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An NFReads Interview With Author Brendan Gerad O’Brien

 

Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

* I’m Brendan Gerad O’Brien.

I was born in Tralee, Ireland and now live in Newport, South Wales, United Kingdom.

As a child I spent his summer holidays in Listowel, Co Kerry where my uncle Moss Scanlon had a Harness Maker’s shop. It was a magnet for all sorts of colourful characters, and it was there that my love of storytelling was kindled by the likes of John B. Keane and Bryan MacMahon, who often wandered in for a chat and bit of jovial banter.

The numerous short stories I’ve written are based on those characters and have been published in various anthologies and eMags over the years.

I’ve self-published twenty of them in a collection called Dreamin’ Dreams

Dark September is my first novel, a thriller set in Wales during WW2.

Gallows Field is my second thriller and is also set in WW2, only this time in Ireland.

A Pale Moon Was Rising is a follow up thriller involving Eamon Foley once again.

Footsteps is my latest thriller, this time set in 1960 Ireland.

What are the stories behind your books?

* I’ve been writing short stories for as long as I can remember. I won my first competition when I was eight years old. I was so excited I ran all the way home. The Fun Fair was coming to Tralee – our little town on the West coast of Ireland – and apart from Duffy’s Circus which came in September, this was the highlight of our year. Our English teacher asked us to write an essay about it, and I won the prize – a book of ten tickets for the fair.

So writing was in my blood from a very young age. I loved essays and English literature.

But I left school at fourteen and went to work in hotels in Killarney. And I got caught up in the buzz of the tourist industry – remember this was the 60s and the Beatles were creating a music revolution and swamping the youth with hopes and dreams of a wonderful future. So I felt no great urgency to write. I dreamed of being a writer. I wanted to be a writer. But somehow life just got in the way.

I joined the Royal Navy at eighteen and was sent to the Far East where I spent the first three years between Singapore and Hong Kong. And again I was having so much fun I didn’t get to write anything, although there were loads of stories bursting to get out.

It was only when I got married and the children came along that I made any serious attempt to put pen to paper. The result was Dark September, an alternative history novel set in Newport during WW2.

I loved writing it – I always write in longhand – but I hated typing it. I’d be clattering away into the early hours on an old Olivetti typewriter and getting on everyone’s nerves. Amazingly, I found an agent but she insisted on some major changes so I spent a year re-writing it.

Unfortunately my agent died and it took ages to find another one. And he demanded even more changes. It became too much for Jennifer and the kids so my manuscript hibernated in the attic for a few years.

Then Jennifer bought me a computer for Christmas – with Spellcheck!

This time finding an agent proved impossibility – they only represent people who’re famous for just being famous.

In the meantime – while my book was languishing in limbo – I discovered writing short stories is amazingly therapeutic. I get a great buzz from taking an idea and developing it, often watching it evolve into something completely different from how it started out. And I realized too that great ideas are all around us. Little gems are waiting to be harvested everywhere we look. I found myself listening to what people are saying, and the way they say it.

For instance, the Irish are famous for their colourful and exaggerated vocabulary. We’ll use a dozen words when one would do. So I build on that and set all my short stories in Ireland. The names are changed, of course, because I don’t earn enough to survive a lawsuit. I’ve written hundreds of stories, most of which are still stuffed in drawers somewhere. But I did manage to get most published over the years in anthologies, e-zines and magazines.

I published Dreamin’ Dreams as an eBook and in paperback through Amazon KDP. It contains twenty of the stories I’m most proud of. They’re all based on real people who passed through my life at some time or other. Enhanced, of course. And sometimes exaggerated out of all proportion.

The title comes from something my father said years ago when I got poor grades at school. ‘What do you expect?’ he said to my mother. ‘He never does any studying. He just sits there, dreamin’ dreams.’

What inspired your creativity?

* The idea for Dark September came when I was on exercise in the Brecon Beacons with the Royal Navy. I wondered what it would be like running for your life through such terrain from someone who wants to do you an injury.

Then I saw disturbing footage of Nazis disposing of people with special needs and I felt tremendous sympathy for their families. How would I react if I was in that position and Germany invaded the UK? Where would I take my child? Being Irish I felt it would be natural to gravitate to Ireland, which was neutral during WW2.

