Thursday, August 15, 2013

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: British Author, Nicola J. McDonagh

Nicola J. McDonagh, Author
Book 1 in Series: The Song of Forgetfulness

British author Nicola J. McDonagh brings us ECHOES FROM THE LOST ONES, the first book in a new series, “The Song of Forgetfulness.” A reviewer recommends it “to anyone who enjoys Sci-Fi, dystopian, action, and adventure stories.” McDonagh herself says there is “lots of action and adventure and strange goings on.”

When she is not writing, McDonagh excels at taking photographs. She is a trained actor and used to have her own touring company. Currently the award-winning author teaches creative writing at the local high school. She is also writing the third book in the series, while she finishes editing the second.

Q: Tell us about ECHOES FROM THE LOST ONES, the first book in the series “The Song of Forgetfulness.” Do you consider your genre “Fantasy”?

Nicola J. McDonagh: I wouldn’t say that the series is strictly Fantasy. It leans more towards dystopian Sci-fi. Although there are elements of the supernatural in Adara’s special power, there are no dragons or wizards or goblins and the like, that you usually find in Fantasy novels. There is however, lots of action and adventure and strange goings on.

ECHOES FROM THE LOST ONES is a tale about Adara, a seventeen-year-old Citydweller who has a special gift that she must keep a secret. She has the power to sing to the birds and make them land. In a future where most edible animals have become extinct, her power is highly sought after.

The story takes place in Scotland, in a time when plague and global warming have depleted mankind’s numbers and killed off all animals, except for birds that never land for fear of being eaten. In NotsoGreatBritAlbion there is hunger. The all-controlling Agros have cut supplies to the inhabitants of Cityplace and the Woodsfolk community, and have begun to raid settlements to find Meeks-gifted young ‘uns.

When Adara’s brother Deogol disappears, she must leave the confines of her Hygiene home and go in search of her missing bro-bro. Adara’s journey takes her through the ravaged terrain of NotsoGreatBritAlbion, where she must defend herself against hormone fuelled Nearlymen, ravenous wolfies, and murderous Agros.

Adara encounters many unusual people on her journey; from the serene and gentle, Ladies, to the dreaded, mask wearing, wolfie-taming Clonies. Yet amongst these misfits and outcasts, Adara finds friends and allies who help her to realise her true potential when she is put to the test during her stay at the Monastery in the Clouds; where she must use all her skill and power to save herself and those she loves from being slaughtered by Agro spies.

Q:  Your reviewers praise your “idiosyncratic use of language.” How do you use this language to create engaging characters that readers will care about? How do you use it to develop a unique setting?

Nicola J. McDonagh: I use the language as a way of getting instantly into the character’s personality and unfamiliar world.  As the narrative is from Adara’s point of view, it made sense to have her talk to the reader in her ‘own’ voice. The characters and futuristic setting become more credible and believable, when the vocabulary reflects this by being different to today’s spoken or written word.

I wanted the reader to experience what Adara sees and feels through her eyes, and a good way to do that, was to create a slang-based language that instantly says, ‘this is another time and place’ because we don’t speak like that now. We get to know what Adara is like and how she reacts to the action around her by the way she uses words to describe her journey, and the people she encounters. In a sense, we become her friend, and as a result, empathize more readily with her.

Q:  One of your reviewers says, “A story of trust and faith, ECHOES FROM THE LOST ONES is an adventure that takes you to a time and place like no other.” How do you make your unique time and place believable? Is believability important?

Nicola J. McDonagh: I think it is extremely important to make time and place believable, otherwise the reader cannot be drawn into the action, or care about the characters.

In ECHOES FROM THE LOST ONES, I use the quirky language and vivid descriptions to create a sensual and plausible environment. Employing appropriate similes to enrich the narrative helps create an authentic setting. We first encounter Adara as she is scrambling through insect filled herbage, into a densely packed wood. We have all seen insects and grass and trees. So the reader can identify with the environment presented. I then bring it into the future by adding unfamiliar accessories and words that hint at another time and place. Such as Synthbag, Sterichoc and killpainpill.

Q: What led you to write ECHOES FROM THE LOST ONES? Who/what influenced you?

