Luke Geraghty is the author of Torrodil, a fantasy novel about Anna Gray, an ordinary woman who is the unwitting repository of an extraordinary gift. To learn more about Torrodil, Anna’s terrible boss and how her adventure into the wild began, you can take a peek at the first chapter of the book here. If you want to learn more about Torrodil‘s author, read on. You will discover the strategies Luke employed to write his novel and publish it, how he managed to survive the grueling editing process, and more. We hope the story of a young talented author will inspire you to keep writing, and to have faith in the power of your words.
Valentina Nesci: Writing a first novel can be very tough. When you have never accomplished such a feat before, you need to figure out how to do so by trial and error. Could you tell us about some of the things you learned while working on your first book?
Luke Geraghty: When I started writing Torrodil in September 2010, I don’t think it crossed my mind that I was doing something new. I assumed that, since I had churned out essays for the past eight years, I could churn out a book. I thought to myself, This is what writers do. They sit at a computer typing frantically with papers all over the floor. They arrive at the end, print off the pages, and send them through the wardrobe to a mystical world where books are bound and editors never run out of red ink.
Let me say this loud and clear: you cannot churn out a book. You will go to bed at night thinking you are the next Michael Ondaatje and wake up to discover prose so laughable your ribs hurt for the next day and a half.
But always continue writing. I try to write a thousand words a day, often fail, but go to bed knowing I’ve written more than if I hadn’t set myself a target. Write and allow yourself time to read and refine.
VN: Going off of the last question: writers often disagree on what the best way to write a novel is. Some, like Stephen King or J.R.R. Tolkien, write without necessarily knowing where they are going – they let the story unwind itself at their fingertips. However, other writers like to concoct elaborate “Outlines” of their novels, and don’t leave a lot of room for their creativity to go “unchecked.” How did you go about writing Torrodil? Did you create an outline of the book, or did you just write, and let the book create itself?
LG: Torrodil was entirely spontaneous. I did keep a notebook to write thoughts and one-line zingers as I went along, but other than that I was at the computer, writing. With a fantasy novel, the difficulty is not using your imagination but reigning it in; so, there were definitely times when not having an outline meant I was riding high on wild tangents that ultimately lead to nowhere.
That said, when I first finished I did go back to edit the book. Though I edit as I go along – as opposed to writers who just plough ahead – I was a different writer by the end of the book. Sometimes that meant I disagreed with the brevity of a paragraph. Other times it meant writing entirely new scenes. I was very critical of myself.
VN: Many writers say they always knew they wanted to be writers. They were the kids who loved spending days with their noses stuck in the pages of a book while everyone else was out to play. Where you one of those kids, too? When did you begin to realize that you loved words enough to fill an entire novel with them?
LG: I know, that seems to be the thing, doesn’t it (on writers knowing they had to write from an early age)?
Honestly, I had no clue. I wasn’t a massive reader, but I was good at reading and wouldn’t shun the notion of delving into a new book. Book fairs sometimes came to my primary school and I would tug at my mum until she agreed to buy me a new Goosebumps. I have to say I was one of those kids exploring, running around, riding my bike, and committing random acts of violence on street corners.
No, I didn’t appreciate words until I started writing essays in high school. My English teachers got successfully better over the years while my Math teachers got worse, so I got pulled into writing and learning the basics: structure, punctuation, style.
In college (equivalent to the final two years of high school in America), every one of my A-Levels was essay-based. I discovered that I loved academic writing. I lived and breathed it.
I moved on to university, got a First in Linguistics, moved into work and had a writing drought. I started writing Torrodil because I physically had to write.
VN: In my humble opinion, fantasy novels are the hardest to write, because they require you to create an entire world, and truly stretch the limit of your imagination. Why did you decide to write a fantasy novel? Did you already have a world in mind?
LG: I’m not a big planner, as you might be able to tell by now. I didn’t decide to write fantasy. I had written other things before Torrodil and they didn’t pan out because I wasn’t invested in the characters.
When I started writing Torrodil, I had no idea of its length. I had this idea of a girl, and I wrote in her perspective, and I liked her. That was it. I wanted to know where she was going, and to do that I needed to have a world for her. Suddenly, I would be walking down the street, a list of groceries in my hand, and a quirky-sounding town on a sign would catch my eye and I’d think, That would be the perfect name for my farm in Chapter 4.
Anna Gray pulled me into this novel. She became real to me.
VN: The female characters in your story are very realistic, and it is easy to empathize with them. How did you go about trying to write in the female perspective? Are there any authors that inspired you? Any people you modeled your characters on?
LG: I appreciate that.
For me, Anna was a character. I didn’t define her by gender. I’m not a fan of female-driven YA novels in a post-Twilight world because too many weigh down their books with an almost primeval sense of lust, so I think I strived to focus on more gender-neutral issues: family, friendship, adventure, loss. There’s romance, sure, but I think there’s a lot more to a woman than who she wants to shack up with.
Most of my female characters aren’t based on anyone in particular. Mary Munslow is loosely inspired by a boss from Hell. She didn’t want to do her job, I didn’t want to do her job, we argued, she ratted me out to a higher-up, and I got fired in a blaze of glory. It was your typical Tuesday afternoon.
VN: Once a writer finishes working on his/her first draft, the editing process begins. You talked a little bit about how you edited Torrodil in the article The Madness That Is Editing. Could you expand on this by telling us what you learned about editing, which strategies worked for you, and what – if anything – you would try to do differently if you were to write another book?
LG: I was very brutal with Torrodil. I finished what I’d call my first draft in January 2010, and I spent the next three months editing. With hindsight, I can safely say it was necessary because that first draft was a rough mess.
