Thursday 29 March 2012

Michael Devlin, from the Strabane Chronicle, wrote a really great story in the newspaper about Emerald Witch today. The town holds a very special place in my heart. I attended school there, spent my teenage years on those streets, and still have many, many friends there.
In this interview Michael and I talked about how my experiences in St Colman's High School and the people I met there influenced certain parts of the book. 
In the book there's the same dark corridor and a Principal's office in the bowels of the school. However it differs from the book in that all my time there I did not explode any school Principals at all. Not one....
Derry author, Leona O’Neill says the town of Strabane provided no small amount of inspiration for her new novel, Emerald Witch.
Leona (née Breslin), who grew up around the town, who attended St Colman’s High School and whose father William was a popular and well-respected teacher at the former centre of local academic excellence, says the people of Strabane are a constant source of magical motivation for her.
The Irish News columnist, who also runs the online newspaper, just last month published Emerald Witch, the story of a teenage girl who discovers shortly before her 18th birthday that she is a witch and who has direct blood links to the ancient Celtic Goddess of war, death and destruction, the Morrigan.
“Part of the book is very much modelled on St Colman’s,” Leona said. “The main character in the book at one point is called to the principal’s office and I was able to use personal experience for that scene because I was called to the principal’s office at St Colman’s on a regular basis!
“Former pupils will be familiar with that corridor in the school leading to the office, it was very dark and almost strange; it’s a part of the school that was lower than ground level, so in that sense it was a bit weird.
“The character isn’t based on me, but I was able to draw on my experiences at St Colman’s to write the book. Some of the girls in the book are even modelled on girls I knew from my time at school.”
Emerald Witch, which saw its sales rating soar from 175,000th on the Kindle UK Bestseller's List to number 12,691 in just a few weeks, is currently available from
“Just another 12,000 or so to go before I hit number one,” Leona laughs.
“I suppose it’s a departure for me,” she adds. “People are familiar with seeing my name beside news stories on the website, or beside my column in the Irish News. 
“Writing about witches, wizards, power-crazed Goddesses and underground worlds beneath the streets of Dublin is light years away from my day job but I love contemporary fantasy novels and always wanted to write one myself.
“My novel is an adventure from start to finish. The story rolls out in the wilds of Donegal, romps through the streets of Dublin, and rampages through Derry city, my hometown.”
As her “labour of love”, the mother-of-four also revealed she wrote her novel in the evenings, stealing time in between working in the newspaper, bath times, homework and bedtime routines.
“I wrote while a newborn slept on my shoulder, whenever I could. I wrote while a toddler re-enacted Thomas the Tank Engine crashes at my feet. I wrote as I was breaking up squabbles between my older boys. I wrote in every available minute!”
Leona began writing her novel while her father - William Breslin, one of the leading lights in the Civil Rights Movement - battled cancer two years ago. 
“The former Strabane pupil explained how the writing took her mind off her despair as her father lost his fight for life.
“I would visit my father in the Foyle Hospice and come home and write,” she said. “It was my way of escaping into a world devoid of hospital visits, medication, nurses, and the utter despair I felt as my beloved father slipped away from us. I didn’t want to live in the real world then, it was too awful. Being able to escape to this alternative world full of wonderful magic helped to heal my heart, soothe my soul.
“I told my father about my story, of the characters and the plot. He always encouraged his children to chase our dreams. He told me I should write it. So I did, and I dedicated it to him.”
She added, “Writing has always been a big release for me but this time it really helped me cope with things. 
“I didn’t want to talk to people at all, I just wanted to lock myself away and write and that’s what I did.”
Opting for the self-publishing route as a means of remaining in control of all of the finer details, Leona, as a trainer designer can truly say the book is all her own work.
She would also advise anyone who has written a book or who is thinking of penning a novel, to consider self-publishing as a viable alternative to the tried and testing method of applying to publishers and/or agents.
“I have a number of friends who have publishing deals and who have spent maybe five or six years finding an agent and getting their books published. I didn’t want to go down that road. I don’t have the patience.
“It probably helped that I’m a control freak, so I was able to design and format the whole thing by myself. At the same time if anyone wanted to offer me a publishing deal I wouldn’t turn them down because it’s hard work. The downside is: You have to promote the book yourself.
“I would say to anyone, don’t wait around for a publisher or an agent to give you the green light for your book. If you have a book in you, just do it.”

