Fred Johnston has such a long writing CV, I can only summarise it here. He was born and educated in Belfast. He has lived in Toronto, Canada, Spain and Africa. 'Orangeman', a collection of stories in French, translated by film-maker and writer and good friend, Christian le Braz, appeared from Terre de Brume (France) in October 2010 and has just published a second volume of short stories, 'Dancing In The Asylum,' from Parthian Books (UK) Among his poetry achievements are Founder of Galway's annual international literature festival, CÚIRT, in 1986. Writer-in-Residence to the Princess Grace Irish Library at Monaco, 2004. He is the Founder of the Western Writers’ Centre – Ionad Scríbhneoiri Chaitlín Maude – based in Galway (www.twwc.ie)
I was writing poetry very early on, at about the same time that I began to write short stories. I wanted only to be a short story writer, as it transpires. Steinbeck influenced me, and James Baldwin and later the French writers. Dear me, but I toted things up the other day, and it is forty-two years since I published my first short story! Poetry was always dear to me in so much as, writing songs, which I also did from an early age, I believed in the measured potency of words. I also believed - and it was in the air then too - that poetry had a social and political importance; certainly, that poets had or should have. Not many Irish contemporary poets want to hear that now, sadly.
One doesn't so much 'change' from one to the other as permit oneself to be led into a different manner of seeing things; poetry has one way of doing things, let's say, prose quite another: which is why it saddens me to see young poets banging out poems which are actually merely acts of chopped prose. I blame writers' workshops, some of the worst kind, anyway, for this. In poetry I am dealing with music; in prose, with a sort of oration. Each demands something quite different from you.
I was a book reviewer for newspapers and journals and indeed theatre and visual art for many years. I have no problem keeping the relations between reviewer and acquaintance separate, but I have learned that there are those who believe you are betraying them if you speak your mind. Joyce said, and I paraphrase, that the big sin in Ireland was to put things in print. He wasn't wrong. I expect he meant opinions that ran contrary to the consensus, or some consensus served up by a tiny group, poets, writers or politicians.
Facebook is merely a communications tool, for opinion, viewpoints and dissent, sometimes. But God protect us from a day when some budding poet adds to his bibliography that he or she 'had three poems published on Facebook.'
One could be dreadfully cynical and suggest that he or she finds some well-connected friends in the media before writing a line. Too much of publishing and promoting poetry is a 'who-you-know' game. It has become particularly thus through the fashioning of 'poetry celebs,' God help us, and that sort of thing.
It was a short story published by the late David Marcus in the New Irish Writing page of the old Irish Press. It was based on real experiences.
How did you feel, do you remember, when your story was accepted?
I felt very good when my first story was published, four decades ago. I was also very young. I believed the publication heralded the beginning of an illustrious and adventurous Bohemian career. I was incredibly naive; but these days anyone who publishes anything is looking at once at a collection of this or that and being encouraged to do so. Dreadfully damaging in the long run. I had one real thing to say and I said it. I was eighteen years old. At twenty I probably had one more thing to say. That's all. Most things that I believed pertained only to my own view of the world. With some contemporary writers, this affliction never quite passes.
I have personally never used prompts as such beyond giving ideas time to mature. I can't say much more about that.