For the past year or two, I’ve been following the Irish Writers Podcast, presented by aspiring novelists Máire Brophy, Cathy Clarke and Kate Mulholland. On it, they discuss their respective writing journeys, and I was delighted to discover recently that Máire had succeeded in sending her first book out into the world. It’s a fantasy tale, which takes place in a universe of wizards, elves and orcish warriors grappling with the aftermath of a great war.
I invited Máire onto the blog to talk about independent publishers, the value of a writing group and fighting with foliage.
Máire, congratulations on the release of your book After the World. Can you tell us a bit about it?
It’s a novella about an orc general surviving after his world has been torn apart. The world has ended from his point of view and he’s still there. It strips him down to his essence and he has to face himself clearly.
He also argues with trees. I probably feel like that’s a bigger selling point than it is! I was thinking about trauma and memory when I wrote it, but I wanted to make the most of orcish irreverence!
After the World is published by independent publishers Vagabondage Press. How did that come about?
I finished the book in May 2016 and was looking around for publishers. We’d done a session on the podcast about novellas a few months previously and I knew they’d had a resurgence on ebooks. So I kept actively looking for fantasy publishers who accepted novellas. I liked the approach of Vagabondage Press, and saw they had a window for their slush pile so I sent it in. After some time, the editor from Vagabondage got back to me with a contract offer for publishing in Strange Fictions Press, one of their imprints. The process has been oddly slow and then oddly quick at times.
Did you have input in aspects like the cover?
Yes and no. Fawn, my editor, asked if I had thoughts on covers. I think I only managed to convey the kinds of fantasy covers I didn’t like. I didn’t have a clear vision for it. In fact, I had assumed they’d change the name of the book, so I never had a clear image in my head. But when I got the cover I was just delighted. It was exactly what I wanted without me knowing what I wanted.
What advice would you have for writers looking at independent publishers as a home for their work?
I think they need to understand the model is different to traditional publishing. There’s no advance, but your publisher does sink time and money into your book. Perhaps independent publishers have fewer resources to put into developing authors, so you may need a more polished book, but that’s just speculation on my part.
I think writers also benefit from the expertise in indie publishing. These people have great experience in selling a book without big-budget advertising, and an understanding of how the market works.
Ultimately, no one cares about your book as much as you do so you need to keep on the ball in terms of marketing and keeping the process moving.
Fantasy seems to be a huge market at the moment. Will that make it easier or harder to find an audience?
I don’t know, but I think overall it will make it a bit easier. I know I’m loving contemporary fantasy fiction myself. I guess genre fiction isn’t as siloed as it used to be, but my book is pretty old-school fantasy in some ways. Come back to me on this in a year!
On the Irish Writers Podcast, you, Cathy and Kate discuss the progress of your respective WIPs with refreshing honesty. Did you find that this regular analysis helped you to work through your writing issues or did you get more bogged down?
Until we did the podcast, I don’t think I really understood that the three of us approached writing entirely differently. Something about listening back to those conversations made it click. And I think that’s why we work as a writing group. If I hit a wall that I’m struggling to get past, I can tell Kate or Cathy and they’ll come up with a solution, or a further question that I would not have thought of on my own. We are greater than the sum of our parts.
I’m a thinker so I could sit and analyse forever, and maybe fall into inaction. The podcast gives us some accountability and I know there are times that it’s made me write when I wouldn’t have otherwise. I mean it when I say that without Kate and Cathy I would not have written this book.
Okay, serious questions now. What writing fuel do you require?
Tea, of course, lashings of it.
You can only pick one place to write for ever more – a corner table in a noisy café or a soundproof study facing a noticeboard of cute cat pictures?
Probably the noisy café. Being stuck in either place would probably made me go out of my mind, but in the café I could tell myself that the noise was making me write crappily and it wasn’t my crap writing! Also I’m allergic to cats… Dogs, now dogs could sway the answer the other way.
I have to ask the inevitable – what are your five favourite books?
This is hard. My favourite books, like my favourite movies, are so prone to how I’m feeling and what I’ve read recently.
My stand-out favourite for many years has been Thud! by Terry Pratchett. And I love the classics, so Pride and Prejudice, The Lord of the Rings and Cold Comfort Farm. To include something recent, I’m going to add The Girl with all the Gifts by MR Carey. But honestly, next week it could be different (except for Thud!).
And finally, what’s next for you, writing-wise?
I’m all over the place on this one. I’m considering doing some academic publishing and I have an idea for a screenplay that’s burning a hole in my mind. I probably don’t have the time to do both, so it’s just a matter of what will be done first. I wish I could stick to a genre and write a series, but I go where my magpie-like mind takes me!
After the World is published by Strange Fictions Press and is out today, May 8.
Máire Brophy lives in Dublin, Ireland. By day, she works with researchers to help develop and express their ideas, and by night she mostly sleeps. In between, she’s often found playing Dungeons and Dragons, eating cake and watching movies. She is currently considering learning to play golf.
Photos: Thomas at Day in Life Storytelling Photography; Stocksnap.io