I’m delighted to welcome fellow Tirgearr author, David O’Brien, whose new book, ‘Leaving the Pack’, is a gripping werewolf novel. I have the pleasure of presenting a fascinating interview, and a free extract from his brilliant work of fiction. Please click on the links below for more information, and on any of the cover images to purchase a copy of the book.
What are the main ideas or themes in your book?
The main idea is that we have all heard about werewolves and the effect of the full moon, but we know scientifically that they can’t exist the way they are described. So where did these stories come from? Why did we begin to tell them? What are the facts that led to the myth? There is nearly always some truth behind any myth: I recently read that oarfish are probably the genesis of the mythical sea serpents that sailors said patrolled the edge of the world. I began to wonder what the people who were considered werewolves were really like, and came up with a separate race of humans, which still exist. Because people always fear what is different or they don’t understand, and attack what they fear, the survival of the race is in peril after centuries of persecution.
The fear of rejection, of being safe in your current situation and being reluctant to change, to transition to something new, despite the fact that it could be positive in the long run are also important themes.
What is the setting of the narrative? Why is it important?
The book is set in an unnamed city on the east coast of an unnamed country. I did this so that readers can see that these people could be anywhere, walking the streets of their own city.
Tell us more about the main characters and their dilemmas.
Paul is the oldest of a new generation of a race of people who the rest of us would call werewolves, if we knew of their existence. They are hidden in plain sight, though, as they are identical in appearance to Caucasians. They differ physiologically, however, in having much stronger lunar rhythms, to the point where during the three days and nights of a full moon they are almost completely controlled by their hormonal instincts. They have been persecuted for centuries and the remnants of the race have escaped Eastern Europe but are so dwindled that Paul has been given leadership of a group of young men who must seek wives outside their own kind. The Pack, as they call themselves, has roamed the city for years, and Paul has done well in keeping them controlled and out of trouble. Paul has always known he must settle down and leave the pack to roam under someone else’s leadership. But when he meets Susan, someone he instantly recognises as a potential life mate, he discovers that actually handing over control is going to be hard to do. More difficult than that is the step of telling Susan the secret of his identity – something his family insist he do, so that Susan can decide for herself if she wants to marry what she’d have called a monster. Not only is it hard to voice something he has always hidden, but he is afraid that she will be abhorred by him once she finds out the truth.
For her part, Susan believes Paul is the perfect man – besides his juvenile tradition of going off drinking with his mates every month. She wants him to give all that up, but sees that Paul is a creature of habit, and that it will be hard to settle him down completely. However, she discovers she is pregnant and decides that Paul has to decide between continuing to act like an adolescent every month, and becoming a grown man and father who stays at home.
Why did you write this novel? Any other issues or ‘big ideas’ behind it.
I started it when I was seventeen as a short novella describing the people and the main characters because I loved the idea, and wanted to create a new world. Over the years I extended it into a novel, because the more I thought about it, the more complex the story became. At the same time, I saw that werewolf stories were becoming popular again – though werewolves were often the second-class citizens of vampire stories! – yet none were like my werewolves. I just wanted to get this angle of the truth behind the myth out there.
The big issue behind the novel is tolerance of differences, racism, prejudice and persecution. The members of the pack and their family have seen their own race nearly exterminated like Native Americans, Australian Aborigines, Tasmanians, and of course, the Jews and Gypsies during the Second World War. While the other groups still have problems and prejudice to deal with, their existence is no longer (one hopes) actually in danger. But the pack knows such tolerance that we see today will not be extended to their race should they be discovered. They are powerful individuals, who can kill in a heartbeat, but they know that they are outnumbered by the rest of society and so must hold back their power or it will be their undoing.
How do you go about writing a novel? Is it a simple or complex process?
Ha! I think it’s complex until you’ve written around ten of them. And getting the time to actually sit down and doing it is fairly complicated before you start. As I said, this one was my first, and it started as a novella more than twenty years ago, growing from there. It was rewritten a good few times. My next novel was faster, but it was still done over a couple of years. I wrote it purely for pleasure, as I have most of my novels. That one still needs work though it is currently under submission for Tirgearr Publishing, where ‘Leaving the Pack’ will be published. It’s not easy because you have to keep everything in your head: all the characters, all the plotlines, all the loose ends. I write notes and have a document for slush and a chapter/outline page to try to keep track, but there is no substitute for the human brain. However, if I leave the novel for too long (which I tend to do because there are always multiple things going on) I have to got back and refamiliarise myself with what’s going on, or I end up writing great dialogue that contradicts, or reiterates, stuff I have already written. I use the catch up to edit the first few chapters, so that I end up with the book fairly well rounded out by the time I can write the last sentence. Now that I have more time committed to writing I hope that I can keep it all in my head all the way through the first draft and then be able to edit the whole thing at one go.