Monday 26 March 2012

The Belfast Telegraph ran a story about me and the book this morning. More than delighted with the story by Brendan McDaid. Here is his interview in full...

FIRST there was Harry Potter, then the Twilight Saga, but now there’s a new tale of magic holding audiences spellbound across the world- and it’s all set locally.
Northern Ireland mum-of-four and journalist Leona O’Neill has now made her debut foray into fiction with the first of a planned series on novels, entitled Emerald Witch.
And if the American reaction is anything to go by, the this Irish urban fairytale saga has a bright future.
Emerald Witch centres on a Donegal girl and fuses typical teenage woes with not so typical supernatural forces to create a pacy adventure set against a rich tapestry of Irish landmarks, while myths and legends are given a unique, modern twist.
It focuses on Amelia Morgan, who is approaching her 18th birthday when her world begins to unravel and internal and external magical forces begin to wreak havoc with her hitherto peaceful existence.
The idea for the novel crystallised as Londonderry woman Leona’s own world was being shattered.
“My father [William Breslin] was ill with cancer and I like to write as a release” the 36-year-old says.
“I was up in the Foyle Hospice, sitting looking out at the beautiful garden waiting to go and see my father.
“The idea just popped into my head, ‘I want to write this book about a girl who discovers she is a witch’.
“I was telling my father about the idea for the book in the hospice.
“He said, ‘I have always wanted to write a book. He said ‘Here I am now, I didn’t do it. I don’t want that to happen to you’.
“He was 69 when he died. He had told me not to waste my life, time is short and life is so short you should grab it by the scruff of the neck and go and live.
“My father was a history teacher and taught in St Colman’s, Strabane.
“He used to take me and my wee brother round towns and castles telling us myths and legends so I had a lot of that knowledge from when I was a child.
“And so I did it, I wrote the book, and I dedicated the book to my father. He was my guiding light.”
Leona said that after her father’s death, the book gave her respite from the pain of her grief.
 “At that time the world seemed really hard and cruel and i wanted to escape that into the world of magic” she said.
She said she drew inspiration from local beauty spots, with the drama set in a seaside town similar to Buncrana in Inishowen, and the house Amelia lives in resembling  the castle at Glenveagh National Park.
“There is a part of the book that is an epic battle up in Grianan Fort. My father had always told us when we were kids the story of the stone warriors sleeping underneath Grianan.
“Years ago there were tunnels that lead into Derry from underneath Grianan. In my book the tunnels are there and the legend goes that the sleeping warriors will only wake once Ireland is in peril.
“There were other Irish myths and legends such as the headless horseman, which actually first began in Ireland, and I spun them out of control, added my own imagination.”
Despite events in her life changing at a rapid pace, Leona maintained the discipline to finish the novel.
“I have never done anything like this before- it was 90,000 words. It was a hard slog and it took me two years in between looking after four kids.
“Forming the story was kind of easy, it was all kind of rattling about in my head and getting it down on paper often happened in the wee small hours.
“I was pregnant and I had really bad morning sickness and I wrote through that. It was terrible.
“Even when I was about to have the baby and was in labour I was still writing and my husband said to me ‘come on we have to go’.
“I wrote when my new daughter was sleeping on my shoulder, playing around my feet or the kids were fighting over the top of me. That’s just the way I do things.”
Leona, with a help and encouragement from photographer husband Brendan, took the unusual step of going it alone in the publishing world and cutting out the middle men and women.
She said: “I have friends who have traditional publishing deals - they write their book and hand it over and you can’t control where it goes, how much percentage of the profit you get, which is usually quite small when you take into account the agent and the publisher’s cut as well.
“Also the fact that it takes two or three years to publish a book- If I gave this to an agent today it could take two or three years until it is in Easons or Waterstones. I wasn’t prepared to wait that long.
“I designed the cover myself and did the lay out of the book myself.
“I drew together all my skills and my husband’s skills and put it together myself. I wanted it to be my own thing.
“The publishing world is changing, much the same as newspapers- it has been hit very badly by the recession and a lot of new writers are finding it difficult to break through because publishing houses only want to go with the tried and tested best seller authors and won’t take a chance.
“It is proving much more difficult to make a mark on that world now and I would say to anyone considering writing a book to take your own dreams and ambitions and run with it and do it yourself.
 She said it was “really emotional” when the first boxes of books arrived fresh from the printers.
“Here it was, from that first spark of imagination to finished product, and I just thought, God I did that. It was quite a good feeling.”
The reaction is also something Leona is very proud of.
“It has been extremely well received, particularly by American audiences” she said.
“WIth St Patrick’s Day people have been buying it for their friends and relatives. I didn’t know they give each other gifts for St Patrick’s Day there.
“People have been buying it for the kindle and in e-book form as well as hard copies.
“I do paint a good picture of Ireland, it's people and it’s landscape.”
And fans of the Emerald Witch they might not have to wait long for the follow-up.
“I’ve already started it” Leona says. “It is refreshing to get a new story and I know the characters, what they would do.”
For more info, to order or for a sneak peak at Emerald Witch go to :

