Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Martin Malone

Martin Malone is the author of 6 novels, a memoir, 2 short story collections and several radio plays. He has also written for TV and stage. His first novel ‘Us‘ won the John B Keane/Sunday Independent Literature Award and was shortlisted for the Irish Fiction Award. His second novel ‘After Kafra’ was scripted for RTE TV. ‘The Broken Cedar’ was nominated for the IMPAC Award and shortlisted for an Irish Fiction Award. His short stories have been widely broadcast and published, and have won national competitions. His short story ‘Valley of the Peacock Angel’ was nominated for the 2012 Sunday Times Short Story Prize. He has received several Arts Council of Ireland bursaries for literature. He is twice a winner of the Cecil D Lewis Award for Literature.

Martin, when did you first begin to write?

I think about age 13, for a year or so, and then I became involved in sports, athletics and soccer. I resumed my writing career when I was 32, putting aside two half hour periods a week, and increased the time spent writing when I began to have work accepted by the likes of Ireland’s Own, Woman’s Way and others.

And how long had you been writing before you were published for the first time?

About 6 months.  A short story entitled ‘Rough and Tumble’ in Woman’s Way. First novel ‘Us’ originated from a short story and was accepted by Poolbeg Press.

Do you write every day?

Not every day, but I don’t miss a day if I’m writing a novel – the first draft takes about two months. If I’m writing a short story, it’s three days. In-between, I read, teach part-time, hill walk – let the creative juices refill. When I’m writing a novel, I hit the 1,000 word mark daily. Sometimes it runs smoothly but on other occasions…it’s flog the horse time. Usually morning, early, works best for me.

Do you have an agent, Martin?

No agent. I don’t think it necessary for Ireland, but certainly for outside of the small isle. In any regard, it’s wise to have someone run the eye over a proffered contract, just to see what wriggle room there might be in terms of advance, royalties and so on.

Do you contribute to the marketing /PR of your work?

Very little, which is not nearly enough. Cream usually rises to the top, if it’s cream….or the author’s been dead for a long time.

What’s your opinion of the current world of publishing?

Dwindling advances, harder to get reviewed, the growing dominance of the e-book, a diminishing readership. In one way, it’s become easier to be a writer. Digital world. In another, well… traditional, mainstream publishers (those who pay you for your work), have drastically cut back on their lists. Whereas some years back, they would perhaps give a new author time to hone and develop her skills by signing her for a three book deal; now they rarely – unless they see evidence of a decent commercial return. Which is understandable, I suppose.

On the importance [or not] of literary competitions and awards?

Significantly important, for a number of reasons: it gives the writer something to aim for – even if it simply serves to kick-start his writing; it affords writing practice; success can lead to an agent taking you seriously; even a shortlisting is a plus, especially if the winners go on to do very well. And lastly, well…you might win enough money to buy the time to write. Which is where I’m at, along with very many other writers.

And Indie publishing?

You shouldn’t put a border around creative expression.

Would you consider self-publishing your own work?

Yes, perhaps when the rights to my earlier books are reverted…self-publishing is all the vogue now, and some of the traditional publishing houses have their own self-publishing branches. But people paying money to have their work published….as opposed to it being paid for…which strikes a better chord? It serves a writer well in bad times to remember that a commissioning editor paid for his work. On the flip side, Roddy Doyle came through the self-publishing ranks, which tells you about the snobbery of certain people in publishing houses to whom he submitted. They got it so very wrong about him and a host of other writers. To underscore, no borders should exist when it comes to creative expression/exploration. Borders do exist, if not – they’re put in place. On another note…I once knew a writer who told me she had 100,000 euros to invest in her book…where to with that? Are there monied writers out there? One who can persuade, by weight of his bank account, a trad’ publisher into accepting his work?  I know writers who’ve tried that approach and for one of them, it didn’t pan out – the publisher declined – and his work, by the way, was very good.

What are your feelings on social media for authors and marketing?

Do you mean if I ask my friends to put a starry tall tale on Amazon for my works? Or to defend a work that’s been adversely reviewed? No. I’m not great at telling people how great I am. Anyone who looks at Amazon and sees a writer’s book garnering five stars and no less than, needs to take his head out of his arse and realise he’s been lied to – no book is ever that good  – there’s always a sniper in the grass.

Reviews, handling of?

Negative reviews, mixed, glowing…you try not to get too down about the bad, nor too excited about the good…is it a negative review if the writer learns something from it? Some facet of his craft that might say…okay, that’s the second time a critic has mentioned this – let’s fix it. I find it interesting to see how easy it is for some writers to fill space in certain national newspapers, whereas – take for example, my novel The Broken Cedar: published by a major international publisher that stables the likes of Hemingway – was reviewed by newspapers and magazines in Canada, Australia, the States and the UK, yet didn’t create a ripple here until nominated for the IMPAC. I do think, on the other hand, there exists a critic or three, writers too, who mistakenly think all that’s foreign is gold.

What would you say to aspiring writers?

Read, write, observe, write – that’s the old advice – still pertains,  but add to it – make contacts, use social media, be business wise, learn how to sell yourself. Be pushy to the point of ad nauseam. And believe in yourself.

Write what you know? Agree or Disagree?

Both. Start off by being human…we all know what’s that like.

Six people, living or not, that you would like to share your favourite beverage with?!

Only six? My father; Thomas the Apostle; Mary Magdalene; Charles Dickens; Queen Elizabeth(the virginal variety) and Mona Lisa(with smile). Among the living: too many to mention.

Is there a book by another writer that you wish you had written?

Many. Books I really admire include ‘Disgrace’ by James Coetzee; ‘A Month in the Country’ by Al Carr, and ‘The Restraint of Beasts’ by Magnus Mills…

In closing, Martin – new work we can look out for?

A whodunnit novel features in 2016. Us is due out in June as part of New Island’s Modern Classic series. Working on a book for an Irish soccer international…and in-between trying to bring my novel about an incident during the Irish Civil War to stage. Somewhere in there is a short story screaming to be allowed take wings.

Check out Martin’s Blog:


Photograph courtesy of Errol Farrell.