The Triumphant Return

I hope you all missed me terribly. I’m thrilled to announce that National Novel Writing Month has now ended and I have returned to you bearing one of these bad boys:

national novel writing month

30 days, 50000 words, nae bother.

Having somehow come out the other side of this frankly ridiculous challenge, I thought I would impart some pearls of wisdom that I learned throughout the month. Because I’m wise now. Super wise. Totally.

You Can Definitely Eat An Elephant

You know that old saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”. It works. 50000 words is too many. 1667 is still too many really, but not by much. Writing a novel is something that I’ve wanted to do for literally my entire life and this month I did it. It took literally 30 days to accomplish something that I’ve always wanted to do, for no other reason than that I broke it down into baby steps and committed to taking those steps every day. You should definitely do the same with that thing you’ve always wanted to do.

There Are More Hours In the Day Than You Think

I am the mothereffing queen of “I don’t have time”.

“I’m far too busy to do this pile of productive things!” I exclaim, hitting play on another episode of Once Upon a Time. Disclaimer: I do not advise using every second of your day productively for an extended period of time. It will drive you crazy. But I definitely learned that when I say I don’t have half an hour to exercise or tidy up or cook good food, it’s a lie. If I have time to write a novel around having a full time job, I have time to clean my damn flat.

Being Creative Is Bloody Exhausting

Oh my god, creating a world is tiring. Creating at such an intense level for such an extended period of time totally wrecked my brain for anything else. I started watching Disney movies on the weekends because they were about the level I was operating on. I almost fell asleep in the shower one night. Every so often, Niall would come home to find me literally lying on the living room floor because I was too tired to do anything else. Hats off to all the creatives out there, it’s a hard, hard job.

There Is Nothing Like Doing Something You Love

I feel like, after this month, I have gained a new understanding of “my heart is bursting”. Being absolutely absorbed in something that I love to do was the most infuriating, brilliant, inspiring, exciting, exhausting thing I’ve ever done. I felt invincible all month, like I was walking on air. I felt alive on a whole new level. Make time to do what you love, people. You owe it to yourself.

Normal blogging schedule will resume soon, which is exciting considering that I’ve never had a blogging schedule in my life. As a huge, massive thank you to everyone who has supported me, cheered me on, cooked me food, given me ideas and put up with questions like “Do all birds bob their heads though?”, I invite you to enjoy a little snippet of my newly finished masterpiece, The Waiting Room. You’re all the best. I love you.