Saturday 24 March 2012

The Emerald Witch has vast control over the elements, a gift bestowed upon the ancient Emerald line by Mother Nature herself. She can conjure a thunder storm at will and makes the sun shine when she is happy. When her boyfriend betrays her, her anger and frustration brings forth a rain of fire that almost razes the town to the ground. When she loses someone she loves dearly her grief and emptiness manifests itself into a soft flurry of snow.

Weather plays a big part in the Emerald Witch story. Magical folk use umbrellas as shields and cloaking devices. They use rain for cover when they are moving prisoners, precious antiquities, royalty and carrying out business in the World Above. So every time it rains in Ireland you can be sure that something magical is afoot....

Saturday 17 March 2012

Amelia Morgan was secretly hidden by her family in the wilds of Ireland when she was just a baby. She was raised by her eccentric grandmother and is a level-seven hypochondriac. Nothing exciting ever happens in the sleepy Irish seaside town she calls home.
When her boyfriend drops off the face of the earth, the rate of human combustion in the town goes stellar and a maniacal stranger purporting to be her long-lost father starts hanging around town melting people Amelia starts to question her 'normal' life.
It turns out Amelia Morgan is a witch, daughter to a mad man and granddaughter to the ancient Celtic Goddess of war, death and destruction ­­– the Morrigan.
She leaves 'normal' behind to fight a battle of epic proportions - encountering headless horsemen, dark angels, power-crazed goddesses and her deadbeat Dad who requires her blood to raise his corpse mother from the grave.
She discovers magical worlds - under the streets of Dublin, under the Emerald Lake, beneath the Emerald Forest and races of ancient Irish people who she must lead out of the darkness the Morrigan spreads across the land.
No one said being a teenager was easy. 

