Risingshadow has had the honour of interviewing Oisín McGann.
Born in Dublin in 1973, Oisín spent his childhood there and in Drogheda, County Louth. He started writing and illustrating stories in copybooks when he was about six or seven, setting himself on a path that would steer him well clear of ever obtaining of a proper job.
Despite his writing habit, he spent most of school convinced he was going to become a zoologist, an aspiration he lost after taking his first art exam in third year at St. Olivers Community College. Unable to conceive of a way to make a living from writing fiction after his Leaving Cert., he decided to fund his dreams of being an author by working as an illustrator. He signed up for a design and print foundation course in Ballyfermot Senior College, Dublin, in 1990 and then studied animation at Dun Laoghaire School of Art and Design.
In 1992 he dropped out of college to set himself up as a freelance illustrator/artist, serving the publishing and design industries. In 1997, he took up a position as Background Layout Designer for Fred Wolf films, working on the animated series of Zorro. After completing his contract, he decided to expand his horizons and left for London in February 1998 to seek his fortune. He found gainful employment as a security guard, watching over trains and then hospitals.
In January 1999, he joined the M&M Consultancy, a small advertising and design firm, as art director and soon expanded into copy writing. After three and a half years of working in advertising he became increasingly concerned for his immortal soul. He returned to Ireland in the summer of 2002 much as he had left – with no job, no home and some meagre savings. He set himself up as a freelance illustrator once more, before getting his first books published in 2003.
Oisín now works full-time as a writer and illustrator. He lives somewhere in the Irish countryside, where he won’t be heard shouting at his computer.
Click here to visit his official website.
AN INTERVIEW WITH OISÍN MCGANN
1. Could you tell us something about yourself in your own words?
I’m a full-time writer and illustrator for children and young adults (and old adults), with thirty-five books published to date, including eleven novels, as well as stories in various anthologies. My first books were published in 2003. I like writing in different genres, for different age groups and illustrating in different styles. Variety keeps things fresh. I’m married with three kids, two dogs and one cat and I live in Ireland, far enough out in the countryside that I can’t be heard shouting at my computer.
2. What inspired you to become an author?
I loved stories; on television and in films as well as just books, but books were always more personal and more intimate. Filming relies on loads of other people, so I ended up focusing on books, because I could create those stories on my own. I thought that if I could make other people feel the way writers made me feel when I was a teenager – at that prime reading age – that would be the biggest buzz. And it is!
3. You've written "The Wildenstern Saga", which is a young adult steampunk series. Could you tell us something about it? What kind of a series is it?
Well . . . it’s a story set in nineteenth century Ireland, about the incredibly rich and powerful, almost vampire-like Wildenstern family who allow the assassination of older male family members by younger members as a means of weeding out the weak and breeding predators for the business world. They have supernatural healing abilities and are trained in martial skills from a young age. There is a link, that we only learn about later, between these healing abilities and the strange living machines that wander the world and are often domesticated by humans. We follow some of the younger members of the family, who want to try and change things, starting with Nate, whose brother is murdered near the beginning of the book, leaving Nate as the prime suspect. There is also Nate’s other, compassionate brother, Berto, his strong-willed wife, Daisy, who wants to change the family from within, and his pathologically bubbly sister, Tatiana. The first book, Ancient Appetites, opens with Nate and cousin Gerald capturing a wild motorcycle. We also meet Francie, a boy from a poor family whose father’s ill-fated plans lead to dramatic events at the funeral of the dead young Wildenstern.
4. Were any authors, books or stories a source of inspiration to you when you wrote this series?
I suppose I’d have to mention Jules Verne, who I read as a kid, and to a lesser extent HG Wells, who I only read later. Bram Stoker’s Dracula had an influence too, and I kind of wanted to create something that was a mixture of Charles Dickens and the Addams Family. I always think steampunk is a nostalgic kind of science fiction, where the function of the technology dictates its shape, where it’s varied and tangible and in your face, but it’s also a time when the aesthetics of objects are so important. I wanted a setting that offered dramatic contrasts in both place and people, which really comes through in nineteenth century stories; rich and poor, civilized and violent, rural and industrial . . . and then add in the Irish angle and you’ve a really potent mix for a story.
5. Could you tell us something about the protagonist, Nate Wildenstern? What kind of a protagonist is he?
Nate is a product of his environment, but despite being raised in a family where it is considered normal to try and murder your siblings in order to get ahead, he has developed a disgust for his family’s traditions and is slowly developing a sense of justice, partly influenced by Daisy, his sister-in-law, and his brother Berto. He is at his most tender when he’s with his younger sister, Tatiana, a forthright girl with her innocent heart set on changing the world. His real passion is studying engimals, the living machines, a passion he shares with his cousin Gerald, a science prodigy. Nate is a thrill-seeker, used to following his impulses, to getting what he wants and having a good time. He’s not one for planning ahead, at least, not at the start of the series. He’s also got a fairly superior attitude that comes from being born into the highest level of society, but he’ll get dragged down to a more realistic level as he’s forced to face the excesses of his family’s ruthless business practices.
6. What has been the most rewarding part of writing "The Wildenstern Saga" and what has been the most challenging part of writing it?
The first book, ‘Ancient Appetites’, got pretty weird at times, as I was still setting the boundaries of the world, the rules which would dictate the science fiction or fantasy elements of the story. At a few points, I was wondering if I was going to make it work at all, and then each time, something would slot into place and I’d have that moment of relief as it all came together. There was a LOT of research too, which is true of story set in the distant past, where you want the historical detail to be as faithful as it can be, despite all the made up stuff I brought into the story. Sometimes I couldn’t go a paragraph or two without stopping and checking some fact or other, but it was interesting too, so I was enjoying it. The trick was not to bring so much research into it that it got in the way of the story. The most rewarding parts of the story were when I got the characters to spark off each other, defining the personality and voice of each one, so that the clashes felt natural and either funny or chilling or enraging . . . or whatever emotion I was trying to provoke. When I felt I’d got that right, it accounted for most of the real highs in the book. That and some kick-ass action scenes, which are always fun.
7. How would you advertise this series to readers?
If you want to see a family that practices civilised malevolence, a story packed with action, mystery, strange living machines, set in the turbulent circumstances of nineteenth-century Ireland, featuring oddball characters, gothic settings and bog bodies rising from the dead, this is probably the story for you.
8. Because many young adult book series have been filmed during the recent years, would you like to see "The Wildenstern Saga" filmed?
Film has always been a passion of mine and a big influence on my work, and I studied it for a while in college, so I’d love to see my work on screen. But the demands for a film or television series are very different to those of a book, so the adaptation would have to be done right. Writers don’t get to do the adaptation themselves, most of the time, but I’d definitely like a say in how it was made.
9. What are you currently working on? What can readers expect next from you?
I’ve just finished writing the sequel to my near-future surveillance state thriller, Rat Runners, and I’m now working on a Cold-War-style thriller set mostly at sea, in a world recovering from the ravages of climate change.
10. Is there anything you'd like to add?
Just that I hope people will read the Wildenstern Saga, and that they’ll have as much fun reading it as I had writing it. And it was a lot of fun.