Nicholas kicked open the door and stepped into the room. He strutted over to where Cait was sitting, painstakingly polishing a silver crossbow.
“What an influx we’ve had today. Days like this make me wish I could still drink coffee.”
“You don’t remember coffee. Coffee probably wasn’t even around when you were alive. You spend too much time eavesdropping on the humans,” murmured Cait without lifting her eyes.
“I can’t help it. They’re all so delightfully screwed up. You get anyone interesting?”
Cait sighed and reluctantly put down the crossbow, deciding that shooting a demon with an arrow probably wasn’t a good idea, even if it would make her feel better.
“Not today. Just some kid. She seems a bit weepy. I doubt she’ll last long. I give her about a week before she’s at my feet, begging me to take all her memories and let her move on.”
“See, that’s the problem with you angels. We get all the fun ones. I think you picked the wrong side.”
Nicholas stepped closer to her, tracing a long fingernail across the back of her neck. She could feel his lecherous breath hot on her face. She seriously considered crossbowing him again. She hated demons. She especially hated Nick. She couldn’t understand how in a dimension with literally infinite space, she always seemed to end up in a room with him. She looked up at him and rolled her eyes. Most demons wore simple black trousers but Nick liked to pair his with a white shirt, unbuttoned to the point of indecency, an undone bowtie and a pair of shiny black boots. He had seen a human dressed like that once and thought it made him look distinguished. Cait felt like telling him that it made him look ridiculous.
“And that’s the problem with you demons, you think that the people you get are fun. Evil isn’t fun. Murder isn’t fun. Torture isn’t fun.”
Nick rolled his eyes and flopped down on the sofa across from her, hands behind his head. He pulled a long dagger from his belt and started to clean underneath his nails with it.
“I’d have to disagree with you there. Because when we dole it out, evil and murder and torture isn’t just fun…it’s justice. And I know that you’re into that. I think you’d quite enjoy a trip over to the dark side. I think you’d see that we’re not really the bad guys. We’re the ones who get to punish them.”
Cait went back to cleaning her crossbow.
“You don’t get to be a demon without being a bad guy. It’s kind of in the nature of the job.”
Cait actually didn’t know that. It was all part of the deal. If you got the nod, you could choose to give up all memories of your mortal life and your afterlife in exchange for being bumped up to archangel or demon status. They said that the wipe was so you could perform your job without your previous hangups and biases…distractions, they called them. Cait sometimes wondered about the credits, whether they had ended up in someone’s pocket. She didn’t really care. Caring was not in her job description. So she didn’t know for sure whether she’d been a good person, and was rewarded with wings instead of horns. But considering most demons’ natural knack for cruelty, she had always assumed that was how it went. Sure, she liked raining down justice as much as the next celestial being and loved the thrill of the chase on the odd occasion a ghost made a break for it, but when it came to the demons, it was a whole different game. There was nothing like a demon on the hunt. She had never seen bloodlust like it. She suppressed an involuntary shiver, not wanting to give Nick the satisfaction. Not that he actually went on the hunts anymore anyway. His predilection for inventive and horrifying means of torture meant that he had risen through the ranks quickly. Petty criminals and escapees didn’t see Nick. If you were seeing Nick, it was because you had done something really awful. Although that was nothing on what he was about to do to you. Or so he liked to brag. He made her skin crawl, strutting around in those shiny, pointed boots, flicking his tail boredly as he regaled his adoring fans with tales of his eternal badness. She often considered telling them about the time he fell on his own pitchfork as a newbie. That would put him in his place. She glanced up to find him watching her carefully.
“Maybe you just don’t have it in you anymore,” he said softly, “Maybe you’ve been acting angelic for too long and all the fight has gone out of you.”
She couldn’t resist it anymore. She picked up one of the bolts for her crossbow and tossed it at him like a javelin. It whirred a centimetre past his nose and embedded itself deep in the wall opposite. She relished the shimmer of fear and surprise that flashed across his face.
“Trust me,” she warned, “I’ve still got it.”
Nick opened his mouth but she raised her hand to silence him.
“And no, that was not flirting.”

Into The Belly of the Beast: Shane Hegarty’s Darkmouth

Anyone who has known me for a long time will know that I am most likely to be found with my nose in a book. As a kid, I could go missing for hours and be found squashed in a corner somewhere, book in hand. As an adult, I often complain that my bag is too heavy, only to open it and find a tiny library inside. I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say that I found out what kind of person I wanted to be in the pages of hundreds upon hundreds of books. As someone who puts a lot of pressure on herself, I collect heroes and heroines who struggle with who they want to be, whether they can really be the person that they’re expected to be. Of course, I’ve never had to brandish a sword or cross vast, strange lands on a mystical quest, but nonetheless, I found friends in characters that I recognised myself in. And I found another in Finn, the hero of Shane Hegarty’s young adult series, Darkmouth.

darkmouth shane hegarty finn

Finn probably regretting some of his decisions here. Illustration by the amazing James de la Rue.

Full disclosure here: Shane is a friend of the family. I know a lot of really brilliant people, so it was only a matter of time before one of them did something really brilliant. And my god, this is really brilliant. I read the entire first book in one evening. The series takes place in a small Irish town called Darkmouth, which is strikingly similar to Shane’s hometown of Skerries. But Darkmouth is different. Because in Darkmouth, there be monsters. In ancient times, the world was filled with portals, through which enormous mythical monsters, called Legends, escaped into our world. Darkmouth holds the last one. Fortunately, the world is protected by Hugo, a fearsome Legend hunter, and Finn, his young son. Finn is being trained to take up the family business. Except that he’d really rather just be a vet. I shan’t spoil it for you but this is a gorgeous, hilarious portrait of a young boy struggling to live up to his legendary father, all while fending off literal demons left, right and centre. I caught up with Shane and his talented illustrator James de la Rue to find out more about the men behind the Legends.

Shane, what first gave you the idea for the Darkmouth series?

