Ten minutes with author Stephen Canavan

Ten minutes with author Stephen Canavan

Stephen Canavan, 49, is a freelance journalist and feature writer. He has just completed his first novel The Myth of Vengeance and lives in Preston, Lancashire.

What are you working on now?

A prequel to my first novel The Myth of Vengeance which is a great true Northern English/Irish story about a Kildare born soldier in the British Army who murdered two of his officers in 1861. My second book is part of a planned trilogy, and is set principally in Philadelphia and Mexico in the 1840’s. The title is A Cause Worth Dying for and takes place firstly during the Bible Riots in Philadelphia when mobs of anti-immigration Americans tried to burn the Catholic Irish out of the city, and secondly, during the Mexican/American War of 1847. This concerns the Irishmen who deserted the US Army to join a special Regiment called ‘Batallón de San Patricio’ – The St Patrick’s Battalion -and fight for Mexico against the Americans. I have also mapped out a third book, The Fury of Silent Men which contains characters from the two previous books, and is about the revolutionary Irish miners’ group, The Molly Maguires,’ and their war with the coalmining bosses and the Pinkertons in Pennsylvania in the 1870s.

Which writer or historian has most influenced you?

As a child it was Tolkien…In adolescence, the war poets such as Owen and Sassoon – they showed me the power and passion that great writing can evoke in the reader.

When I first discovered Cormac McCarthy when I was living in America, that was the moment of revelation.

What are your Irish roots?

My family all come from Avoca in Wicklow on one side and the Glenties in Co. Donegal on the other.

Which piece of music always sends a shiver down your spine?

Made of Stone by The Stone Roses, and The Dubliners' live version of Peggy Gordon. Luke Kelly is the voice of Ireland.

Heaney or Yeats?

Neither –I’d rather read the poetry of James Clarence Mangan or Shane McGowan.

Which book has really moved you?

So many! But there is a section in the Galway writer Walter Macken's book Seek the Fair Land where a character speaks aloud for the first time after a very deep trauma. I cannot say anymore without giving away spoilers, but it made me weep the first time I read it, and still makes me weep when I read it now.

Which living writer do you most admire?

Th American writer, James Lee Burke.

Which living historian do you most admire?

Tim Pat Coogan makes history sing.

Which (real) historical figure do you most admire?

Robert Emmet and Michael Collins. I am also a big Robert F Kennedy fan – I think he could have been an amazing US president. It might be nice chatting with Shakespeare about the perils of writers block too!

What would be your motto?

“It is not having been in the dark house, but having left it, that counts…” Theodore Roosevelt.

Have you a favourite quote from Irish history?

Robert Emmet’s speech from the dock which finishes with the words: “When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then, and not till then, let my epitaph be written. I have done.”

Mozart or Martin Hayes?:

Martin Hayes, accompanied by Luke Kelly please!

In terms of inanimate objects, what is your most precious possession?

My late father, Jimmy Canavan’s rosary beads.

What do you consider the greatest work of art?

‘La Pieta’ by Michelangelo – I had the privilege of seeing it in the flesh at St Peter’s Basilica - It could make a glass eye weep.

What do you believe in?

I am a Catholic, so God. And the magical wonder of dogs, The Stone Roses, and Manchester United.

Who/what is the greatest inspiration in of your life?

My gorgeous Staffy dog Lola is my best friend and confidante, but my mum, Angela is still my greatest inspiration.