Q & A with Lynette McClenaghan #2

Why did you decide to write your book?

On the Wind’s Breath was born on a dark, stormy night, the first night my husband and I were spending at the Blue Mountains. Record high winds snapped off power and turned our apartment into an icebox forcing us to retreat under doona and blankets. My writer’s mind took over. I emerged from under the covers and began writing the outline of this novel by candlelight; ironically less than an hour later the lights snapped back on. The following day I discovered the next town, Blackneath, was still without power and resembled little more than a ghost town.

Black Mountain is the fictionalised name I have given to Leura the town we stayed at. I refer to this as the jewel of The Range. This picture postcard town, not unlike Williamstown, a place I lived in for almost 10 years, had a smugness about it that spoiled an otherwise delightful place and its village atmosphere.

Despite all intentions of pressing on with this novel, I wrote two drafts of In Jeopardy my forthcoming novel – available from December 2013.


Who/what inspired you to write?

Since featuring as Author of the Week during May, and after publishing Drew’s Party, my novella, and first published fiction works, I have:

  • Continued with my professional reading program
  • Completed the second Digital Makeover workshop @ Writers’ Victoria
  • Continued membership of Writers’ Victoria and benefited from the invaluable information presented in the Victorian Writer.

All the above mentioned continue to keep me fuelled with ideas for my fiction and the fires of imagination burning. In addition, the tutoring service I run and started nine years ago adds to my writing ideas. Most of my students are studying VCE where much of their work focuses of text analysis. This helps to keep me immersed in reading, writing and discussing text and key elements of the story and storytelling.

In addition to and before embarking on fiction writing I have written numerous professional articles for my profession. As a teacher and member of the Victorian Association for the Teaching of English (VATE), I have written reviews for publishers of manuscripts. The purpose of this was to assess them for publication and their suitability for secondary school classrooms.


What was the most rewarding part of the writing process?

In addition to material given when I last featured as Author of the Week

I have started the first draft of another dark tale – this one is leaning more towards a traditional horror story. I penned an outline in February of this year, started the draft during the second half of July and have written 16,000+ words.

I have another substantial draft outline for a dark tale I intend to begin in 2014. This differs from the one above as it relies less on the supernatural and is more about the ordinary horror of human behaviour. The structure for this story, likely a novella, will be presented as a multi-viewpoint narrative.


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 a 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 favourite 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. Since publishing Drew’s Party and now On the Wind’s Breath I am looking at ways to develop a readership and profile as a self-publisher.


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

That readers find On the Wind’s Breath and other works to follow entertaining, well written and thought provoking. My work is pitched at serious readers and fanciers of dark tales that span 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, a moral warning and highlight what is wrong in the world and what is of real value.


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 my first book, 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.