July Blog: Interview of Author Chris Sheerin
Wednesday July 1, 2015
And while Grave Union takes place during the Civil War (rather than the Revolutionary War—from which springs our Independence Day), Sheerin’s beautiful prose captures the essence of war, the stench of evil, and the natural setting in a manner that awes the reader as much as the most spectacular fireworks display. I am a big fan of Sheerin’s work, and while reading Grave Union last night, I marveled at how this talented author consistently manages to place the reader into whatever scene he sketches. He’s a master of setting, creating mood and tone with his prodigious vocabulary and deep connection to the earth. His themes are subtle, never preachy, and he always manages to surprise the reader with a unique twist or two.
But what, perhaps, surprised me the most with Grave Union, is his excellent grasp of Civil War terminology, parlance, and general knowledge. You see, Chris Sheerin is an Irish author. Most American authors couldn’t have written a better Civil War ghost story!
I met Chris a few years ago on Facebook and decided to read one of this novels. Well, one novel turned into several—and a few of his poetry and erotica books, as well. And I became a fan! Since then, we’ve become colleagues and friends, and I have learned much from him. I urge you to check out his author’s bio and the interview I did with him below, then proceed to the purchase links. If you’re a fan of the classics, like me, you’ll adore his wonderful style of writing.
Chris Sheerin was born in Manchester, but has lived in Derry, Ireland, since 1969. He trained as an electrician, studied Hotel and Tourism Management at Magee College, but has also taught Creative Writing locally. He currently writes and works in security.
His first novel, Chasing Shadows, was published in 2001, and tells the tale of an across-the-divide love affair during the Troubles in 1970’s Derry. Since then, he has published six more novels, ten books of poetry on all subjects, and one self-help book. He also writes erotica under the pen-name Padraig E Griffiths. Most of his books are available in paperback from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk, though all are available as e-books.
- Tell us a bit about yourself and what you are currently working on or promoting.
Hi, Cynthia 😉 I’ve just finished a novel entitled Grave Union. This is a mystery chiller set during the American Civil war. I don’t normally write horror, but I’m still in the process of discovering what I write best. Nor do I particularly like horror, because so many of the stories are predictable: More often than not, you have a house, a hero, a supernatural villain, and dozens of scenarios in which a chase ensues and our hero barely gets away.
I’ve tried to be slightly more original. The hero of this tale is Private Gallant. He is, by all appearances a despicable man who, though the reader may detest his actions, at least has a sound philosophy for acting in the way he does. When he attempts to flee the northern side of the Rappahannock on the eve of the Battle of Fredericksburg, he encounters four orphan girls. Now, he has a chance to make up for all of the things he has done wrong in his life. But, to his horror, he soon discovers that helping others isn’t always easy to do.
- What genre(s) do you write in and why?
I write in every genre there is – or, at least, that is what I seemingly aiming for. It didn’t start that way. The first novel – an historical thriller entitled Chasing Shadows – was set in Derry, N. Ireland during the Troubles of the 1970s. It was well-received by many, but not everyone liked it, and it was described as controversial and unsettling by many newspapers of the time. The next book I wrote – another historical thriller called Days of Rain – was also quite controversial, in that it was set during the 1940s and it is based strongly upon the true story of Herman Goertz and a few of the other Abwehr spies who were sent to Ireland to fashion links with the IRA during that period.
Since then, however, I have written everything. I have penned another four novels: Three Wolves is set in Yellowstone park shortly after the American Civil War, and is related from the perspective of wolves; Consequences of Being is a fictional Greek tragedy set in modern-day southern Ireland; Old Habits Die Hard is a Private Eye yarn set in ‘the city’ in the 1990s USA; and now I’ve just completed Grave Union.
In addition, I’ve written seven or eight poetry books, three hoetry books (rude poetry for the non-discerning lover of the unclean rhyming word), one self-help book entitled One Year from Today, and about seven or eight erotica novellas under the pseudonym of Padraig E Griffiths. Oh, and I’m trying my hand at a few scripts as well, just to keep things fresh.
