some of the themes I explore and interrogate in my work allows me to understand better my own viewpoint or stance on a given matter.
Some themes, even when not being explored overtly are implicit in the way we tackle them. To take as an example a fairy tale I wrote called ‘The Land of the Ever Young’. In this story a fairy mother returns to a family a year on from the time when she stole their beautiful new-born child and left in its place a changeling. The changeling has brought destitute and death to the family with its insatiable appetite. This is the surface of the story, but what I’m really exploring here is the starving Irish families of nineteenth century Ireland. An Ireland where the impoverished farmer, beset by famine, could not afford to rear a child not born fully abled and therefore unable to help out on the small holding. And so came about the superstition that gave them freedom to effectively end the child’s life, fully convinced that their real child had been stolen and replaced with a demon fairy child.
At first, when I read the question about what I’m most ‘proud’ of about my work, I wasn’t sure if ‘pride’ was the correct emotion, but then I recalled a review of ‘The Land of the Ever Young’ from some years back, and I looked up the following by Mel Ulm on his blog:. He Writes: ‘I found his short story “The Land of the Ever Young” fully qualified to stand with the great occult fairy tales of Sheridan Le Fanu or Andrew Lang.’ Yes, as I reread this now, I’m smiling, and my chest is swelled.
8. How do you get on with editing and research?
For me, the best part of writing is the rewriting. I’m with Hemingway who said first drafts are excrement. Over the years I’ve followed all the advice that tells us to leave a finished piece of writing for a few days before reading over it a number of times to pick up on any inconsistencies, typos, spelling and grammatical errors. Of course, it helps a lot more if you have someone reliable to read the piece too. As we can’t always home in on everything in our own writing.
As for research, most of my work doesn’t call for any in-depth research, other than checking sources relating to specific places, the time of year when named plants are in flower and so on.
9. Do you have any goals for the future?
Naturally, goals about getting works published depend on the decisions of publishers to whom I submit my writing. I have written a few novels and have enough completed short stories for another three publications. As for specific goals, there are a number of literary competitions in which I’ve been placed before but would be very happy to be the outright winner – what writer wouldn’t?
10. Which writers have inspired you?
The writers who I feel most indebted to are Hemingway, James Joyce, Jack London, John Steinbeck, and Cormac McCarthy. And, when it comes to writing fantasy, Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm and Oscar Wilde would be at the top of the list.
My book: In Fields of Butterfly Flames
1. Tell us about your book
‘In Fields of Butterfly Flames’ is a collection of twenty-two short stories. Most of the stories first appeared in anthologies and periodicals. Some of them have won prizes or have been placed in literary competitions. Many of the stories explore the theme of familial dysfunctionalism. Other themes deal with the search for identity and the need for purpose. What the characters in every story have in common is that they are in some way broken or fractured, in search of meaning if not healing.
2. Tell us about your research for this book.
As mentioned above, because it is a collection of short stories, there was no direct research necessary when writing. The indirect research that could be said to have gone into the stories is life and living itself, the experiences I’ve had or have read about others having; the books I’ve read, the places I’ve visited, the movies I’ve watched. All of it has been grist to my mill.
3. What inspired you to write this?
Writing is what I do. It’s what I think about when I’m not writing and not distracted by something else. Characters, their plights, their status, where they live, their jobs and background take shape in my head when I’m taking my daily walk on the seafront, standing in the queue in Tesco or lying in bed waiting for sleep to come. Collating the stories into a collection seemed the obvious thing to do.
4. What’s next?
Currently, I’m working on my third novel. The previous two have not yet been published, apart from one of them being awarded First Prize in a writing competition and subsequently being released as an e-book. The novel I’m writing now is an extension of one of the title short stories from my collection. Apart from the novel, I’m also collating three other collections of short stories. One of literary fiction, a second of anthropomorphic tales, and a third of Christmas stories.
1. How can we get a copy of the book?
‘In Fields of Butterfly Flames’ can be ordered directly from the publisher, Bridge House Publishing, or it can be ordered through Amazon.
2. Do you have any events planned? Due to the current pandemic, any ideas I had for a book launch have been put on hold.