Q&A with AUTHOR Clare O'beara
Updated: Jun 4, 2020
Clare O'Beara is a tree surgeon and expert witness, and a former national standard showjumper. She has qualified in ecology and includes environmental issues in some of her stories. She has served on the Royal Dublin Society Forestry and the Environment Committee.
Clare is an award-winning writer of fiction and non-fiction, whose journalism work has been published in more than thirty countries. Her credits include Mensa Magazine and Mensa International Journal. She contributed a story to A Pint And A Haircut (Lon Dubh, 2010), an anthology in aid of Concern's Haiti fund
In 2013 Clare independently published seven books of crime, science fiction and romantic suspense. She added four more during 2014 including two Young Adult books. One swiftly became No. 1 Best Seller in Children's Miscellaneous Sports. She also contributed to F&SF anthology Dreamless Roads. Winner, Print Journalism, Ireland's National Media Awards 2013. Winner, Arkady Renko Short Story Contest, 2014. Judged by Martin Cruz Smith.
Q: Hi Clare, Thanks a lot for doing this interview. You write crime, SF and romance and YA with horses and non-fiction. Can you tell us about your chosen genres and a little about yourself?
A: Thank you for inviting me! I am a Dublin tree surgeon running my own business, and writing is a way for me to generate income during winter or quiet spells. This won me a few prizes but didn’t take off until I got the chance to publish independently on Kindle. I wrote the genres I loved to read. As a young person I wrote YA (Young Adult) horse books; later I wrote crime books; then I wrote a romance around the Irish flat-racing scene. Those did not get published, as the dinosaur (traditional) publishers were closing down one after another. Then I had an SF (science fiction) book ready and no publisher in Ireland published SF books. This is astonishing, given that many SF authors came to live here to benefit from the Creative Artists tax breaks, such as Anne McCaffrey, Morgan Llewelyn, Harry Harrison etc.
I was reviewing e-books with Fresh Fiction, a media site based in Texas, so I could see there was a demand. I took the plunge in 2013 and started publishing independently. By now I have fourteen books and I’m writing the next. I am married to Allan, a computer professional, who is highly supportive. We helped staff the SF Worldcon in Dublin during 2019.
Q: Do you have a preferred genre (either as a reader or writer)?
A: I read everything about horses and nature I could get my hands on as a child, then all the fantasy and SF that was sold, as a teen, moving on to libraries worth of crime and historical as an adult. I’ll still read books in those categories and I read romance with a setting or issues that are interesting. Don’t give me angst about someone fancying her brother in law – give me a wolf researcher versus a rancher. Anything with horses or environmental issues will always get my attention; eco fiction, including eco-SF, is the up and coming genre.
I love writing horses, crime, and SF. All my adult books involve crime. Crime provides danger and intrigue, and clash of motivation. Kids want to read about kids older than themselves, so in a story about fifteen year old, it would not be appropriate to write realistic crime. All my books involve nature. If I had to pick a genre it would be SF.
Q: Out of all your books, which one is your favourite and why?
A: The Dining Out Around The Solar System series. I don’t have a favourite except that the first introduces the characters and tells more of their story. I’m highly creative and these books gave me licence to make an alternative London and Dublin with diverse characters. In the future we have asteroid mining for metal resources. We’ve found people living on all the other planets in the Solar System, so they are coming to work in London, and opening ethnic restaurants. The Dining Out title refers to the fact that the main character, a journalist and hacker, is a restaurant reviewer. My husband Allan worked in London, so I ask him where to set a particular scene, which he enjoys, and we visit London for me to research and take photos. I was suddenly able to do anything from opening a mushroom farm in a disused Tube station to blasting a path through the Andes so planes could fly from Argentina to the coast of Chile without climbing to cross the Andes. Who wouldn’t want that kind of freedom?
