Author Interview

Wednesday, 08 April 2020.

Interview for the Yours2Read newsletter with Laurence MacDonald, author of the following stories posted to the platform:


The Haunting of Arlesville Landing


The Post Mortem Composer




The Curse of The Clock

Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed for our newsletter. We’re very grateful for your time, and I’m sure your insights will be interesting and helpful to our many authors and readers.

  • Your genre is clearly ghost stories, and the work you’ve made available on the Yours2Read platform certainly gave me the creeps! For readers of this newsletter, The Haunting of Arlesville Landing is a story set on a riverboat, the Diligence, travelling along a river and which stops at Arlesville, Virginia in 1856 where there’s an encounter with the ghost of a young girl. Stormbound is set in the Bahamas in 1853 and concerns a sailor’s ghostly experience when, after becoming stranded, has to take shelter in a lighthouse tower. Your two other stories, The Curse of the Clock, and the Post Mortem Composer, are also spine tinglers. What inspired you to write these stories, and what is it about this genre- ghost stories- which you like?
  • I enjoy the language of that period - what many in the English-speaking world call the Victorian era. It was rich and colourful and mannered but in the UK/USA much of that richness has become diluted or replaced. That's not to say that I disapprove of new idioms in spoken English but I do find the Victorian style appealing and it immediately creates a sense of setting/atmosphere in a story. I think English is workaday now compared to how it was back in those days and to how French, for instance, is still spoken today. The other appeal of classic Victorian/Edwardian supernatural fiction for me is probably just nostalgia; I enjoyed reading creepy old stories (and watching excellent TV adaptions) when I was young and never really grew out of that. I have written a few tales in other genres and time settings but I haven't submitted any of those stories to Your2Read yet. For example, I have completed a crime story set in New Orleans during the 'jazz era' and I might offer it to Your2Read in the future.

  • What generally inspires you to write? Where do you get your ideas from, and do you start with the characters first and then the scene, or vice versa? Are there any hints you can give to our readers about how to develop a character in a short story context?
  • I started writing about four years ago and it was really just on a whim. The Arlesville Landing story was the first I ever wrote and I had sent it to a river historian/entertainer in the USA named Bill Wiemuth as a thank you after he had provided some help (over the internet) with a technical query on steam riverboat engines that I had. Bill enjoyed the story and turned it into a podcast on his website and did a lovely job of reading it with proper 'southern' accent and all. Encouraged by that I wrote Stormbound and submitted it to a small literary contest in England. To my surprise it was judged a finalist and so I began to think maybe I should continue writing. What inspires me to write now is nothing loftier than the notion of completing a collection and submitting it for, hopefully, publication in print. The ideas within the stories don't come easily to me: I have to force them out - like squeezing spots – but generally the characters come to me first and then I try and conjure the main motivation for the plot around them. I sort of 'see' a scene as I write. A bit like watching it unfold on film. Obviously, with a short story the writer doesn't have much time to play with when it comes to developing a character. That's maybe another reason I like using an old-time style of writing as it can get the reader to where you want quickly: a few appropriate words can soon paint a picture of a Victorian Lady or Gentleman in the reader's imagination. Stereotyping takes some of the leg-work out of the writing!

  • Do you write on impulse- when you just feel like putting pen to paper- or do you set time aside during the day or week to do this? Have you ever suffered from that unmentionable author affliction, ‘writer’s block’? If yes, how did you deal with it?
  • I'm lazy and don't write to any sort of schedule. I've heard the 'force yourself to write x number of words each day' advice but that's not for me. I often can't be bothered to write even when I do have ideas swimming around. Typically I'll say to myself, 'I'll get on with that later'. However, I have almost enough work done now for a collection of supernatural stories set in Scotland and the USA that wouldn't be too embarrassingly slender if ever printed and it would be stupid not to make the final sprint and get it off to agents for review. I have often experienced writer's block and my approach is to leave it alone until it goes away although, as implied above, sometimes writer's block and plain laziness are hard to distinguish.

  • What would you say is the ideal length for a short story? Yours2 Read receives submissions which range from under a thousand words to six to seven thousand: we find that the length of a story, or indeed its brevity, is not necessarily an indication of quality- or the lack of it!
  • I think the pace required by the story should determine the word count. I have dabbled with flash fiction and that can be fun – working in such tight constraints can sharpen the prose up. However, I think the writer's best work will come from whatever natural development is allowed in the story – to give enough room to breathe so to speak. It might be helpful if the number of pages is displayed on the detail for each story to help the reader decide if they want to download – perhaps they only have time for a couple of thousand words during lunch break or maybe they want something longer to read at bed time.

