We talk anthologies, awards and life in the pandemic with editor and novelist Paul McVeigh.
“I hadn’t realised that happiness depends on me going away a couple of times a month to teach/talk at festivals etc where I meet lots of really interesting people and, yes, I admit it, show off, then scurry back home to my quiet.”
What is your starting point when working on an anthology?
I usually work closely with the publisher to find out what they are hoping to achieve with the anthology, the kind of work the want to include in it and what is manageable within the constraints of time and budget. I always push for new work to be commissioned and/or an open call element to find new voices. When the parameters are set and while waiting for the new work I spend a long time going through my book shelves and doing research online.
In The 32, you sought to unearth Irish Working Class Voices – who and what did you discover in the process? What surprised you as you delved deeper into those ‘voices’ and contrasted the take of new and old?
What I loved was the variety of working class stories. On the one hand there were similarities of experience, the effects of having less and the attitude of those looking in, or down, where they confuse having less with being lesser.
On the other hand, there were the differences between what it meant to be working class in the north and south of the island, in the inner-city and deep-countryside, as well as, the impact of being LGBTQ or having disability.
With Queer Love, an Anthology of Irish Fiction you have sought to explore the representation of queer voices and experiences in literature. It blends previously published stories, newly commissioned work and those entered through a call out. Can you tell us about the mix?
The anthology was the fastest turn around on any project I’ve ever worked on, and I knew from the start there were limited spaces available. It was a challenge. The range allowed for a high quality in all the stories included and for a mix of writers over a number of generational viewpoints. The bigger names added clout, and attention and readership, which I hoped would help raise the profile of the newer writers. So, as of this week all of the writers will have appeared at festival events (for the first times in their careers) alongside names such as Emma Donoghue or Colm Toibin.
What are your connections to Belfast, your hometown, these days? Do you feel an obligation to champion it and stay connected whilst living in London?
I’m living back in Belfast now. While in London I would travel to and from home frequently – a huge Irish-Italian close-knit Catholic family made sure of that. I have always felt the desire to champion, whether by making it the setting of my debut novel, or, since moving back, working on projects like the The 32 and setting up connections with London through the Royal Society of Literature shining a light on writers from the north.
Your debut novel The Good Son won the Polari Prize in 2015. How did that impact on your career and follow-up expectations?
It was a great boost to my confidence and, yes, to my career. To have award-winning when referring to me or the novel has a prestigious ring to it.
Although I’ve written a number of short stories and just finished a play I haven’t written another novel – so maybe there’s something in that expectations thing.
How did the pandemic affect you?
Pretty badly. I Iive alone (have always been a loner) and work from home and love that. But I hadn’t realised that happiness depends on me going away a couple of times a month to teach/talk at festivals etc were I meet lots of really interesting people and, yes, I admit it, show off, then scurry back home to my quiet. Without the travel/people part of that equation I found the whole system collapsed and I really struggled. Thank God, I’m out the other side it now.
What are you currently reading? Which book most excited you in 2021, so far?
The two that are burning holes into my nightstand and my brain are Rob Doyle’s Autobibliography and Gavin McCrea’s The Sister’s Mao.
Queer Love: An Anthology of Irish Fiction is published by Southward Editions, €12 available from munsterlit.ie
The 32: An Anthology of Irish Working-Class Voices is published by Unbound, €11.99.
Feature Image of Paul McVeigh: Roelof Bakker