Another post in our occasional series talking to past Structo contributors. This time we feature an interview with the author Michael Martin. You can read his story ‘A Question for the Candidate’ online in Structo 9.
We published ‘A Question for the Candidate’ back in 2013. How’s the writing life treated you since then?
Being published in Structo gave me a great sense of achievement, not least because of the quality of the magazine, its appearance and the rest of the writing. Since then I’ve placed several more stories, winning the Irish Post short story competition, with the prize of visiting the wonderful Listowel Writers’ Festival, and being short-listed for the Benedict Kiely prize, which is part of the Omagh Literature Festival. Some writers say they’d rather concentrate on their novel than get distracted by short fiction but I believe you learn a lot from writing as well as reading short fiction, and sometimes there are highlights of publication or even prizes which will sustain longer term projects.
Your debut novel has just come out from Brigand. Can you say something about Little Flowers?
A critical friend had helped me pare down the draft that was accepted by Brigand. I suppose it’s because they are a small publishers, I felt at the heart of the editing process. The novel concerns a betting shop worker called Guy who hasn’t moved out of his parents’ house. The crisis in his life is brought about when his neighbour’s building work disturbs his sleep. It’s supposed to be grounded in naturalism and it does sound like it deals with very suburban concerns, but there is a slightly fantastical slant. The eccentric planner who promises to help the narrator is the catalyst who changes Guy’s life. The fantasy element, that I hope helps to stoke the increasing strangeness of the story, is where Guy reads a book about Saint Francis of Assisi – except rather than the conventional biography, this is a sensational novel where the saint has to uncover the true identity of a werewolf.
Can you point to any specific influences for the novel or for your short stories?
As Little Flowers progressed, I did think about what elements I enjoyed most in novels. They include puzzling (for me) interludes like the Pontius Pilate episodes in Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, and the fictional characters’ revenge on their writer in At Swim Two Birds by Flann O’Brien. Also Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood has that brilliant portrayal of someone pursuing a misguided mission that I find fascinating. By citing such great writers, I know I will only suffer in comparison but at least it shows I’m aiming high! For short stories, writers I admire are James Joyce and V S Pritchett, and of recent writers, Yukiko Motoya’s Picnic in the Storm was a brilliant collection. I’ll never view people putting up umbrellas in high winds in a supercilious way again (well, maybe I will).
What’s next for you?
Just before Little Flowers was accepted by Brigand, I’d finished a first draft of my next novel. This was put on hold as I came to understand just how much work was involved in getting a book to publication. So it’s back to that and continuing to write short stories. In 2019 as part of Barnet Borough’s Year of Learning festival I ran a couple of writing workshops, which I really enjoyed, so I am due to run some more and get to find out what happens in several stories people are working on.
Find out more about Michael and his writing at https://michaelmartinwriter.blogspot.com