Irish queer author Shaun Powell talks debut novel The Thing About Space

Shaun Powell discusses inspirations, queer representation, dealing with difficult themes and the experience of self-publishing.

Irish queer author Shaun Powell's novella
Image: Shaun Powell

The Thing About Space is a stunningly beautiful novella of queer misplaced friendship. It follows Claire; an author struggling to write her second novel. When Claire rents out her spare room to the enigmatic Zoe, she is led on a journey through Dublin on a night out which could change things for her forever. It’s a story of love and loss and everything in between.

It’s the debut novel of Dublin native, Shaun Powell. Here, Shaun discusses where the author in him came from, queer representation, and the benefits of self-publishing.

Irish queer author of the thing about space Shuan Powell

Q: Where did your passion for writing come from?

A: I always thought I wanted to be an actor. Reading and writing was always there. I remember the first thing I wrote was around nine and it was this short story about me being an actor in Hollywood. Throughout school, I was always writing but thinking I wanted to do something else. It was never obvious to me because no one was ever like “you should do this.”

When I was 12, I moved to Cavan to go to secondary school, and I had no friends. I was the random gay kid from Dublin. In first and second year I would spend my breaks in the library and when I went home, I was writing a lot. I also had a teacher, his name was Mr. Smith, he knew that I was a “good” writer. He was really encouraging and just so lovely.

I guess writing has always been there I just didn’t realize it was the thing that I wanted to do, until the last five years of my life. I was like this is actually what makes me happy, and this is my outlet and my story, my thoughts put into creativity.

Q: Where do your ideas for stories come from? 

A: I do take the idea of ‘what would you want to read, and does it exist’, and if it does, move on to something else, but if it doesn’t you need to write that book. I guess a lot of the stuff in The Thing About Space is stuff that has happened to me. Or things I’ve seen in others. I travel a lot; I just love sitting down in a coffee shop and watching people do their bits. I have hundreds of notes on my phone of just random snippets of conversation I’ve heard, and I’ll always incorporate it.

Q: Where did the idea for this one come from?

A: The Thing About Space existed four years ago. I was in a two-year relationship with this boy and it ended horrifically. I couldn’t give that attention or any more energy. I couldn’t write, I lost the ability to sit down and be inspired. So I said to myself – “I need to write about the only thing that’s happening in my life right now”. So, I wrote this short story called The Thing About Space, but it was a different version than the one that I published. I had this idea of this Airbnb woman who gets all these people in to fill the void of her missing something. I could take those two ideas and blend them together to make a new story but still telling my story and that’s how it came about.

Irish queer author Shaun Powell's novella the thing about space

Q: Why did you decide to portray such difficult themes in the book?

A: I feel like everyone has something, you know, everyone can see a bit of themselves in it – whether it’s [the character of Claire] her issues with her body or her depression, her grief, her lack of productivity, and how she’s kind of let herself go, or she’s like not eating or anything, all these symptoms of her loss can be seen by a lot. Does it give people a chance to see themselves? Maybe, I don’t know, but it definitely made me look at it and go ‘God I remember when I used to be like that’. I still do stupid things like that, especially in the last year when all of our mental health was affected by the lockdowns and we do these bad things too. We stay awake all night and then sleep all day.

Or alcohol is a big problem for Claire. Especially at the start we get that kind of sense. So I think it’s just another theme that I always try to include. I think it makes the characters more real and full and just more realistic because everyone has, well yeah maybe some people don’t and they’re really blessed, but I feel a lot of people do have some form of mental health issue, or need to see themselves in something to understand it more.

Irish author shaun powell book cover the thing about space
Design by Laura Sheridan

Q: Why did you decide to self-publish?

A: However, you want your story to be consumed, or however you want it to be born, that’s up to you. If you want to do all the waiting, and there’s nothing wrong with that, I could easily do that I don’t mind. Just for me and this story, I wanted to get it out there. Personally I loved the whole experience. I think self-publishing just made sense and I really really enjoyed no one telling me what to do and going with what I wanted to do. And I just ran with that idea.

You can purchase Shaun Powell’s debut novel The Thing About Space here. And you can check out some of GCN’s top picks of LGBTQ+ books here.

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