Author Nicola McDonagh’s first memory of writing goes back to when she was about seven years old. Speaking to The Literary Juggernaut in an exclusive interaction, the author says she was stripping wallpaper on the landing of her house with the members of her family when she began to draw animals. ‘Then underneath the pictures, I wrote little poems. I cried when my dad wallpapered over them,’ she shares with a beatific smile.
Letting us know that while working on a book, she starts with the ending and then works backwards, Ms McDonagh, who holds a BA Honours Degree in Drama and English Literature and a Diploma in Creative Writing, says once she puts pen to paper to begin writing a novel, she writes down the main characters first, then what they look like and what kind of personality they have. ‘I add other characters as I write. I do have a plotline into which I throw my characters, and then, I write how they react to the events that happen to them,’ she tells us, adding that this often means the storyline changes, depending on what her characters do. ‘I love writing like that as I have the freedom to change a story, yet I have the structure so that I can keep on track to a certain extent,’ she states.
Setting Creativity in Motion
Talking about The Song of Forgetfulness, her first sci-fi/dystopian series, the author says it came about when she was teaching creative writing to students at her local High School. ‘Some of them asked me if I would write a dystopian book for them. They wanted me to include a stocky heroine, who eats, goes to the toilet and has a monthly menstrual cycle,’ Ms McDonagh, who tries to write every day, lets us know.
She adds, ‘I thought, why not? The first two books were published by a small publishing house in the US. When they dissolved, I self-published and wrote two more books in the series. I also published two short story anthologies, one of which, Glimmer, I narrated as an audiobook.’ Be that as it may, the author lets us know that her most recent book is under a pen name. ‘It’s a historical murder mystery set in Vienna at the turn of the twentieth century,’ she lets on.
Inspiring and Inspired
A reader of different genres, the author tells us she favours late American writer Sylvia Plath. ‘I read The Bell Jar as a teenager and was blown away by her honesty and wit. She writes so beautifully and succinctly,’ the author says. Besides Sylvia, Ms McDonagh is also fond of Vladimir Nabokov’s works. She tells us, ‘His writing is perfect. His characters are utterly believable, and he carries you away with his storytelling. Lolita is a masterpiece. You at once love and hate Humbert Humbert, and there are twists that you do not see coming. His ability to control your emotions is something I try to do with my writing.’
A few other writers that Ms McDonagh derives inspiration from are Mervyn Peake and Ursula K Le Guin. ‘Gormenghast is amazing. Mervyn Peake’s fantasy world is utterly believable. His descriptive narrative draws you into a weird universe where everything is unnatural, yet you believe in the characters and the world where they exist. My Pye is so different yet utterly absorbing and so funny. His world-building was very influential in my attempts at creating my imaginary world,’ she explains, adding that Ursula K Le Guin is one of the best sci-fi writers there has ever been.
Ms McDonagh, who always carries a sticky pad with her to write down her thoughts when inspiration strikes, tells us, ‘Ursula’s world-building is stunning. The way she can transport you to far off places is wonderful. Her structure is precise, and her characters very human, even if they are aliens. She has influenced the way I write my characters. I make sure they ring true despite some being mutants. I want them to have real personalities and feelings like everyone else.’
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Lover of Photography
On being asked if becoming a writer was a conscious decision she made, the author answers in the affirmative. She says, ‘After I won a writing competition for my short story Glimmer, I felt that I was ready to tackle a novel and be published.’ Also, the author lets on that she fits in her writing around feeding or cleaning my cats and chickens. ‘I also love to take photographs and can spend far too long doing that when something inspires me. I love to cook and make my own sourdough bread,’ she says.
Going on to say that she would love to be a full-time author, Ms McDonagh lets us know she is currently working on the second prequel to The Song of Forgetfulness. ‘It’s nearly there. I just need to have it BETA read and edited. It is somewhat grittier than the other books in the series as I have a strong message about climate change and animal abuse that runs through it. However, it does have a happy ending of sorts despite being post-apocalyptic,’ she explains.
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The Final Word
Nonetheless, is there a thing or two she’d like to tell budding authors who lose motivation if their works don’t do well? Says Ms McDonagh, who joys having breakfast in bed with her husband, Martin, ‘Write what moves you, what burns inside you. Then it doesn’t matter if it sells well because it will be your passion that can never die out. Keep going, learn how to write and market your books; it takes time to be successful.’
And as the conversation draws to a close, we ask if there is something she would want to change in the world if she had the power to do so, and Ms McDonagh says she’d want to reverse global warming. ‘Also get rid of corrupt governments,’ she states, signing off.
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