A L McAuley
Back in 2012, A.L. McAuley was running a very successful service business and, indeed, he still oversees it. In 2013, his first novel,’ Eighty Eight’ more often known as ‘88’, was published to great reader acclaim – it’s a bestseller on Amazon with five-star reviews. His second book in the series, ‘Amulet’ was published in July 2014 and has been equally well received. Here, the author speaks about his work and future plans in an interview with Emma Cowan from NI Business Now.
Q. For the last two years that you’ve been writing, you’ve continued to run your business. Is that your plan or do you hope to focus on being a full-time writer?
One is equally as important as the other.
Q. How do you balance your day-to-day work with writing novels?
I try as much as possible to finish work mid afternoon, giving myself a three to four hour window before I start writing. Then I write every evening, without fail, even if it is only one sentence. I spend a minimum of two hours and up to three and a half at my desk every night.
Q. Did you have a storyline in mind before you sat down to write your first book, 88?
I didn’t have a complete storyline in mind beforehand. The idea really resulted from a throwaway comment from someone who doesn’t know me. She was a GP from Armagh who happens to be on the committee that deals with epidemics or viral outbreaks. She would be responsible for organising triage and pop up morgues to deal with outbreaks. She told me she was at a cancer conference in Baltimore and even with her experience she had no idea of the amount of money put into cancer research. So it struck me, what would happen if someone found a cure for cancer? Would the amount of money tied up in medications and treatments make it in someone’s interest to bury a cure? Next was, what would happen if they found a cure for everything? So the idea was born with the obvious connotations being how long could we really go on for before we start to tear ourselves apart? You’d see the deconstruction of religion, relationships, medicine, insurance…the world would fall apart.
Q. Did you take any writing training or advice or did you just sit down and do it?
I’ve had no training or advice; I just sat down and wrote. I think I’d no choice initially as I was driven to do it, though I would say that my partner Helen’s encouragement and enthusiasm have been inspirational. I left school at fifteen as a borderline illiterate with no qualifications so, in my opinion, anyone can write. If you have a story in your head, get it down.
I’m into the third novel now and I learned early not to be over descriptive, but to concentrate on getting the story across. Make yourself a voyeur within the scene and write what you watch going on. You’re inside the characters’ heads and it’s all about how would they each react – not you. Don’t be sycophantic about it.
Q. How long does it take you to write a book?
At a computer, my first novel ‘88’ took probably 18 months at two to three hours per night. ‘Amulet’ was completed in considerably less time than that and, as I said, I am well into the third book in the trilogy.
The characters in my books are like friends you haven’t seen for some years. You think about them, without ever speaking to them. It’s also an incredibly lonely thing to do. You sit alone, night after night, you basically throw a metaphorical cover over the work that you’re doing so that no one else can see it. The anguish of walking into the room and seeing the computer and the fear of nothing happening – that’s the worst part about it.
Q. With two successful novels already published, you are being courted by the big screen. How does that feel? Can we expect to see your books turned into a movie or a television series in the same ilk as Game of Thrones? Would you like to see filming on location in Northern Ireland?
I’m flattered but there’s nothing definite in that pipeline yet. It’s important to me that I get the trilogy finished before I even try to write a screenplay – that’s a whole new genre to learn. The writing styles between novel and screenplay are so different. The screenplay brings things down to the absolute skeleton of what the plot is and that could destroy my future writing. When the third book’s finished I will start the screenplay.
As for potential filming in the future, of course I’d love to see them set in Northern Ireland – that’s where the bulk of my first novel was set. What better place?
Q. Tell us a little about ‘Amulet’ and your future work.
The third book, Empire, is underway, and will be available early in 2015. In the Amulet, you have clarification of the ending of 88 and there is a cliff hanger that leads you into Empire. I was going to close this story when I finished the third book but I’ve changed my mind. I’m going to leave it open – could go to seven, who knows?
Q. Studies have shown that creative writing actually boosts your brain power and your ability to manage people, by virtue of developing better empathy. What’s your opinion on that?
It boosts your imagination and makes you more receptive so, in that regard, it could improve your empathy. You become much more observant. Boosting your brain power? I don’t know. Certainly it boosts your creativity. It turns a switch on which, without distractions, simply does not get switched off.
Q. Where can you buy your books?
They are available online primarily from Amazon, but also from other online stores like Waterstones, in both paperback and Kindle editions, and although not stocked in traditional retail book outlets they can be ordered there on request.
Q. Finally, what advice would you give to anyone out there who dreams of trying their hand at writing?
Believe you can do it, sit down and just write it. Get the story out – you can go back and structure it later. Just write.