I am a Dubliner in London. I’ve been a writer since early schooldays. I was praised for my essays and won a small prize in a national essay competition for schools. I remember other boys asking me to write verses for their Valentine’s day cards, which came easy to me; I was their pre-teen Cyrano.
It was thanks to the Finglas mobile library, which pulled up at the shopping parade on Ballygall Road every week, that I became enthralled by books and the adventures I found in them, while still in junior school. Not highbrow, I read Jennings and Just William, A Coral Island, Swallows and Amazons, El Cid, The Famous Five, The Secret Seven. Those are the books I remember.
I loved a good description, it would linger and replay in my mind. Somewhere in Enid Blyton, there was an old woman conjured who was almost bald, and the way white strands of hair lay across her head. I felt a powerful sense of admiration for the most brilliant passages in the books. At the age of nine, I was inspired to fill an exercise book with an adventure story I made up and I sent it by post to a friend who had moved to England. (Where are you now, Gerard Malone?) It was the feeling of adventure and evocative description that I loved, the sense of landscape and groups of people and their talk.
The De La Salle national school put me into the scholarship exam, and I won a scholarship in the last year before free secondary education was introduced in Ireland. However, after that, my exam results were only so-so, as I relied on remembering what teachers said in class and did no revision till the last minute, if at all. My Chemistry teacher, Mr Coughlan, summed it up well as he went round the class with his advice to each in the run-up to exams. He said something like, “Stephen Moran, I don’t know. You don’t do any work but you always seem to do just enough at the last minute.”
My entanglement with poetry developed in late teens, when almost everyone I knew or wanted to know, wrote poetry. It felt like everyone was writing poetry but I see now that we were self-selecting. I noticed others because I was a poet myself. I remember two girls passed by in the street, talking about poetry, while I and another poet passed by in the other direction. I really wanted to know those girls.
By now I was buying my own books. Chinese poetry in translation, Poems of the Late T’ang and Catullus from Latin were my earliest influences. I have given Catullus as a gift and re-bought three times, I think. My copy of Poems of the Late T’ang, translated by A.C. Graham, is in tatters. I read all of Joyce and loved his poetry too. Of course, no little part was played by the school curriculum, for example the poetry in Soundings, edited by Augustine Martin.
As for short stories, the ones I remember from our high school syllabus are The Confirmation Suit by Brendan Behan and Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce, which I still think of as my favourite ever. There were others, Mary Lavin, Frank O’Connor, O Henry, Saki and Liam O’Flaherty come to mind. From the library I loved the collection The Magic Barrel by Bernard Malamud and the Salinger collections.
I don’t really want to talk about novels. I followed the fashions for Herman Hesse and JP Donleavy but also read an odd mixture of other books, some racy, some sombre, a few classics. A list would be dull now, I think. My prose favourites other than Joyce were Steinbeck, Salinger and Flann O’Brien.
I went to UCD but dropped out in first year. Big mistake all round. At 21 I found myself at work in a clothing factory, taking care of the stock. That kept me busy for nearly four years. Meanwhile, I fell in love, got dumped and was pathetic for a while. I decided to quit my job and leave home. I got someone to take over the payments on my car and took to a bike.
I went first to Paris but couldn’t get work there and ended up in London. A friend lent me the money to stay in a hostel. I sold the bike to repay him. I got another job in the clothing trade, this time higher fashion in the West End. I married and started a family. After retraining, I became a computer software developer and that’s what paid off the mortgage. I am free now to work full-time on my writing.
Most recently, I compiled and edited New Short Stories 11 (Willesden Herald, 2019), the latest in the annual series that I started in 2006. This edition features contemporary fiction by fifteen authors from Britain, America, Ireland and Nigeria, with an introduction by Gina Challen. In all, I have edited or co-edited eleven anthologies of short stories. Nine of the eleven comprised the New Short Stories series. In this connection, I was lucky enough to correspond with or meet many brilliant writers, known and unknown. I also co-edited two anthologies of poetry. All the books and other editing credits are listed under Publications.
Short Story Competition
I setup the Willesden Herald international short story competition in 2005. My role has been to select longlists and shortlists, with help from friends on a couple of occasions. Guest judges then chose the winning entries. After a gap of two years, coinciding with the Covid pandemic, we’re back with a new competition, closing date 31 August 2022. See NewShortStories.com for more details.
Stephen Moran was born in Dublin. He made his way to London in his mid-twenties and stayed. There he combined a career in database software with writing poetry, fiction and editing. He published a short story collection The London Silence and Other Stories in 2004, and a volume of poetry Day of the Flying Leaves in 2021. He has also edited or co-edited several anthologies of fiction and of poetry. His blog Stephen Moran’s Museum of Illusions, begun in 2003, continues to the present date.