One of Lagan Online’s 12NOW names to watch out for, Jamie Guiney is a literary fiction writer from County Armagh, Northern Ireland. Twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, his short stories have been published internationally, with his work has been backed by the Northern Ireland Arts Council through several Individual Artist Awards. Lagan Online editor Colin Dardis speaks to Jamie about his writing, influences and challenges.
Colin Dardis: As a writer, you’re rather diverse, with short stories, a novel, a screenplay and essays. Do you primarily see yourself as a short-story writer, or do you think it is outdated to have writers aligned and confined to just one medium?
Jamie Guiney: I’ve never really stood back before and looked at the breadth of my work, I just gravitate towards the medium I believe will best convey each particular story - but now that you point it out, you make me realise something about myself that I didn’t know!
I don’t believe there’s anything outdated with writers who choose to stay primarily with one medium, people can accomplish and maintain great success that way. Raymond Carver is a great example.
I do find though, that generally, creative people tend to have an innate desire to keep on learning, trying new ways to express their identity and communicate their message. Different mediums are a good way to achieve this.
The fact that I’ve had most success with short stories isn’t as much about a drive in that specific direction, but more a consequence of how the world chose to turn. Don’t get me wrong, I love short stories, but to answer your question, I see myself as simply a writer.
CD: What impression or sensation do you want to leave the reader with after finishing one of your works? (Challenge, disturb, excite, entertain, etc)
JG: I always want to provoke a reaction in the reader, an emotion, a connection, anything at all - even if their response is as small as a lone cloud on a sunny day that soon dissipates and burns away. It was still a cloud and it still existed.
The ultimate aim is to create something that stays with the reader long after they’ve experienced it, something that will seep into their very bones, something even, that they will want to return to. I believe the best thing a writer can ask for is to be reread. Think about the books you have reread, not just the ones you enjoyed; therein lies the magic.
CD: You’re a graduate of the Faber & Faber Writing Academy. How beneficial was your attendance there to your literary development?
JG: It was incredible. I went into that having already written a novel, without any formal training, and the academy really opened my eyes to improving my work. The first short story I wrote afterwards - A Quarter Yellow Sun - became my first published piece and was subsequently nominated for The Pushcart Prize.
That was back in 2009, so I feel like I’ve developed creatively and matured as a writer since then. I’ve now had 14 short stories published, tried other mediums and finished my second novel.
CD: Do you feel writers in Northern Ireland are at a disadvantage compared to ROI or other UK writers when it comes to factors like available opportunities, funding and networking?
JG: While it is improving, the literary infrastructure here in Northern Ireland is still underdeveloped and writers are lacking the support they need to thrive. There is a very real need for more NI-based literary agents and publishers. When it comes to literary journals, we have some folks working hard - the likes of Lagan Online, The Honest Ulsterman, The Incubator, The Tangerine…but we need more.
Our saving grace in NI seems to be arts, literature & music festivals; this area has grown immensely these past few years.
The NI Arts Council and Damian Smyth in particular do a great job supporting artists, but are continually constrained by funding cuts. It feels like we need more opportunities, such as – writer/artists in residence posts, more literary journals & presses, more agents, mentoring schemes…
In contrast, there has been a real upsurge in literary activity in ROI recently with new publishers like Tramp, Doire and Stinging Fly press; new journals like Penny Dreadful, Long Story Short, Banshee Lit, Gorse. Hopefully that progression is something we can catch up with here in Northern Ireland.
CD: You have a running list of short stories you’ve recently read on your website, including the likes of Nabokov, Munro, Hemingway and Wells Tower. Would you say your output is a fair reflection of your input and influences?
JG: To a certain degree, yes. I tend to read more widely when it comes to short stories, so am more appreciative of different styles than I would be with novels. I will ditch a novel if it doesn’t draw me in.
We learn to write by reading, therefore if I’m inspired by another writer’s style, mechanics and techniques, I’ll often want to experiment in applying them in my own writing. There is much to be learned from reading both good and bad writing.
I’ve always been heavily influenced by the American voice in literature and I think that comes from my love of film.
CD: You mentioned in a 2010 interview* that e-books were “the wave of the future”. Do you feel their impact has been felt by writers and the publishing industry, or are we still waiting for the wave to hit? Have you been tempted to go down the road of self-publishing?
JG: e-Books have certainly had an impact on the industry - something like a quarter of all books are now read digitally. There does appear to be some fluctuation these days on how people read – some use e-readers like Kindles for instance, but some also use smartphones or tablets. I think as new devices emerge and get more integrated into daily life, e-Books will continue to rise. Of course, print has not died as some predicted, and I am glad for that as I love books in print.
From a writer’s viewpoint, some publishers will take a chance on new writers and go down the e-Book route as it is less costly to produce, so they can take more risks with publishing new material. I have been tempted to self-publish at various times but it is difficult to self-critique. Traditional publishing offers a lot of credence in terms of critique, experience, quality control and validation of writers. As an example, my first novel didn’t get picked up by a publisher and I am glad now, for the writing is not very good! I am therefore also glad that I didn’t self-publish! Self-publishing has its place, but it does give into the whimsical side of us, which can be a double-edged sword. But, just because it isn’t for me, doesn’t mean that others feel the same. There are plenty of writers out there who are making a living from self-published works.
CD: What can we expect next from you?
JG: Well, I became a father back in November, so that is taking up a lot of my time these days, but my wife and I are loving parenthood and our daughter is just such a joy. When I do write, my main project is revising my second novel ‘The Judgement of Moses Crowe’ – a piece of work that I am both excited about and proud of. I have had a lot of interest in it, with twenty literary agents from all over the world requesting the full manuscript for consideration. While no one has picked it up for representation just yet, I am currently working with a particular agent on some edits, so hopefully that leads somewhere interesting!
Other than that, I have enough stories for a short story collection, so will pull those together into a single body of work and probably start to approach agents and publishers about that sometime soon. I have also been asked to read at the Belfast Book Festival in June and I continue to work on other smaller projects. I would love to write for television someday, but let’s see where the road leads!