I’d always wanted to write fun, adventurous, fantastical fiction but took years to build up the confidence to actually give it a go. The irony is that I was writing for years before that – as a journalist and as the author of two books of popular history. In the end, I came up with this not particularly original idea – a boy fights monsters that invade his town – but knew it offered a great starting point to explore two worlds. And for jokes. Lots of jokes.

If you were a Legend, what kind of Legend do you think you’d be?

I’d like to be one with seven heads and fourteen arms so I could write these books quicker, without having to interrupt the all-important coffee-drinking. In the books I choose from existing myths because a) I’m lazy and b) it’s fun to imagine what would be the practical, day-to-day reality of having, like an Orthrus, a dog’s body but a snake for a tail.

shane hegarty darkmouth

Illustration by James de la Rue.

 

You take a lot of inspiration from your hometown…ever seen any monsters or mythical creatures lurking?

I’m not allowed say, for fear of libelling someone! But writing is often a game of “what ifs”. What if my town had been invaded by monsters of myth for a thousand years? What if you had to fight off invading minotaurs and then go back to school? Again, I’m lazy. This approach works for me.

(Note from Fiona: I wish my laziness was this productive. When I’m lazy, I tend to binge watch Pretty Little Liars, rather than casually penning a bestselling book series)

The latest instalment of the series, Worlds Explode, has just hit bookshelves, what should we expect from Finn and the gang this time around?

The first book is about Finn living in the shadow of his dad, but the second is about how he has to cope when his dad isn’t around. It’s also a glimpse into the world of the monsters, which was always the plan from the very beginning, but also turns out to be just what the readers were asking for. As it’s only just out, the reviews are only coming in. I met one boy who said it was the best book he had ever read. That boy happens to be my son, and I was buying him ice-cream at the time, but still…

What is it like to have kids sharing your stories and loving them so much?

(Note from Fiona: Can you hear the innate jealousy in this question?)

I’ve four kids, but only my 10-year-old son is old enough to read and enjoy the stories. The best bit of the whole adventure for me was the night he wouldn’t turn his light out because he needed to read on and see what happened. That was a relief. I’ve to write four of these books and if my own son didn’t enjoy them it was going to be a long few years.

James, I am completely obsessed with your illustrations. Where do you get your inspiration from?

My main inspiration is from the writing! There is of course a mixture of influences from favourite illustrators such as EH Shepard, Chris Riddell, Edward Gorey, Mervyn Peake, Helen Oxenbury, John Burningham, plus any number of movies, TV shows, etc., but the more vivid the writing, the more vivid the images are in my head, same with any reader. I just go one step further and draw what I see.

Do you have a favourite illustration from the Darkmouth series? Why?

I’m quite keen on one from Darkmouth: Worlds Explode in which Finn is inside a room made entirely from the bones of demonic beasts (being careful with spoilers here because spoilers). It’s a tense moment in the story and the effect of the starched, whiteness of the remains comes over reasonably well. Essentially it’s one of those rare illustrations of mine I don’t mind looking at for more than five seconds.

shane hegarty darkmouth

Five seconds? Hands up who could look at this for hours.

If you could be a Legend, what kind of Legend do you think you’d be?

My kids think I’m a legend already so I know how that feels. Not going to last forever probably. Although if you pushed me I’d have to say something with wings. Who’d want to be a Legend if you were stuck on the ground, especially if it was infested?

What drew you to the Darkmouth series?

The concept, as it was initially described, was simple and I just thought “I’d draw that”. Then by the time I’d read a couple of excerpts (I was requested to do a couple of character sketches) the dialogue in particular showed me this was going to be good. Finn was instantly likeable, and I think that’s a difficult trick to pull off so quickly. Even though I had a worryingly full schedule at the time (always a good problem) I didn’t want to let this one slip away.

Where can we find more of your work?

I’ve done plenty of Spy Dog books which are widely available; I’ve done some Terry Deary World War Tales recently and have lots of covers to do for him over the next few weeks; Archie Greene is a magical series with book #1 already out there; also Myth Raiders, a series whose concept is not totally dissimilar to Darkmouth, but with a different tenor; there are other things scattered around too, and the list is building nicely. I remember thinking none of this would ever be possible.

You can find Shane on Twitter @ShaneHegarty and James @PencilsMcDraw.