We love Paul McVeigh. The man’s a fixture of the British short story world and, along with Word Factory co-conspirator Cathy Galvin, a long-time supporter of the magazine. And so we were delighted to learn that he had a novel coming out with one of our favourite publishers, Salt. We will be publishing our review of The Good Son in a few days (and it’s an achingly fair review too—our reviewer had no idea about the connection), but in the meantime, here’s a few words from the man himself.
Was The Good Son the first novel you wrote, or do you have a couple of earlier attempts sitting in a drawer somewhere?
Yes, it’s my first novel. I’ve known a few writers who have two or three novels that didn’t make it, some completed and sent out, but I come from the other stock – those that have been bashing about at the same piece of work for many years. There were breaks where I left it in a drawer for years but in the end I always came back to it. The published version is quite different to the others as I became a better writer and the message of the book reflected more of my understanding of the world too.
You grew up in Belfast. What made you draw on this setting for the book?
Initially, I had the desire to write about my generation, children who had lived in Belfast having known nothing else but the Troubles. I wanted to reveal their day-to-day lives, going through all the normal growing pains whilst living in extraordinary circumstances. I also wanted to write from a place of authenticity and absolute authority over my subject matter. This was crucial to me as a first-time novelist for practical and philosophical reasons. I’ve always had this passion for writing realism – to make the page come alive, to be as believable as possible.
Did Mickey’s story begin as a novel?
It began as a short story. An editor had seen a play I’d written and approached me to write a short story for an anthology. I had no idea what I was doing. I’m so glad he did, as it changed the course of my life. The story was about a little boy going to see his aunt and something awful happens to him there. The aunt and the events of this story didn’t make it into the final version of the novel but two small sections did.
You’ve written—and been published—across a bunch of written forms now. Do you have a favourite way to tell a story?
Not as such. I have moved through forms over different periods of my life, with the exception of the novel which I kept going back to. Perhaps the forms reflect where I am at or the way I’m engaging with the world at any given time. It will be interesting to see what happens next. I feel a change brewing.
Along with Tania Hershman, Cathy Galvin, Nicholas Royle and others, you’re a real champion of the short story in the UK. How did that come about?
When I returned to writing after a long break, short stories were the perfect form for me. Like writing plays, I could hold a whole piece in my head, and could see the through line clearly. I started investigating the form, reading stories, interviews with great writers, sought out live events to listen to authors read and discuss their work, seeking out opportunities for publication and other practical information. I put all this into a blog and I enjoyed the engagement with other writers it brought. Every avenue I took seemed to feed into the other and my passion seemed to take on a life of its own until I felt deeply involved in the short story world. Working with Word Factory and London Short Story Festival took that engagement offline and into the world.
Any exciting recent discoveries in the world of the short story?
I loved reading Laura van den Berg recently and am really looking forward to KJ Orr’s collection. I love Rebex Swirsky’s writing and hope to see a collection of hers come out. Dannielle McLaughin writes beautifully. I’ll be looking out for Rob Doyle’s collection later in the year too.
The Good Son is out now, published by Salt. Photo of Paul courtesy Roelof Bakker.