Emerald Witch

He bounded to the top of the windswept field, his long leather coat flapping angrily about his legs. His breathing was slow, even, and did not betray the fact that he had been travelling for miles across the wild and windy Irish countryside.
He stopped at the peak of the hill, in the shadow of a Rowan tree, and scanned the scene below. Rugged fields swept down to an immense black lake and a mansion, which jutted out beyond vast forestland. This is where they had found her.
He rummaged in his pockets for his cigarettes and lit one, flicking the match to the ground. He exhaled with a hiss, the smoke escaping out through his gritted teeth. He hated the countryside; the smell of it made him nauseas.
The tree at his side rotted and lurched. It’s branches waved violently, like a drowning man, crackling and snapping as if engulfed by an invisible flame. A family of blackbirds fell with a sickening thump to the singed and shrivelled grass beneath his feet.
He stared down at the gothic mansion perched on the lakeside. Tall church-like windows cast warm green reflections on the still waters of the lake. Pointed gables and turrets pierced the night sky like daggers.
A fiery green aura rose as if flames around every inch of the house. This is where they had tracked her. It seemed the many veils that had hidden the Emerald Hall and his daughter were being swept away by the passing of time.
He stared unblinking at the house, looking for signs of life, signs of movement.
She was there, he could feel her power. He could hear it. It was very weak, like listening to music through a closed window. He was certain that the coming days and weeks would see it intensify. He would have to be patient. If he moved now the old witch could bind her powers again, spirit her away and he’d take another 17 years to find her.
He turned and laid his two hands on the remains of the gnarled Rowan tree, spitting as he recited ancient words of Irish with head bowed. The rotted trunk twisted and coiled to form a human shape. The decaying tree contorted furiously, sucking in leaves and soil, to form flesh. The creature stepped out of the ground, ripping the last of its roots from the soil, and stood to attention.
“Guard her,” growled the man, not removing his gaze from the house. “She must not evade me. She is mine. When the witch’s protections fall, spirit her away to me.”
The tree creature took sentry position at the peak of the hill as the man bounded down and into the depths of the dark forest, letting the gentle sound of her power lead him through black silence to her door. He stood on the forest track and gazed around, still hidden in the shadow of the trees. The vast Emerald Lake lay silent at his back. He could feel the protection wards the old witch and her pathetic friends had in place. This was as far as he could travel without alerting anyone or anything.
A woman’s voice pierced the silence. A cheery goodbye. A slamming door. Gentle footsteps on gravel.
He stepped out into the woman’s path.
“Is she there?” he growled and the woman stopped in her tracks and made to scream. A wave of his hand took the breath from her lungs.
He moved in so that his nose almost touched hers.  “Answer me, woman! Is she there?”
His eyes were dark, deranged and dangerous.
The woman whimpered and spilled some of the contents of the small package she held as she put her hands to her neck. “Who?”
“Amelia Morgan,” he snarled.
The woman nodded nervously and tried to back away. The dark figure moved towards her and took her in an embrace. She turned to a black ash statue at the touch of his hand and was gone in the next soft breeze, her paper package floating gently to the ground.
He bent down and looked inside, smelling the contents. Rosemary, thyme, nutmeg, rose and mint. “Love potions,” he whispered. “How predictably pathetic.”
He threw it in the lake and lit another cigarette. He turned his back to the mansion and entered the forest again, bounding up the hill from whence he came.
He stopped alongside his tree creature. He looked into its black eyes for a moment and averted his gaze as quickly, disgusted by the sight of its dark veiny neck, it’s thin, knotted hands like that of an old man. The thing smelled of damp moss, of rotting leaves, of the countryside.
“Do not fail me,” he hissed.
He’d return, when it was time.
He threw his cigarette at the base of a crooked and twisted fairy tree, setting it ablaze. As the flames licked up the tree’s trunk he spun on the spot, swirls of thick black smoke turning his form into a whirlwind of screeching black ravens, which beat violently off into the moonlight night.

Monday 12 March 2012

 The Derry Journal newspaper ran a piece on my debut novel this week. Journalist (and bestselling author of some five books) Claire Allan interviewed me and wrote a fantastic write-up for Friday's paper. Here it is below....

