Paul O’Neill is a Teleport contributor and contest winner. He’s also the author of With Dust Shall Cover. Paul talks a little bit about his work and his love for short stories.
Tell us a little about With Dust Shall Cover
With Dust Shall Cover is my second collection of short stories that I’ve just unleashed on the world. The title is cribbed from William Shakespeare. The full line reads Death my bones with dust shall cover. I couldn’t fit that whole thing into the title so I had to shorten it.
All the stories are set in my fictional corner of Scotland, in forgotten towns soaked with demonic beings and the like. Also, aliens.
The collection features my most successful stories yet, and I’m hoping it’ll set spines tingling wherever it’s read.
When did you first get into writing and why do prefer short stories?
I wrote my first book when I was nine and I don’t think I’ve fully come back since. It’s something that’s been in me for as long as I remember. The writing bug brings me peace and fulfillment that I can’t get anywhere else. It also helps me iron out the strangeness in my head!
I’ll read anything. Typically, I’ll have a huge tome and a short story collection on the go at any one time (as well as a non-fic book and a writing craft book). A novel wins by points, but a short story wins by knockout. When done right, a short story will resonant and stay with you longer.
As a writer, short stories are the sweet spot between story and poetry. You can do stuff in short stories that you can’t get away with in novels. Experiment. Go nuts. Write in second person, if you’re into that sort of thing.
At school, we were taught all the usual stuff. From novels to poems and back again, but never short fiction. I’ve no idea why. That has to play a part in the fact that short stories aren’t a popular art form.
I was trying to write novels (poorly), then I tried my hand at short fiction. I’ve never looked back since. I love the form, the gut punch, the resonance. Word for word, short stories are better value for money, and perfect for today’s Netflix binge society (I think). We just need to make it happen!
Shirley Jackson. Ray Bradbury. Robert McCammon. Stephen King. John Collier. Adam Troy Castro. Gemma Amor. J. G. Ballard. Seamus Heaney. Walter Mosley. Ronald Malfi. But, really, I’ll read anything!
When I was in high school, I told my teacher I wanted to create a literary magazine like the New Yorker or Atlantic. She seemed dubious. Who supported your writing? Who tried to discourage you?
We definitely need more magazines like yours in the world!
I’m lucky. I have the support of a huge family who are all incredibly supportive, even if horror isn’t quite their thing. My teachers at primary school used my tales during reading. High school teachers begged me to enter a poetry competition, then nearly lost it when I only came in third place. Except for random, faceless internet folk, everyone around me has encouraged my writing habit.
What advice would you give to new authors?
Know who you are. It can take years, decades, forever, to find yourself. Learn what makes you tick through writing exercises like automatic writing. Understand that your dreams of writing the next epic fantasy series might be false ones. You might realise that your soul is screaming at you to write short horror stories.
If you’re hunting money, get a real job (harsh, soz!). Writing can be done around a busy schedule (I work a frantic corporate comms job and have two small children). Take the money pressure off and write something that you would want to read. Don’t be the one who adds formulaic fluff to the pile. It’s already too large.
Tell your story in the way that only you can. That’s what readers connect with.
What advice would you give anyone looking to put their own collection together?
Do it. Short stories are overdue a comeback!
Would you like to see one of your anthologies made into a show like American Horror Story?
Hell yeah. I’d love for someone to take one of my stories and interpret it into film. Scottish Horror Story? Anyone…?
What project(s) are next for you?
I’ve almost got enough stories for my next collection. I’m just giving them the chance at various magazines and anthologies.
I’m also mulling over whether to do an ebook special of Christmas stories.
About the author: Paul O’Neill is an award-winning horror writer from Fife, Scotland. He’s an Internal Communications professional who fights the demon of corporate-speak on a daily basis. His works have appeared in Eerie River Publishing’s It Calls From The Doors anthology, the NoSleep podcast, Scare Street’s Night Terrors series, the Horror Tree, and many other publications. His debut collection, The Nightmare Tree, is available now. You can find him sharing his love of short stories on twitter @PaulOn1984.
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