Q: If one of your books was to be filmed as a Hollywood blockbuster- Who would you like to play the role of the Hero/ Heroine? (which book)
A: I would love Dining Out Around The Solar System to be filmed. This is set in London with strong visuals of landmarks, people from other planets and antigravity. The protagonist is Donal, an Irish journalist. After I’d written a few of these books I noticed an actor Domhnall Gleeson who seemed much like my mental image of Donal. The other main character is Myron, a Jafraican (Cockney-Jamaican) journalist. I don’t have an actor in mind for him, but I would insist on vetoing the casting.
Q: Some of your books are about Show Jumping which you used to do professionally, are the events or characters from those books based on some real people or events?
A: I was not professional although I competed on the same level as the professionals. When I say that, they did nothing else but ride all week, usually starting out in their parents’ yard, and had a horsebox full of top horses people paid them to ride, and I was a tree surgeon with one Grade A Thoroughbred mare I’d brought on from basics. All the lessons I learned caring for and riding horses have been poured into the books. The events and characters are invented, but the horsey parts could easily happen. I enjoyed writing a showjumping crime story and I’ll do more of those. Sadly, I don’t have horses now. Professionals live by selling horses. I kept my horses until they died of old age.
Q: When you write a new story, what do you create first: your characters or your setting?
A: I know the genre but I need to create the location and characters. Then the characters take over and tell me the story, while I work out the setting – if it’s crime, I need to figure out the police procedures and the social comment, then the characters can react to them. The sequel situations just suggest themselves, often before I’ve finished editing the first. Readers enjoy following series characters too.
Q: When did you write your first novel - tell us about it?
A: Like just about all writers, I started writing in my bedroom as a child. I just wrote and wrote. My YA books were written before I left home and a children’s publisher or two were interested but did not publish them. So when I eventually had agency I updated those stories and one became a No.1 Best Seller. My first crime book was actually written as a murder mystery play for a convention weekend I was organising. Years later I rewrote it as a book but could not get publishers. Maybe they thought nobody would be interested in a murder at an Irish Mensa weekend. The first publication was the first SF book, which took a year to write.
Q: What are your writing habits? Do you listen to music or need total silence? Do you snack while you write?
A: I need peace and quiet in my writing room for hours to get totally into characters. A modern story is much easier as I can just put the story down and everyone understands the background. But SF is much more complex because I have to invent, and then research and think through the social, economic and environmental background to see what would happen if, for instance, Stansted Airport was converted to a space shuttle port and people from Mars and Mercury were given temporary work visas for London.
I will get so absorbed I don’t notice sound or not; most of the day I don’t have any music but I might put on a CD to aid atmosphere. If I am really in the zone I don’t eat. Snacking is a way of distracting yourself; fine when you are researching. I have nuts and jelly sweets at the desk, eat healthily and live on coffee.
Q: Tell us about your writing schedule?
A: I write something every day. During the past three years I have been studying for an Honours Journalism degree so have not had time to write fiction. There is no grant available as I am self-employed. I like to write a book review first, as this breaks the ice and then I have no trouble continuing. I get Advance Review Copies from Net Galley and Fresh Fiction. So a good bit of my time is spent absorbing information. Presently I am working on fiction. I am in my office from first thing until 9.30pm, with breaks for housework and a walk, as this is lockdown. The last hour I award myself the option of playing a game. After dinner I catch TV news and read paper books.
During the college year I was out at college every weekday with an evening talk, book launch, or art opening once or twice a month, and visits to places of cultural or historic interest (from a windmill to an SF convention) with my husband on some weekends. I believe in the constant inflow of creative content.
Normally I work on trees during summer, but this year we’re in lockdown. Allan cooks; he creates my covers from my photos, and he is my webmaster. We blog on my website about places to visit that are accessible to people with disabilities, from a café to the Panama Canal.
Q: Can you describe your writing space?
A: I have an office room with a desk near the window to the street and garden. I use a Windows 10 PC with an LED screen which uses very little electricity and an LED lightbulb. Every room in our home is lined with books. I am usually accompanied by at least one cat, so they have cosy spaces; I have houseplants.
Q: What is the most difficult part about writing?
A: As an independent publisher the challenge is to get the word out about my books. I don’t use some popular social media due to the data breaches, selling of personal data, targeted advertising and bots on those platforms. Authors who do use them, often say they’ve done a social media detox to regain their writing time, as they were spending hours writing posts and not getting paid for the content. I am happy to review books by other authors; now and then I get a nice critical review posted about mine. What goes around comes around.
Q: What are you working on at the moment? Can you tell us a little more about it?
A: Currently I am easing back into writing fiction by creating a YA pony book. The protagonist is a girl in Ireland aged thirteen. She is blessed with a Connemara pony but as a counterpoint, she has a life challenge as her little brother is on the autism spectrum.
You need to write for your intended market. Girls are more likely to read pony books. Women are more likely to read light crime. Men are more likely to read SF, but women are a big component of the market. Women read romance. And parents generally purchase YA Kindle books for their kids. Most of your Kindle books will be sold in USA, because that is the location of most Kindles.
Q: What is your favourite part of writing/ publishing?
A: I love creating. I love when the characters take over the story. I love editing and seeing the work improve. I love taking the cover photos and designing the covers with Allan, who has been teaching himself graphic art skills. I specifically chose to take a degree in multimedia journalism to enhance my writing skills - lo and behold, I got to produce book trailers for my SF books using footage I had shot myself. These are now on YouTube. I discovered that I love film making. Mainly, I love creating.
Q: Who is your favourite author and why?
A: Vian Smith. He lived and wrote on Dartmoor, the West Country of England. He was a sapper in the war, a journalist after it and a racehorse owner and trainer. He wrote plays, radio plays, non-fiction, adult novels, historical novels and children’s books. He was a beautiful stylist and packed his books with natural and local history information. Several of his books involved horses, which is how I discovered him. I was a child but knew immediately that the writing was something special.
Q: Any advice for someone who is just starting out writing or thinking about writing?
A: Read more books, and be picky. Read good authors, with a beautiful style; and a wide variety. Read non-fiction. If you want to write crime you need to read crime; but if you have only ever read cosy mysteries it will show, and reviewers will jump on you; so even if you write cosies, which I enjoy, you need to be reading police procedurals. Read Tony Hillerman, Peter Robinson and Ian Rankin. Drop the TV.
Read excellent author/ bloggers like Jami Gold about story arcs and tenses and points of view, even if you know it all. There’s always something to learn, some market development, or some angle you had not considered such as creative commons.
When you have written a story, try cutting a third of the word count. This makes you remove repetition, use one good word instead of weak ones (lashed out instead of hit out wildly) and remove anything not essential to developing the plot, carrying the action or demonstrating character. Remove clichés or cardboard characters. Search the document in Word, for it and remove almost all instances. It, especially at the start of paragraphs, is an absolute giveaway of someone who doesn’t have a good style and can’t edit.
Then, if you have a book ready and want to waste your time on dinosaur publishing, go try, some authors get contracts and are successful. But 99% do not, so while you’re waiting to be discovered, go ahead and publish independently on Amazon Kindle. This doesn’t have to cost anything, except that I recommend buying your own ISBNs. Creating paperbacks for print on demand can be helpful but does end up costing you some money, and you won’t sell many. I have a guidance page for writers on my website.
Help other authors. Review their books.
Q: If you had the chance to spend the day with a someone famous (living or dead), who would this be and why?
A: Vian Smith, who is my favourite author of all time. I only know him through his books so if he was alive, I would love to carry out a journalism interview with him and chat about his experiences, family and horses.
Q: Are you on social media? Where can people interact with you?
A: Goodreads is the best option. I blog here every month about my writing life. I also co-moderate the Green Group. Find me on Pinterest; and on Linked In. I review books on Fresh Fiction, Amazon and Goodreads as well as my own blog. I place journalistic articles on Medium and JournoPortfolio. Readers are welcome to sign up to my author’s newsletter, which goes out quarterly, from my website. And enjoy the book trailers on YouTube.
Q: Thank you so much.
A: Thank you Dana! Best wishes for your own writing.
You can purchase Clare’s books here