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.
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, www.newswireni.com 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 Amazon.co.uk
“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.”