Monday, June 9, 2014

Author Spotlight - Nicola (Nikki) McDonagh

I am honored to host Nikki McDonagh on my blog this week. Nikki, you are my very first guest author and it's been really fun trading questions on writing and music with you. 

So what's going on with you right now? Any news on upcoming releases? I know that you're working on a few things. Any progress on those?
I am currently working on a younger teen novel, which is all about Egyptian mummies and curses and the end of the world – kind of thing. It is also about coming to terms with the death of loved ones. An action adventure with supernatural elements, I’m hoping it will appeal to male and female readers. In this book I have deliberately made nearly all of the central characters female, even the baddie and her sidekick. I wanted to do this because I think it would be nice to see more books with more female protagonists and antagonists.

My collaboration is on hold because of work commitments, but it will happen. Should be fun as we are two very different kinds of people and it is in a genre I have never written in.

Glimmer is a collection of darkly humorous stories that tell of mysterious liaisons, supernatural intrigue, deathly hauntings, disturbing fixations, hidden secrets, forbidden urges, necromancy and a rebellious housewife.

Since some folks may not have read other interviews about your YA series Song of Forgetfulness, could you give us a little summary here about those books? Was this the first time you had ever written YA fiction? What influenced you?
Yes, it was the first time I had written YA fiction, and dystopian. I had dabbled in a couple of sci-fi short stories, but nothing so adventurous as a novel. It was the young people in my creative writing group that I teach in my local High School that challenged me to write a novel that included issues and subject matters that they felt weren’t addressed in the YA fiction they read: such as environmental issues, the threat of disease and overpopulation. Also, they wanted a heroine that went to the toilet and had a menstrual cycle.

Brief synopsis of both books:
The Song of Forgetfulness YA dystopian/sci-fi series, is an unsettling and mysterious vision of the future where animals are almost extinct, humans are subjugated by the sinister and secretive Agros, and nothing is as it seems.

Book 1: Echoes from the Lost Ones
In NotSoGreatBritAlbion there is hunger. Agros have cut supplies and children are going missing. Only one girl with a unique power can save them - Adara – Catcher of Birds. When her brother is kidnapped, she embarks on a dangerous quest to find him, and must use all her courage and vocal skills to battle against evil forces to save herself and loved ones from being slaughtered by Agro spies. This is a coming of age tale with a difference. The inventive slang-derived language creates a fresh and dynamic style to create a truly compelling world.

Book 2: A Silence Heard 
A Silence Heard continues the quest of Adara and her friends to save her brother Deogol, and all the missing Meeks.

Disguised as Ladies and their escorts, Adara, Kendra, Eadgard, Wirt and Marcellus, enter Agro headquarters ready to infiltrate their colony and free the Meeks. However, Agros are smart and Adara and her companions find themselves at the mercy of torturers and sleazy seducers. However, there is hope. The Meeks have a secret weapon and outside, folk are gathering. A legion of Woodsfolk, Clonies, S.A.N.T.S, Holy ones and Ladies, are on their way.

As filthy battles ensue and loved ones perish, Adara must sing The Song of Forgetfulness one last time if she is to save not only the Meeks, but all the folk of NotsoGreatBritAlbion, from a life of slavery and despair.

Do you find that you prefer writing YA fiction now? Or do you not have a preference? 
I do love to write YA fiction. I actually find it easier than writing adult fiction. Maybe, I have tapped into my inner teenager and she wants to stay.

Do you have a favourite character in your books or short stories and why?
I think my favourite character in the YA novels, is Wirt. He is so loyal; and although appears to be quite fragile on occasions, he has such inner strength and conviction of purpose. He is quite frankly, the best friend a girl could have.

In my short stories, it would be Dys, from the Reclaimed Merman. She is crazy and witty and full of compassion, despite her rather rough and loud outer persona.

I understand that you earned your degree in Creative Writing. What was the most important thing you learned as a student? Do you think good creative writing can be taught or do you think people have to have an aptitude for it first?
Well, firstly, it is a Diploma, not really that different from a degree, but I’d better get it right. The most important thing I learned as a student was to write and read. I know it sounds obvious, but it really is good advice. The more I read, the more I understood how a narrative works. The more I wrote, the more I understood how much I needed to learn. I also learned to be critical of my work and see it through the eyes of a reader. That is by far the most difficult thing to do, but with practice, it can be done. Sometimes :)

I think that you can help people develop their talent as a writer. You can show them how to improve their narrative by paying attention to the structure, pace, character development, dialogue, and all those things that go into creating a narrative that is well written. Also, being in a class with fellow writers and actively discussing each other’s work, is a great way of learning to be critical and understanding what makes a good narrative.

