We invited Salt authors Alison Moore and Paul McVeigh to discuss how they managed writing life post-publication.
Alison Moore: We’re starting our conversation while you’re on the road, having come straight from the Stockholm Writer’s Festival to the Crossways festival in Glasgow. How do you balance time spent writing and time spent talking about writing?
Paul McVeigh: I’m afraid, actual writing always loses in that unbalance. It is born out of fear – financial and artistic. I come from a working-class background and a low-paid, self-employed life in the arts which means I’m afraid of saying ‘no’ to work and money. ‘What if they stop asking? How will I pay my bills? Will I have to go back to supply teaching or something similar?’ When I started writing again, about seven years ago, I wanted to make sure that everything I did was connected to books/literature after becoming a teacher by accident and financial dependency, so I planted many fields – blogging, reviewing, interviewing, teaching, writing – and I had an embarrassment of riches when they all started to bear fruit. I’m afraid of going back to that life I worked and sacrificed so much to leave behind. One of the results of my successful plan is that I’m pretty exhausted and rarely get time to write and when I do it is a slow process. Be careful what you wish for … (Of course, I’ve avoided discussing the other big fear – that I won’t be able to do it again, a novel that is). And, quickly, something no-one ever discusses, low pay in writing has a huge effect on single writers – with no-one to support them through the lean times, uncommissioned writing time, share house bills with etc. How do you do it? How do you cope? Please advise … could you be my counsellor/guru?
no-one ever discusses, low pay in writing has a huge effect on single writers – with no-one to support them through the lean times, uncommissioned writing time, share house bills with etc.
AM: You make a very good point about single writers. My husband and I are both self-employed and we’ve each had healthier years and leaner years, but not at the same time, so together it is easier to make it all balance out. Because our son is still quite young, still at primary school, I’ve only been taking up offers of gigs that I can get home from the same day or that we can all travel to together – in the past year, we’ve had family trips to Edinburgh, the Scottish Highlands, Manchester and Hastings built around paid sessions at literature festivals, writing retreats etc. On school days, I’m usually at home writing. Like you, I like to have lots of irons in the fire – short stories and novels, recently children’s books and a novelette, or I might be working on a magazine feature or a foreword/afterword. I know what you mean about the fear but perversely I think my fear makes me write more – I have a fear of a piece of writing going cold on me, and of the whole business of writing going cold on me, which keeps me frenziedly at it. We should definitely treat ourselves to a G&T and a chinwag. I’ve been very grateful to find friendly clusters of writers in Nottingham, Leicester, Manchester and elsewhere, and I find it hugely therapeutic to read supportive and instructive magazines like The Author and Mslexia. Which leads me to say that there are a few things I did around the time my first novel was published, including joining Nottingham Writers’ Studio and taking part in their live literature events because readings turned me to jelly and I wanted to tackle that, and joining the Society of Authors. Is there anything you’re glad you did (or wish you hadn’t done) around the publication of The Good Son?
You want to be honest and open, and there is a blurred line between writer and person, but having an idea of some boundaries for yourself is good too.
PM: You sound busy, but good busy – I note with shame that you are busy with writing. I wish I could have your reaction to fear. I’d love that G&T. I joined the society of authors too – I don’t think I’ve ever used them for anything but gives me a feeling of security knowing I’m part of it. I did all the usual things re the publication of the book – blog tours with short pieces on themes and writing, and interviews. I think if you’re going down that route it would be good to start that process while you’re waiting for publication as otherwise, you can get overwhelmed trying to write all of them at the same time while keeping up the day job etc. Something I noticed during interviews is that I’m not very guarded and can end up revealing things about myself that I later regret (especially awkward for online publication where it’s there forever!). You want to be honest and open, and there is a blurred line between writer and person, but having an idea of some boundaries for yourself is good too. How about you? Anything you are glad you did or wish you’d done differently?
as well as finding that balance between writing and events, there’s finding the right balance between private and public, and it can be tricky because there’s looking after yourself but there’s also stepping out of your comfort zone which can be a very good thing to do
AM: I think I can be quite guarded when I know that what I say will end up in print – it’s very strange to see yourself paraphrased but in quotation marks, or to be edited in a misleading way. But I’ve definitely been less guarded doing live events – I find myself saying things as if in confidence, in front of a room full of people. Afterwards, I feel a bit like I’ve been naked in public. So yes, as well as finding that balance between writing and events, there’s finding the right balance between private and public, and it can be tricky because there’s looking after yourself but there’s also stepping out of your comfort zone which can be a very good thing to do. I very nearly didn’t organise a launch event but I’m really glad I did – the Events Manager at Waterstones Nottingham was very welcoming, likewise the School of English at Nottingham University who agreed to host my very first author talk. Those early relationships can stay with you through your career: I still have my launch events at Waterstones Nottingham, and I lecture at Nottingham University. And, as well as being heartened by the number of people who came to those early events, I hadn’t anticipated that people would stay with me supporting every book. That feeling of support is overwhelming and seriously helps me keep going. Also, although most people contact me through either Salt or my website or social media, events can lead to interesting meetings and opportunities that would not have arisen otherwise: giving a keynote speech at a writers’ conference led directly to being commissioned to write the first of a series of paid magazine features. What’s your experience of making those kinds of valuable connections?
I hadn’t anticipated that people would stay with me supporting every book. That feeling of support is overwhelming and seriously helps me keep going.
PM: I went to a lot of one day and weekend writing courses. There I met some wonderful writers who became my writing buddies and they were hugely influential in shaping my writing. I also met some great teachers who became friends and, in time, some became writing buddies too. In both cases, they were huge supporters publicly too (this really helps online in terms of widening your networks and future readership) and with getting quotes for the book which is hard as a debut novelist. Through these courses I also became known to writer development agencies which led to their financial and professional support. I also met industry professionals like a BBC Radio 4 producer – I asked her for an interview which led to us staying in touch and eventually a commission.
AM: You’ll be busy at the Belfast Book Festival now, with a series of events over the week, before heading to London – so I’ll wish you all the best and thank you for finding the time to chat!
Paul McVeigh was born in Belfast, his work has been performed on stage and radio, published in print and translated into seven languages. He began his career as a playwright before moving to London where he wrote comedy shows that were performed at the Edinburgh Festival and in London’s West End. His short stories have been published in anthologies & literary journals been read on BBC Radio 3, 4 & 5. He is associate director at Word Factory, ‘the UK’s national organisation for excellence in the short story’ The Guardian.