Why Paul McVeigh is providing an outlet for working-class voices

Paul McVeigh is hoping to crowdfund a new anthology, writes Marjorie Brennan

Why Paul McVeigh is providing an outlet for working-class voices

Paul McVeigh is hoping to crowdfund a new anthology, writes Marjorie Brennan

When Paul McVeigh’s first book The Good Son, a coming-of-age novel about a 10-year-old boy growing up in Belfast, was published in 2015, it was everything an author could hope for — critical acclaim, prizes, and a place on many ‘best of’ lists — but for McVeigh, it was a hard-won success.

“It came out when I was 45; I know lots of writers who come to writing later on in life because there is a financial pressure to get out and earn money or because the arts is something they thought they could never make a living at,” says the Belfast writer.

While writing is a tough business across the board, McVeigh knows better than most the particular challenges facing working-class writers who aspire to make a living from literature.

“There were 11 of us in a two-bedroom house when I was a kid; I didn’t have a room to study in or a desk in my bedroom, of course all those environmental things make a huge difference. My mother was working two jobs, as a cleaner by day and a waitress at night.

You don’t have someone doing your homework with you, encouraging you to read, regular sleep times.

“I was the only person in my family to go to university and that was because I was the second youngest. My mother left school at 14, my two brothers left at 15, they didn’t even take their exams. The pressure was to go out and work and bring money in for the family.

You don’t have that in a middle-class family — no middle-class family is going to encourage their child to leave school early and go out and work.

McVeigh was one of the featured writers in the hugely successful crowd-funded collection Common People, which was initiated by author Kit de Waal to showcase the work of working-class writers, mainly in Britain.

The positive feedback for the project has inspired McVeigh to launch and edit his own version titled The 32: An Anthology of Irish Working Class Writers, with crowdfunding publishers Unbound.

Like Common People, it will be a collection of essays and memoir, bringing together 16 well-known writers and other public figures from working-class backgrounds with an equal number of emerging writers from all over the island of Ireland.

“We’ve got an amazing line-up of writers, including Roddy Doyle, Kevin Barry, Danielle McLaughlin and Lisa McInerney, as well as contributions from people like Senator Lynn Ruane and [broadcaster] Rick O’Shea,” says McVeigh.

While the class system in Ireland may not be as clearly delineated as that in Britain, McVeigh says working-class writers here face many of the same barriers to being published.

“I doubt whether any working-class person would say their class has not affected them in some way, whether that is in terms of opportunities or access — for example, when your parents help you buy your first flat or you come out of uni and a relative helps get you a job.

None of those things happen for you when you’re working-class.

“A friend of mine got a book deal because she was sitting beside an editor from a publishing house at a dinner party. Of course, she is incredibly talented and she wouldn’t have got published if she wasn’t but if you’re not in that environment, it has an impact.”

As for successful writers who say being working-class hasn’t hindered them, McVeigh says that doesn’t negate the need for more representation.

“I’m not trying to take away from anyone’s successes. There are examples of successful working-class writers but there still aren’t enough.

"We just need to hear more of our stories, that’s it, and that is what this collection is about. I’ve done alright but I’m not on Everest either — I am saying, I’m 51 now, here is what I have learned so far.

"Here is an opportunity that I’m in a position to help with. I have already mentored a writer for a year… and that absolutely comes from me being working-class.

All of our doors were open in the street and we shared what we had, we looked after each other. I guess this is kind of a modern equivalent.

- To support The 32: An Anthology of Irish Working Class Voices, click here

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