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 : www.emeraldoneill.blogspot.co.