Wednesday, August 26, 2015

APRI PRESENTS: Interview with Author Brendan Landers


Brendan Landers is an award-winning journalist, short story writer and 
novelist. His short fiction has won prizes in the Dunlavin Arts Festival Short Story 
Competition (2006), the James Plunkett Memorial Award (2004), the Sunday 
Tribune/Education Matters Short Story Competition (1996) and the Toronto Star Short 
Story Competition (1995). Other accolades include Canada's Off The Wall Award for 
Fiction (1993) and the Ontario Women's Press Club Award for Excellence in Writing 
(1989). His short stories have appeared in publications such as Whispers & Shouts 
(Ireland), The Sunday Tribune (Ireland), Ireland's Own (Ireland), Ireland's Eye 
(Canada), The Celtic Connection (Canada), The Toronto Star (Canada), The White Wall 
Review (Canada) and Storyteller Magazine (Canada). Brendan writes regular columns 
for Suburbia Magazine and Upside Dublin. His journalism has also been published in a 
wide variety of Irish, British, Canadian and US publications, including The Irish Times, 
The Globe and Mail (Canada), The Vancouver Sun, This Magazine, Compass Magazine 
and Emmy Magazine (USA). He has guested on Sunday Miscellany and the Ryan Tubridy 
Show (RTE Radio),  Hearts and Minds (BBC TV), Newstalk Radio, CBS News (USA) 
and the BBC World Service. He is the former Publisher/Managing Editor of Ireland's 
Eye, a magazine for Irish Canadians, and the former Editor of the Irish Canada News, a 
Toronto-based monthly newspaper. He has written for a number of other publications 
that cater to the expatriate Irish community and people of Irish ancestry, including 
Irish America Magazine (New York), The Irish Post (Great Britain), The Irish Echo 
(Australia), The Celtic Connection (Vancouver) and The Toronto Irish News.

APRI: Do you have a specific writing style?

BL: I'm a Gemini and this may have something to do with why in my craftwork I have more than one writing  style. My published novel, Milo Devine, which is now available on Amazon as an e-book, is a political thriller with a protagonist who is a private detective. My writing style in this genre is crisp, sharp, fast-moving with short sentences and paragraphs, inspired very much by Film Noir and old-school crime writers like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and James Elroy.

I am currently working on a literary novel and in this, and in my short stories I tend to employ a more expansive, descriptive prose style and more extensive use of metaphors and similes and suchlike.

And in my journalism, well, the market dictates that I adapt my style somewhat to the medium or publication for which I am writing.

APRI: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside family members.

BL: Ghosts. It's ghosts who keep me going at times when the spirit wavers and I get to thinking of trees falling in forests and wondering if anyone out there is listening to my noise. Mostly the ghosts of dead writers. The ghost of John Steinbeck, who warmed himself up for his writing day by writing letters to friends and colleagues (my predilection for writing first manifested itself in my early habit of writing letters to anyone and everyone who would read them). The ghost of William Butler Yeats ( appropriately enough in this year when we celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth) whose talent for evocative language and imagery was dazzling, wide ranging and breath-taking. The ghost of Frank McCourt whose gift for writing only spread its wings and was widely recognized when he was in his sixties. And the ghosts of all those writers, such as James Plunkett, Solzhenitsyn, Lorca, Marquez who worked to illuminate the human spirit, resist injustice and change the world.

APRI: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

BL: I always wrote. Letter. Diaries. Limericks. Poems when I was in my teens and tweens. It was an innate thing, an irresistible force in my makeup, and I did it almost without thinking of the impulses that were driving the engine.

APRI: Do you have any unique talents or hobbies?

BL: Unique talents - does this mean that I'm allowed to shamelessly brag and boast and sing my own praises? Well, so - I think I have a bit of a talent for loving and I like to love large. This is not a philanthropic urge; it's selfish. Selfish is the best sense. I only really identified its nature when I heard a talk by a Dublin-based priest, Peter McVerry, who has devoted his life to working with the homeless; when a person in the audience commented that this was a great sacrifice and the homeless should be grateful to him, Peter shook his head and said no, God is Love and it's he (Peter) who should be grateful because by accepting him into their lives those people offer him the chance to work and love among them. I'm an agnostic but I totally get what the man was saying. And so I must be grateful for this little talent of mine. I think it finds its ways into most of my work, especially my newspaper and magazine columns about family and relationships.

APRI: What can we expect from you in the future?

BL: I have written a sequel to the Milo Devine novel and am hoping to do a series of books featuring the Milo Devine character. I am seeking a publisher. The novel on which I am currently working is about life in Ireland in the age of austerity. It's called Buster's Last Stand and it's about a man grappling with his ambitions for himself and his loved ones, set against the backdrop of a community dealing with the havoc wreaked on it by the implementation of the neo-liberal agenda that is so much in vogue nowadays.

I also continue to write newspaper and radio columns and blogs. I have a number of short stories written about fatherhood and at some time I would like to do a story collection on that subject.

