Michael Nolan writes because he has to, because he feels when he gets up in the morning that he has to put sentences together and strive for some sort of coherence. He has had a number of short stories published and is currently working on a full length novel. His debut novella, The Blame, was published by Salt earlier this month.
Michael studied Creative Writing at Liverpool and went on to achieve his MA at Queen’s University, Belfast. We were both raised in Belfast although decades apart and on different sides of the tracks. He may have grown up in a less troubled time, but cities retain their shadows; the disillusioned, disaffected and dispossessed. The Blame is set in Belfast and explores its raw underside along with the lingering influence of paramilitary organisations.
I first came across Michael when Salt began promoting their series Modern Dreams, of which The Blame is a part. I had noticed the call for submissions to this interesting initiative in January so decided to have a look at the writers they had accepted.
Michael’s name came to the fore because of our shared background. Our first communication occurred because I commented with some surprise that Belfast now has its own Book Festival, at which his novella will be introduced and launched by TS Eliot winning poet and Booker Prize Long-listed novelist, Ciaran Carson. He responded that the city has changed, yet his book explores so many aspects that remain the same. He has said that ‘The stagnancy of Belfast interests me. Or at least the people do. Belfast itself frustrates me.’ For me this captures the essence of the place and I wanted to know more about the young man who could express himself so succinctly.
Please welcome to neverimitate, Michael Nolan.
Where do you typically write?
At the moment it’s the breakfast bar in my mother’s kitchen. I’m back living with her in her one and half bedroom house. I say one and a half because the spare room, my current bedroom, is about an arms width wide and a single beds length long. There’s just about room for a set of drawers, a lamp and a floor-full of books. No window. No writing space, sadly. So my mother and I share the kitchen/ living-room area. Me with earphones on, strumming away at words on my laptop, her at her easel painting. Writer and artist, we’ve our own wee creative retreat going on in the centre of Dunmurry village. It’s nice and cramped and hopefully temporary. Now and then I hit a coffee shop or Linen Hall Library if I have the cash for a coffee and a bus, a rare occurrence these days.
Tell us about your writing process.
It differs depending on what I’m working on. Short stories usually come with some sort of image or situation. Then follows an elaboration, a voice and character I have to prod into existence. I don’t linger too long on the first draft. I bang out a few thousand words and see what happens. Then I’ll rewrite and rework until there’s some sort of coherence. Sometimes I set it aside for a few weeks or months and go back to it. Letting it go for a while helps.
The Blame was written in an intense three week burst in January. It’s probably the closest to home I’ve wrote and will write again. It had to be, because I was writing about issues and characters of a certain type I have encountered and knew in Belfast. But it wasn’t intentional. I didn’t set out writing them with the view that this was this person etc. They sort of leaked into the story. It’s only now, looking back, that I realise just how close to home I came. In some cases it was very close. Too close maybe. But the characters are as much me as anyone else. Someone I could’ve been maybe, or have been.
Writing the novel I’m working on now has been a more prolonged process. Again, the first draft came quickly over a couple of months last year. The rest of the time has been spent rewriting and doing the real stuff. The craft. I never used to like this. I never had the patience. I was hungry and eager and far too naïve for my own good. I wrote two novels in a year while doing the MA at Queen’s. It got me an agent, which was incredible, but not published. It took me to get to writing this third novel before I realised that getting the words down was only the beginning of the process.
It was an important moment and lesson for me. Being able to take a step back and be patient. Less of a hungry bastard. And I love it now. I love the cutting and the pulling and discovering what it is I’m trying to say. That’s what it’s all about really.
Tell us about your publishing experience.
My dear friend and wonderful woman Alicia Stubbersfield, knowing well the kind of things I tend to write, sent me a link to Salt’s website with the submission guidelines for Modern Dreams. Contemporary issues, inner-city life, young people. The next day I started writing and it all went from there really.
I got the news while in the cinema. My girlfriend and I had just sat down to watch The Grand Budapest Hotel. I love Wes Anderson films, so I was beyond excited. My packet of Minstrels were fresh open, popcorn perched on my knee and ready to be scoffed when I got the email from Jen Hamilton-Emery on my phone. It was the first time I had walked out of a cinema mid-film, and I felt terribly embarrassed about squeezing past people with my coat in hand. But we had to, and we had to go for a beer, ring my mother and laugh like two kids. It was fantastic. Still haven’t seen The Grand Budapest Hotel, but I’ll always associate it and the Odeon in Victoria Square Belfast with that night.
Being an eBook, the road to publication was quick. Three months between that night and publication. People are buying it and reading it and telling me they like it. It’s wonderful and frightening and a whole lot of other expletives I could go on listing and won’t. I will say Salt are an incredible bunch though. Such a small team (I think it’s just down to Chris and Jen Hamilton-Emery now) yet they are doing some extraordinary work. You only have to look at their authors – Alison Moore, Kirsty Logan, Lesley Glaister – to see that they are at the forefront of independent publishing. It’s wonderful to be part of it.
In what ways do you promote your work?
Well, that’s difficult because there’s a fine line between promoting your work and promoting yourself. I’m a bit uncomfortable with the whole thing. I think writers need to be careful, or at least be aware of what it is they’re doing and what intentions they have, especially on Twitter. Otherwise they become a drone, an endless plug of themselves, all links and amazon reviews and 5 stars.
Having said that, I do like Twitter. I like seeing what other like-minded and not so like-minded people are talking about, and getting my two cents in those rare occasions I have something clever or witty to contribute. That’s what it’s about. The whole interacting thing. Having banter and sharing articles and hearing what other people have to say. It can be good for writers and readers like that. Online publications are much more dynamic now and publishing real strong work. I’m thinking Honest Ulsterman and Colony, both of which use Twitter as an outlet. It’s a platform for them and provides readers with another way to access good writing. You can’t fault that at all.
It’s important for me to see Twitter in that way and not as a tool to create some sort of profile of myself. I hate that ‘author profile’ phrase that gets thrown about. It makes me cringe. But yes, to actually answer the question, I use Twitter, and I admit that I occasionally post a tweet about something I’ve published or a link to my book, but I feel dirty after and have to shower at least five times.
What are some of your current projects?
The novel I’ve previously mentioned is taking up most of my time. Now and then I’ll rewrite a bit of a short story, or dabble in some blog writing, but the novel is my main focus. It needs to be. I don’t want to say much about it though.
Where can my readers find you?
Michael Nolan grew up in West Belfast where he spent much of his youth being up to no good. He was 13 years old when he wrote his first novel, a 100,000 word unfinished rip-off of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings that he was sure would be a bestselling, Booker Prize winner.
He grew up, matured and became less delusional, a bit, and completed a BA in Creative Writing at Liverpool John Moore’s University, then the MA at Queen’s University, Belfast, in 2012. While in Liverpool, he was selected by the Literature Officer at The Bluecoat to read at their ‘Next Up’ writer’s series, and was editor of In the Red Magazine’s 9th issue. He has published several short stories, and won the LJMU Avalon Prize for poetry in 2012.
Since then he has spent much of his time working in bars and nightclubs to keep himself afloat. He divides his time between hopelessly sending out CV’s for better paid jobs, writing books and scrawling through Twitter.
Michael’s debut novella, The Blame, was published by Salt in June 2014. There will be an official launch type celebration featuring an introduction by Ciaran Carson as part of the Belfast Book Festival on the 10th June.