ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David J O’Brien is an Irish ecologist, poet, fiction writer and teacher. He was born in Dublin, studied environmental biology and zoology at University College Dublin. He taught English in Madrid for four years, biology in Boston for seven years and now teaches English and science in Pamplona, Spain, where he lives with his wife, daughter, and son. He is still involved in deer biology and management, and has written about deer watching for Ireland’s Wildlife and deer management for the Irish Wildlife Trust. His non-academic writing is often influenced by science and the natural world – sometimes seeking to describe the science behind the supernatural. His poems have been published in several anthologies and journals, such as such as Albatross, Houseboat, and Misty Mountain Review. His paranormal horror trilogy, Silver Nights: Leaving the Pack, Leading the Pack and Unleashing the Pack, contemporary adult fiction novels Five Days on Ballyboy Beach, and The Ecology of Lonesomeness, have
been published by Tirgearr Publishing. His young readers fairytale novel Peter and the the Little People and paranormal YA The Soul of Adam Short were published by MuseIt Up Publishing and are now self-published, as is his dystopian novella The Logical Solutionand short story collection, Last Light on the Sage Flats. More of his writing, including poems and blogs about nature, rewilding and wildlife management, can be found at http://davidjmobrien.wordpress.com/
Can you tell us a little about your background?
I was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, where I studied Environmental Biology and then a doctorate in Zoology. I used to go hunting with my father in the Wicklow Mountains and later used this in studying the deer of the area. I met my wife while in my first year of post-grad, when she was living in Dublin on her Erasmus year. Later when I finished my doctorate, I went to Madrid where she’d started her own doctorate and after a few years there we went to Boston before returning 12 years ago to her hometown of Pamplona. I teach biology, general science and English now.
How did you get started as an author?
I started writing poems when a teen, then a couple of short stories. I had an idea for a were-wolf story using the stuff I learned in college about physiology. I was always interested in wolves – I’d wanted to study deer-wolf interactions as a post-doc if life had gone that way! I’d been reading Barry Lopez’s book, of wolves and men, and of course Wolfen by Whitley Strieber and I wondered what the origin of the myth could have been. I wrote a story, then with some positive feedback from a girl in the college Literature Society, I extended it to a novel. I spent a few years sending it round until it was picked up by Tirgearr Publishing. I ended up writing two more novels to complete the trillogy.
Can you talk about your latest book and the inspiration behind it?
It’s a YA novel set in Dublin (my first novel set there) and Wicklow. It’s called Little Victories and the main characters are Nicki, a girl in her third year of secondary school – 9th grade – who’s trying to figure out her sexual orientation at the same time prepare for the Irish State examinations at the end of the year. She’s just been introduced to the trick of tagging rides on her bike by holding onto the back of trucks and heavy goods vehicles by her two friends Mark and Ashton, both of whom seem to have figured out their own sexuality. They go mountain biking and Nicki discovers that many illegal brush fires are being set in the hills and she decides they should do something to stop them. Of course, life is not so easy as deciding something and finding immediate justice or solutions, but as spring turns to summer and the friends start a new year, Nicki learns that you have to appreciate the few good things that do come your way and be content with that.
It was inspired by various elements: I was asked to produce a new YA novel by the publisher of my first one, The Soul of Adam Short; I’d had an idea when I was a teenager of a story about kids who tag lifts from trucks in Dublin, which was something I used to do when young and foolish; and in recent years the setting of illegal brush fires by farmers and kids with nothing better to do has been a growing problem all around Ireland.
How do you approach the writing process? Do you have a specific routine or method?
I have no method, other than scraping time. When I am writing the notes, outline and the sketch of the chapters I usually write by hand on notepads, and I can do it very quickly, in any spare time I have, such as sitting on a park bench while my kids play in the park. When I type up the notes it’s easy enough to get words on the page, but it’s when I have to stitch it all together, and fill in the gaps that I have to get some more time to concentrate. I find that going to a café or bar in town while I wait for my kids during extracurricular activities in the afternoon is a perfect way to force myself to do work. It can take a long time to get the first draft done compared to when I had no kids and I had a couple of hours every afternoon before my wife came home back in the day, but it’s what has to work for now!
Can you share any challenges you faced during the writing process of your latest book?
Time is always the challenge. I’ve two kids, now 12 and 7, so while writing this they were younger and even more demanding than they are now! So it was hard to get concentration time. Also, being a teacher, it’s hard to get your brain to re-start after a day giving classes.
How do you develop your characters and bring them to life on the page?
