Comprising a panel of debut authors, Juliet Conlin, Neil McKay and the winner of the Dundee International Book Prize 2013, Nicola White, “The Road to Publication” gave a detailed insight into the process of emerging in print, from the initial approach to writing to ultimate completion of a work. The hour-long session was structured around a reading from each author, then broadened into a general discussion of the panel’s differing paths to authorship, culminating with a short question and answer session.
First to present a short reading from his novel All the Little Guns Went Bang Bang Bang was McKay, a native of Antrim, Northern Ireland, whose background in investigative journalism and editing along with previous experience in non-fiction publishing were discussed as key contributory factors to his first venture into fiction. The novel, which McKay described as a “blackly comic love story”, a “picaresque, violent adventure”, is set in the 1980s in McKay’s home town of Antrim and, on the evidence of his reading, is a novel extremely conscious of its socio-political context. The reading itself, taken from the beginning of his novel, was fast-paced and highly engaging and seemed to capture a sense of authenticity in the run-down setting of Antrim’s Parkhall Estate. Through this familiarised setting, McKay displayed an attention to detail in his descriptions of sectarian murals and graffiti, which lent a sense of the larger political landscape, ignored and normalised by his young characters. This cultural consciousness in McKay’s prose was perhaps best encapsulated by his description of a church resembling more a “bomb shelter than a place of worship”, a startling image in itself but is, when set against the socio-political background of Northern Ireland, one which takes on a multitude of cultural associations and meanings.
Where McKay’s reading was gritty and fast-paced in its delivery, Juliet Conlin’s confident, controlled reading from her novel, The Fractured Man, a 1920s psychological thriller, enhanced the her intricate, highly descriptive prose style. Informed by her background in academic psychology and a keen interest in the historical, Conlin’s short passage explored the drama of familial loss and dissolution. Eschewing melodrama, Conlin’s reading showed an elegance of prose and specificity of setting, all communicated through a distant narrative voice.
Nicola White, a former BBC producer and published poet, also gave a brief reading from her Dundee International Prize winning debut novel, In the Rosary Garden, a Dublin mystery set in the 1980s. Her reading was beautifully executed, drawing attention to the rhythmic style of her prose, as well as highlighting concerns of motherhood, gender and societal pressures.
Following these contrasting yet equally enjoyable readings, the panel were invited to discuss something of their progress towards authorship and answer a number of questions from the floor. McKay’s background in journalism once again came to the fore as he expressed his idea of creative ownership and the vision he had for his novel during the editing process, concluding that “it’s my book after all”. Indeed McKay revealed he went as far as to sack two agents who tried to enforce creative changes upon him. He also commented on the financial disparity between writing fiction and non-fiction, and writing fiction as part of an already established writing career. Conlin discussed her difficulty with the editing process – her novel took over four years to re-write – likening her attempts at translating her novel into German to “performing surgery on a beloved child”. Finally, White, a full time writer (in contrast to both Conlin and McKay), commented on the positive effects of collaborative editing and encouraged prospective writers to persevere, despite the “strange experience” of repeated rejection from publishing houses. This was a positive note on which to conclude a lively and illuminating session.