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.”
“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...