We talked to Paula McGrath about her journey towards becoming a published author. Paula will take part in our Mastering the Deal: Life after the Creative Writing MA event.
Q: Earlier this year you published your debut novel, Generation, with John Murray Originals: can you give us a brief overview of your journey to becoming a published author?
I wrote for years in fits and starts while doing other things with my life. It took me a long time to get serious, and when I did I took classes and studied books on the craft. And I read: I read the kinds of books I wanted to write, paying attention to how they did what they did; I read my contemporaries; and I read as an act of support for ‘the literary project’ I hoped to participate in. The many lessons learned along the way are instantiated in Generation, and, thanks to my agent, Ger Nichol, it fell onto the right desk at the right time.
Q: How important has it been for you personally to have done a Creative Writing MA/MFA?
The focus of the MFA at UCD was on completing a longer work, which meant small groups and very high quality feedback. Close analysis of classic texts forced the same level of analysis of my own book. The pedagogy course (and teaching), which included developing a creative writing course curriculum, forced me to think about how fiction works by breaking down into its elements, as well as through more philosophical discussions such as why we write at all, and where the impulse to create comes from, all of which fed into my own work. Without the MFA I would have finished a book anyway—I have four others under the bed to prove it— but it would not have been the same book.
Q: You’ve published your work in numerous journals: what role do these play in helping the budding author become a published one?
Novels are slow and the writerly ego fragile, so the little wins along the way matter. It is important to read the journals you are submitting to because the better the fit, the better your chances (and because without readers, they won’t exist). There is a conception that it’s important for writers to build publication credits—a ‘platform’— and I did submit to journals (and start a blog) partly for this reason, but in the end I don’t believe they were a factor in getting my book published – it was all about the book itself.
Q: What advice would you offer someone who is hoping to become a professional writer? What would you say to your younger self?
Workshops/classes/MFAs are not essential but they can speed up the process of learning the craft; read.