That’s a difficult question for any writer to answer, I think I just treat them as real people as much as possible and have them act as normal people would – even if we’re talking about werewolves, they’d have to act rationally for me to believe in them myself. They develop as I write by being shaped by the action and the events that happen to them. Of course, they’ve had a lot of things happen to them before we get to chapter one that we don’t see directly on the page. I often write two or three chapters to develop the back story that later get cut off at the nose so the actual chapter one starts where chapter four is in my head.
Can you discuss your research process for your latest book?
I’d the place in my mind, though it’s been more than 20 years since I’ve lived there. I visit a couple of times a year and I keep abreast of the environmental news back home through social media and my friends there – old university colleagues I studied with. I’m a keen mountain biker myself and spend my summer mornings on the saddle while staying in the countryside near Pamplona.
The one thing that I had to just make up was the school the characters attend…. In Ireland, it’s still very uncommon to have co-ed schools. Most kids go to schools run by the Catholic Church and these are usually segregated into boys and girls schools – even if they’re on the same property, there will be separate buildings for each group. It’s pretty damn boring, and it’s disastrous for the plot of a YA novel that aspires to be in any way interesting! There is a co-ed comprehensive school in Blackrock, but I have placed it in a different neighbourhood for the purposes of my story, on the campus of two other segregated Irish language schools.
How do you handle writer’s block and overcome creative obstacles?
I find that it doesn’t really happen to me as a block, but more that I’m not motivated to get down to it because I haven’t got a long stretch of time to get my head back in the story before I know I’ll be distracted. So I put things off till a weekend or a day off, and then I’m usually distracted anyway.
When I do sit down, I might only get a few paragraphs done, but then I’m back on track and over a few days I can make more progress even in shorter bursts.
The creative obstacles usually just overcome themselves. As I write, the ending, the conclusions, the explanations all just come to me as logical results of the sequence of events. It’s hard to explain, but for example in my latest WIP I am delving into UFOs and the obvious question is why they would come, what all that nonsense about Roswell in the 50s could be woven into anything modern or logical, and yet, a reason came to mind as I wrote, which I hope will ring as true to my readers as it did to me when it popped into my mind!
Can you share any upcoming projects or books you are working on?
My work in progress at the moment is a short novel about visitations and UFOs. I had the idea many years ago but only started it this year. I was surprised to find that I’d the first 10 or so chapters all planned out! I have to figure out what happens after that.
I am working on the second draft of a long novel set in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. It’s around 200k words so far, so I’m not sure how easy it will be to get published, but it’s been a labour of love for twenty years and I finally got the first draft completed last year. It will require a few tweaks, though, as society and our knowledge of history has changed a little since I had the idea and I will need to update some parts.
How do you stay motivated and disciplined while writing?
I don’t stay very disciplined, as I think I’ve explained. But I find it easy to be motivated as I want to do justice to the idea, the characters and the work I’ve done in creating the world they live in. That’s why I always go back to the story and keep chipping away. I also have the luck that I can pretty quickly remember what’s going on and who goes where. Perhaps because I haven’t written so many books yet – around 15 – that I can keep them all in my head. But I’ve always been able to pick up books I’m reading and continue after a break, for example when I’m reading a few books at the same time.
Can you discuss any themes or messages you hope readers take away from your book?
The theme is the struggles we all go through as we try to figure out who and what we are and want to by, and the greater struggles that confront our children’s generation in today’s world of environmental breakdown. As kids, Nicki, Mark and Ashton should not really have to worry about these illegal brushfires. The police should be able to stop it, or at least the neighbours of the farmers setting the fires should shame them into burning their land during the permitted seasons. But as we all know, our kids will have to pay for our inability to do the right thing and to solve the crises we and our parents’ generation created.
On the other hand, they do have an easier time, in general, being accepted for who they are (at least in the places I’ve lived and worked with teens – Dublin, Madrid, Boston and Pamplona). Perhaps that’s the only good thing we’ve done for them. I only hope they are able to fight hard enough to get environmental justice from the powers set on getting richer by ruining our lands.
Can you discuss any other genres you have written in and if you have plans to write in other genres in the future?
I write in several genres. Apart from my werewolf trilogy, I’ve a novel for younger readers – age 8 to 10 – about Leprechauns in Ireland, another YA novel, which is a kind of ghost story, a contemporary novel about friendship and a novel set in Loch Ness. I have also written a few erotic romance novellas under the name JD Martins. I suppose there is an element of science fiction in many of them – not quite as clearly as in my WIP about aliens – in that I try to use my knowledge of science, especially biology, to explain things that are usually the real of fantasy. I don’t really like the idea of writing the same kind of story all the time, so my work to date has been a bit eclectic.