Nicola J. McDonagh: ECHOES FROM THE LOST ONES began as a challenge from students that attend a creative writing class I teach at my local High School. They kept giving me books to read, such as ‘The Hunger Games’ and ‘Divergent.’ I’d read them and we’d discuss their merits and failings. The biggest gripe by far was that the female characters never went to the toilet. I asked them if they wanted to see this in the books they read and they said, “Yes.” Then they said, “Why don’t you write one?" So I did.

I think when I was writing it the biggest influence was from ‘A Wizard of Earthsea’ by Ursula K Le Guin’. The way in which she describes settings is very visual and I knew I wanted to make my narrative as descriptive as possible to draw the reader in. Her use of language is also quite lyrical and often poetic which gives her narrative a distinct voice, again something I aimed to do. Then there is A Clockwork Orange’ by Anthony Burgess. His use of language and the ‘nadsat’ that Alex and his friends speak, has an immediacy that I wanted for my narrative.

Q: Why are you writing a series “The Song of Forgetfulness?” (rather than just a standalone ECHOES FROM THE LOST ONES)?

Nicola J. McDonagh: I decided on making The Song of Forgetfulness into a series because when I was writing it, I couldn’t stop. I have written so much about Adara and her world (even a prequel-but don’t tell anyone) that if it were not split into different books, then it would be far too long. Also, the story changes, as do some of the central characters, and it made sense for that change to occur in different books. ECHOES FROM THE LOSTONES tone is quite different from the second and third book, as the action and plotline evolves from the original story.

Q: How relevant is the concept of a “good villain” to your story? What are the characteristics of a good villain?

Nicola J. McDonagh: In my story a lot of the characters are initially presented as ‘evil’ but as Adara, and the reader gets to know them, they become less so because of their circumstances and the way in which they interact with the central character. I did this intentionally to draw attention to the way in which people often make snap judgments about others based on looks, ethnicity, and religious beliefs.

I think having a character that appears to be evil then turns out not to be, is a way to incorporate human frailty that we all identify with. It adds a complexity to the text and can give weight or credibility to the plot/subplot. A ‘good villain’ should be a bit more knowledgeable about things the other characters needs to know, or have a redeeming quality so that the reader warms to them. They should show a vulnerability that in some way justifies their actions. Perhaps they were ill-treated and their ‘evilness’ is a result.  As a reader we want to have a loveable baddy that turns out to be good after all. It leaves us with a sense of satisfaction.

Q:  Do you use humor to tell your stories? Do you consider humor important?

Nicola J. McDonagh I try to include humor in a story as much as possible. I believe it helps to bring the narrative alive and make the situations and characters more engaging and believable. If we can laugh along with the characters then we identify more with their story. I also use humor as a relief from the more serious subject matters that I address in the book.

Q:  Do you write to deliver a message or to entertain?

Nicola J. McDonagh: A bit of both I suppose. Primarily I want to entertain, but what’s a story without some sort of message? A bit two-dimensional. In the book I deal with issues that are of concern to us today. Such as overpopulation, rapid advances in technology and global warming. The book is set in Scotland because oceans have risen and that is all the land that is left in Great Britain. There are no animals because of viral infection, except for the elusive birdybirds and they never land. In ‘Echoes,’ I am trying to suggest that if mankind continues to abuse this beautiful planet, then a world like the one I have created might happen. But I am also trying to say that we are all connected somehow, and that we all have something special inside us, even if we aren’t sure what it is. That we are all capable of doing something amazing if put to the test.

Q:  What’s next?

Nicola J. McDonagh: I am currently writing the third installment to The Song of Forgetfulness, as yet without a title, and am working on a series of short stories for audio release as well as paperback and digital-titled ‘Glimmer’. And I am thinking of returning to an unfinished children’s book, called ‘Marauders of the Missing Mummies.’

Q:  Oh, I like that title ‘Marauders of the Missing Mummies!’ Good one. Tell us about Nicola J. McDonagh. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

A: I am a trained actor and photographer and used to have my own touring theatre company. I have a Hons degree in Drama and English Literature and a Diploma in creative writing. I won The Suffolk Book league’s Short Story Competition in 2011 and work mainly in schools as a creative arts practitioner providing arts based workshops for young people. I also teach creative writing for both adults and young people.