My advice is: be careful what you kill. Writing and reading are very subjective. You wake up one morning, you read, your book sounds like a piece of crap, and you consign a paragraph or two to the wastes of oblivion. Maybe it’s the time of day. Maybe it’s the lack of sleep from the night before because you’ve been worrying for two weeks straight about a presentation you have to give tomorrow.
I’m writing a psychological thriller entitled The Flood right now and my editing experience has been a lot more relaxed because I’ve stopped trying to make every paragraph a lyrical masterpiece. You have to accept that it’s the sum of your parts, the breadth and scope of your book, that makes an impact on the reader. Edit, yes, but move on.
VN: One of the toughest things writers have to handle are rejection letters. You work so much on your novel that having it ripped apart or thrown away by others can hurt deeply. How did you handle rejection letters? What advice would you give to fledgling writers who are terrified of having their work torn apart by “invisible” editors?
LG: I sympathize with any newbie author. I have enough rejection letters filed away to wallpaper a large bedroom, and sometimes I get them out to ponder possible executions (fire? rain? cattle stampede?).
It didn’t help that the first rejection I received was both polite and addressed to me personally. You know in those moments if you have an ego. If you don’t have one, you probably dismiss the first rejection, toss it away. Otherwise you cradle it, keep it under your pillow, mope around the house on weekends screaming bloody murder and asking, ‘Why me? Was it my pitch? The sample chapters? Synopsis?’ Generally, you get form rejections, which means it’s a ‘no’ but they’re not going to give you any insight as to why – mildly traumatic at best. Agents have gotten very good at sending would-be authors seemingly personalized rejections, but Google is your best friend, and truthfully that cherished personalized rejection has likely been to every Tom, Dick and Harry from Edinburgh to Beijing.
Here’s the thing, though: I don’t regret sending my self-published book to agents. They’re not sharks. They’re people trying to do a job and sadly not all books can make it. I learned a lot about Torrodil by communicating with them, and ultimately I developed a much thicker skin in the process. Every fledgling writer should travel the traditional publishing road. I promise you that even if it doesn’t pan out you’ll still gain a lot of invaluable tools.
VN: You chose to publish your book online. What brought you to this decision, and what are the pros and cons of publishing a book this way? If you wrote another novel, would you try to publish it through the conventional route, or would you continue to self-publish your work through the internet?
LG: It was a natural progression for me. We’re living in an age of digital media, booming eBook sales, and self-published millionaires like Amanda Hocking. It’s not a bad time to be an indie writer. My next book The Flood will definitely be self-published.
The biggest con is you have to do everything yourself. You are the writer, but beautiful words don’t sell themselves. You need a great cover, decent reviews, and a lot of help from blogs and social media. Exposure is key. You have to work at it.
On the flip side, you decide everything. If you are a control freak like myself, it’s perfect because you’re the one coming up with the design for your front cover, or deciding on the spiel for your product description on Amazon. When all’s said and done, if you make it big you did so on your terms and not because you had a marketing team behind you.
VN: Every author has his own “writing schedule.” Michael Lewis, for instance, said in an interview: “Left to my own devices, with no family, I’d start writing at seven p.m. and stop at four a.m. That is the way I used to write. I liked to get ahead of everybody. I’d think to myself, I’m starting tomorrow’s workday, tonight!” What does your writing schedule look like? Do you prefer writing at night, or in the morning?
LG: I can’t say I have a fixed time for writing. I think if writing is your sole occupation, you are part of a lucky few. I fit it in when I can. Generally, that’s towards the end of the day. My computer faces out onto fields and sheep so I type, stare idly, and eventually get into a rhythm. I know I’m in the zone when it’s pitch black outside and I’ve yet to draw the curtains.
VN: Alessandro Manzoni worked on The Bethroted from 1821 to 1842, when the final version of his novel was published. When did you start writing Torrodil, and how long did it take you to go from the raw idea of the story to the final product?
LG: Firstly, twenty one years? Wow.
Secondly, I started Torrodil around September 2010 and the final book was finished sometime in April 2011, with minor cosmetic changes (extraneous commas, chapter titles) made before it was self-published in August.
Not Manzoni-slow but getting there.
VN: Some writers, like the aforementioned Manzoni, only complete one or two novels in the course of their lifetime. Others instead are very prolific, and seem to come up with new material each year. What type of writer are you? Have you already started working on a new novel, or do you plan on letting your creative mind rest and regain some energy before tackling another long-term project?
LG: See, I think most writers have some kind of order to their writing life, whereas I have none. I’m lost in a sea of half-baked ideas. I published Torrodil in August and a month later I was working on a book I’d been unable to write up until that point. Most of my new novel The Flood is told through flashbacks and there are multiple POV shifts; a year ago I simply didn’t have the ability to tell the story the way I wanted to.
I aim to complete The Flood, try to get it out in December, probably fail miserably, then move on to a sequel to Torrodil.
When I was writing my first book, I would think, This is it. This is the novel. This is the thing that’s going to prove to the world that I can write. It was very intense. Now I breathe a little more. I don’t edit my writing to death. I’ve proven to myself that I can write a book, and I don’t need anything more than that.
Overall, I’m just a much happier writer.
VN: Thank you so much for accepting to be interviewed on Write-A-Holic. It was a pleasure to have you share your experiences with us. It is hard to approach something we are extremely passionate about calmly, because we usually want to be successful doing it. Therefore, it is comforting to see that it is indeed possible to overcome the anxiety and perfectionism sometimes linked with being a writer, and learn to simply enjoy doing what you love.