APRI: Do you have any tips for readers or advice for other writers trying to get published?

BL: Do the work, keep trying and heed Beckett: Fail, Fail again. Fail better.

APRI: What are the most important elements of good writing? According to you, what tools are must-haves for writers?

BL: What do you mean by good? It's such a subjective thing. Must-have tools are a stout heart, something to say and persistence. And practice!

APRI: What is the hardest part of writing for you?

BL: Getting started, avoiding distraction and staying the course. In my earlier years the frequent rejection that is part and parcel of the writing life was painful but now I don't give a shite about that.

APRI: If you were writing a book about your life, what would the title be?


APRI: What triggers your story ideas?

BL: Life.

APRI: What impact, if any, do you feel the advent of e-readers has had on increased interest in short stories?

BL: I suppose e-readers make everything more accessible. The short story does seem to be enjoying some popularity now. I don't know if this is because of the brevity inspired by technology and the attendant shorter attention spans - e.g. flash fiction - or if short stories are just coming into fashion. If you live long enough, you see everything come back for another run around the block. Flash fiction is supposed to be new but sure isn't the Bible full of it. The most conscise and full sentence ever written is in there - "Jesus wept".

APRI: Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you?

BL: Yes. It's an old Native American saying - "He who is about to tell the truth should have one foot in the stirrup."

APRI: Do you have a favorite writing space or a place you go to for inspiration?

BL: I complete the act of writing in my office at home but I find that a lot of inspiration occurs to me when I'm mellowing out in the sauna and Jacuzzi at the gym.

APRI: Is there a specific short story that made such an impression on you that you have never forgotten it?

BL: I can answer those questions together. I have two favorite short stories, both of which I first read many moons ago and both of which are both just bursting with humanity - The Confirmation Suit  by Brendan Behan Guests of the Nation by Frank O' Connor which, I think at least partly inspired the plotline of the Neil Jordan movie The Crying Game.  I am also a fan of the short stories of the great New York writer Damon Runyon - showing my 62 years here. On a more contemporary note, the collection  The Deportees by my fellow Dubliner, Roddy Doyle, is brilliant.

APRI: What are the things you're most proud of having written, from any time in your life?

BL: I was chuffed when my first published short story appeared in a publication called Ireland's Own  back in 1984. And again when my first novel first appeared in shops in 2001. But there are two pieces of which I think I am most proud. When I was 14 years old I wrote a letter to the newspapers complaining about the use of corporal punishment, which was then in use in Irish schools. The letter was published and caused a bit of ruckus and its publication lit a fire in my heart which was never extinguished. Then, in 2009, I wrote a column in the Irish Times about my anger and disappointment at the corruption and incompetence which I had perceived in Irish governance since I returned in 2001 from 17 years living in Toronto; the positive response to this piece by Irish exiles from all over the world was phenomenal and I was immensely touched and pleased to have articulated their feelings.

APRI: What's the strangest or most interesting thing you've ever written about or researched for a writing project?

BL: Probably the most emotionally intense subject I have written about was the Irish famine graveyard on the island of Grosse Ile in Quebec, where millions of the refugees who fled the Irish Great Hunger of the 1840s landed - and where thousands of them died horrifically, as did many of the wonderful Canadian volunteers and officials who tended them. The Irish President Mary Robinson mad an official visit to the island in 1994 and I covered the occasion for the magazine., Irish America. The experience had a profound effect on me and actually shifted my sense of identity so that now I identify myself as not just Irish, but of the Irish Diaspora.

APRI: How do outside forces influence or shape your writing?

BL: Falling in love. Fatherhood. Injustice. Fun. Such things give my work substance and passion.

APRI: Why do you write?

BL: As the Irish playwright Hugh Leonard said, "Writing is a disease.". I'd go along with that. And it's a disease with no cure.

APRI: What's your take on blogs and the burgeoning onilne media culture?

BL: I blog. It's great craic.

APRI: What do you do in your spare time?

BL: I hang out with my wife and my 20-year-old son. I read. I love movies, music and the theatre. I hill-walk in the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains. I body-board in wild waters of the Atlantic, mostly in Dingle, County Kerry.  I enjoy a few pints in the pub and the occasional sing-song. I am currently undergoing treatment for prostate cancer (my prognosis is very good), so in recent months I haven't been pursuing some of those activities as much as I would like but I am looking forward to getting back to them with gusto.

APRI: What question have you always wanted to be asked during an interview? How would you answer that question?

BL: That's a great question. I suppose the question would be 'What's the point?' And the point is - writers are driven to write. It's a vocation. Can't be denied. Some writers just need to write to get it out of their systems - it's almost like therapy for them. That's not enough for me though. I write for people to read my work and when my words touch them in a meaningful way in the core of what they are, when it makes them angry or cry or get so and at an injustice or an unfairness that they do something about it - well, what could be better than that?


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