David McVey is a writer who has published nearly 100 short stories and a mind-boggling variety of articles – on acne and archaeology, politics and pies – that runs into several hundreds. He has also scripted two amateur stage musicals and published poetry and academic journal articles. In the latest installment of our Author of the Month series, he talks to Casey Harding about grouse beating, his enjoyment of writing short stories, and the beauty of Hamish Brown’s Scottish mountaineering work, ‘Hamish’s Mountain Walk’.
On your Scottish Book Trust biography page you mention that you have experience as a ‘grouse beater’, among many other trades, what was it that brought you to writing? (I’m also incredibly curious as to what a grouse beater does!)
I’ve always written, even before I was ‘a writer’. It went hand-in-hand with reading, which I’ve always done voraciously.
Grouse beaters advance across grouse moors in line to raise the birds and drive them towards the guns. I worked two student summers at that. Sorry, vegetarians, but I needed the money.
Along with that, why have you chosen to focus on short stories rather than on novels?
I struggle to focus on full-length works. Happily, I love short stories and really enjoy crafting them. And the great thing about them is that, even in these straitened times, you have a much greater chance of publishing a short story than a novel.
Do you find that teaching about writing helps influence your own writing? For you, is teaching as fulfilling as writing?
Regarding talking at writing groups I feel that I have managed to jump some hoops (researching markets, actually submitting work, getting it published, etc) that many members struggle with, and it’s almost a responsibility of mine to try and help others to jump them hoops. Both there, and in lecturing in college, I do enjoy the sense of making a difference and helping to bring out the abilities that people have inside them.
What writers have influenced your writing? And / Or can you remember an author you read early on that pushed you to write?
In a sense, everyone you read influences you somehow. Favourite writers include R.L. Stevenson, P.G. Wodehouse, Garrison Keiller, George Mackay Brown, Muriel Spark. The book that pushed me most into writing was Hamish Brown’s Scottish mountaineering work ‘Hamish’s Mountain Walk’, which excited me with the way the author linked bashing about in the hills, reading, and writing into an indivisible unity.
Anything in the works? Any stories that you’re excited about or upcoming publications?
I’ve now published a couple of defiantly anti-noir crime short stories featuring a superficially unengaging amateur sleuth, Revd. Knox, a fundamentalist evangelical Presbyterian minister. Played, if you’ll believe it, mostly for laughs, an attempt to bring the fun back into fictional murder. Perhaps if I crack that attention span thing, one day Knox will stretch to a novel.