Into the Thoughts of Matthew McFarland

Matthew McFarland

He looks, he sees and filters his perceptions through his own lens, then spins them into stories he must, somehow, give life to on paper (more likely a computer), and then share with others. You might say that Matthew McFarland is thoughtful in this way. Sometimes, to the extent that he might seem like he is elsewhere even in company with those he loves. And yet, to Matthew, his loved ones—a partner and their four-year old boy—do come first and that fact is what he wants to be remembered by.

I was, at first, not certain how I would interview Matthew. My initial request for him to tell me all he could about himself elicited a narrative much like a résumé. Understandable, of course: We were strangers to each other and, therefore, a bit wary. But it did not give me much of a sense of what was unique about him.

More questions later, though, I found a young man who impressed me for being observant, thoughtful, with well-considered opinions and, perhaps, a tendency to strive for perfection. One no doubt shaped by his education (a Masters degree in Psychology) but probably more so by experiences unknown to many of us because he was born and grew up in Belfast before Northern Ireland and Britain reached a long drawn-out viable agreement for peaceful coexistence. He now lives with his family just outside of that city and has a day job managing social research projects.

Matthew has just startied publishing his work and from what I’ve seen of it, I am rather curious to see where and how far he will take his journey into the art and craft of writing.

The first two stories that I read in your book can happen anywhere. Has growing up in Belfast (and vicinity) had any influence on your work?

Firstly, I’m not sure the first two stories give a fair representation of all the others in the collection, but they are my favourites! Certainly they will give you an idea of my style, but not content. The story entitled ‘what have you done’ is very much influenced by The Troubles (Northern Ireland conflict), and is based on my own experiences. In terms of the other stories, I think there is a theme running throughout which questions faith, belief and fate, as well as death. I believe my own views on, and fascination with these themes are most definitely influenced by where I grew up. I think that living in Scotland for five years from the age of eighteen also gave me distance from the events in Northern Ireland, which i think helps give perspective.

A propos the themes in your short stories: would yours more likely fall into literary rather than genre fiction? What does that mean to you?

I suppose that I would shy away from ‘genre fiction’, both writing and reading it, as I think there is no better experience than opening a book and being taken somewhere that you never expected to be. For me that is the joy of reading. In general, and of course in every genre there are exceptions, I think that genre fiction by nature has to be written to accepted formulae, which is limiting to the writer and reader. Besides, I believe that any great book should be able to appeal to people right across the board. I have read outstanding books in plenty of different genres.

As for my book being classed as literary fiction, it’s not a term that I’m particularly comfortable with, because I think that more than anything it relates to the traditional publishing industry, and marketing rather than content. I looked up the definition of literary fiction on Wikipedia, and to be honest I think what you find there (“introspective, in-depth character studies” of “interesting, complex and developed” characters”, “focus is on the “inner story” of the characters who drive the plot with detailed motivations to elicit “emotional involvement” in the reader”, “elegantly written, lyrical, and … layered”) are things which should be the aim of any piece of writing. I tend to agree with John Updike, who said “the category of ‘literary fiction’ has sprung up recently to torment people like me who just set out to write books, and if anybody wanted to read them, terrific, the more the merrier.”

Why do you feel compelled to write?

I write because I enjoy it, and feel an urge to. I love to hear what people think of my writing, and I love having made them think, but ultimately I write for myself. I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant.

I guess that writing helps me to organise the thoughts which seem to run riot through my head. My partner likes to joke that she hates going out for dinner with me, because I pay much more attention to what is going on around us than I do to her. I can’t stop myself from imagining who people are, their backgrounds, their situation, their hopes and dreams. I find that writing is very cathartic. I like engaging with people, manipulating their thoughts and imaginations through the medium of storytelling.

Where and how far do you think will you take your writing? Any future writing projects planned?

I have plans to publish another collection of short stories, probably in the New Year. I tend to write short stories quite frequently – i get lots of little ideas all the time which form the basis of a story, so it’s just a matter of picking the best ones, giving them a little polish and structure then putting them out there.

I also have the outline completed for a novel. The book is based in Belfast in the 1930s and 1940s, a hugely interesting time for the city. Belfast was an important port and shipbuilding hub in those years, and was targeted by the Luftwaffe accordingly during WWII. My story centres around a building called the Floral Hall, which was a dance hall in the pre- and post-war years, and later hosted bands such as Pink Floyd. It has sat derelict and empty since the 1970s, in the grounds of what is now Belfast Zoo. There is a lot of research involved as I’m sure you can imagine, and i don’t want to rush it so I’m not putting any kind of time constraint on it – it will be done when it’s done.

What do you think of the indie book “revolution”?

I think that the current revolution in publishing can only be a good thing. Excellent books that otherwise might not have been traditionally published will see the light of day. Traditional publishers obviously have to be cautious when choosing what to put out there, as they are in it for profit. With genuinely viable self-publishing becoming so easy, there is much less risk involved.

I also think that there will inevitably be an increase of books on the market that shouldn’t have been published, whether due to poor quality of writing or because there is no demand for them. This means that book review sites, blogs and communities such as Goodreads.com or librarything.com will become immensely important in helping to sort the wheat from the chaff. In my experience the advent of social media like twitter, and authors using sites like goodreads has been a fantastic innovation, providing insight and personal contact with their audience which has never before been present.

The Literary/Genre Fiction Continuum
Why genre fiction isn’t what you think it is (and why literary fiction isn’t either)
It’s Genre. Not That There’s Anything Wrong With It! (newyorker.com)

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