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Sunday 15 September 2019

Queen of fright

A love of Stephen King novels has sparked Tina Callaghan to create her own spooky fiction which has been hailed as terrifying and exciting, writes David Looby

Author Tina Callaghan. Photo;Mary Browne
Author Tina Callaghan. Photo;Mary Browne

With the dark evenings closing in, people turn increasingly to spooky books and a Co Wexford author, who is highly attuned to the dark side from a lifetime of reading and writing horror and supernatural fiction, has a treat in store for fans of the genres with her second novel, Daughter of the Storm.

The award nominated Irish Queen of Fear, as she is known, works, at New Ross Library by day. By night she writes about creatures of the night. Daughter of the Storm is joining the ranks of stories like IT, Birdbox, Stranger Things and Pet Sematary. It has granite and brine salt in its bones. It is a story of ancient blood and buried family secrets on an isolated island braced for the first big storm of winter. In Tina's first novel Dark Wood Dark Water, she wrote about young adults fighting the unnatural, submerged horrors and vengeful ghosts in a town, Bailey, based on New Ross. In Daughter of the Storm she is showing us, not just the supernatural, but the Super Natural, nature herself, red in tooth and claw. Even the most frightening of natural predators just wants to live. And she will do everything it takes to survive. The book shows us that we are small in the face of nature gone wild, blood vows and patriarchal history, but that when even one person is willing to stand, the battle can be won. It is being launched this Wednesday at 7 p.m. in New Ross Library and the Poolbeg book is available from all good bookshops.

What is your new book about?

Daughter of the Storm is about the wildness of nature, the danger of ancient secrets, and a fierce, but beautiful creature, marooned on a remote Irish island.

How do you describe your style of writing?

Free flowing, fast paced and all about the story!

What is your creative process?

I start writing with an idea of setting and a character, and I follow them wherever they take me.

What, in your opinion, are the ingredients in a great book?

Characters, conflict, emotion, high stakes and a satisfying ending!

What kind of a reaction do you hope your books elicits in readers?

Delicious fear and excitement!

What is the reality of trying to get published?

For most people, including me, it's extremely hard and a matter of hope, dogged persistence and some good luck. To make it, you must work on your craft, keep on sending work out, and never, ever give up.

Where do you hope to be with your writing in five years time?

In the same place, writing new stories at my desk! However, I want my books to be in as many hands as possible, around the world. I write stories so that they will be read, and then the circle of writer and reader is complete.

Do you believe in ghosts?

I believe there are many things in life that we don't understand, so why not ghosts? I haven't seen one, but I did experience something strange on a visit to Loftus Hall. That, however, is a story for a dark night with the rain lashing against the windows…

For any aspiring writers, any advice when negotiating with a publisher?

If at all possible, get an agent first. Most publishers won't deal with a writer unless they have an agent, but if you do have to negotiate for yourself, I have the following advice: Join the Irish Writers' Union. Do your research. Send the contract to the union for advice. It's natural to be excited when you get an offer, but remember this is not just your dream, it is your business and your career. Be professional and protect yourself and your work.

Is truth really more strange than fiction?

Yes! Life is full of coincidences and bad dialogue and crazy things. Fiction has to be tell a cohesive story that makes sense and has a satisfying ending.

What personal qualities do good writers have?

Discipline and persistence. The best imagination and the greatest stories will not get written without the discipline of getting it all down on paper. Belief and hope are important too, because there's a lot of rejection involved. Like the song says, Don't Stop Believing!

Who is your all-time favourite author and why?

Stephen King. He guided me down a spooky road and taught me that a story can be illuminating, emotional and well written, even while it talks about monsters. The monsters, after all, are just a way of talking about combating fear and problems.

How do you switch off from writing and relax, or do you? 

Ideas can come at any time. Even when I'm not thinking about the book, my subconscious is working away in the background. Routine and discipline have taught my mind to prepare for writing all the time I'm not writing. Then I write and it feels great. When the work is not flowing freely, it can be very frustrating, but even that is part of the experience. Having trouble getting your main character off the cliff edge? What a cool problem to have!

When I read, I get lost in the world of the book and it relaxes me. Writing is the same. I'm daydreaming while awake.

I do like to go for a walk or a bike ride, have a chat, look at my social media and watch TV.

In the age of social media how important is it to advocate for your work?

It is very important. If you are published by a big company with a big budget for promotion, that's great. Even with that, you will have to do some work yourself. With smaller companies, a lot more responsibility for marketing and promotion fall to the writer to do. Be prepared to push your work out there.

How many words, a week, would you write and hours dedicate to your craft?

I write for an hour most nights after dinner, producing at least 1000 words a night.

Do you believe in witches and the supernatural?

'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.' Who am I to disagree with Shakespeare?!

How important is it to have support as a writer, be it through funding, tax breaks, personal support or through employers?

I had the moral support of friends, colleagues and loved ones, but no one can do this but yourself. However, it helps to join a writing group, for feedback and camaraderie in an oft times lonely business. If you have an uncle who works for Harper Collins, by all means ask him to help you, but you still have to write a good book, and most of us don't have that uncle. Explain to your family that you are serious about your writing and they can support you by letting you do it. There is some funding if you look for it. Check online and get the Writers & Artists Yearbook 2019. Once published, earnings from the creative writing itself are tax exempt up to €50,000.

How important are writers to society?

Vital! A society which reads, or has access to books, has the tools necessary to understand the past and plan for the future. Also books are cool and someone has to write them!

Is there any aspect to your writing you plan to develop more in the short term?

I am always writing, or thinking about writing a book. My plan in the short term is to finish my third book and start book four!

When will Daughter of the Storm be published and where will it be available to buy?

Official publication date is September 1. It will be available in all good book shops, as well as on Amazon, and will be for sale in New Ross Library on Wednesday, September 4, at 7 p.m., when it's being launched by Dr. Sarah Cleary from Campile, otherwise known as Doc Horror, horror academic and creative director with Horror Expo Ireland. Everyone is welcome to come!

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