William Wall is a prize-winning author of four novels, a volume of short fiction and three poetry collections, the most recent of which is Ghost Estate. His novel This Is The Country was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2005 and shortlisted for The Irish Book Awards.
William’s poetry and short fiction have won numerous accolades including several Listowel Writers’ Week prizes, The Virginia Faulkner and the Sean O’Faolain Awards. He has also written for children. His work has been translated into numerous languages and he translates from Italian. A full-time writer, he reviews for the Irish Times and is an occasional contributor to other journals.
We’re delighted that William is directing our 3-Day Novel – Getting Started Workshop during Listowel Writers’ Week which runs this year from 27th May – 31st May 2015.
Q. Who were your literary influences growing up?
A. I’ve never known what my influences were but I know what books I loved growing up. They were the usual books that you would find in a country household in the 1960s in Ireland: RL Stevenson, Dickens, my mothers detective stories, Waltons Irish Songs and Ballads, countless westerns, but also a Collected Poems of WB Yeats and a copy of Goodbye to the Hill. The book I loved most as a young boy was Treasure Island.
Q. When did you first start writing stories and poetry?
A. I started writing poetry and stories around twelve or thirteen years of age. I became seriously ill at that time and spent a lot of time in bed. In a way I wrote stories because I could no longer do other things. I wrote poetry because I wanted to imitate the ballads and later Yeats. If I could have written a song that anyone would sing I think I would have regarded it as a real achievement. I’d still love to do that. Songs have lives that poems don’t.
Q. You also write children’s books. In what way is it different to writing for adults?
A. I haven’t written a children’s book for many years and then it was because I was writing for my own children. They were aimed at their interests – history, the sea, adventure. They were boys’ stories, for the most part, heavily influenced by Robert Louis Stevenson. I thought about them in a completely different way to how I think about my adult fiction, but I spent just as much effort on the language and characterisation.
Q. How do your structure your writing day?
A. I wake early – six in summer, seven in winter and start with coffee. Then I work for two hours, eat breakfast, work for three hours. I write best in the morning and I try to keep the mornings free. I sometimes return to it in the evenings, but that tends to be editing. I work on a laptop and I throw nothing out. Sometimes material discarded as unnecessary or useless finds its own usefulness in a later piece of work. Over the years, those morning hours, especially the first two, have become sacred.
Q. What projects are you currently working on?
A. I’m working on a novel, as always, and I’m superstitious of talking about it. I find talking about a book in advance often talks it away. Too many good books were published over a pint or two and never got written down. I’m also working pretty continuously now in translating Italian poetry. It started as an occasional pastime, but I’ve become more and more serious about it.
Q. You won two Listowel Writers’ Week Competitions. Did you find that helpful for your subsequent writing career?
A. Yes, I won The Single Poem and The Poetry Collection Competitions. They came at a crucial time for me because they led to my first book, Mathematics & Other Poems. Every prize acts as a kind of shot in the arm. I later launched the book at Listowel Writers’ Week. I think prizes are important, as long as the writer knows that not winning one is not a judgement on her or his work but an expression of the taste of the judges.
Q. What are your impressions of Listowel Writers’ Week?
A. I first started to go there when I was a teenager because my parents took their one week’s holidays to coincide with it. It was a tremendous experience for a boy from East Cork. I still think it is one of the best literary festivals I have ever attended.
Q. Can you give an overview of what you’ll be covering in your workshop?
A. I’m looking at starting the novel, so I’m hoping the people who attend will be at that point, or returning to that point perhaps. I’ll be looking at openings, hooks, withholding information, characterisation, language, the question of plotting in advance (should you or shouldn’t you?) and anything else that comes up. I don’t have any magic formula and where writing is concerned there are no guarantees, but I hope that the workshop will help people to see their work from a different angle and perhaps get them started, or get the start working the way they want it to.
You can book a place on William Wall’s Workshop here