September 12, 2011

A chat with Sheila McClarty

We caught up with THIN AIR 2011 presenter Sheila McClarty, and asked her a few questions about writing. Here is what she had to say...

When did you start writing?
“I began writing with the goal of publication in my forties. However, as a teenager and young adult I wrote many stories and bad poetry, which I kept to myself. Secretly, I have wanted to be a writer as far back as I can remember.

One of my fondest memories was when a story of mine was chosen by my grade twelve English teacher to read to the class. I don’t recall too many details of the story except that it was about a young woman out deer hunting. Funny, but this recognition for my writing still makes me smile.”    

How did you decide what you wanted to write about?
“Characters for my stories come from a variety of places. Often the gesture of a stranger in a public place such as a restaurant will spur my imagination of a character. Also reading other writers’ work provides inspiration for characters and or setting for my stories.

I rarely write to theme in my initial drafts; it is only after several rewrites that I begin to address theme. I often write the main idea into a single sentence and place it under the title. I find that this helps with the direction of the story and also focuses the details I choose to reveal about my characters.”

How do you usually write? 
“My preference is to write first thing in the mornings, otherwise procrastination gets the better of me. I like to write for several hours and then take my dog for a walk. I find it difficult to be inside all day, and often take walks to ruminate over my characters and their situations.

Luckily I own an energetic Irish Setter that is more than pleased to accommodate these frequent outings and distracted enough to ignore my persistent mumbling to myself.

I prefer to write when I am home alone, and if the house becomes chaotic, I take my laptop to one of the local libraries. I tend to do my research in the evenings, and I find that this makes me want to write first thing in the mornings. All of this being said, there are many times that I become so involved in a story that I write during every free moment and late into the night.”

How do you feel about presenting your work at THIN AIR 2011?
“I am excited about presenting my work at Thin Air and humbled to be amongst such fine writers.”

What advice could you provide to someone attempting to publish his or her first piece? 
“My advice would be to submit to a publication which features the genre and style of your own piece of writing. And then to continue on with your next story, and not wait for the fate of the submitted story. If the story returns with a rejection note with suggestions, I would read these very carefully to understand the editor’s point of view.

Once, I received critical feedback from one of the judges for a story that was a finalist in a national short story contest. Usually the judge’s comments are very complimentary, so at first I was taken aback, but after considerable thought, I realized that these comments were spot on and proved to be extremely helpful in the rewriting of that piece and future stories.”

If you could meet one writer, who would it be and why? 
“There are so many writers that I admire, and it is very difficult to choose only one. Recently I read Alexander Macleod’s debut collection of short stories entitled, Light Lifting. Macleod’s writing is both elegant and muscular at the same time.

He manages to make the reader experience their own physicality pushed to the limit. I tend to read short story collections from start to finish, but with Light Lifting, I had to take a break between stories to catch my breath. I would love to meet Alexander Macleod and ask him, How do you manage to do this?

Here's Sheila! We can't wait to have her onstage at THIN AIR 2011...

Sheila McClarty graduated from the University of Toronto with a Master of Social Work degree. Her short stories have appeared in various magazines, including Grain, The Antigonish Review and The Fiddlehead. Her debut story collection, High Speed Crow (Oberon) won the Eileen McTavish Sykes Award for Best First Book at the 2011 Manitoba Book Awards. Thomas Trofimuk, in The Winnipeg Review, writes, "Listen, forget the tags Winnipeg writer, or Canadian writer; McClarty is just a damn find writer." She lives outside Oak Bank MB with her husband, two teenage children and a herd of horses.

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