What advice do you have for less experienced writers?
The same that everyone gives them I’m sure: keep writing. That’s the only way forward. Nobody can teach you how to write, really. If you want to be a writer, you can just by writing. You don’t need to go to classes or get a degree in fine arts. You might have to discard 90% of your work for the first decade, but it will get better. By the time you’ve done five or so, you’ll see what was wrong with your first, and you can fix it. And keep sending finished things out while you write more stuff. If your first novel is getting bounced back at you, go ahead and start your second, but keep giving that first one the odd throw now and then. It’ll help you keep editing it, keep refining it, and someday it might hit the right place.
What are you working on currently?
Too many things to get them all done as soon as I want them finished! I have been slowly working through a long novel set in the pre-Columbian Caribbean, for many years now. The first draft’s about half done, at 130k so far – I’ll get there in a few years! I hope to submit a novella called ‘One Night in Madrid’ to Tirgearr Publishing very soon. I am halfway through (50K) the first draft of a novel I got the idea for just a couple of months ago and am doing my best to get done before summer. It will need some feedback from beta readers and some friends who I have asked for help with research, but the subject matter is a secret until it’s submitted (I write too slowly to give away anything too soon!) Besides that, I have written an outline and 30k words of a sequel to ‘Leaving the Pack’, which I hope to complete by the end of the year. The third book in what will be a trilogy is sketched out in my head and now and then I am forced to get things down on paper, so there’s about 10k of that down. There’s also a non-fiction book on the sociology of hunting that I hope to get at least a treatment of finished over the summer. Then there are a few other ideas that have been put in the drawer until I can allow my brain the luxury of getting back to them. They are patient creatures, though, and I think I’ll get to them in the next year or two. After that I might have to worry about writer’s block!
If you could leave a message to the world, what would it be?
“Please stop acting like we are at the end of history.”
I hate that we seem to think that a hundred years is a long time. My flat is 150 years old and I hope to leave it in as good condition in fifty years time. Yet the so-called leaders of the world think it’s ok that we have enough oil to last for at least fifty years. What about the people who will live a thousand years from now? We still look back to the wise men that lived two thousand years ago for inspiration on how to live our lives, and yet we assume that those who come after us would not have a use for the materials we are wasting. Oil is not just a fuel. It is a material we use to make things. Won’t those who come after us want to use plastic? They’ll think worse of us than we do the fools who dismantled the monuments of ancient Rome to make their outhouses.
What would your perfect day be?
Wow. A nice question to ponder. It would be a very looong one…. Up for deer hunting at dawn, home for a swim and splash with my daughter, then some writing on a shady porch with a cool drink before a lunch on the same porch, watching birds and other wildlife in the garden. A short siesta afterwards, and a snorkel in the ocean, before a little reading in the shade. A beer and a shower and then a nice dinner (someone would have processed and cooked the previous day’s quarry) with good company and good wine as the sun sets. Then a walk through a balmy city with some good bars and perhaps a bit of dancing. A glass of whiskey on an open porch to end it all with a little more reading, while the frogs/nightingales/crickets sing but no mosquitoes exist! That’d do it. I don’t know if I’d have the time to sleep between two of these days in a row, and it might require the use of some kind of teleporting device to get to all the best places for each activity, but I am sure the perfect day comes with such things included.
Name a book or a film that means a lot to you.
A hard question… There are not that many but it’s hard to pick one out as meaning most.
At the time of reading it, ‘Girl in a Swing’ by Richard Adams had a big impact. It’s such a gentle, calm, even slow novel from the outside, but inside it packed a punch, which I could see coming but knew it was too late to avoid, as inevitable and intense as the titanic sinking after four hours, that sent me reeling.
Nobody believes in werewolves.
That’s just what Paul McHew and his friends are counting on.
