Paul McVeigh: what does success look like?

Inaugural Word Factory Writer-in-Residence Paul McVeigh has a detailed knowledge of the joys and pitfalls emerging writers face. In Autumn 2020, the acclaimed novelist and short story writer returns to the Word Factory, offering a variety of one-one ones and workshops to emerging writers.

A founding member of the Word Factory, helping to shape its commitment to writers from every walk of life, he chats here to friend and director Cathy Galvin.

What do you regard as “success” in a writer?

I can only speak for myself here. I gave up writing for a few years — financial necessity, losing faith, rejection, grief coming together to create a perfect storm. When I decided to write again I looked at the reasons why I wanted to return to it and how I would define success given that I was in my forties and being realistic about how that might look. Partly driven also by the knowledge that I had fallen out of being an artist by becoming a teacher and moving away from making and being around art, I decided that success, for me, would be if everything I did to earn money was connected to writing. I’ve managed that by chairing events, editing anthologies, interviewing, reviewing, teaching and writing in different forms.

You have lived in the UK but are now based back at home in Northern Ireland. Has lockdown changed your sense of “home” — and/ or of your own writing life?

Being back (home) in Belfast has changed my life a lot. I could buy my first house, and I have a writing room for the first time in my life. Moving out of London has allowed that financial and living transformation. I have the first home I can call mine.

Who and what has inspired you of late?

Nature mostly. I look out onto my garden, trees, and behind that mountain. I go walking every day in nature — coastline, forests, hills and lakes.

If you had one piece of publishing/ literary advice to offer yourself five years back, what would it be?

Be prepared for the come down after your book comes out.

You are a fantastic communicator on the page and in person: do you have a reader in mind when you write, or an emerging writer in mind when you teach?

When I write The Good Son I did for sure. My mum for most of it (there were bits she wouldn’t have approved of). I thought about the people of Northern Ireland, and the working class people of Ardoyne.

Word Factory: happiest memory? And what do you hope to bring to the residency?

So many… truly one of the richest, happiest times of my life. I do miss it. I’d have to say I loved the old days at the beginning, us all seated around one table at The Society Club.

I hope to meet and and support emerging writers. I love passing on what I have learned and working with the energy new writers bring, whatever age.

To find out more about Paul’s autumn events:

Paul McVeigh’s debut novel, The Good Son , won The Polari First Novel Prize and The McCrea Literary Award and was shortlisted for many others including the Prix du Roman Cezam in France. Paul’s short stories have been read on BBC Radio 3, 4 & 5, SKY Arts, and in newspapers, journals and anthologies. He co-founded the London Short Story Festival has edited The 32 which included work by Roddy Doyle and Kevin Barry. His writing has been translated into seven languages.