The Writing Life of: Caimh McDonnell
This week on ‘The Writing Life of:’ I am thrilled to be interviewing author Caimh McDonnell. Caimh will be sharing with us details of his writing life, telling us all about his latest book ‘The Day that Never Comes’, which was released on 23rd January 2017, and answering a few fun questions.
So without further ado I’ll hand you over to Caimh
Caimh McDonnell is an award-winning stand-up comedian, author and writer of televisual treats.
In his time on the British stand-up circuit, he has firmly established himself as the white-haired Irishman whose name nobody can pronounce. He performs regularly at all the major clubs and is equally at home doing a set or acting as MC. He regularly supports Sarah Millican on tour and has also brought the funny worldwide, doing stand-up tours of the Far East, the Middle East and once, the near east (Norwich). He brings a new stand-up show to the Edinburgh festival pretty much every year, mainly as an excuse to eat things that’ve been deep fried.
Caimh is in great demand as a writer for TV. He has recently worked on the hit BBC2 show ‘The Sarah Millican Television Programme’ and written for comics on ‘Mock the Week’ and ‘Have I Got News for You’. He also works as a children’s TV writer and was BAFTA nominated for the CBBC animated series ‘Pet Squad’ which he created. He was a winner in the BBC’s Northern Laffs sitcom writing competition, where he was lucky enough to be mentored by Craig Cash and Phil Mealey of ‘Royle Family’ fame.
Caimh is massively proud to be ‘The Voice of London Irish’. Currently in his tenth season as a key part of the London Irish rugby club match day experience, he acts as the announcer in the Madjeski stadium in Reading, as well as conducting player interviews and writing for the programme. He was recently delighted to referred to as ‘Appallingly Partisan’ by the Rugby Paper, who seemed to be under the mistaken impression that he is sent in by the UN to seek a peaceful resolution to the match.
So, all-in-all, he manages to keep himself busy.
1) As a child what did you want to do when you grew up?
A sports star which was a big ask as I have zero athletic ability of any kind. I’ve tried every sport going, I’m terrible at all of them. In hindsight, I think that was how I developed such an over-active imagination. If reality isn’t playing ball, you’ve got to go somewhere else.
2) Who were your favourite childhood authors?
My first literary love was Terry Pratchett. He was the first author who’d I’d be eagerly waiting to get hold of the next book from. I’m still a massive fan of the man’s work now, it absolutely holds up brilliantly. I have not read his last book, just because I always want there to be one of his books in the world that I haven’t read.
3) At what point in your life did you realise you wanted to be a writer?
I always loved stories and I guess it was bubbling away under the surface. As a child, and come to think of it – now, I had and have awful, awful handwriting. Nobody could read anything I wrote. I was tested for several things. I guess I was always frustrated that I had these things in me and no outlet.
If I’d had a word processor in my teens, life might have turned out differently.
4) How did you go about following that dream?
My first real step was when I found a writing for radio course when I was maybe 25. I went looking for something, anything – and that was just the only thing I could find. The biggest thing for any person who is striving to do something creative is being in a room with a load of other people who have the same dream. Suddenly it isn’t stupid.
The first thing I wrote got into the final of a radio competition called the PJ O’Connor Award and I think in my own head, that gave some kind of validation to the dream. By the age of 29, I was working full-time as a stand-up and TV writer. Even on the worst day, I’ve never regretted making that leap.
5) What is your writing day like? Do you aim for a certain amount of pages or words before you stop for the day?
When I’m in the zone and working away feverishly, I can get 3,000 words done. I built up to that as I went. The biggest difference seemed to be if you plan out before hand what you’re doing.
6) Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
No. People find it impossible to spell and say Caimh, the last thing I need to do is add another name into the mix. Technically, Caimh isn’t my legal name though. It is a shortened nick-name type version of Kevin in Gaelic.
I occasionally get asked if Caimh is a stage name/pseudonym – that never goes down well! IT IS MY NAME!!! ☺
7) Do you have any strange habits before starting, or whilst in the midst of writing?
I keep recommending this weird habit to people. I have invented the self-brainstorm. Over the summer while I was writing my latest book, I was taking a lot of walks. I hit on the idea of using my headphones on my iphone and recording my thoughts on whatever narrative problem I was working on. Then I listen back to it and it seems to spark new thoughts as I sort of argue it with myself. Then I record myself explaining it through with the new thoughts and so on. I hope to all the people I pass, it just looks like a very involved phone call where I’m doing most of the talking.
8) Do you write longhand, typewriter, or on a computer?
Computer. I can’t even read my own post-it notes.
9) How many books have you written? Do you have any unpublished work?
There’s a thriller idea that I started a few times which I really want to come back to. I actually did a Masters in Creative Writing to hopefully teach my how to write that book. I did some short stories to train myself and one of them exploded into being my first book. I really want to go back to that initial idea some day soon but I’m obsessed with this series at the minute.
10) Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m a hybrid but I’m trying to teach myself more and more to be a plotter. I am half-way through plotting out my next book as I write this.
11) Do you read all the reviews left for your book(s)?