- Do you have an agent and/or publisher, or are you self-published?
Most of my books are self-published. I have my own imprint name – darkWolf Press – and I do all of my own editing and typesetting. I also make most of my own covers. I won’t say the latter are the best on the market, but they do hold up and people seem to like them.
To be honest, the entire publishing game is in a mess these days, and self-publishing is actually the way to go – initially, at least. A lot of publishers out there are simply interested in taking your money. They will provide the cover for your book, but you do most of the marketing, and, although they may tell you differently when you sign with them, your work isn’t guaranteed to be actually published in book form. It will go into e-book form at the start,, simply because there are no costs involved. After that, they may do a limited run – or they may not even bother – in which your book hits one or two stores at best.
- What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Write your book from start to finish, without overly editing it. I recently read a quote from an author who wrote half a book, then spent a year editing it. But, when he went to write the second half, the story had changed, and so he had to go back and rewrite much of the first half. So, write the book, leave it in its raw form, all the way up until the end. Then edit. You will save yourself so much time.
Then self-publish, and self-promote. Once you have your book out there, you can start looking for agents and publishers, but be discerning. Don’t jump at the first deal you get, because you might waste two or three years of your life in the thrall of someone who really doesn’t care less how far your book goes.
- What are you currently working on?
At the moment, I’m working on the screenplay for Grave Union. Well, I will be after I have a few days off. As I near the end of a novel, I tend to work night and day on it until it is exactly how I want it to be, which I often do to the exclusion of all else. Luckily, I wrote the screenplay for this book before I wrote the book (if that makes sense) and I was advised by an agent to pen the story. I didn’t want to, simply because of all of the studying and research involved, but now I’m glad that I did. People seem to like a good ghost story, and hopefully that is what I now have out there. To see the film of the book, of course, would be nothing short of amazing.
- What makes good writing?
To write well, you will have to ignore what people think and say about your writing. If you allow opinions to sway the direction of your writing, it isn’t your writing. After that, you should write what you want to read. I wanted to read a story narrated from the perspective of wolves, in which their philosophy unfolds in line with the story. So, I wrote Three Wolves, which is still my favorite. I wrote Chasing Shadows feeling that the untold story of the Troubles in Derry should be told. At the time, no one did that: All of the stories of that time followed a political agenda.
I received lots of reviews for that story, some from Irish Senators, some from politicians, and one – which is still available online – from An Phoblacht (a paramilitary newspaper of the period) in which they weren’t all that nice, and ended up calling me a ‘simple bastard’, a term I use in the book to describe my central character.
So, you have to be prepared to receive some sort of flak for your work, though hopefully not to that extent. The thing is, you will be criticized no matter what you write. Should your book sit on the bestseller list for ten years, you will be criticized, so write with that thought in mind and you will write the way you should do.
Oh, and recently, I decided that rude poetry – hoetry – was the way to go. To be honest, I got a lot of flak for that idea, though I did put three short books of it out there (Whore Moans, Whore’s Play, and Whore Nets) before I decided that it might not be the way to go. The people who bought the books liked them, though, so that’s the main thing. And I enjoyed doing something different. Do I regret it? No. You have to go with what you feel, and I enjoyed being creative, even though it was rude.
- With all the demands of an author, how do you keep sane?
I try to live a varied life, Cynthia. I have always participated in sports. In my early years, I was involved in Karate, Judo, Kickboxing, Boxing, Running, Hiking, Marathon running. Now, I do strongman shows – perhaps four or five a year – and so I lift a lot of weight. More recently, I was asked (talked into) competing in a bodybuilding show, which is set for September.
I’m dieting for that at the moment, which isn’t as bad as I thought, though it takes one hell of a lot of time to cook and prepare the right meals. I’m enjoying seeing the changes in my body; and, to be honest, this is perhaps the best I have ever looked, physically, in my life. But my hat has to go off to anyone who competes in that sport and holds down a full-time job. As a writer, I can write anytime, and so I can work around this. But would I bodybuild full-time – not on your life.
