Born in Dungarvan, Co. Waterford in 1976, Kealan has lived and worked in the US since 2001; with five novels, including the popular southern gothic slasher Kin, and over two hundred short stories and novellas, including Blanky and The House on Abigail Lane, both of which are currently in development for film and TV, he was hailed by Booklist as “one of the most clever and original talents in contemporary horror,”
Nominated for the Bram Stoker Award, horror’s premier literary award, five times, Kealan won in 2005 for his coming-of-age novella The Turtle Boy, the first book in the acclaimed Timmy Quinn series.
As editor, he helmed the anthologies Night Visions 12, Taverns of the Dead, and Quietly Now, a tribute anthology to one of Burke’s influences, the late Charles L. Grant. Most recently, he completed a new novel, Mr. Stitch, a collection of novellas entitled Guests for Suntup Editions, and adapted Sour Candy as a graphic novel for John Carpenter's Night Terrors.
It is perhaps a little disappointing that he is better known in his adopted home, rather than here in Ireland, but hopefully given Chapters’ customers liking for all things spooky and attraction to independent mavericks, perhaps this will soon change!
Kealan can be found on Twitter @kealanburke, on Tik Tok @kealanpatrickburke and via his website www.kealanpatrickburke.com. Oh and he also runs an award-winning design studio for book covers and illustrations, you can find the man who never sleeps here www.elderlemondesign.net
What is the first book you bought yourself?
Had to reach way back into the dusty memory file for this one, but I’m fairly sure it was one of those Alfred Hitchcock & The Three Investigators books rereleased in the 1980s. I was obsessed with them to the point that I cut out the membership card on the back cover and carried it around in my pocket for a whole summer, believing it made me a legitimate detective, the Irish Jupiter Jones, as it were. Thus emboldened, I was able to get to the bottom of such complex mysteries as The Mystery of Who Left the Door Open and The Mystery of the Missing Change from My Mother’s Purse. Quite the sleuth, I was.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
I’m not sure I’d tell myself anything. I have loved and obsessed over writing since I was 8 and displayed a steadfast ethic as a child I’m not sure I have maintained in the intervening years. I had a dream and went after it, and anything I learned along the way was essential to my formation as a writer. At age 12, not really knowing how publishing worked, I sent a rudimentary short story of mine to O’ Brien Press, a book publisher. To my absolute astonishment, the editor wrote back a wonderful letter complete with a detailed critique and suggestions on how best to proceed with my ambition. I never forgot that, and a few years ago, wrote to thank them for taking the time to encourage me. Another surprise was that they remembered me! Such unexpected generosity was all I needed to stay on the path, so I think anything the adult me might have to say to my childhood self about the realities of publishing and writing would only discourage that naïve little onion.
Did publishing your first book change your writing process?
Other than proving to me that all those years of struggling to get published hadn’t been a pipe dream, no. The process itself remained organic. I taught myself the right and wrongs of writing simply by doing it more and more.
What were you most wrong about when you imagined being a writer?
As a child, clacking away on a typewriter in my bedroom until the early hours (and driving my sleep-deprived mother bonkers in the process), I envisioned my first novel being a smash-hit bestseller that would make my name synonymous with Stephen King. With that would come fame, fortune, and a big house in Maine where I would take breaks from writing to look admiringly upon the framed posters of the films they’d made from my work. I was a much happier and carefree little writer before the harsh realities of publishing made themselves known.
Which 3 books do you think everyone should read?
That’s a tough one. How to choose just three? I suppose I’ll go with my favorites: East of Eden by John Steinbeck (for the gorgeous writing, complex characterization, and epic story), Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (for its approach to toxic masculinity, the underlying corruption of the American Dream, and gender dynamics that are as relevant today as ever), and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (for the quintessential Gothic romance that, depending on the lens through which it’s viewed, is also a haunting psychological thriller and, at times, a full-blown horror novel, one that left a marked impression on me in my youth.)
Do you have a favourite book to gift and if so, what is it?
Not a particular book, no. I like to surprise friends with signed copies of books by authors they like. I used to bring a book on first dates based on the person’s literary preferences. The last time I did this, it was The Stranger by Albert Camus. Before that, it was The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles. At best, it’s a nice gesture. At worst, it gives me something to read if the date doesn’t show up.
What song always gets you on the dance floor?
Nobody wants me on the dance floor. It’s actually forbidden in most countries, primarily because I’m so inept at it, it tends to cause international incidents and a great deal of alarm. I have no rhythm, you see, so it can appear as though I’m having an upright stroke or mimicking being drunk in an elevator that’s come unsnapped from its cable. The few people who have witnessed it have ended up in therapy. I dance like a one-legged chicken trying to lay two eggs at the same time.
Tea or Coffee?
Until I moved to the U.S., it was tea. Now it’s coffee. I drink way too much of it, though. Haven’t slept since 2001 and now I can see sounds.
Do you Google yourself?
Now and again, I do, and I feel no shame about it. If you were at a party and all the other guests were in the next room talking about you or your books, would you not try to eavesdrop? That’s what Google is for me. It’s invaluable and often illuminating feedback. On a more practical level, it’s helped me track illegal copies of my books (such as the digital-only story that someone printed off, slapped covers on, and sold via their website), or pointed me toward articles about my books that allowed me to amplify the sites and magazines in a mutually beneficial way.
Why do you love Chapters?!
What’s not to love? Ireland’s biggest independent bookstore? Anyone who shows love for the indies deserves love in return. I particularly like the emphasis on Irish fiction. If your own bookstores won’t champion you, who will? Take this interview for example. If I was any less known, my author photo would be a missing persons flyer, so to be asked questions from an ambassador of one of my home country’s most prominent independent bookstores is a thrill for me