  • Have you ever had to deal rejection of a book or story? If you write a story and get bad reviews, how do you prevent these from spoiling your enthusiasm to continue writing? Have you submitted any of your previous work to competitions? If yes, how did you find out about the dates these were running, and did you write solely for the competition or instead for the pleasure of writing?
  • Yes often. I have submitted to many short story competitions in the past four years and had plenty rejections – lots of them. So far, I haven't had any bad reviews of any of my work (not that I have seen anyway) or overtly negative comment on my entries other than the standard, 'we don't feel your submission is quite right for our publication at this time'. On the other hand, I have also had a few near misses and I find them harder to deal with. To be told that you came close to publication in a prestigious journal is quite hard to bear. It's really easy to find out online what competitions are scheduled throughout the year. A quick search on the internet will deliver plenty of compiled competition lists and links to individual contests. I would suggest that writers also join on-line writer's groups in FaceBook and so on to be kept informed. Thankfully I am not putting myself through that competition grinding mill for now as I want to preserve my completed stories for submission to agents and publishers for evaluation soon. I have written a couple of flash fiction pieces for (unsuccessful) submission to contests but for short fiction entries I have always had something handy and available from the shelf.

  • Are there any established authors’ works you’d like your stories to be compared with? Who would you say are your top three favourite authors, and why do you like their stories or style? Which would you say is your ’all time’ favourite author, and why?
  • I'm not a great reader - never have been - and when I do read it tends not to be fiction, I read biographies and music related stuff mostly. That said, I do, as mentioned earlier, enjoy classic Victorian writing and there are numerous examples of great writers from that period of course. I couldn't be pressed to identify absolute favourite authors but three writers whose works I admire will come as no surprise to fans of classic supernatural/mystery fiction: A. C. Doyle, M.R. James, and Mark Twain. If I must choose a particular author I'll opt for Neil Munro as his Para Handy tales would be a desert island book for me.

  • Your stories are based in other times and other places. For example, The Haunting of Arlesville Landing is set in Virginia in the nineteenth century. How do you approach researching a particular time or location for the setting of a story? Do you use internet sources alone, or are there others? Regarding the locations, have you previously visited these? If yes, did they immediately appear good for story settings or was it later, after returning to the UK, that you drew on them for inspiration?
  • When I need to research I use the internet - writing must have been much more difficult in the old days! Usually Google will find what I'm looking for, and if not directly, then set me on the correct course to contact someone who may help. Most of my unpublished supernatural stories are (unlike my stories published so far on Your2Read) set in Scotland and, being Scottish, the place settings are very familiar to me. Though Stormbound is set in the Bahamas it could have been a lighthouse anywhere. I have strong family connections to the Scottish lighthouse service and I sometimes holidayed at manned lighthouses as a young boy. Obviously, steamboats, old clock towers, lighthouses and so on conjure up romantic or picturesque images for many people and are, therefore, ripe for exploitation in a story. I think lighthouses, in particular, make great settings for ghost stories – such lonely and peculiar places.

  • Are there any aspects of your earlier life, perhaps your working experience, which provide sources upon which you can draw for your writing?
  • I grew up on an island on the Firth of Clyde on Scotland's west coast and its principal town still glories in its (albeit fading) Victorian grandeur. I remember the elegant passenger steamers calling at the bustling pier several times each day and, as a young boy, taking exciting trips aboard magnificent paddle steamers.

  • If you were asked for four bullet points as to what makes a good short story, what would these be? And for balance, do you have four points for what makes a bad short story?
  • I expect this will seem pretty obvious and typical but for me I like to read a story that: Has an interesting setting and/or character(s). Is well paced. Packs a punch i.e. it has a proper plot or narrative. Takes you away as a reader – provides a little escape. It's sometimes difficult to identify or say what makes a story unenjoyable. I have really liked stories that don't features all of the 'good' points above. However, I definitely don't like: Badly written. Rushed or Plodding. Characters that are difficult to connect with in some way. Tries to be a condensed novel.

  • Has any of your work been previously published in ‘hard copy’? If yes, how did you find a publisher, and did you also have an agent? What is your opinion of self-publishing, sometimes called ‘vanity publishing’?
  • As mentioned earlier, I shall soon be hoping for an agent or publisher for a collection of supernatural stories but all of the work published on this site has already appeared in some form; Stormbound and The Post-Mortem Composer have appeared as finalist entries in competition anthologies and Curse of the Clock and Arlesville Landing have appeared in print and podcast respectively. I haven't looked into self-publishing yet but I may consider it in the future. I think any way for writers to get their work out into the world is a good thing. So much artistic endeavour has been placed into the hands of others to be judged before making its way into the light and the wider world and often, very great work is rejected because it doesn't appeal to whoever has the power to decide its fate. Any direct means of getting books into the public space should be welcomed in my opinion and writers should be grateful that it can be done easily and at little expense now, thanks to the internet. We should also be grateful for sites like Yours2Read that can really help writers bring their work to exposure and have the pleasure of knowing that others, including fellow writers, can find and enjoy their efforts and engage through feedback.

Many thanks, Laurence, for taking part in this interview. We look forward to seeing more of your work on the platform soon- the reviews have always been excellent, and I for one will be amongst the first to download your next story!