Can you discuss any literary influences or inspirations that have shaped your writing?
Well, I’ve always been a big Hemmingway fan, though I can’t say I’ve ever tried to emulate his style – it would be just too difficult! I’ve always been very wordy in my works. I’ve been lucky enough to live in Pamplona and experience some of the places he visited around Spain, as well as visit his parent’s house outside Chicago and visit the Hemmingway Room in JFK library when I lived in Boston. In terms of the approach to writing genres, I’ve deep respect for Richard Adams, who seems to have just written the books he wanted to write without wondering about a market, and produced very varied, long novels that are just beautiful and a kind of Netherland you can get lost in for days.
How do you handle criticism and negative reviews?
I am lucky to be of an age where I don’t need to have a whole lot of likes and responses to my social media posts in order to feel good about myself. I’ve had a lot of apathy towards my writing from friends and family which toughens the skin! I’ve given work to friends for feedback and advice on technical things (for example on the Ecology of Lonesomeness, which features a wildlife biologist) and had to go ahead myself because I’d still be here waiting. I have some friends who’ve read all my books but others who I know never will. And once you get over that, criticism is easy enough to take – and ignore! My wife often tells me I should write better books, that my covers are tacky and I should let her guide me, but she’s never read any of the books! She read half my first one, but didn’t like the werewolf idea to begin with. She’s not a big reader anyway.
I don’t generally get bad reviews – trying to get more reviews is a greater problem. One negative review I did get for Leaving the Pack did sting a little because it criticized that the werewolves vandalized some property in revenge for mistreatment in a bar… when the potential for violence and ways to control and redirect it is an integral aspect of the story. It seems the reviewer was more accustomed to the romance werewolf novels that have watered down the violence and misunderstood my vision of the werewolf myth. Perhaps if she’d read the rest it might have been clearer to her. Ironically, one of her complaints was that there wasn’t enough sex – more emphasized in some shape shifter romances, I suppose – and in the first drafts I’d had lots of sex but ended up cutting much of it down to a minimum so it wouldn’t be so “typical.” Anyway, when I wrote Leading the Pack, the second novel, I had a character comment on a conversation in book club she attended to the lead character. One of the other ladies in the book club had said she didn’t like werewolf novels which were violent and he shakes his head in disbelief, replying that he spent his whole like trying to prevent killings, and not always successfully.
Can you discuss your experience with book promotion and advertising?
A lack of experience, I’d say… it’s been difficult and the little that I have done hasn’t been as effective as one would wish, as they say! I don’t have a budget to spend lots of money and I have little enough time to write that it pains me to spend it posting on social media, so I have to admit I’m quite deficient compared to other authors I know. On the other hand, I write for the joy of it, and I am patient. In the future I’ll perhaps have time and money to be more proactive. Books last forever.
Can you talk about any challenges you faced during the publishing process?
It took many years to get my first novel accepted for publication. Once it was accepted, though, by Tirgearr Publishing, the rest was easy. I’d a great editor, Lucy Felthouse, who got the book and the characters and encouraged me to complete the trilogy within a couple of years.
How do you balance your writing with other aspects of your life?
It’s pretty unbalanced! My wife has a busy career in biology research, and as a teacher I have plenty to keep me occupied, too, though the timetable gives me time to collect them from school and take them around to their activities, and look after the dinner and house. The writing is always at the back of my mind, and as I said, I can get bits and pieces done during the day. Usually, though, my poetry comes first – the poems are more demanding than the novels and insist on being written within a short time frame! On summer break I can get a lot done, though: we move to a family house in the countryside, and the kids are more independent playing with their cousins and I can get a few hours a day to myself. I wish I was one of these people who can get up at 6 am and do an hours writing before breakfast, but I generally take an hour to get my brain running in the morning to start with.
ABOUT LITTLE VICTORIES
Nicky and her two new friends, Mark and Ash, spend spring racing their mountain bikes through south Dublin – both down hillsides and hitching rides from HGVs – and exploring their feelings towards one another. They’re aghast to one day find an illegal fire on the mountain, just set by a farmer. When the police say they can do nothing about it, the three determine to catch the culprit red-handed. But life is as complicated as love, and as Nicky comes to terms with this, she discovers that sometimes you have to accept whatever little victories come your way.