In the darkest hours of her grief at losing her beloved father William two years ago, Derry journalist Leona O’Neill would find sanctuary in switching on her computer and losing herself in the magical world of Irish myths, witchcraft and legends.
Now two years on, the finished product is ‘Emerald Witch’ - an epic tale of a teenage girl who finds herself caught up in the frightening and exhilarating world of witchcraft as she battles to stop evil forces gaining power.
“It was a help - a great help - when he was sick and when he had died. I was able to lose myself in another world - a world where cancer didn’t exist, where I could write about magic and witches and put what we were going through out of my mind for a time.
“I was so grief-stricken, that it gave me the room and the space to begin healing. When I would come home from the Hospice I wouldn’t want to talk to anyone, I just would go and switch on the computer and start writing.”
Leona’s relationship with her beloved father, former history teacher William Breslin, is clear. She said his presence is clearly felt in the book - which she would discuss with him throughout his illness.
“Daddy always wanted to write a book,” Leona said. “We would talk about it when he was in the Hospice. I would tell him my ideas and where the story was going and he really loved getting into the story.
“Some of the ideas from the book come from the myths he would have told us when we were small - how there were sleeping stone warriors buried under Grianan Fort who would only awaken when Ireland needed them - things like that I decided to incorporate into the book. I would tell him the story and he would fill me in on the historical aspects.”
It is no surprise then that Leona has dedicated the book to her beloved late father or that she found the release of the book in both EBook and paperback format emotional. But so far she has been overwhelmed with the response the book has received. Already it is steadily climbing the Kindle book charts in both the UK and America - with American audiences lapping up the tale of the girl who discovers she can control the elements and holds the key to saving her beloved Ireland.
“I have been really amazed by the response so far,” Leona said. “It is selling really well - and selling all over America. I never knew before that a lot of Americans will buy each other presents for St. Patrick’s Day and this has just hit the American market at the right time.”
Of course Young Adult fiction is very popular at the moment - and tales which cover fantasy, fable and magic are particularly in vogue. And just like another famous writer who has gone to make her fortune from the story of a boy wizard, Leona has written this book while trying to combine motherhood and working for herself.
The Irish News parenting columnist, who is a mum to four (Daniel (8), Caolan (7), Finn (3) and Maoliosa (18 months), said writing the book while trying to care for her children (and indeed being pregnant with her baby daughter and in those early new born days) was an experience she will never forget.
“I wrote through morning sickness. I wrote while trying to keep the others entertained. I was even writing while in labour with Maoliosa. My husband had to literally pry me away from the keyboard as my contractions grew because he knew she was on her way!
“And I wrote with a newborn on my shoulder, but the book had been in my head for so long that writing it was something I just had to do.”
Not one to keep with tradition, Leona decided to try the self publishing route after researching the fast changing book market thoroughly. “I’m the kind of person who likes to be in control - who likes to decided exactly what I’m putting out there, what cover I’m having, how I’m marketing the book without anyone else’s say.
“I just like to sail my own ship so after researching the market and the growing trend for self publishing I decided that was the way for me.”
She roped in photographer husband Brendan to take the stunning promotional photographs, featuring local teen Aoife Boyle, who Leona said brought her Emerald Witch Amelia to life perfectly.

See top of this page for ways to buy your copy of Emerald Witch...

Saturday 3 March 2012

This is Glenveagh Castle, in Glenveagh National Park. When I wrote of the Emerald Hall in my novel Emerald Witch, I drew inspiration from these stunning surroundings in Glenveagh. The place is quite simply breathtaking.
Like my Emerald Hall, Glenveagh's large stone castle sits at the head of a mammoth lake, hugged on three sides by forestland. Across the lake mountains rise up towards the heavens.

No matter what stresses life brings I always seem to find peace in Glenveagh. It would be hard not to surrounded by the very best that nature has to offer. Glenveagh has some 16,000 acres right in the heart of the Derryveagh Mountains. Deer run wild and free in the area.
Up there, high in the mountains, I always feel inspired...