- Have you had to make sacrifices for your writing, and if so, what are they?
To become a writer, you have to give up expecting to be published, expecting your book to be a bestseller, and expecting fame to search you out. That will only happen in less than one percent of the authors out there. To be a writer, you have to enjoy sitting down, in privacy and away from the crowd, and putting your thoughts on paper.
I have given up a lot, yes, but nothing that I didn’t want to ultimately give up. I like writing, and that’s what I want to do. But, thirty years on and having received very little for it, I now write for me. If people like my books, so well and so good. But I can’t make them, and I don’t have the time to go chasing after reviews or nice sentiments. If people want to say something nice, excellent, but it’s neither here nor there. So, I have learned to give up on all expectation, and I believe that’s what you must do in order to succeed, perhaps in anything at all.
- Are excellent writers born to the craft, or can they be taught?
I don’t hold with the idea that writing is something you are born to do. I hold with the theory that no matter what you want to do, you can do it – or at least attempt to do it to some degree. The thing is, there are millions of writers out there, and not all of them are very good. But they still write, simply because they want to. And the strange thing is, once a person believes that they are a writer (this applies equally to anything) then it doesn’t matter how ‘bad’ they are perceived to be by the majority: Their love of writing makes them good at it, because they project their story onto paper. This becomes their style, and their style is then accepted by some, if not all. Strangely, that style might then turn out to be the next biggest thing.
For example, if you ask a schoolteacher for a couple of editions of a school magazine, you will learn more about writing in one hour than you will learn in a library in ten years The reason for this is because children group their words together differently (foreigners do this too, when writing English, as we do when we attempt to write in their language) In the case of children, however, we see words grouped together that we would never consider placing together, ever. And there is a simple brilliance in this, which makes you smile and wonder why you haven’t got that skill.
So, writing is also about unlearning to write conventionally. For this reason, anyone who writes is eventually excellent, if they do so consistently and if their message is relayed to the reader.
- Which author would you give credit to for shaping your style of writing?
I like Tanith Lee. She has the most amazing vocabulary, and her ideas are brilliant. Too many modern writers dismiss the value of settings and characterization, and instead go straight to the plot. That’s fine, if you like that sort of thing, but I like to know where I am in a book, and I believe the setting and character-hints should be revealed in line with the progression of the story.
I also like some of Paulo Coelho’s novels, mainly for the simplicity he can impart into a story and the underlying philosophy. To be honest, though, I don’t particularly favor any modern writers, though I do try to read as much as I can when I can. Nor are there any modern novels out there that I would say I’ve especially enjoyed of late. Today’s writers appear to skimp on everything but action. Which is fine, I suppose, because we all like action, though I’d prefer that it was a part of the tale and not the entire story. Of course, who am I to say what’s right? Those kinds of books are the kind people read, so maybe there is something to be said about writing for others/money.
- If you write stories about foreign lands, how do you approach language differences and research to make your work authentic?
Google is God, basically. Years ago, I was never out of the library, but now you can get absolutely anything online with the punch of a few buttons. So research had changed for the better in that respect. What I tend to do is approach it as simply as I can. For example, for Grave Union, I typed in ‘phrases used in 1860s USA’ which I then further refined to Virginia. As you point out in your question, language is important. I also researched uniforms, living conditions in a Union encampment, prevailing diseases of the time, period dress, and food consumed by both sides in the conflict, etc.
To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to that research at all. As I say, I wrote the film script first, and there’s no call for such detail in a script. We all know what a Union soldier looks like, for example, and when we place him in a conflict situation, our mind fills in the gaps. However, I’m happy that I wrote the book now – (I pray there aren’t too many mistakes in it; though, even if there are, they can easily be corrected) – and hopefully my readers will feel the same. By the way, I welcome all constructive criticism on that or any of my books, because that ability to take it on the chin is also part of being a writer.
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Purchase links for Grave Union: