How I Wrote My First Novel, ‘Blood Will Be Born’

By Gary Donnelly

Part 1: ‘GONE FISHING’

For me, stories begin with images more often than not.

Sometimes they’re grainy, but more often visceral and clear. Blood Will Be Born started in this way and was written on and off between 2014 and 2016. But the vision that fathered the novel can be found further back. In 2006 I started to write a short story that I did not finish. It featured an old Irish man, sitting out the dead hours of the night alone.

Or, perhaps, he is not entirely alone.

A voice has started to speak to him from his cupboard, a voice that fills him with fear. He knows it is the Pooka (a shape changing entity which recurs throughout Irish folk tales). He had a brush with this thing as a child in the wilds of the west of Ireland. He outsmarted it then, but it has hunted him ever since. And now it’s found him and wants to play…

The story remains unwritten, and over time, my vision of the old man faded, as did his story, until both had disappeared entirely.

Or, perhaps, the dark matter that makes up such dreams never really disappears.

Like all energy, the potential for a good story does not really get destroyed any more than it is actually created by us in the first place. It simply changes form.

In 2014 I enrolled in an Online Novel Writing Course under Scott Bradfield at the City Lit. We ‘met’ (a team of four of five regulars spread between the Hebrides and London) virtually, once a week to critique each other’s homework assignments, discuss lessons from reading exercises and benefit from guest writers. When it was my turn to write a thousand words for shared weekly butchery, something weird happened.

I saw a man, sitting in a sparsely furnished apartment, candle light flickering. In one hand he had a near empty bottle of fortified wine, in the other, he held a razor blade. His arms were bare and they were scarred. I knew he was a former paramilitary prisoner of the Irish Troubles; a man of violence who remained a captive of his past. When the wine was finished, the blood would flow.

Not the same old boy from my 2006 story, but I’m pretty sure both visions shared the same DNA. The little homework piece was returned to time and again until the man had a name, John Fryer, and I knew what he was really afraid of; the Moley.

Each artist is different. John Lennon once said that song writing for him was like being a spiritual medium; the words flowed onto the page through but not from him. I can dig that. Want to start your first novel? Put a sign on the door that says ‘GONE FISHING’, and close the blinds, cast a net into the black waters. See what you haul up, look it in the eye and start to tell its story. But mind how you go, you might catch a monster.

Gary Donnelly is a writer and teacher who was born and raised in west Belfast. After attending a state comprehensive school, he read History at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and has lived and worked in London since the late 1990s. Blood Will Be Born is his debut novel and the first book in the DI Owen Sheen series.

Get your copy of his debut novel, Blood Will Be Born, here!

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