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Over the Pond We Go: Fiction Writer Paul McVeigh Talks Plotting

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Paul McVeigh has written plays that have toured the UK and Ireland as well as comedy for stand-ups, including shows in London's West End and the Edinburgh Festival. His short stories have been published in journals, anthologies and been commissioned by BBC Radio 4. McVeigh's debut novel The Trouble With Mickey was shortlisted for an unpublished novel prize and is currently being read at various houses. He is the curator of the inaugural London Short Story Festival taking place in June 2014 and is also the Deputy Editor of Word Factory the UK's leading short story event in Europe's largest bookstore. His short story blog gets 40,000 hits a month where McVeigh interviews short story writers like the Story Prize & Folio Prize winner George Saunders and the IMPAC winner Kevin Barry. He has upcoming work in literary journals The Stinging Fly and Two Third's North and will be appearing at the International Short Story Conference in Vienna.

Loren Kleinman (LK): Are you a plotter or a pantzer?

Paul McVeigh (PM): I'm a plotter -- usually. I sometimes write a story in my head for years then when it's ready I sit down and it's done very quickly. I recently have a commission from BBC Radio 4 and the two ideas I had wouldn't work so I called on a story I first had the idea for about 20 years ago. It came out in one sitting. I interviewed George Saunders (winner of this year's Story Prize and Folio Prize) and he gives his characters so much freedom -- it scares the crap out of me. I need to try this.

LK: What inspired you to write, you took any ideas from other books, movies etc.?

PM: I don't honestly know -- in the genesis sense. But I know where it comes from when I sit down to write. I'm inspired to write because there are things I want to say. I want to talk about the fragility of being alive. The extraordinary lives ordinary people live. The incredible moments of life-changing realizations. The desire to reveal and create. I want to pick scabs. Take ugly things and make them beautiful in some way. I want to dark places and conjure them on the page and ask where is the love here? Imbue the darkness with our desire to love and be loved.

LK: Who are your favorite authors?

PM: Dickens for story. Henry Miller for pushing boundaries of honesty. Hemmingway for his power and proving you could use everyday words produce extraordinary writing. I love the direct prose and the raw realness of their work.

LK: What's your favorite place in the world (besides the UK)? Where do you go for inspiration?

PM: Rome. It's like an open air museum and I love museums. Also, you stand in these places where Caesar stood or built. You are aware of your place in time. The beauty of place is undeniable. If you don't feel overwhelmed and enriched at the sight of this city then you are dead.

LK: What projects are you currently working on right now? Would you mind sharing them with me?

PM: I am in slight a limbo at the moment re writing. My novel is being read by publishers and a big answer that will change the course of my writing is being formed in the mouths of other people. Weird. In the meantime, I'm working on themed short story collection. This has come about because I've looked at my short stories and found a connection I didn't know was there -- a funny experience to be able to see what you've done without intention. I may even make it a linked collection about the same character.

LK: What advice can you give to new writers?

PM: Go to literature events and listen to how great writers talk about their work. Talk to them if you can. Write anything -- even if it's just a sentence or an idea. Think -- if this is the only thing I ever write what do I want to say? What is my truth? What is my legacy? Have a philosophy behind what you do. Care about no-one else. Writing is yours. If you write something ruthlessly honest and particular to you it will be relevant to everyone in some way.