Local actor/writer/producer Sheilagh Guy Murphy has had a prestigious career in the arts. Founder and Artistic Director of Newfoundland Young People’s Theatre, she has appeared and voiced in several TV and radio commercials, as well as in Cody Westman’s short-film “Casey” that was featured at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2018. Sheilagh has also written, produced, and directed “To The Sea In Ships”, a play based on the 1914 SS Newfoundland Sealing disaster, premiering in 2014. Most recently, Sheilagh is the first Newfoundlander and Labradorian to win the 2019 Writers Union of Canada’s Short Prose Competition for Emerging Writers.
The Muse journalist, Timothy Parsons, had the opportunity to interview Sheilagh regarding the award and her career.
How and when did you start writing?
I’ve always been writing, I was much encouraged by the Presentation nuns to write, Christmas pageants, essays, speeches for oratorical contests, you name it.
How many stories would you say you’ve written?
Quite a few, but not as many as I like. I’m more of a storyteller than a short story writer, I like to regale. I’ve written down and completed. several dozens of short stories. I have long periods of time between writings, so I stopped writing short stories for a number of years, and it’s within the last year or two I’ve started again. Last year, I wrote a poem every day. They weren’t masterpieces but it was a disciplinary action of getting myself back to writing.
Where can people find your works?
I’ve never published any fictional works. I’ve written for newspapers and magazines for years as a freelance journalist. I’ve written a lot of collective work that has been on stage, especially with and for Newfoundland Young People’s Theatre, a professional company I formed some years ago. This award has given me a push, as if to say “hey, people genuinely like this work”. The acclaimed writers/judges in this competition have given me a creative boost and I am hoping to finish that book of short stories I have been talking about for years, this year!
How did you find out about winning the 26th annual Short Prose Competition for Emerging Writers?
I had a telephone
call, and Valarie called saying “I’m confused, is it Lost or My Immortal Soul?”
So I said, “hmmm, both”. The title was actually a bug in my computer, I’d print
out the story titled Lost, and the pages would all have a header called My
Immortal Soul. Luckily it turned out to be a great title.
She was calling me to correct some things on my submission, and just said “By the way you won”. She asked me not to tell anyone, I have a big yapper and I had to keep that secret for a whole month.
Where did the idea for Lost: My Immortal Soul come from?
The idea is based on something that happened in my youth with very much fiction and exaggeration thrown in but there is a germ of truth to it.
Are there any writers in particular who have inspired you?
I’m a savage reader, [with] books piled everywhere. I’m a great lover of the short story. James Jocye’s “Dubliners” being my favorite- ordinary Irish people but it’s the words and sentences and images that Jocye uses that makes it so beautiful to read over and over. Poe, Guy de’Maupassant, Dorothy Parker,Frank O’Conner…. and Hemingway’s short stories.
Do you have any projects currently in the making?
There’s that book of short stories I’m working on, [I] have that on the go. I do a lot of things on stage- two major productions I will be working on with TaDa Events. And I have a lot of commitments to charitable organizations and that is one of the reasons I haven’t buckled down and pursued the short story line.
Is there anything you draw inspiration from while writing?
Certainly, life experiences come into your writings. Also, for me, a character I might have met or seen on the street, an overheard conversation in an elevator, a snippet of a song,…could be anything.
What can you tell me about your career as an actor and producer?
I’ve been acting for quite a while, and I’ve performed with about everybody there is in this province. TV, radio, stage. Recently, I’ve been the go-to granny in short films. I have done a lot of those in recent years.. I’ve never stopped producing, directing, and writing. It continues to be a long and varied career as a performer. I guess that part of me took over a bit of my writing side.
Would you be interested in writing other literature (novels, plays, etc.)?
I feel that [with] the amount of neurons I have left in my brain, I can only write short stories. I wrote a play for the 100th anniversary of the SS Newfoundland Sealing disaster that was performed in 2014…so maybe a few two handers. I promised my friend and co=actor, Tessa Crosbie, I would write a play for the both of us. Writing a novel is something I don’t think I would venture. Now my memoirs… would make great reading or fodder!