They and their kind roam our city streets: a race of people from whom the terrible legend stems; now living among us invisibly after centuries of persecution through fear and ignorance. Superficially Caucasian but physiologically very different, with lunar rhythms so strong that during the three days of the full moon they are almost completely controlled by their hormonal instincts, you might have cursed them as just another group of brawling youths or drunken gang-bangers. Now at the point of extinction, if they are to survive their existence must remain restricted to mere stories and legend, but, paradoxically, they also must marry outside their society in order to persist.
The responsibility for negotiating this knife-edge is given to Paul, who runs the streets with his friends during the full moon, keeping them out of real trouble and its resultant difficult questions. Having succeeded for years, he finds his real test of leadership comes when he meets Susan, a potential life-mate, to whom he will have to reveal his true identity if he is ever to leave his pack.
10% of the author’s royalties will be donated to WWF, the World Wildlife Fund.
Suddenly he asked her the time. It was half-past one. His eyes scanned the crowd quickly and came to rest on the face of one of his friends, who had apparently been watching them. Paul nodded to him and then turned back to Susan.
“Where do you live Susan?” he asked, his tone conveying much more than curiosity.
She stared at him for a few seconds, spellbound, and then replied, gaze still holding his. “Not very far.”
“OK,” he said simply. “I just have to say goodbye to my friends.”
“I’ll get my coat.”
She went back to where she’d been sitting, said a quick goodbye to her wide-eyed workmates and picked up her jacket, then followed Paul down towards the dance-floor, at the edge of which his friends were assembling. After saying something Susan didn’t catch above the strains of Duran Duran’s Wild Boys, he clasped hands with a few of them before grinning broadly and letting out a long guffaw, though Susan didn’t notice that anyone had told a joke. They smirked back, ignoring her completely until Paul turned away from them and took her arm to lead her to the door.
Outside, a bank of clouds had descended over the city, reflecting back down upon it the dull orange glow of the streets. A splattering of heavy drops fell as they stood on the pavement, Paul glancing up and down to spot the next taxi that came along. Susan was wearing a cotton jacket which wouldn’t withstand much rain and she hoped that more than one taxi came quickly, as there were some other people nearby who were already waiting. When the drops became more frequent, Paul offered her his leather jacket. She declined, since it would have left him with just his silk shirt, but looked up at the almost lurid clouds anxiously. A lone taxi came along and pulled up nearby. Paul strode towards it and the two guys who were just about to open its door hesitated at his approach. He grabbed the handle and they backed away. Susan also scrupled, thinking it impolite to jump the queue. But the sudden drumming of the opening sky upon the dusty street convinced her and she skipped over to the car when Paul beckoned.
“What was that about in the club?” she asked as they jumped in.
“What? Oh, the boys? They’re going off to another place now. I was just laughing at what I imagine they’ll get up to there.”
“And what exactly do you imagine they will do?”
“Pretty much what they were doing there, but a bit more boisterous.”
“What? They’re going to trash the place?”
“No. No. They’d never do that. Not while they’re restrained.”
“Restrained? What is that supposed to mean? Like, locked up?”
“No. It’s quite simple really. One of them will simply not go wild and he will kind of look after them, make sure that they don’t go too far. And if anything happens that shouldn’t, then he’ll be answerable to me.”
“What? You’re the leader?”
This settled in her mind like a sunken galleon in a sandbar. Of course, she told herself, the most perfect man you’ve ever met is a gang leader. Now I know why things are going so well – because they are undoubtedly going to go extremely bad sometime very soon.
She swallowed hard and asked, “And what would you do if this gang – it is a gang, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, you could call it that.”
“Well, what would you do if they did get into trouble?”
“It won’t happen.”
“But if it did?”
“They would be reprimanded.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I don’t know. It would have to happen first.”
“And wouldn’t they just replace you as leader if you did something that they didn’t agree with?”
“No. They respect that I’m the leader and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
“Look, can we leave this? I’ll tell you all about it some other time.”
The mention of another time snapped Susan out of it a little. She was really engrossed in this gang thing, wanting to find out more about it both to satisfy herself that it was not dangerous to be with this gang leader and because, as she thought about it, she had to admit to herself that she was excited by that very possibility of danger. His mention of another time almost prompted her to ask if there was to be one, but she stopped herself and concentrated on the present situation.
“OK. Here’s my place now, anyway.”