Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Writer's Wednesday: Chatting with David O'Brien

Today we chat with David O'Brien

David is a writer, ecologist and teacher from Dublin, Ireland, now living in Pamplona Spain. He has a degree in environmental biology and doctorate in zoology, specialising in deer biology and is still involved in deer management in his spare time.

As an avid wildlife enthusiast and ecologist, much of David's non-academic writing, especially poetry, is inspired by wildlife and science. While some of his stories and novels are contemporary, others seek to describe the science behind the supernatural or the paranormal.

A long-time member of The World Wildlife Fund, David has pledged to donate 10% of his royalties on all his hitherto published books to that charity to aid with protecting endangered species and habitats.

Welcome, David!

  1. What sparked your interest in writing? Your proverbial light-bulb moment?
 I started writing poetry as a teen. I haven't stopped, but I added a few short stories in my late teens and then turned one into a novel. I prefer novels to short stories - it's just the way I write, slow and conversationally. I wrote a few more over the next twenty years as I studied and wrote biology papers.

  1. Which genre are you most comfortable writing in?
Tough question still, after 8 books. Perhaps young adult, though I don't have a lot of ideas for that genre. I don't like writing erotica much, and don't put many sex scenes in my novels - I leave that to my mate JD Martins. Contemporary with some romance and some link to the natural world is what I like best, I'd say.

  1. Would you say you draw most often from your own knowledge base when writing or do you research for fresh material?
The former, definitely! I go with what I know, fill in with some short research and questions to friends who know stuff. I collect factoids as I go through life and some of these come into my head when I am writing. I have a long term WIP called Palu and the Pyramid Builders that requires a lot of knowledge of Neotropical ecology. I have read some books about it, but I am mostly basing it on what I learned on my few trips to the Caribbean and later in the second draft I will add in some stuff and fact check what I've included from memory.

  1. Tell us a bit about your work. How, for instance, do you choose your titles?
 The titles usually suggest themselves, though it might take a few years to do so. Often the names are obvious. When they are not, it's a nightmare. I have a book set in Madrid that I can't come up with a decent name for. I'm sure it's part of the reason nobody has jumped on it yet (it's also very long, so perhaps another edit would help!) Leaving the Pack took a long time to come, but when I had a proper novel-lenght draft, it summed up the book. Five Days on Ballyboy Beach was just the best way to describe what happened in that story - way too much happened to be explained in a title at all! It was best left to the imagination as to what might have happened over those five days... The Ecology of Lonesomeness was first called The Shadow of Loch Ness while I was writing the first draft. Half way along, I realised what the name had to be. Readers have agreed so far...

Of my other books, a YA paranormal  called The Soul of Adam Short is about a teen whose soul is separated from his body and the struggled to reunite them. That title captures the story. I had to make sure the character's name sounded good though; The soul of Jimmy O'Callaghan doesn't have the same ring! Peter and the Little People is a children's book out next year, with Muse ItUp Publishing (as is Adam Short, this summer) and the title came right before I started writing down the idea.

  1. You are certainly prolific! We love to read excerpts. Share with us your favourite bit of writing from you latest book.
I can't share my favourite, because that would give the plot away. But here's a bit from the first few chapters... The two main characters, Kaleb the American scientist and Jessie the local girl just back home to the Great Glen are in Fort Augustus on the shore of Loch Ness:

