Nicola J. McDonagh
About the Author:
Nicola J McDonagh was born in Liverpool and is a creative writing tutor and photographer. She lives in a 17th Century timber framed cottage with her husband and rescue cats and loves to grow, cook and eat her own vegetables and fruit.
Nicola trained as a photojournalist and gained an Hons Degree in Drama and English Literature, and has a Diploma in Creative Writing. She used to be an actor and scriptwriter, but gave all that up when she moved to Suffolk UK and fell in love with the acres of farmland that surround her home. She spends many hours sitting in the Summerhouse watching nature frolic in her garden.
Nicola won the Suffolk Book League’s Short Story Competition 2011 with her story, ‘Glimmer’ and was short-listed for the Escalator Genre Fiction Competition 2012 with an extract form Echoes from the Lost Ones.
MF: Echoes From the Lost Ones grew from listening to your students. How did they challenge you? Have they discussed the finished book with you?
NM: Echoes from the Lost Ones began as a challenge from a couple of students that attend a creative writing class I teach at my local High School. We would talk about their favourite books and discuss what was good and not so good about them. Then we discussed things that they wanted to see addressed in the novels they read, and challenged me to come up with a story that included their suggestions, such as a heroine that actually went to the toilet. Based on some of their proposals, I came up with the rough plot for Echoes.
I have discussed the finished book with them as they have read it and given me some very positive feedback. They wanted to know if I based any of the characters on them. I answered that I used some of their idiosyncrasies to help me create s the main characters, but I didn’t tell them which ones.
MF: You’re editing the second book in a series and have recently changed the beginning. Tell us about the ‘butterfly effect’ this has had on the rest of the novel.
NM: I have changed the beginning of the second novel because I thought it wasn’t a strong enough opening for Adara to continue her self-discovery. Once I did change it, I realised that I needed to say more about her ‘true mission’, and that effected her actions and reactions to those around her. This meant that I had to change some scenes as Adara continued to develop. As soon as I changed one scene, another needed altering, then another and another, and so on. I have ended up re-writing quite a lot in order to make sense of the changes I’ve made. At first I was annoyed with myself, but now I’m glad I did alter so much. I think the story is stronger for it and I feel that I have addressed some niggles I had about the believability of the underlying plotline.
MF: Several reviews of Echoes From the Last Ones use the word ‘original’ to describe it. In a market that’s saturated with dystopian novels, how did you find that originality?
NM: Originality is quite a strong word to use, I’m not sure if I am totally original, but I have tried to create a world and people that are different from the usual characters and themes found in this genre. For one thing, I use a quirky, slang-based language that helps to distinguish it from other narratives. I use humour to lighten the dark subject matters and keep the pace of the action going throughout. I have attempted to create unusual characters and deliberately chose to make Adara a complex character, unsure of her powers or abilities. I also let characters go to the toilet.
MF: After reading some of the work you’ve shared on your website and perusing the reviews of your novel, it’s clear you have a knack for writing dialogue using dialect and slang. Does this come natural to you? How did you develop this skill?
NM: Well, dialogue is my thing since I used to be an actress and scriptwriter. I spent most of my adult life performing and writing sketches and plays, before trying to write prose. Dialogue does come naturally to me and I enjoy experimenting with words and revealing plot through conversations. What I find difficult is writing prose. Taking writing classes and doing a Diploma in creative writing helped me to improve my prose style, but I do find it so much easier to let my characters natter on and let the story evolve through their conversations. Most of the editing I do is to cut the dialogue and put in more descriptions.
MF: Echoes From the Lost Ones is published through Fable Press. Tell us about working with them. Would you recommend them to other authors?
NM: Fable Press are easy to talk to and actively encourage their authors to be communicative, which is very useful, especially to first time authors like myself. They are friendly and approachable, and keep you informed of the publishing process, making sure that you are happy with their editing suggestions before going to print. They even encouraged me to give them ideas for the front cover. Like most publishers they do expect their authors to do the bulk of the promotional side of things. So be prepared to work very hard to get your author profile together and do most of the marketing yourself.
MF: What has been the toughest criticism given to you as a writer? What has been the best compliment?
NM: The toughest criticism as a writer came from a member of a writers’ group that I was doing a reading for. One member objected to the use of language and narrative style that I used, and said that the prose was not, ‘Grammatically correct and just there for effect.” I was deeply wounded by this suggestion as I have spent years polishing my grammar, punctuation and spelling.
The best compliment was when I had the launch of Echoes. After I finished my reading, the eleven-year-old son of a friend picked up the book and read a few pages. He turned to her and said, “Mum, can I have this book? I want to know what happens to the girl.” As an author, such comments verify all the hard work and effort of writing a book.
MF: What do you read? What do you re-read?
NM: I read a lot! At the moment I am reading a variety of novels by Indie/debut authors that are mainly Sci-fi and fantasy based. It is a genre I do enjoy reading, but I also love to read classics, such as Dickens, Thomas Hardy, and of course, Shakespeare. I also like to read quirky and unusual books, authors such as Mikhail Bulgakov, Knut Hansun spring to mind. Annie Proulx is a writer I am very fond of, especially her short stories.
The books I re-read are:
- A Christmas Carol-Charles Dickens
- Lolita-Vladimir Nabokov
- The Bell Jar-Sylvia Plath
- Gormanghast-Mervyn Peake
- The House at Pooh Corner-A A Milne
- The Poor Mouth-Flann O’Brian
MF: What is your favorite writing tip or quote?
NM: Sylvia Plath quote: “The poet becomes an expert packer of suitcases.” I think my tip is for writers to really understand the editing process and really hone your work before you send it out.
MF: Do you have any advice for other writers?
NM: My advice is to write every day. It doesn’t matter if what you put down isn’t very good, the important thing is to get into the habit of writing, get the story on the page, you can always edit afterwards. I would also advise writers who want to get published, to spend time getting a website and on-line profile up and running before going to print. Also, to believe in yourself and your writing and don’t worry too much if you get a few bad reviews. You can’t please everyone.
MF: If you could jump into a book, and live in that world … which would it be?
NM: If I could jump into a book and live in that world, it would have to be The House at Pooh Corner. I would love to hang out with Tigger and Piglet and all the other brilliant toy characters. I would dance with Tigger, cuddle Piglet, try to cheer up Eeyore, and spend hours playing Pooh sticks with Winnie-the-Pooh.
Now that the Agros have cut supplies and folk are near starved, I’d best keep shutums about my name though, or everyone will want a piece of me.
I’d best creep and peep all stealthy-like to track down my bro-bro. Snatched by Agro scum for who knows what.
Good job I’m trained in S.A.N.T. ways too, for I’ll need all my roughhouse skills to keep the Agro spies, Nearly’s and wolfies at bay until I find and bring home my bro and all the other missing Meeks.
I just wish I knew who or what is following my every move.
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