Interview with Paul McVeigh, BSSA 2022 Judge

photo of Paul McVeigh by John Minihan

What a pleasure and absolute thrill it is to welcome Paul McVeigh as our 2022 judge. Jude and I first met Paul at the London Short Story Festival which he co-founded and ran. For many years he has been a significant presence on the international literary scene, having made his mark as a playwright, blogger, teacher, interviewer, festival director and acclaimed author. His debut novel The Good Son captured the heartbreak of ‘The Troubles’ with dark humour and poignance, as seen through the eyes of young Mickey Donnelly. It was an instant hit. Widely reviewed and translated, it was nominated for many awards and won The Polari First Novel Prize and The McCrea Literary Award. It was also chosen as Brighton’s City Reads 2016 and given out as part of World Book Night 2017. Paul’s short stories have been published in anthologies and literary magazines and broadcast on BBC Radio 3,4 and 5 and televised on Sky Arts.
He has taught creative writing across the world from Malaysia to Mexico, throughout Europe and in numerous destinations in the UK, including Bath where he ran a highly successful workshop for us a few years ago. Not to be missed is his blog for writers which posts submission opportunities for journals and competition, gets 40,000 hits a month and has had over 2 million visitors. Paul judges international literary prizes and reviews for The Irish Times, where he has also interviewed authors such as George Saunders and Garth Greenwell. The best place to get to know Paul (unless you bump into him in Belfast where he lives now) is via his website You can also find him on Twitter @paul_mc_veigh

And now over to Paul…

  • At our last interview, you’d just received huge acclaim for The Good Son. What are the key areas you have been involved in since then?

I travelled a lot with The Good Son and luckily that has kept going – excepting Covid times. Writing wise, I’ve been writing some short stories and wrote a play during lockdown which is getting a rehearsed reading at the Lyric Theatre in January.

I’ve just finished a Christmas themed story, being recorded this very day. I edited Southword Journal for a year and that gave me a taste for it. I edited four anthologies – the most recent for my German publisher on Irish writers. At the moment I’m acting Head of Literature for Arts Council NI.

    I’m a writer from a working class background and I know the impact that has on your confidence and the obstacles you have to overcome to be a writer and get published. I think, like many writers/artists who come from a working class background, when you’ve overcome some of those obstacles you want to leave a trail of breadcrumbs for those that come behind. That is ‘The 32’ — 16 new writers getting a lift up by 16 established voices. The stories were memoirs and I was looking for glimpses into working class lives from all over the island of Ireland — inner city to country village.
  • Writing can be a solitary process and we’ve lived in a world of lockdowns. What are the best ways for writers to connect with other writers? How important are courses and keeping up with social media?
    The writing community online is strong. I have communities on Facebook and Twitter. I love the Word Factory for that. We met monthly in Soho and talked short stories and attended the masterclasses. Many of us have gone on to publish our own books. Courses are a great way of connecting with other writers during the breaks … and you can always go for that drink afterwards and also get readers for your work. Reading their’s hones your skills too.
  • What are your thoughts on beginnings?

It’s an interesting one, every competition judge I asked all said the same the thing, that they knew who the winner was from the first page. Most said, from the first paragraphs, even the first lines. I find this to be true.

  • Do you have any tips for short story writers entering a competition?
    Give it everything you’ve got. Open yourself up, find that private you, dive in and swim around. Be that voice that is yours alone.
  • Which authors should all aspiring short story writers read?
    So many … Colin Barrett, Kevin Barry, Claire Keegan, Danielle McLaughlin, George Saunders… I could be here all day.

Interview by Jane, December 2021

BREAKING NEWS: Paul is excited to announce that the Christmas short story he referred to in the interview will be broadcast on Christmas Day on BBC Radio 4.

He writes on Facebook: ‘I’ve always loved Christmas. I love short stories. To write a short story to be aired on Christmas Day on BBC Radio 4 is such an honour. I can’t imagine anything in my career matching the buzz of being part of the Christmas Day schedule. That I can write a story about a gay man to go out on Christmas Day feels like such a moment too. Thanks to producer Michael Shannon for commissioning me and Bill Maul on sound. Special thanks to actor Tony Flynn who reads it brilliantly.’

Note: If you miss it on Christmas Day, you can access it here or on BBCiPlayer