interview with steve moran:
Founder of the International Willesden Herald
New Short Stories Competition.
PG: We're pretty sure that Steve is not your real name.
So what is your real name?
SM: My real name is Zteve but I changed it to
Steve when I was eleven because it sounded like "thief".
PG: How did you come up with the idea for the short
SM: I came up with the idea for the short story contest
as a way to displace other things I should have been doing,
things like computer welding, housebreaking and so forth.
Like all the best ideas, it seemed so simple I wondered why
nobody had ever thought of it before.
PG: You named it the Willesden Herald International Short Story Contest or something like that. Where does the name come from?
SM: I just made it up. It sounds like a place in Britain because I figured Britain has class literary street cred. However, I have since discovered that it is actually where I live. The "Herald" part is because it is a newspaper, which are often called heralds. It could just as easily have been the Willesden Clarion or the Willesden Mirror.
PG: What is that you and/or your judges look for in a story? Any tips for the would-be submitters out there?
SM: Since your last question I have got myself around a quantity of wine, so if there's an odd change of tone that'll probably be why. It's much easier to specify faults, which is why lists like that are not uncommon. Singling out good qualities is surprisingly much harder. I have started on that but I won't go and read back what I'm saying there, I'll just ad lib and say that I like a sense of adventure, not what some think it might be, more to do with the feeling of landscape and journey. There has to be something worth reading about, the trivial is only good for comedy, which is also something rather lacking. I don't know, try and stop us from flinging your manuscript aside, that is all.
PG: It seems that you're never satisfied with the judges and have brought in a new one just about every year. Zadie Smith, Rana Dasgupta, Maggie Gee, and Richard Peabody have been past judges. Where did they go wrong and why did you feel it necessary to replace them?
SM: Since your last question I have moved to The Inbox cafe, where I was hoping I might run into Mikey or some of the lads from Life and War. However we are now hiding in the basement because the shop is under attack, can't see by whom, possibly looters or Taliban or Norwegian cuckoos. So if I suddenly
PG: It's okay. We can answer the questions for you. So how long did you and Zadie date?
SM: It's ok, the attackers got into spaceships and went away again. It's all fruity sarnies and brollies here again. A gentleman never tells. Seriously, I've never even met Zadie, though I saw her at a literary festival once. She's on a higher plane. We were very lucky to have her as judge for the first three years and very lucky with subsequent judges as well. I hesitate to ask judges to volunteer for another year because even though I try to make it easy for them, it's still a big commitment for them to undertake all for the love of the short story.
PG: We certainly understand it is a big commitment for the judges but for you as well. Why do you do it?
SM: I don't know. It's like the question why stop for a coffee at the Monsoon café instead of continuing on home and making a similar coffee there? I like to sit and watch the world go by.
PG: In addition to being the guardian of new short stories you are also a writer of short stories. Where did your love for writing come from?
SM: It's the usual teacher's pet story, I'm afraid. I was good at compositions in primary school and lucky enough to have some teachers who encouraged me. Thank you Brother Clement and Brother Phelan if you are reading this. (Like that would happen.) I won a prize when I was about 11 for an essay for the Irish milk marketing board. It showed early delirium. I have seldom been able to focus on the topic in hand without going into some flight of fancy. I used to write pirate stories. There was a competitive element in trying to write the longest composition and use the biggest words. I remember being resentful when one of the other kids started getting some praise, who had a much more populist approach. One thing I remember was that he got a laugh by using the expression "cop shop". This was a shock to my world of "perspicacity" and "redolent". (I still love those words.) Damn you Paudge and your "cop shop"! I do remember the guy, he was a nice guy, amusing. I think his name was Paudge Laughlin. Kindergarten crisis. Oh, and I remember ripping off Enid Blyton's descriptive abilities, and evoking some old granny with thinning hair.
PG: We remember those kindergarten bon mots ourselves: pookie, moppie. Wonderful days. What is it about a story that catches your fancy? Is there a certain something? Stories are different--some experimental, others more straight-forward--but when you’re reading a story is there some kind of feeling that overcomes you and you think to yourself 'this is almost as good as the stuff I write?'.
SM: I think about my own things as terrible crap that I would never short-list so it's not that. There has to be a sense of perfection, I think. I don't know what it is but take any of the greats and there are a number of things they have in common: a theme of sufficient importance, perfection of prose, narrative and dialogue, light but inexorable evocation and involvement of the reader, sense of newness, adventure, location, character, time passing. Seemingly effortless and natural and in a register that neither patronises nor repels.
PG: Well said. What about the new short stories competition do you take the most pride in?
SM: I'm a bit starstruck by the judges who have shown enough confidence in what we do to let their names be linked. By the way, I don't really think I take pride in it, honestly, it's some sort of other feeling. I love the stories and even though they're not mine I feel in part like a midwife, perhaps a barren midwife.
PG: Thank you Steve. Before we wrap up this interview are there any questions you'd like to ask yourself?
SM: How does it feel to be an ex-Virgo now that Ophiuchus is here? I refuse to answer.
SM: But I refuse to answer myself because it only encourages the bore.
The Willesden Herald New Short Story competition is now open. Get details here.