As you may recall, I recently reviewed My Heart’s Choir Sings, a novella in verse by Maureen Flynn. It’s been awhile since I’ve done an interview for the blog. To remedy this, I used this opportunity to jump back into my reviewing shoes all while answering some questions I had about the author and novella.
I hope you learn something new about Maureen and her book, and if you’d like to check it out, you can find out more at the end of the interview.
Can you tell a little about yourself and your writing background?
I have always loved reading and writing genre fiction, especially fantasy. I wrote poetry on the side to deal with teenage angst so it is pretty ironic that my first publication is a book in verse! Now I can’t stop writing stories in poetry. My current project is a verse novel that retells the story of Merlin. Its tentative title is Harp Song and I hope to have it out at the end of the year.
I studied history and politics and am currently studying to become a teacher. People say that working with young people helps you to write great stories and I think there is some truth in this. Kids want to be entertained but they aren’t as dumb as people make them out to be. They grasp a lot about the adult world and sometimes they sense its ugly truth. I think this is why I love young adult genre fiction. The best doesn’t talk down to the reader but it’s still full of imagination and fun.
You call My Heart’s Choir Sings a verse novella. Can you explain that concept to the readers?
It was a tough call. I didn’t know what to call My Heart’s Choir Sings. It isn’t quite a themed collection, in that there is a complex relationship story in the 25 poems but it isn’t long enough to be a verse novel either. It also isn’t a linear story to throw a spanner in the works. I settled on verse novella, or a story told in poetry in a novella size, because to me this highlights the fact that there is a concrete story that links these poems. I have had readers say that the poems can stand alone, but ultimately, each poem works best as a whole.
What will readers find within the novella? Does it deal with any particular themes?
Think Ted Hughes Birthday Letters meets Dorothy Porter’s verse novels and you’d have My Heart’s Choir Sings. This is the story of Stewart Hinchcliffe, a writer and an artist who loses his lover and fellow creative in tragic circumstances. As he cleans out their old apartment, each new object brings back bittersweet memories. Throughout the 25 poem sequence, grief, guilt and anger color his memories. Who is to blame for what happened? Where did everything go wrong? And how on earth does Stuart move on from his past?
As the above synopsis indicates, this is a novella of relationships, to be exact, one relationship gone wrong. Stewart feels so much love and grief and guilt as he remembers his dead lover and that’s drenched throughout ‘his’ poetry. In reality, it is his extended eulogy to this dead woman. Reoccurring motifs are books and words, the colour blue and the ocean as well as emotional failure to communicate. It’s a sad story but it ends on a note of hope.
I know one of your influences for this book is Dorothy Porter. What is it about her writing that influences you the most?
I discovered Dorothy Porter in a first year university subject and never looked back. I always thought that poetry was rules based and had to have a specific structure. The only real experience I’d had with free verse poetry was that most of it was pretty awful. What Porter introduced to me was this idea of a verse novel that tells a story, whilst still being well written verse that packs an emotional punch. All of Porter’s novels are sharp and sexy and emotional and meaty. She said so much with so little. It is dreadfully sad that she died so young.
What’s next? Do you have more poetic projects on the horizon or will you be sharing some prose work in the near future?
As I briefly mentioned earlier, I am working on a full-length verse novel about Merlin of King Arthur fame. I have always liked and read a lot of Arthurian legend and literature. As a kid I devoured Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy and this verse novel owes a lot to her historical vision of Dark Ages Britain. I am roughly a quarter of the way through and going strong. I’ll bang out a first draft and then get my editor in and start drawing out the themes and motifs and cleaning up the verse.
I am also working on a bunch of speculative fiction short stories to market to Australian magazines this year, as well as a young adult fantasy novel or two. I will hopefully be working with a fantasy author this year too so there is definitely a lot happening!
Who are some of your other favorite authors and books?
I actually hate this question because I find this so hard to answer. So many books have shaped and inspired my writing. Favourite authors include Isobelle Carmody, Philip Pullman, Juliet Marillier, Lemony Snicket and Agatha Christie. I read less poetry but I love the verse novels of Dorothy Porter, the work of Ted Hughes and I recently enjoyed The Prophet by Khalil Gibran.
So far, having just recently released your debut self-published book, are you enjoying the experience of being on this side of the publishing world? Is it a little scary? Rewarding? Educational? Haha, there seems to always be something else to learn right around the corner.
I had no illusions about self publishing poetry. Poetry is a niche market and I am a young writer with no formal qualification in poetry, publishing, of all things, a verse novella. How much more obscure can I get?
Yes, self publishing has been scary because putting your work out to the public is always scary, but it’s been rewarding and fun to have a readership, even if only a small one currently.
It has definitely been educational! I always intended to self publish as an experiment because I think it’s something every aspiring author should know about. I intend to continue to self publish my poetry, but to try and get my genre prose works published by a mainstream publisher. Wish me luck!
You can find more on Flynn…