Now that you're a writing teacher/tutor, what advice do you find yourself giving your students most frequently?
Write and write and write. Even if it is only a few hundred words, try to write something every day. Don’t edit until you are finished. It doesn’t matter how disjointed the first draught is, you can hone and change until you are satisfied. Then, get at least two people you trust to read and review it.

When did you start taking photography seriously? Are there days you feel more inclined to take pictures rather than write?
I was about seventeen and studying art at a higher level. The teacher showed us how to develop B&W film and prints and I was hooked. I loved being in the darkroom and watching my photographs develop before my eyes. That’s when I thought I would become a photojournalist and studied it for a year. However, the reality of being a journalist was too much for me so I gained a degree in Drama and English instead. I never stopped photographing however, and made a small living from it off and on for many years. I take photographs most days. Something will catch my eye and I’ll quickly grab my camera and take the shot. Some days when the sun is shining, or there is snow, or ice, or fog, or rain, I will go outside and look until something inspires me to take a shot. Sometimes I have an idea for a theme. I am currently working on a series of photographs celebrating the beauty of dead insects and animals. I see so many of them in my huge garden and in the fields that surround me that I began to regard their decomposition as art. I think I maybe a bit weird, but it is a challenge to make a desiccated bird skeleton look pretty. 

Since I'm a bit of a groupie, I would love to hear more about your band The Swamp Kittens. Do you tour? Do you record? I read that you are learning to play some instruments. What do you play now?
Ah, The Swamp Kittens! We are a virtual band and would never tour!!  We have recorded, although my input is quite limited due to the fact that I am not really a musician. The real creativity behind us is the hugely talented Daphne De Muir, who plays and composes nearly everything you hear. The music is experimental and we do it just for fun. Unfortunately, as I write, the Swamp Kittens have decided to go their separate ways. There will be no more swampiness for the foreseeable future. But, you never know, when we both have more time we might do another album.

I am learning to play the flute and piano accordion. I find the flute much easier to play. Perhaps it is because my husband is teaching me. He is a professional musician and composer and can play everything! Well, nearly everything. He has toured the world playing, and has composed for television and indie films.

The accordion is big and I keep trapping parts of my anatomy in the bellows. But I do find it a great way to unwind.

You mentioned growing up near Liverpool. I know there's so much more to that city than the Beatles, but that's what many of us think of when we hear the name "Liverpool." Can you tell us a little about the group's legacy there? Did they have any influence on you at all?

The Beatles were everything when I was growing up. They were one of us, working class lads that made it. They gave us all hope of a brighter future and ingrained Liverpool as one of the most culturally diverse cities in Europe. I think they influenced me in that I was drawn to performing and wanted to know more about the world of media. I wanted to go to one of their gigs and take photographs! But I was too young.

It sounds as though you're pretty prolific. Do you ever have times when you struggle to write or feel uncertain about your writing? Any advice on how to overcome this?
Oh yes! Most of the time. I think writing is hard. Sometimes I’ll write something that flows and I think, okay this is good, and then I’ll look at it again and think, yikes, maybe I can fix this. I think the only advice I can give is to learn as much as you can from the books you read. Go to writing classes and try to be objective about what you write. This is the most difficult thing to do. When I have written something, I ask myself, okay, so, what is it about? Oh, that is a horrible question, but I find it helps me to focus on the story and how to develop it satisfactorily.

I saw your listing of favourite books. Who is your favourite author at this very minute? And why?
Sylvia Plath. I’ve just been re-reading some of her short stories – Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams - and they are wonderful. They are full of humour and pathos and are just so well written. She has an easy style and a knack for getting right to the heart of the story. Her characters are utterly believable and you can’t help but identify with them and their plight. She is a much undervalued and misunderstood writer in my opinion.

I liked this question very much, so I'm going to ask you the same thing: If you could spend a day as your favourite literary character, who would it be, from which book, and why?
I would be Tigger in AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories. Tigger is wild and eccentric and does what he feels like. He bounces around and torments the other toys, but they still love him. I’d be Tigger and I’d bounce the hell out of Eeyore. 

Great responses and great writing advice. I would like to extend my thanks to Nikki for taking the time to be on my blog. Here are ways to learn more about her and her work:

The Song of Forgetfulness website:

Twitter: @McDonaghNikki

Website photography:

Amazon links: