Author spotlight: Oisin Curran

Oisín Curran is the author of two novels. His first, Mopus, was published by Counterpath Press in 2007. His second novel, Blood Fable (Book*hug 2017), was listed as one of the most-anticipated books of 2017 by The Globe and Mail and won the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award in 2018. Originally from Maine, Curran currently lives in Cape Breton. In the following post, he talks to us about new trends in fiction, what he loves about living and writing in Nova Scotia, and how he doesn’t believe in writer’s block.

How long have you been writing? What drew you to writing in general, and fiction in particular?

It all started in third grade when I plagiarized a poem and was praised for my work. From then on, I decided the writing life was the one for me. Needless to say, I haven’t plagiarized a single word since…

People tend to write what they read, I think. When I was in my teens and early twenties, I wrote a fair bit of poetry, but I didn’t read enough outside my own oeuvre. As a result, my stuff had the ring of bad 19th century ballads. I stuck with fiction because that’s the medium I know best.

What do you think is changing in fiction these days?

Sheer volume. There seems to be a lot of it out there and it’s very hard to keep up. Autofiction seems to be hot right now. At least, it was last year, or the year before, or something. More work from underrepresented voices—that’s probably the most exciting thing going on these days. 

What do you love about living in Nova Scotia?

Hard to know where to start. Or stop. I was drawn here first by the landscape, then my wife and now the people I meet. The longer I live here, the more I love it. The natural beauty of the place still takes my breath away, and the astounding variety of that beauty keeps surprising me. Long, sandy beaches, river valleys, waterfalls, ancient maple trees, all cheek-by-jowl. And nine out of every ten people I meet are lovely and interesting to talk to. Well, maybe eight of ten—but that’s still a much higher ratio than anywhere else I’ve lived! 

What’s the biggest misconception about being a writer?

There seems to be a common belief that it’s not that hard. I’ve met lots of people who say they’re planning to write their memoir or their novel one day, when they have some time. I would never discourage anybody from trying—after all, part of the appeal of writing is that it’s a medium available to anybody who’s literate. But what most people don’t realize is that it’s really hard to write something good. The ratio of time-put-in-writing to time-put-in-reading-that-writing must be around a thousand to one. And I mean that quite literally. And then, as like as not, it’ll go out into the world and disappear. There’s an element of masochism to the whole practice.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Don’t do it! Just kidding. Do it, by all means and be more attentive to cultivating mentors and contacts than I’ve been. It’ll save you time when you get around to publishing your work. Also, stay in Canada! This is one of the most supportive environments to work in that I know of. Also, the usual—read a lot and widely. Try stuff you don’t think you’ll like—expand your literary tastes…

What’s great about writing in your part of Nova Scotia?

I live on the West side of Cape Breton, in Alistair MacLeod country. In fact, our house is just down the road from MacLeod’s family home. Locally, there’s a lot of respect for, and interest in, writers and writing. I think that’s partly due to MacLeod’s legacy, but it also has to do with an older storytelling tradition that remains strong here.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Perusing Hammacher Schlemmer catalogues.

What do you do when you have writer’s block?

Put one word after the other until there’s a sentence and carry on from there. If it doesn’t make sense, fix it later. I don’t believe in writer’s block.

What are you working on right now?

A sci-fi, ghost-spy thriller set in Elizabethan England.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

A land surveyor. Bush-whacking through forests, swamps and mountains, tracking down old-timers to get the oral history of a place and burrowing into the archives to uncover the past—how could that not be a really interesting line of work?

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Recommended Experience Levels

The Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia (WFNS) recommends that each workshop’s participants share a level or range of writing / publication experience. This is to ensure each participant gets value from the workshop⁠ and is presented with information, strategies, and skills that suit their current writing priorities.

To this end, the “Recommended experience level” section of each workshop description refers to the following definitions developed by WFNS:

  • New writers: those who have been writing creatively for less than two years and/or have not yet been published in any form.
  • Emerging writers: those who have been writing creatively for less than five years and/or have some short publications (poems, stories, or essays) in literary magazines, journals, or anthologies.
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