He watched her cross the canal, swallowing the last of the cod fillet and finishing off the small crispy fries from the bottom of the bag. Once over the swing bridge she turned and headed straight towards him.
He stared. She smiled at him, still approaching. His heart lurched. She was coming to sit here, with him, he realised. Holy shit! Did he have any ketchup on his face? Unobtrusively, he tried to wipe his mouth on the greasy paper the fries had come in.
He went back to staring at the lake, as if he didn't see her walking up the path, so he could act surprised when she arrived. His heart was thumping, now, and a leaden feeling weighed down his liver, making his abdominal muscles instinctively tighten.
He looked up, feigning a surprise that must have been as transparent as the water flowing over the lock beside him. "Oh, hey. Fancy meeting you here."
She smirked. "Do you mind if I sit here?"
"For sure, go ahead, no problem." He indicated the bench on the other side of the table, wishing there were chairs so he could get up and pull one out for her. "Not eating inside today?"
She chuckled. "No. I need to relax and get a breath of fresh air."
He laughed too. "Oh, you're short of that out here?"
"Ah, I'm getting my fill. Might be goin' back to London at some stage. Got to get it while you can."
He nodded. His heart had begun to slow down again, the heaviness lifting a little. She was only a normal young girl, he told himself. She came over to you, so relax.
"What did you do at college?"
"English and Drama: like everybody else in the world."
"Cool. If it's popular it must be good. So, what do you want to do now?"
"That's the big question. That's what I'm tryin' to figure out."
"No." He shook his head, drinking some Coke to wash the last of his food down. "You're trying to figure out if you can do it, or if you think you'll have to do something else because you don't think you're good enough to make a living doing it. But what would you like to do, if you could just do it? If your fictional boss would say, 'Yes, that's a great idea, Jessie. Do that. We'll pay you handsomely for that.' What would that be?"
She smiled at him, her dimples tinged with a little blush that made his abdomen heavy again. "I'd like to be a playwright, or a screenwriter."
"Then do that."
"Aye," she replied dismissively. "There's not much call for screenwriters round here..."
"Then you should go to California."
"Aye," she repeated in the same tone. "That's what they all say."
"They're right."
"And the Californians are coming here—look at you."
He grinned. "I'm from Washington."
She smiled back and shrugged. "Same difference."
"Yeah, like here and Norway."
"The Shetlanders are practically Norwegian. Well, what did you do in uni?" She leaned forward.
He was suddenly nervous again. Thank God for the cardigan.
"Well, for my first degree I studied a mixture of computer science and biology, called Computational Biology. I went to Gonzaga University in Spokane. That's a city in the middle of the state." He watched her to make sure she was following him.
She smiled and nodded as if she was, taking a bite out of her tuna sandwich at the same time.
"For my doctorate," he went on, "I used what I learned to study the big redwood forests in the Pacific Northwest. I made computer models of the effects of bears eating salmon in British Columbia, in Canada." Would she know there was a Vancouver Island?
"Oh, that's where Bigfoot lives, isn't it?"
"You know about Bigfoot?"
"Of course. Us 'monster locations' are all connected. I have a pen friend in the Himalayas: she sends me photos of Yeti."
Kaleb laughed.
"Maybe that's why they brought someone all the way from America," Jessie said. "Because you’re an expert in the Bigfoot.”
Kaleb chuckled again. It was true Loch Ness wasn't his first brush with a cryptobiological phenomenon. Many of the hunters and backwoodsmen he'd met on his fieldwork on Vancouver Island had asked if he'd come across signs of the Bigfoot. There had been a few mentions of it on hiking trips in the Cascades, too, and even a word of warning to watch out for more than bears during undergraduate field trips to Glacier National Park. He'd nodded solemnly and walked on, smirking to himself and shaking his head at the credulity of the lay community. If ever there was a case for federal control of schoolbooks and course content, it was the terrible state of scientific reasoning among the general public.
“It’s not Bigfoot, it’s Big Data they pay me for. Mostly it's because the US government pays me."
"So you don't believe in the Sasquatch, then?"
He loved the way she said Sasquatch. "For sure I don't believe in it. I've spent a few years in the deep woods, bumped into bears and wolves and marmots and cougars—bumped into grizzlies in Glacier, too. They're all very secretive animals, but if you're out there enough, you'll see them. Never saw a single sign of a Sasquatch—not a footprint, nor hair I didn't identify for sure as bear or wolf or cougar. It's like the monster that's supposed to be out there," he said with a nod towards the lake. "It's impossible, man."
"So you don't believe in Nessie, either?" she asked, taking another bite of her sandwich.
Kaleb laughed again and shook his head. “No way. I told you that. I’m an ecologist. I’m open to any evidence of the ecological possibility—either for or against it. My study is a complete statistical breakdown of the lake and its tributaries. It’ll show where every gram of nutrients can be found—whether it's in the water, the fish, the bugs, the forest, or the otters. Energy in, energy out. If there is something left over for a pod of orcas, or a shoal of sturgeon, or a family of ichthyosaurs miraculously left over from the Jurassic—or whatever else the monster’s supposed to be—I’ll find it.
"But even with an open mind, how can there be a population of large animals out there, with no dead bodies ever showing up, no sign of them for years on end?"
"A population?" Jessie asked, holding her hand over her full mouth.
He noted the curiosity in her tone.
She swallowed the piece of sandwich. "Why a population?"
He smiled. It was always amazing how little biology seeped into the majority of the general populace's minds and stayed there after they'd left high school. "There's always a population. It's biology."
"Oh, is it, Mr Smarty-Pants?" She laughed back: obviously, he noted with relief, taking the lighter side of his dismissal. "I thought he could have spontaneously generated from the wishful thinking of a drowning man in the 1680s."
Kaleb guffawed. She was a quick wit, this girl.
"So, then, you're here to prove it can't exist. Like Bigfoot. You can't actually survey the whole lake: not at once. But you can say there's not enough food there to feed the animal—sorry, animals. Just like you can't sweep the entire coastal redwoods—though they're getting pretty thin on the ground, I hear—with an infrared camera to prove there are no Bigfoots... Is it Bigfoots or Bigfeet?"
Before he had time to reply, she continued, "Bigfoots. So, since you can't say definitively that it doesnae exist, because ye can't prove a negative, you say: 'It's kind of like saying that it's irrelevant whether Schrödinger's cat is in the box or not, or was once in the box or not, because if he's in there now, he's most certainly bloody dead. A cat can't live without food, water and oxygen: it's biology.'"
"Uh... yeah," Kaleb replied, quickly reviewing what she'd said to ensure he wasn't tripping himself up—or she was trying to trip him. Man, she knew her stuff, this girl from the chip shop who'd studied English and Drama.
"It's a bit of a cheat, isn't it?" Jessie asked. "Go on, you can say it. I'm not a scientist. I won't rat you out to your learned colleagues."