I do. I probably shouldn’t, but it is hard not have a gander. Luckily, people have been really nice about the books so far.
Having said that, I do have a mechanism for coping with bad and good reviews. This sounds horribly name droppy but . . . I’m lucky enough to work with Sarah Millican a lot as I wrote on her TV show and I support her on tour. She has a fantastic system that is known on the stand-up circuit as ‘Millican’s Rule’. It is brilliantly simple.
However brilliantly or terribly a gig goes or a review is etc, you have until 11AM the next day to wallow in it. After that – get over it, time is up! It is brilliant system, she is a very smart cookie.
Concerning your latest book:
The Dublin Trilogy Book Two
Publisher – McFori Ink
Pages – 344
Release Date – 23rd January 2017
ISBN-13 – 978-0995507524
Remember those people that destroyed the economy and then cruised off on their yachts? Well guess what – someone is killing them.
Dublin is in the middle of a heat wave and tempers are running high. The Celtic Tiger is well and truly dead, activists have taken over the headquarters of a failed bank, the trial of three unscrupulous property developers teeters on the brink of collapse, and in the midst of all this, along comes a mysterious organisation hell-bent on exacting bloody vengeance in the name of the little guy.
Paul Mulchrone doesn’t care about any of this; he has problems of his own. His newly established detective agency is about to be DOA. One of his partners won’t talk to him for very good reasons and the other has seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth for no reason at all. Can he hold it together long enough to figure out what Bunny McGarry’s colourful past has to do with his present absence?
When the law and justice no longer mean the same thing, on which side will you stand?
12) How long did it take you to get from the idea’s stage to your date of publication?
I think about 14 months. I started writing my second book fairly soon after I thought I’d finished my first, then there was a big gap while I rewrote the first after I’d figured some stuff out by starting to write the second. Or to put it in a less convoluted way, I think when you start to write another book with the same three core characters, you quickly realise what you find interesting and compelling about those character and what maybe in hindsight, doesn’t add to them. I was then able to go back and free them from a little unnecessary baggage which was great.
13) How did you come up with the names for your characters?
In my first book, there are several secondary characters that have names that are very close to the names of comics on the circuit. Loads of comedy savvy readers have assumed this is a big in-joke thing. To be honest, I have an appalling memory for names, using the names of mates was a great way to make them easier to remember. Then I just did a replace all and altered the names slightly.
In book two – there are the names of several London Irish rugby players because again, I know those lads well and I can remember their names!
14) Can you give us an insight into your main character(s) life?, What makes them tick?
Brigit is a soon to be ex-nurse who is an obsessive fan of crime fiction. She dreamed of being a detective. When she gets the chance, she naturally leans a lot on what she learned from reading those novels. It seems a lot of readers relate to her which makes sense, a lot of us essentially are her. Be honest, you reckon you’d be great at solving a mystery given the chance.
Paul is a nice guy who through a combination of circumstances sort of fell through the cracks of life. He finds himself in the first book nearly thirty with nothing approaching a life. I think that’s an increasingly easy thing to happen with the way we live today. If the first book is about anything, it is about his search for an identity.
DS Bunny McGarry is a distinctly Irish take on the maverick cop. In The Day That Never comes Brigit describes him as a tornado of incomprehensible swearing and violence – that about sums him up. He’s a man who will do anything to do what is right. In this book and certainly in future books, the reader will gradually discover what lies beneath all the bluster. I’m really excited to write it as I have it all in my head now.
15) Which was your hardest scene to write?
There’s a scene right before the finale where one of the characters is utterly broken. It is the darkest scene in either book and I think it might shock some readers. When I read it, I get a bit emotional.
16) How did you come up with the title of your book?
With both my books, the title was there really early. This book is about anger primarily, about the frustration that those guilty of the truly grand scale crimes never seem to face justice. As soon as I hit on it, there was only ever going to be one title.
17) Did you get a family member/friend to read your work before sending to the publishers?
My long-suffering wife reads everything, several times!
18) What did you do once you had written the final word in your book?
Started re-reading it!
19) What’s next for you, writing-wise?
This book and the last one are the first two books in what I’m grandly titling my Dublin Trilogy so obvious my next book is going to be… a prequel to the trilogy. Bunny’s backstory was going to be a large part of book three – but it expanded and expanded until it needed its own book. After that, book three!
1) What’s your favourite food?
I’m a monster for Sushi! We’re going to Japan for our holidays, that’s how much I like it!
2) If you had a box of crayons and you could only choose one, which colour would you choose?
I’m the world’s worst artist but green every time!
3) What movie could you watch over and over again?
OMG, tough one. The Apartment or LA Confidential.
4) What would be the top song on your playlist?
It varies but right now… ‘Ain’t No Easy Way’ by the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
5) If you won millions on the lottery, what would be your first purchase?
A large shareholding in my second family aka London Irish RFC
6) A talking duck walks into your room wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, whats the first thing he says to you?
“If some posh bast**d with a shotgun comes through here, you ain’t seen me.”
You can find out more about Caimh by visiting his website/social media sites below.