6 Apr 2018

Author Interview / Matthew de Lacey Davidson

Dublin, Ireland – Autumn, 1845.  A young Irish boy, Nathan Whyte, whose life has been uneventful up to this point, is present at the arrival of a celebrity who has stepped off a boat that has just rolled into the harbour from the United States of America.

This famous guest has recently achieved much renown (or notoriety, depending on the viewpoint) as an exemplary writer, and one of the greatest orators of his age – in an age of great oratory.  At first confused, Nathan's curiosity is piqued as he slowly realises that this man – Frederick Douglass – the greatest voice of abolition of his day – whose talent for shattering ignorance is unique – entrances his audiences with his eloquence, dignity, sharp wit, and unparalleled public speaking skills.

However, what Douglass and Nathan have yet to discover is that in a very short period of time, Ireland – at the beginning of the Great Famine – through individual acts of compassion and by bearing witness, will have as much of a profound effect upon Douglass as Douglass is to have upon Ireland.  And further, that through these events, both he and Nathan will be irrevocably transformed.


AUTHOR INTERVIEW



1.    If you could work with any other author, who would it be and why?

Although not all of Shakespeare’s collaborators were exceptional writers, I still would obviously feel utterly intimidated by working with the greatest writer of all time.  Nonetheless, I certainly would give anything to have been able to observe him working, and to see the process by which he brought together all his great ideas and characterisations, and how he managed to dream up his extraordinary plays.

2.    What would be a typical working day for you? When and where do you write?

As I have a lot of activities, and work at a full-time job, I catch a second here, grab a minute wherever I can.  Most of my writing involves a lot of research, so I tend to do that while commuting.  Writing tends to happen in the evening and on weekends, but by the time I flip open the computer, I already have a very clear idea of what I am going to write and how I am going to structure it.

3.    What is the hardest part of the writing for you?

Staying motivated, while recognising that I am a non-commercial artist, is my biggest hurdle.

4.    When and why did you first start writing?

I never had any intention of “becoming a writer”; it just, well…kind of happened.  For most of my life, my writing was confined to creating the occasional humourous essay in the style of S.J. Perelman – or writing song lyrics – which culminated in my writing a chamber opera based on the short stories of New Zealand author, Katherine Mansfield.  Afterwards, I saw an advertisement for a non-credit poetry-writing course taught by Sue Sinclair at McGill University.  I had no intention of writing poetry; I just wanted to write a better libretto.  However, upon attending, I discovered that I, apparently, had a flair for writing “light verse” (…and what does that mean…fewer calories?).  Eventually, I found that I had the ability to handle more profound topics, as well.  I believe that starting off with poems made me more aware of the need for concision.  In poetry, every word is of the utmost importance – and repetition of words is to be avoided.  Using poetic techniques in a subtle fashion, in both short stories and novels, I think adds greater depth to writing.

5.    How did you come up with the idea for your book?

The novel which I just published, Precept, is a fictional account of the four months that 19th century civil rights leader Frederick Douglass spent in Ireland.  The story behind what suggested this to me is rather convoluted.  While watching a DVD of the film Lincoln, directed by Stephen Spielberg, I started to ask myself, “Where are all the black people?”  I mean, I saw a couple of nameless soldiers, and a butler, and a maid, but nobody else.  Then I started to ask, “Where is Frederick Douglass?”  Now, you cannot discuss either American history, Civil War history, the history of slavery, or history in general without acknowledging Frederick Douglass.  He was probably the most eloquent Orator of all time, and of paramount importance in the fight to abolish of slavery.  Nonetheless, what I saw in Lincoln made me feel so upset, that I started to read up on Frederick Douglass myself, and found an interesting little historical tidbit, to wit, that he spent four months in Ireland when escaping possible recapture as a “fugitive” slave.  Also, that the country had almost as much of a profound impact upon him, as he did upon it.  I thought, “What a marvelous idea for an historical novel.”  Then I thought, “How could I accomplish such a thing successfully?”  So, I chose the narrator to be a young Irish boy who witnesses and observes Mr. Douglass.  And much of what he sees goes unexplained, as children don’t understand everything that goes on around them.