  1. Lovely, loads of unexplained! Who do you identify with most in your work? And why?
I suppose I have to say Derek, from Five Days on Ballyboy Beach. I gave him some of my basic characteristics - university, home town, course of study - and a few personality traits, just so I could put him in a very different situation and see what would happen.

  1. If you could choose who would play Derek in the movie or series made from your work, who would it be?
Oh, that's another tough question. He's pretty young (early twenties) so I don't know many decent actors of that age simply because I'm not keeping up with those kinds of movies. Twenty years ago Colin Farrel would have been great. He also could have played Paul, from Leaving the Pack.

  1. Which four words would you use to describe yourself?
Good words, right?

Easy-going, loyal, day-dreamy, environmentally-conscious.

  1. Which four words would you use to describe your work?
Interesting, true-to-life, romantic, enviornmentally-conscious.

  1. You are definitely environmentally-conscious - awesome! I have to throw this in! That list of favourites we’re all interested in!
Favourite book: varies, but today it's The Girl in the Swing, by Richard Adams
Favourite movie: The Highlander
Favourite TV series: The Wire
Favourite colour: Green
Favourite food: Venison fillets fried in olive oil
Favourite drink: Harpoon IPA beer
Favourite pet: My dad's old german pointer, Tess, long since dead of course.
Favourite season: Spring. Just because it's always too short
Favourite place: the top of any mountain in Co. Wicklow,

  1. Often personal fame and prominence for your work go together, but frequently authors prefer remaining in the background while hoping their work will assume the limelight. Is this true for you, or don’t you mind a bit of fame?
 I'd have to admit not minding a bit of fame, if only to push forward a bit of the old environmental awareness that some famous people have been able to do. My wife thinks I love to be in the limelight just for the sake of it, though. She knows me better than most!

  1. Tell us about your next book (we love to know what to look forward to!)
I am working on the two sequels to Leaving the Pack - parts 2 and 3 of the Silver Nights Trilogy. The second title is not sure yet, Leading the Pack is a little too similar to the first book, but the last one will probably be Unleashing the Pack. I have part 2 written, but it needs lots of edits. I am doing them in tandem so that I can keep everyone's name in my head and not have to go looking up character's names later. In Part 2, a new pack is being formed and the young werewolves have to learn how to control their urges as well as decide who is going to be leader, or leash as they call it. In Part 3 they discover that their city is now home to a tribe of old enemies who know their secret. Their survival will require either reaching an agreement that had never been possible in the old country, or a war that will eliminate either one or the other group.

  1. Sounds intriguing! What comes next, besides a new book project? A holiday, an event?
Right now, I'm looking forward to the big festivals of San Fermines in Pamplona, and then a trip home to Ireland in July. I have a friend visiting from Boston, so I'm excited to show her around the town and experience the mayhem and madness. It coincides with the release of JD Martins' One Night in Pamplona, part of the City Nights Series published by Tirgearr, so it's doubly exciting this year.

  1. You have much to look forward to! And finally, if you could choose one person, living or dead, you would like to meet, who would it be and what would you ask of that person?

I'd love to have met Hemingway and I'd ask him if he'd prefer Pamplona not to have become famous because of him. A thing I'd ask of him, would be not to allow his wife to be in charge of his manuscripts that day they were stolen from a train and lost to posterity.

That would change something, wouldn't it?
Thank you so much for chatting with us, David. Here's to very success!

David's new book, just released :)


Kaleb Schwartz isn't interested in the Loch Ness Monster. He'd enough cryptobiological speculation about Bigfoot while studying the Pacific Northwest forests. He's in Scotland's Great Glen to investigate aquatic food webs and nutrients cycles; if he proves there's no food for any creature bigger than a pike, then so much the better.
Jessie McPherson has returned to Loch Ness after finishing university in London, hoping to avoid the obsession with its dark waters she had when younger and first discovered lonesomeness. She knows any relationship with a scientist studying the lake is a bad idea, but something about Kaleb makes her throw caution to the depths.
When Kaleb discovers Jessie's lonesomeness refers not just to the solitude of the loch, he's faced with an ecological problem of monstrous proportions. Can he find a way to satisfy both the man and the scientist inside himself, and do the right thing?

Find out more about David and his other books here 

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