When I’m not writing, I’m taking photographs, or making sun photos. I love to experiment with photographic techniques and can often be seen gyrating around a darkened room with a camera and a torch making my ‘painting with light’ images. I also love to cook and grow some of my own vegetables. I enjoy sitting in the summerhouse and watching nature run amok in my back garden. Sometimes with my husband, I go for bicycle rides around the country lanes. I feed and pamper a number of rescue cats and relax by watching a good movie or HBO series with my husband. At the moment I am learning to play the flute and the piano accordion.

More About Nicola J McDonagh

I am a creative writing tutor, photographer and published author. I trained as a photojournalist many years ago and have an Honors Degree in Drama and English Literature. I live in a 17thCentury timber-framed cottage in Suffolk UK with my husband and many feral/rescued cats.

I used to be an actor/director and scriptwriter, but gave it all up when I moved to Suffolk and fell in love with the scenery. I had to capture the wildlife and flora in my big garden and surrounding area, and thought I would go back to photography full time, but stories kept popping into my head influenced by the landscape around me. I had to write them down. But I’d not written prose for over twenty years. I struggled for a while and decided it would be best to go back to college.

After gaining a Creative Writing Diploma, I entered and won the Suffolk Book League’s Short Story Competition 2011. The next year I was short-listed for the Escalator Genre Fiction Competition. This gave me the confidence to complete my manuscript, which came into being during a writing class, I teach at the local High School. Two of the girls that attend challenged me to write a dystopian young adult novel and ‘The Song of Forgetfulness’ series was born.

I try to write something every day, even if it’s only a few hundred words. Most of the time I do a lot more and often complete a chapter or two. At the moment I am editing the second book in the series and dipping in and out of the third one.

First in the Series: The Song of Forgetfulness

I’m not like the other girlygigs in Cityplace; I’m a bringer. I can sing to the only animals left in NotsoGreatBritAlbion and make them land. Adara, catcher of birds -that’s what they call me and that’s what I can do.

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.


Something tiptoed down my back. I clenched my teeth so as not to yell “Yak” and continued to crawl. My hands touched squish and prickle and bugs swarmed around my fingers and neck. I was being chomped by all things natural and I wasn’t even a gnat’s breath away from the perimeter fence. I knew nowt about the Wilderness, except it was full to brimming with beasties that craved my flesh.
When far enough away so as to be no more than a speck in the distance, I stood and shoulder wriggled until whatever trickled through my flesh hairs fell off. I looked to the sky and with the sun on my right, headed north into the thick herbage; legs heavy from the vegetation that clung to my shins and ankles.
The shrubbery gave way to towering trees crammed so tight that after a few steps I was surrounded by dark. Slim streaks of light slashed through the branches and I was able to see enough so as not to trip over the massive gnarled roots that spread across the ground like giant oldie fingers. I took in a breath of leaf rot and made my way all hush-hush through the forest, ears wide open for sounds of danger.
A snap to my left caused me to stop ‘bruptly. I turned my head in the direction of said noise. All quiet. I was skittish to be sure not knowing if wolfie or Agro were on my trail. Another crick-crack, but from the right. I waited for a sec, and then darted into the most densely packed part of the wood. The sound did not follow.
My lower bits began to pulse. Santy Breanna told me once that pain was merely a mind jest and if I forced my will to block it out, then it would cease. So I focused on my purpose; to find my bro-bro, and hoped that she was right.
She was not.
My thoughts turned to the soothers in my backpack and I peered into the gloom in search of somewhere to rest. An unruly hairshambles of a plant high enough for me to squat behind became my hideout whilst I rummaged through my Synthbag and took out a bar of Sterichoc and a killpainpill. Crouched and aching in the prickly vegetation, I swallowed down the tab, scoffed the confec and waited for the goodliness to take effect. I shuffled position and wedged myself deeper into the fronds. It was a robust shrub and I quite believed that I was safe, until the ground began to tremble. I looked through the leaves and saw a whole flock of legs of the male kind coming my way.


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Twitter: @McDonaghNikki


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