6.    Are you a big reader? If so, what are you reading now?

I try to read as much as I can from as many sources as possible, mostly classics.  Most modern writing is done, for better or for worse, on a for-profit basis, so while there are a number of good writers around, a large percentage of them are forced to “fill out” their books so that publishing companies can sell according to the number of pages.  A salient example that springs to mind is James Blish who wrote “A Case of Conscience.”  I’m not really interested in Science Fiction, but the first half of that book was really not bad at all.  The second half…well…not so much.  This was because the publisher wanted him to create a novel when the subject matter could really only support a short story.

I am currently reading the collected poems of Countee Cullen, edited by Major Jackson.  While his style is much more conservative and less experimental than Langston Hughes, it is my personal opinion that he “hits the mark” more often.  I am also reading a collection of short stories by Graham Greene (who has become very underestimated, of late), and a collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s stories, “I’d die for you and other lost stories” edited by Anne Margaret Daniel.  I think the stories he held back because he couldn’t sell them during his life are far better than the ones he sold for a great deal of money.

7.  Do you have any advice for other aspiring writers?

Don’t enter any poetry-writing competitions which charge any fees!  Save up your pennies and self-publish.

Further, if memory serves, I believe that poet Mary Oliver says in one her books, something along the lines that if you have a choice between doing your own writing or reading another writer, one should choose to read someone else’s writing first.  In my opinion, preferably, the classics. Too many writers are not aware of what has been done in the past, and as a result, one encounters no cultural, sociological, nor historical context; and further, no one benefits by re-inventing the wheel.  In addition, if someone is going to try and be socially conscious in what they write, they need to be aware that there is a very fine line between making socially conscious artistic statements, and creating propaganda – or just plain preaching.  I stand to be corrected, but I believe it was Alice Walker who once wrote that if you are going to write political treatises, you should probably stay away from fiction writing.

In the 19th century, creative writing was deemed to be worthwhile only if there was a strong, judgmental, purported “moral” to be gleaned. This was the reason why homosexual characters (or women who have extra-marital affairs) in the novels of that era, always come to no good end.  Even Oscar Wilde, who was gay himself, was not immune from this sort of thing as one sees in The Picture of Dorian Gray, an obvious allegory for someone like Wilde, who leads a “secret life”.  My strongest hope is that everyone should find that attitude towards writing perverse.  “Moral ambiguity” and not openly judging the characters is always more interesting, and a more artistically sound method of story-telling, in my opinion.  In other words, let me think for myself.  Stories that let the reader decide what is right from wrong will stand the test of time.  It is the advantage a truly great film like Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing will always have over obviously silly films, like certain Westerns or Police/Action movies where there are excessively-clearly defined “Goodies” and “Baddies.”



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Author Biography

Matthew de Lacey Davidson is the author of two poetry collections, a play in verse, a short story collection, and a novel. In addition, he is a composer and pianist and has released 12 compact discs. His poetry and short stories have been published by "Grammateion," and the online literary journal, "Danse Macabre"; music analyses by SCI; cartoons and reviews by TOM Magazine; and cartoons by Canadian Science News. He has written the music, libretto, and lyrics for a chamber opera, "The Singing Lesson," based on three short stories by New Zealand author, Katherine Mansfield. He lives in Nova Scotia, Canada, with his wife, Shayna, and a plethora of Siamese and Tonkinese cats.
Jill Murphy, writing in “thebookbag.co.uk,” when reviewing “Roses in December: Haunting and Macabre Tales,” gave the following estimation:
“The style is elegant with carefully crafted sentences and precision in vocabulary…a pleasure to read…the authorial voice comes with empathy and compassion, always…And I think it speaks to the humanity in all of us. We would do well to listen.”

 
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