Name: Jack O’Donnell
Where are you from: Clydebank
I’ve had a variety of jobs. As soon as you say that you can bet they’ve all been pretty crap. From dishwasher to author was my local paper’s take on my epic journey
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
The book launch for my debut novel, Lily Poole, takes place in The Cabin Inn, Dumbarton Road, on Saturday, 3rd September. Lots of people that supported the first crowd-funded book in Scotland will be there. But they’d be there anyway, because it’s my local and they’re not long telling my I’m shite at pool and not much of a writer either. That’s called keeping your feet on the ground, but with more fucking swear words.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I began writing when I did an Open University Course, Creative Writing, around 2008. I’d read the course book in about two days and was footering about doing the writing exercises, in jig time, which I loved.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I don’t really, but I’ve worked out a simple formula: when I’m writing (like now) I’m a writer. When I’m not, I’m not.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
I write all the time and sometimes a short story becomes a longer story. My first unpublished novel was ‘Huts’. I’d a few stories that were around 80 000 to 100 000 words, but first drafts, patchwords and full of holes that worlds could fall through. Lily Poole began with something that had happened to me, I’d found a wee boy scared he would slip in the snow and took his hand and helped him get to school. I switched the sex of the wee boy to wee girl, Lily Poole, and that was me off running.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I like teasing out words and creating word pictures, but I also like writing blogs and book reviews and my thoughts for the day, none of which are original, but that’s OK because everyone is talking and nobody listening.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
The working title of Lily Poole was ‘School Photos’. In early drafts of the book the little girl in the snow didn’t have a name, but then she did and it was Lily. Her surname Poole is the name of a wee woman I know and I liked the association of water and depth and sinking.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Yep, but I just wish I knew what it was.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Stacks and stacks and stacks. These are all places I’ve lived and streets which I’ve walked and locked wards where I’ve talked and visited and worked.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most?
Reading is the engine of writing and the red, the green and the gold books of fairy stories were places where I spent many a happy day. I’ve had book stacks of mentors, because anyone that takes their time and gives it back to me in the form of informed criticism of my work, I’m grateful.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I’m a massive fan of Harpie’s dairies, beginning with Goodnight and Thanks for the Vodka, which chronicles her life with such unflinching honesty, but also show that trying to do the right thing, when you’ve no money and life keeps trying to knock you down, is sometimes not enough. Joe Lawrence, The East End Butcher Boy, is a coming-of-age story that packs a real punch and when I first read it, I thought, this really should be a film, and I still wonder why it’s not. My favourite author is Ralph Glasser, Growing up in the Gorbals. As a wee boy he worked out there were different kinds of infinity and he wangled his way into attending a lecture given by Albert Einstein, but for a fluke he would never not have attended Oxford University, even though he was a genius, because he was poor. Sadly, we are returning to that kind of moneyed society.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
ABCtales, offered me an online platform, to write and post as much rubbish as I could manage and no one every complained. Many of its members paid silly money to help fund my debut novel.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
I’d love to say Yes and so far I’ve had some excellent reviews on Amazon, but with the equivalent of the population of Scotland publishing a book every year, every new book very quickly becomes an old book, so realistically, I’d have to say no. But to write is to dream. Christopher Isherwood’s narrator in The Berlin Diaries travels to Berlin because his poetry collection has only sold about twelve copies. I’ve no plans to move to Berlin.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book? Well, my latest book is my old book,
The Huts, revisited. So my new book is my old book. The person writing the book now is not the same person that was writing the book then. All words are in flux, even on the printed page.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I can’t say I was one of those kids that had a great interest in writing and kept copious diaries. I wish now, I had, of course. I write to make sense of the world and the more I write the more nonsensical it seems. That doesn’t really make sense, but sounds like it does, which is just about right.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Well, Lily Poole is a page turner, so in a way it’s a thriller, but it’s also a coming-of-age story and a ghost story without a ghost. It’s grounded in the world and institutions of working-class Scotland and, in particular, a psychiatric ward in Gartnavel Hospital. It’s a love story, where love really does hurt.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
I’m pretty good at the first-draft, not bad at the second draft, the third draft gets my full attention, by the fiftieth draft I wish I hadn’t started the first draft.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Not yet, I’ve not inflicted myself on the world as an ardent researcher
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Mecob. And what a fantastic job they have done.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Writing is the joy. Selling is when the nightmare begins.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Sit down and write. Sit down and re-write. Sit down and re-write. Someone else will have to look for you, filter out the things that you cannot see, because what I see is not what you see. Writing is a solo activity but a group activity. We all need help and we should take as much help as is offered.
Fiona: If any of your books was made into a film who would you like to play the lead
. I’d have to give the lead role of John, in Lily Poole, to my sister’s boy, Matthew Kiely, a big drip of a boy, and he’s still at school even though he’s seventeen, John’s age in the novel, back then, of course, we left school at Christmas when we were fifteen.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I yearn to create a world in which words resonate with the reader, a Sisyphean task, but I’d like to think sometimes I get it right, but let’s not play doom and gloom games, I want to entertain and if that doesn’t happen then I’ve failed.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Well, in no particular order: Poems for Refugees; David Halberstam, The Coldest Winter; John Lanchester, Capital; Michael Herr, Dispatches; Gay Talese, Unto the Sons; Daniel Murphy, Schooling Scotland, Education, Equity and Community; Michael Thomas, Man Gone Down; Karen Connelly, Lizard Cage.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Yes, Janet and John.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Toddlers, they’re just so serious and so funny.
Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would meet and why?
Always say Jesus here and you’d need to ask him, ‘so, eh, you think you’re a big man?’
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why ?
Nah, cremated, scatter my ashes on the wind.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
Football and getting drunk and they’re not incompatible, especially when Glasgow Celtic are playing.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
None spring to mind, but if it was on BBC 4, was Nordish and featured a knitted jumper, I’ve probably seen it. And Wallender. I love Wallander, but not the English Wallneder, because, whisper it, Wallander, isn’t English.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
My favourite food used to be macaroni and cheese. Favourie collar, bright yellow. Favourite music. Donny Osmond, Puppy Love, or Crazy Horses. Those boys really were wild. But I did take a fancy to Marie Osmond and Paper Roses.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
I’d liked to have been a real person.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it? https://wordpress.com/post/odonnellgrunting.wordpress.com/1480