Author Interview – M.W Irving

His Other Work
Books & Stories
There’s a flash fiction piece that I think compliments Mol of the Plague nicely. "Worm on a Hook"

Two things:
A request and a recommendation.

My request is that if you fancy a trip to my (fledgling) site, make sure to check out the graveyard there. It’s a place for me to bury my dead darlings; the bits I’ve loved from various stories that had to be cut out of necessity. It would make me better able to do what I know must be done if I can convince myself they’ll be read at some point. This request is therapeutic for me, so thanks.

The recommendation is that you check out the case of Thomas Clifton and think about the broader ramifications for boys such as him back then.
A brief clip from a one hour BBC documentary on the subject and the historical context with analysis by Emilia Soth.

Story Art Sneak Peek

Amazing Artwork By Daniela Rivera

"Mol of the Plague"

Anthology: Paramnesia
Release Date: April 7th, 2023
About the Author: Mike is a writer and teacher from Victoria, British Columbia. When he's not enjoying the wilder places of the island, he's doing his best to convince his students that there's magic in words. His work has been previously featured in The Lyre, Flash Fiction Magazine, and the Emerge 2021 Anthology.
Q & A

How does it feel to have this story published for the first time?

This story in particular is wonderful to have published. It began as a dry run meant to find a narrative voice for the historical novel I’d been planning. Once I found it the story it took on a life of its own, turning far darker than I’d originally imagined. The exercise turned into a short story that utterly consumed me for a couple months. Now that I’m five chapters into the novel, having this story published is a tremendous boost for me.

What inspired the idea for your story?

Ever since I watched “Framing Britney Spears” I’d wanted to write a story that involved a combination of adoration and loathing. The nightmare her existence had become seemed like a good idea for a horror story. Around the same time I’d read an article about child actors in Elizabethan England (which inspired the idea for my novel). Mol of the Plague became a combination of those concepts. I wanted to take this vulnerable character and switch the power dynamic. I wanted to take that toxic relationship society has with celebrity and make it the means by which a monster consumes them.

We know that writing can be a tumultuous journey with a lot of obstacles, what is your kryptonite as a writer?

Self doubt. Writers face immense amounts of rejection and it took time to be able to take it all in stride. Rejection hardly registers any longer, but the doubt it once fed lingers still.

Clearly, you’ve succeeded at writing a captivating story for GrendelPress, but we all start somewhere. What advice would you give yourself as a young writer?

Two things – don’t be afraid to start over, and trust your judgement. It’s easy to doubt yourself, especially when starting out. Big decisions like scrapping a plotline, a character, or even a whole story can be scary. I would tell myself “You’ll know when it works and when it doesn’t, don’t try to force it.” Mol of the Plague started as something else entirely and only became a full story when I blended a few story ideas I’d started and stopped.

We’d like to argue that every good story makes both the author and the readers feel something. What perspectives or beliefs have you challenged with your story?

I remember during my undergraduate English classes I learned about the role of boy actors in Shakespeare’s plays. “It was the practice at the time” was as far as any detail went. As my understanding of what London theatres were like back then grew, I realized it was a fascinating place that was absolutely not for children. There were prostitutes, pickpockets, and raunchy songs. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was right next to a bear-baiting pit where drunken patrons could bet on fights between dogs and bears. Then I came across the story of Thomas Clifton, a boy of thirteen who was quite literally kidnapped from London’s streets and forced to perform under abusive conditions. When his father, Henry Clifton, took to the courts to get his son back, he found that theatre companies had the Queen’s own royal approval to take children as they see fit and force them to perform. It was called “impressing” them into service. Clifton was by no means the only one, but the only reason a court record exists is because his he was well enough connected to get it there. While he would eventually get his son back, most parents weren’t as fortunate.
I believe this darker side of the plays and literature we’ve revered for so long should be included in our awareness of Elizabethan drama, and I hope my story contributes to that in some small way. The plays of the time, Shakespeare’s in particular, have been celebrated so thoroughly for so long, I think it’s important to remember that it came at a cost; one paid by children. Sure this is presentism, but it’s no less true.

Tell us about your favorite author. What about their book(s) call to you and how do they inspire your own writing?

What an agonizing question! I don’t like to play favorites because there are so many different ways to have a favorite author. I’m in awe of N.K. Jemison’s world building, Steinbeck’s use of the novel as an artform, Toni Morrison’s prose, Ray Bradbury’s perfect opening of Fahrenheit 451, but if you’re going to force me to pick a single author, I would have to say J.R.R. Tolkien. I’ve been reading and re-reading the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings since I was 12 and I find something new to love each time. Tolkien taught me about the musicality in writing with his inclusion of poetry and song. Those were the bits I skipped in my first readings, but I always remembered them being there. I only appreciated the depth it added later on when I revisited the books. While Tolkien was a far better writer of lore than of poetry, his lyricism acts as a reminder to me to look for the music in my writing. If I can’t find it by the second draft of a story, that’s what the focus of my third draft will be – making it sing.

What do you love most about your story’s genre?

I’m not sure if I’ve seen much in the way of literary-historical, psychological horror fiction. In fact, that’s another reason why I’m so pleased that this story has been published, it doesn’t really fit comfortably into any genre. I suppose it’s two of my three favorites combined – dark fiction and historical fiction (you’ll have to wait until the next question to find out the third). I’ve always had a love for dark stories. I’m not sure if it’s nature or nurture, that love. My birthday is a couple of days before Halloween and my folks really leaned into the creepiness for as long as I can remember. I grew up on Roald Dahl’s The Witches, Tim Burton, Edward Gorey, and it really progressed from there. I suppose horror themes feel like home.
As for historical fiction, it gives me a glimpse at what it might have been like to have lived in the past. It’s fantasy fulfillment, but also an opportunity to remind ourselves that the basic things that motivate people have remained fairly consistent throughout history. People are people, its just the flavors that change.

What are some other genres you’d like to break into and why?

I have an enduring love of speculative fiction, science fiction in particular. I’m seduced by the limitless possibilities it provides. In much the same way that I enjoy historical fiction as thought experiments cast backwards, sci-fi does the same looking ahead. I like to see what writers believe the future holds, or what life may have evolved into on a different planet. I like to question what it means to be human, or imagine how would it feel to freefall into space until your oxygen runs out. I want to look around at what’s happening now and let the wheels that are already in motion run wild for a couple of centuries, then drop in some characters I love. That’s a game I want to play.

If you had to pick another story of yours to share with your readers, what would it be?

It would be the novel I’m working on – The Foundling.
It’s the story of Cedric, whose prototype you’ll have met in Mol of the Plague. It follows him from losing his parents to becoming a jewel in London’s theatrical world. He struggles to reconcile dueling identities – thief and actor. He lands with a troupe that has a brilliant but reclusive new writer whose star rises with Cedric’s own. The success he finds in this new life has a dark counterpart in his best friend Jonathan’s experience after he’s “inspired” into a children’s acting troupe run by a tyrant. Guilt, jealousy, and puberty all threaten Cedric’s relationship with his greatest love – the theatre.
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