Of course once I started writing the story it took on a life of its own. Characters reacted in ways I never intended. Decent characters turned into monsters half way through a chapter, even a sentence. It was exciting and disturbing at the same time, and I enjoyed of writing it.

My favourite character is Danny O’Shea – vulnerable, naïve, basically honest but thrown into a situation he has to face into or go under.

One concern I did have was making Cerys and Bethan Frost direct descendants of the famous John Frost, a real character in Welsh history. They started out as beautiful, kind and loving girls but got corrupted by love and promised riches. But so far I haven’t had any negative feedback on that, although some people thought the sudden sex and violence should have been flagged up.

How do you deal with creative block?

* I usually have an idea about what I want to say before I start, then I just write. I read it again a few days later and edit it until I’m satisfied. Sometimes I have several chapters on the go at the same time. Then when I read them back I’ll make adjustments as to where the story is going. Half the fun is surprising myself at how the story takes on a life of its own.

What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?

* Unrealistic plots show disrespect for the reader. Lack of consistency in the behaviour of a character as well as poorly thought out dialogue. But the worst sin is a lazy conclusion to the story, especially if a sneaky clue is dropped in at the last minute to justify lazy plotting. They’re all the things that I hate in a book.

Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

* Probably the hardest part of writing a book. I would suggest getting a book designer to do the cover for you if you can afford it. It needs to reflect the essence of the book because whether we agree or not, most readers DO judge a book by its cover. So it needs to make an immediate impact.

How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

* I can’t pretend I’m not wounded by a bad review. It’s a human failing. I’ve had eleven great five-star reviews for a book then out of the blue I get a one-star that’s more a character assignation than constructive feedback. It ruins my day – but just the one day. Then I read all the good reviews again and accept that it’s just one person’s opinion. And you can’t please everyone …

How has your creation process improved over time?

* My creation process has settled into a comfortable pattern. Once I’ve got the basic outline of a story clear in my head I always write the first draft in longhand in a lined school jotter. Then after I’ve typed it all into my laptop I print it off and edit it again. And again! Until it looks like a book I would like to read myself.

What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?

*The best thing is seeing the story evolve and take shape. The worst thing is getting half way through the book and realising it has evolved so much the first few chapters no longer make sense. The most surprising thing is how the characters actually take over the story and dictate which direction it should take …

Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

*I think the first draft of a story is always for my own satisfaction. I play with it and enjoy the excitement of not knowing how it will eventually pan out. Once it’s done and I’m satisfied with how it looks I will then tweak it until it compares with the kind of story I like to read. I read a lot and have a clear idea of what I like and don’t like, and if it falls into that category then I’ll let it loose on the public.

What role do emotions play in creativity?

* I think emotions are crucial to any story. The very essence of a good novel is a healthy sprinkling of fear, love, hate, jealousy and all the emotions in between. But if the writer can’t conjure up these feelings in themselves then how can they inject them into a fictitious character?

Do you have any creativity tricks?

* Not really. If I’m honest I find new stories in everything I read or watch on TV. If I watch a good thriller it will trigger a new idea in my mind. The same with a good book – I’ll come away with a great plot of my own. The trick, I suppose, is to write it down quickly before it evaporates like fog in the morning sun.

What are your plans for future books?

* Gallows Field and A Pale Moon Was Rising features Guard Eamon Foley and have a thread going through them that needs a conclusion. I’ve started on the third in the series but so far it’s hit a bit of a buffer. But I’ll plod on.

Tell us some quirky facts about yourself

* Ronnie Drew of the Dubliners bought me a pint of Guinness back in 1969.

* I canoed down the length of Malaysia over one weekend and got so sunburnt I was hospitalised.

* I played rugby in Japan with an ex-international over 40s team who beat us 44/0. And it was live on TV.

* Bob Hope autographed my shirt in Tokyo, but I was so inebriated I put it in the wash and forgot about it until the other guys were showing theirs off. By the time I recovered my shirt the signature looked like a dirty stain.

Thank you for taking the time to read this interview. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

And thank you, Tony for including me in NFReads.com

 

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