Q & A with Lynette McClenaghan

Why did you decide to write your book?

Drew’s Party is not the first work of fiction I have written, but the first one I have published. However, it was the first coherent idea I had for a story. Initially this was an entirely different horror story, about a child’s party. However, the child protagonist wasn’t going to appeal to an adult audience, therefore, Drew was recast as a twenty-five-year-old spoilt socialite. I’m publishing this novella first because I had a clear idea of the cover I wanted for this work. Drew’s Party was the last of the four fiction works I have written and although two others are novel length, Drew’s Party was the most difficult to write.


Who/what inspired you to write?

Long before becoming brave, insane enough or both to write my first work of fiction, I was a prolific reader.

A number of years ago when I started a professional writing course, which took me two years to complete, I had serious plans to write fiction. I figured that because I was a prolific reader, writing would happen naturally. To my disappointment, I was in for a rude awakening – I really had nothing much to say that constituted a worthwhile read. It wasn’t until years later that ideas rolled in thick and fast.

As a teacher I gained much practice writing. This started with writing model essays for students, reviewing unsolicited fiction and non-fiction for publishing houses and the English teachers’ association I have held a membership with for a number of years. Primarily evaluated and assessed their suitability for student, writing workshop material and other professional writing.

I continue to enroll in writer’s workshops to help me perfect my writing and to remain relevant. The best recent courses I attended were: Digital Makeover in 2013 @ Writer Victoria and Scriptwriting in 2011 @ CAE.

The best reference material I have read recently has been:

Writers Workshop of Horror – edited by Michael Knost. It served as a great revision to the professional writing course I completed.

Gotham Writers’ Workshop Writing Fiction – The practical guide from New York’s acclaimed creative writing school.

Over the past years I have regularly written to the daily newspapers and have had numerous letters published in these papers.

These forms of writing naturally evolved into fiction writing.


What was the most rewarding part of the writing process?

I’m fired up about starting a new work of fiction. I have a number of promising ideas and story outlines I can run with. The one I write tends to be the story that begs to be told. I currently have two novels and a short story that have undergone several drafts and need a final proof before they are ready for print. As I am currently polishing up one of the novels I am excited about working on a cover design and getting this in print in July. This story takes place in a recognisable Australian landscapes.


What are your top tips for writing a book?

For me, reading prolifically and widely has been essential to starting the writing process. Working as a private tutor for nine years has forced me to work closely with fiction and non-fiction texts. Close analysis of fiction has served as an intense study of character, plot, genre and the craft of writing. These processes have been my best teacher.

The Professional Writing and Editing course was a key influence for the writing I do now. At the time, I abandoned my intentions to write fiction as I really didn’t have anything of interest to say. The two crucial lessons I learnt from the course was:

•                Being prolific reader didn’t qualify me well enough to write.

•                The dos and don’ts of writing are essential to writing both fiction and non-fiction and are a great guide.

Teaching others to write, revisiting lessons learnt from the Professional Writing and Editing course and other workshops, analysing the works of my favourite authors and committing to write for approximately four hours a day has turned out four works of fiction in two years.

To maintain this program I had to give away classroom teaching. The biggest sacrifice was no longer working with teachers and in a collegial environment. I discovered that writing is largely a solitary pursuit – this is the nature of this beast. Fortunately, I revel in creating fiction. The forces that drive me to write are:

•                Story ideas that seem to evolve and beg to be told.

•                The aim to entertain.

All my stories are contemporary and also serve as social commentary.


Which books/authors have inspired you?

I read widely and appreciate a good read. Most recently, I have been entertained and inspired by a number of gothic horror anthologies featuring classic and modern writers of this genre, historical fiction and I enjoy other classic and modern literature.

Most recent works I have read that have impressed:

Guy de Maupassant – his style and ideology have influenced me, particularly his cynical and sardonic view of humanity. He is a master writer – his works are very readable and contemporary. Recommended readings are: Bel Ami and The Horla.

