May 10, 2019


Pat Black speaks to Jack O’Donnell, the author of Lily Poole.

Pat Black: What real-life events inspired Lily Poole?

Jack O’Donnell: The start of Lily Poole is pretty much how it happened. I went down the shortcut to sign on the buroo one morning. It had been slippy and had been snowing. I got to this bit of the road where a primary school boy stood frozen, not sure whether to go forwards or backwards. I guess if I was writing a novel I’d say he was greeting. He might well have been, I can’t remember. I took his hand and took him down to St Stephen’s school. He gave me a great line, ‘big people don’t understand’. There’s a book in there somewhere.

PB: You’re a prolific short story writer. Apart from “it took longer”, how different was the experience in writing a novel?

JOD: I guess we all do the same things. We write short stories and then novels. I don’t do anything different. I write short stories and some of them turn into longer stories. Lily Poole like most of my other stories is a collection of short stories packaged as a novel. It’s a novel by deceit.

PB: This story plays with the ideas of second sight, tying in with Scottish mythology. Is Lily Poole a ghost story?

JOD: Lily Poole is a ghost story. But only if you believe in ghosts.

PB: Tell us how Unbound works.

JOD: Unbound works by crowdfunding. Unbound is a publisher and they were looking for material. ABCtales were looking to make some money, so they offered them some potential clients. Luke Neima, who is now with Granta, was reading my first-draft stuff, and he put my name forward. I wrote about it here.

What that means is until they get the money up front they won’t publish your book. It’s like when you used to get a Provie loan and went to pick up your new jacket and Doc Martens from Dees. But you need to have paid for them in advance. It’s an old/new idea. I fucking hated it. What you end up doing is shaking down everybody you’ve ever known for money. I must admit to cheating and giving the book to customers that pledged and in return I’d cut their grass. Sssshhh, don’t tell those that pledged and I never cut their grass, but got a signed copy instead.

PB: What’s next for you?

JOD: I’ve not really got any writing projects lined up. I just write stuff. I’ve been trying to sell the last novel I wrote to publishers. Trying to get an agent. But that’s not really writing. That’s the business of writing, which is something completely different. I’m currently writing the follow-up novel to the unpublished novel I can’t get published, which is pretty stupid in anyone’s language. And I was thinking about looking again at one of my first drafts of Bill and the UFO, which is more a kid’s book, about angels that disguise themselves as aliens to fit in. Well, it’s not really about that. I can’t really remember what it’s about, but I got kinda fond of not remembering it as it was.  Sometimes I surprise myself and realise some of the stories I’m reading I wrote. That’s worrying, too. Some of the first drafts are terrible. Well, most if not all. I can’t remember all of Lily Poole, but there were multiple drafts.

Most of my first-draft stories or poems go up on ABCtales. I also blog on ABCtales and Wordpress:

But I’m word blind in the sense that I can’t spot the difference between what I’ve written and what I think I’ve written. It’s a bit like laughing at your own jokes. Only other people can tell you, ‘honestly, they’re not funny’. Fellow writers at ABCtales are too polite to say it’s crap. I’ve got to tell myself it’s crap, but just get on with it. That’s what writers do. Well, I think they do. The next time I meet a writer I’ll ask him or her.

Read our review here.

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