Friday, October 22, 2021

Interview with Author Ciaran J. McLarnon

Image: A headshot of a caucasian man in a printed, button-down shirt. He has thick, black glasses and receding dark hair. He is outdoors (grass, trees, and sky visible).

When did you figure out you wanted to be a writer?

When I was studying for my MSc I read Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and was blown away by what she had achieved. Until that point I had been making a choice between being a scientist and being a writer, but that book made me think I might be able to do both. A few years later I accepted that being an ecologist was no longer on option for me, and I decided to focus on writing. Now I can't imagine ever being anything else. That feels strange because (if I wasn't disabled) I'm not sure how I would have ended up being a writer, but I really think I was never going to be anything else.

Who are your influences?

Rachel Carson has been a major influence, as have many other nature writers; I really enjoyed reading Henry David Thoreau and like to keep him in mind when I write. I spent my childhood in the area where the poet Seamus Heaney had grown up 50 years before and aspire to write stories with the panache of his poetry. There are many Irish writers who inspire me to try and be better every day. Of more recent writers Kazuo Ishiguro is a favourite, an excellent storyteller with unrivalled technique. Like many writers, I’m also a keen reader and hope that every book I read influences me in some small way.

Where did you get the inspiration for your debut novel New Shores? How long did it take you to write?

New Shores first started its life as a short story about six years ago. At that time I had no desire to write a novel, but I knew that if I ever did, that story would be the place from which I would start. About 18 months later that opinion had changed and I began to write the first draft of the novel. I chose New Shores because it was an area where no amount of research would be too much, and because I thought I could add something to the work available that tackled the same subjects.

The original short story was inspired by a lecture series I attended at university on the native tribes of Papua New Guinea, and by a TV report which detailed how tribes in Papua New Guinea moved away from the coast after a tidal wave because they were scared of the sea. Hunter/gatherer tribes in places such as Papua New Guinea are often used to examine how prehistoric people might have acted in certain situations.

How did you become interested in environmentalism and history?

I grew up in a very rural area, so I've always had an affinity for nature because of that. My studies in Marine Biology and Ecology focused heavily on the environment. To me environmentalism just makes sense; it's a little like recognising that a house is going to need maintenance occasionally, and that you should avoid doing things that might damage it.

I also like to know the source of ideas, and that's where my interest in history comes from. Plus, history is full of great stories and interesting characters that I think people will enjoy learning more about, and the ideas from history can teach us a lot about human nature.

Do you have any advice for people wanting to research or write about people and things outside of their culture?

It's tricky since most writers don't want to be accused of cultural appropriation. I try to be respectful and understanding, and if you can do that, then people are usually more forgiving if you are inaccurate. You will make mistakes and people will see things in a different way, so try not to be too controversial. I'm from Northern Ireland so I have heard people try to advise on the situation here, so any researcher might want to avoid a very complicated situation. But subjects outside a person's cultural experience shouldn't be too daunting - everyone has their opinion and an objective opinion could be useful. Any comments should be necessary, as simple as they can be, and show people you have tried and want to understand.

What was the aspect that surprised you most about the publishing process? Is there anything you wish you would've done differently?

I thought being in control of the final book that emerged from the publishing process didn't really matter that much to me, so I was surprised to find out how wrong I was about that. Through Atmosphere Press I felt like I had the final say in the design and editorial process, which I found empowering. I suppose, after spending so long thinking about my words, I didn't want anyone else to have that much control over them!

Do you have a writing routine?

I do have routine, but it's become more flexible recently. I do like to try and follow the advice of Stephen King to try and write every day. Three days a week I go to the gym after breakfast, and physical exercise is an important part of my process. I often take breaks during writing to exercise. After I get back from the gym, or straight after breakfast on the mornings that I don't go, I like to read for about 90 minutes. I then write for about two or three hours or until I get stuck. Then read again for about 90 minutes, something different from what I was reading that morning. If I have something I really need to do, I will read/write in the evening. Having a strict routine helps me to avoid procrastination and write when I’m not motivated.

Are you more of a "plotter" or a "pantser"?

For New Shores I was definitely a pantser; I just had a vague idea of how things were going to go before I started writing. The world and the story got more solid with each draft that I wrote, but because I was researching and reading as I went, I'd written three or four drafts before all the major plot points appeared. Plotting probably would have made editing faster. For the next book, I'm writing a three-sentence summary before I begin each chapter, but I don't want to plot too much because making up the story as you write it is part of the fun!

A lot of writers seem to recommend plotting and I do like to have a vague idea of the beginning, middle, and end before I start. But, I change my mind so often that I don’t think I should plan too much. I think a writer should have a plan but needs space to be creative.

What is the biggest challenge you've faced as a disabled writer?

Because of my medical condition, I have difficulties holding small objects and can’t use a pen and paper. It has never been a problem that has made me reconsider writing, but I do get the feeling that my process is a little different from the process of authors who can use pen and paper. For example, I have never written in the margins of a book or used a highlighter pen. I'm a slow typist too and I have used several methods to get over these problems.

The first method I used and by far the best was a note taker, a person whose job it is to take notes for you and to write down what you say as appropriate. I used this method in a creative writing class I attended a few years ago, but it was in a large university that could afford to hire a note taker and had empty classrooms I could use when dictating.

The computer programme that I use for dictation now works out pretty well. I'm using it to complete this interview. The programme does pick the wrong words sometimes, but I think that problem is mainly due to my thick accent! When using any kind of dictation is inappropriate, I often use a tablet. This is the solution I normally opt for when I'm attending a writing class or workshop. I produce shorter pieces than most people in that situation, but I still enjoy learning about writing and listening to other people’s work.

What project are you working on next?

I usually split my time between writing novels and writing short stories. I write short stories until I need to stop and start working on my novel again, which usually takes four months. Then I'll write that novel until I feel like writing short stories again. Right now I'm on the short story part of the cycle, but I’ll turn to the 3rd draft of my next novel by January 2022.

The novel writing is going pretty well and I think it’s starting to take shape. With a little planning, I think I can reduce the number of drafts and maybe complete the book in 2022. Some interesting things are happening to the main character so I'm quite looking forward to seeing how it all works out. I'm trying my hand at dark fantasy in the short story I'm currently working on and the short stories I've been working on most recently are historical fiction and for a nature writing competition. I just heard that my historical fiction piece will be published so I'm pleased by that.


Biography:  Ciaran J. McLarnon is a Northern Irish writer who lives in the town of Ballymena, north of Belfast and close to dramatic scenery that has inspired many filmmakers and other artists. Renowned poet Seamus Heaney, winner of a Nobel Prize for literature, was born in the area and is one of many writers who inspire Ciaran.

Ciaran has a BSc in Marine Biology and an MSc in Ecology, both of which strongly influence his writing. Medical problems encouraged him to develop a life-long passion for fiction since that time. His continuing quest to hone his craft has explored many different subjects including history, the natural environment, horror and crime. Although this is his first novel, his words have featured in many publications, and he was long-listed for the Adelaide Literary award. More information on Ciaran J. McLarnon and his works is available at

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