Stephen King – particularly the short story compilations. A favourite is The Shining – it’s grim, intense and genuinely frightening. I recently read Mile 81 on a Kindle and this story not only exemplified King at his best but is a brilliant example of King’s mastery of characterisation – even down to the personality of a horse.

Another recent favorite is Truman Capote’s short story Tree of Night. This is a chilling gothic tale that works by implication and subtlety rather than graphic detail. This tale leaves a lingering sense of unease long after closing the book.

A key a theme in Capote’s writing is Southern Gothic. Some of the features of this genre are:

•                Writers embrace romantic treatment of faded cultures.

•                The Deep South can be defined as a defeated land that is cursed.

•                Haunted by violence.

•                A racial cauldron full of faded aristocracy, white trash, disenfranchised blacks, an invasion of northerner industrialists exploiting the Deep South.

•                Familial decline – for example, incest, murder, necrophilia, grave robbing and rape.

•                Featuring grim treatment of underlings – for example – Boo Radley’s house is dark and forbidding – it is also an enclave of abuse and cruelty.

These landscapes are replete with swamps, crumbling mansions, superstition, misshapen humans, snakes, cruelty and hangings.

I have just read: In Cold Blood. This works is a reconstruction of a true story and am currently reading a compilation of short stories by Guy de Maupassant.


Why did you decide to self-publish and why Palmer Higgs?

Initially I planned to send my works to a publisher, but once I finished several drafts of the first novel and one short story, I was daunted by the idea that my work would not only end up in several slush piles but that I may not be informed.

I read anything that I could get hold of about publishing an ebook. Some of it fired up my enthusiasm while other aspects were overwhelming. Everything I read was unfortunately pitched at the American market and American writers.

I found Palmer Higgs’s ad in a Writers Victoria journal. After checking out their profile and the services they offer I sought Euan’s (the presenter of Digital Makeover) advice and contacted Palmer Higgs on his recommendation. After meeting Joy, from Palmer Higgs, I was confident they could complete a number of publishing steps that I would struggle with.

In conjunction with engaging Palmer Higgs publishing service I arranged the assistance of a mentor to assist me with the self-publishing process and to consolidate my new knowledge of this industry. Initially, Writers Victoria informed me that their mentor program was restricted to members who want assistance to write. I was pleasantly surprised and impressed with their can-do approach when they offered this support service, which again has been grist for the mill and a worthwhile process.

Finally, after running a tutoring service for nine years and starting it from scratch, I am confident that self-publishing is something I can turn my hand to. Publishing Drew’s Party is just the beginning.


What do you hope your readers get out of your book?

That readers find Drew’s Party and other fictions works to follow entertaining, well written and through provoking. My work is pitched at serious readers and fanciers of dark tales that span from dirty realism to gothic horror fiction. My works are set in the 21st century and their themes are timeless and universal.

The stories I write are underwritten by menace and threat rather than excessive violence. What could happen is intended to have a haunting effect on characters where fear and unease threatens to pull lives and relationships apart. Destruction almost inevitably causes psychological disturbance, may drive characters to madness, self-destruction, possibly murder. In the vein of true horror and gothic fiction, stories include mystery and speculate on what might happen in the course of the story and beyond the conclusion. As with true gothic horror fiction I aim to evoke a sense of slow burning dread in readers.

My dark tales serve as a leveller, moral warning and highlighting what is wrong in the world and what is of real value.


Would you consider writing another book?

Definitely – I have a number of story ideas that are burning to become complete stories. Some stories are likely to be the product of more than one distinct story outline, and undergo serious transformation in the way Drew’s Party did.

I have a novel at the final proof state, cover design is in process and this work will be available from mid-July.

Do you have any other tips for new authors (i.e. book launch, research, marketing, etc.)?

It is all very complex and time consuming. As this is very new to me I have yet to fully embark on the marketing machine.

So far I have made a concentrated effort, and this is where Palmer Higgs’s services have been essential. One key strategy they used to kick off my marketing was to thematically link graphics and text between Drew’s Party, the website, and social media platforms. I have followed through with this by creating business cards that are consistent with the genre, tone and theme of my works.

Membership of Writers Victoria or some other professional writer membership is an essential for all writers.