“A story Stephen King would have written if he’d grown up in Ireland – a read-in-one sitting, sleep-with-the-lights-on sort of book.” Peadar Ó Guilín, author of The Call.
The river is the vein of history. Its surface looks the same when viewed by modern eyes as it did to druids and warriors, to Vikings and other invading forces. The river’s secrets are hidden in its mud and its elephant slow days. It carries pleasure cruisers as it once did merchant ships. It doesn’t care, or even notice. Its life is underneath and it skims the edges of its world with slow-destroying fingers. It is the lifeblood of its towns and villages but demands its forfeit. Sometimes, that is great tree, sometimes a fallen and bloated cow, its legs sticking up out of the mud at low tide, sometimes a boat, taken in a storm. Sometimes, it demands a greater forfeit.
Sometimes, it just takes.
Before I dive into a summary or review of Dark Wood Dark Water, let’s set the scene of how I found the book in the first place. Anyone who loves books or writing knows that Twitter is the absolute best place to be, it is chocked full of writers, readers, reviewers, and everything in writing related in between. Tina’s book popped up on my timeline with luck and a little bit of location services too I’m sure. After reading the quote from Peadar Ó Guilín, I simultaneously said “Oh yay!” And thought Oh no! If anyone else out there knows they are a procrastinator, they know the feeling of dread you get when you find something similar enough to your own writing to be exciting and scare you into thinking someone beat you to publishing an idea.
It’s OK! I don’t have to sue her. Tina Callaghan’s idea is all her own, and after having read it I can say that it is unique in terms of anything I’ve ever read, and it’s nothing close to my own work in progress except for the fact it’s set in small town, rural Ireland. Shout out to the tiny Irish towns, respect! But as Tina herself said – You should write it anyway. And I can’t disagree with that.
After finding Tina on Twitter and realising this was a person I should be following closely, I found out that her book was about to be released, where I live, when I was free, and can I just say for anyone out there who wants to write anything or just loves books, going to the launch of an author you see serious parallels with, or have lots in common with, is the ultimate motivation out there. So, I landed down at the Gutter Bookshop in Dublin, and hung around like a bad smell with my free wine to actually meet the woman herself, Tina Callaghan. And, honestly – she was horrible. JK! Just writing some fiction there! She was so lovely, she engaged me and offered to sign my book, recognising that I’m not very comfortable talking to people and even introduced me round, and showed proof of her mission to help other writers by giving me so much advice for my own work. A genuine top notch lady who wants to engage with other writer’s and be a part of the community. On to the material at hand…
There is something rotten in the town of Bailey and the fetid corpse has just risen to the surface of the river. Dark Wood Dark Water itself, is chilling novel that brings you right back to all of your childhood fears. Seventeen years old Kate has recently been forced into independence as the weight of her father’s disappearance leads to her mother being taken to a psychiatric unit- but no one in Bailey seems to mind the minor living by the waters edge alone. Helped by her best friend Gabe, and the newcomer to their triangle, Josh, they have each lost someone to the fast running, murky waters, and as more strange things begin to happen, maybe its time that they did something about it. But as the ghosts of Bailey stir, so to do new and confusing feelings in the trio.
The strengths of Tina’s writing come in her assault of the senses. Maybe it’s because I can’t swim, but there were so many instances where I felt breathless and as though I was the one drowning. There is an uncomfortable feeling of suffocation and drowning throughout, the taste and smell of the water never fully leaving your mind when the pages are closed, and the eerie two-faced town of Bailey gives that sense of the uncanny with secrets clear in the light of day that the townsfolk just don’t want to see.
The only drawback, I feel, is that you want to know more about characters like the Doctor and Adam, you get a sense of their characters but you want to know more about their lives and what has taken them to the point at which they fade to the darker side. And even Kate’s mother, it would have been interesting to get her side of her family story.
I would recommend this novel for any Stephen King fan, any fan of other worldly fiction, and readers of all ages really. You don’t have to be a teenager to love this one. And if you want to check out the myth that started it all, click here.
Tina was kind enough to answer some of my long winded questions and here are her very informative answers!
- What would you say Dark Wood Dark Water is really about under the surface? DWDW is about friendship, love, and making a stand against evil, all of which are important to me. I think that a lot of novels have these principles at their heart, because they matter to most people and, I think, comprise the big values in life that link us all.
- What was the first character/image/scene that sparked the idea for DWDW? I have lived near the river Barrow most of my life and spent many hours of my teens on it with my Dad in a series of little boats. The river was cursed by corrupt monks in the 13th century and I seem to have known that story forever. When I first committed to writing a novel, it was natural to me that the river would feature heavily. Everything started from that point.
- What was the hardest scene to write? That’s a hard question! Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out what happens next, but once I figure it out, the writing is easy. In fact, I can’t recall any of them being hard to write, because once I know how the scene should feel and look, I just write it. I think this is because I become immersed in the story until the writing is almost like transcribing dictation and the scene comes out the way it must. I did cry for a character at a certain point. Readers might like to guess who the tears were for!
- How long did it take to write DWDW from first inception to final edit? The first draft took 12 weeks, but it took years to get published! If I don’t count the tricky not-being-published bit in the middle, I got a book deal on the 23rd January 2018 and the book was released on 1st September 2018, with several rounds of editing in those few months.
- Was it difficult to find a home for your dark fiction novel? Not really. It is just difficult to find a home for any novel. In most cases, the search for a publisher is a marathon, not a sprint. Writers are creative people but it helps to remember that the publishing industry is an industry. Publishers and agents receive a tremendous number of manuscripts so a writer has to be professional in their approach and work hard to make their book shine.
- Are you working on anything now? If so, it is similar to DWDW? I’m writing my second novel now and expect to finish it before too much longer. It will be published in 2019 (date to be confirmed). I can’t say anything about it, except that it will also be a YA supernatural thriller. I’m excited about it! Watch this space!
- What was the best piece of advice you got while writing DWDW? Every time I got stuck and didn’t know what came next, I was told to sit down with pen and paper (I write directly onto the laptop normally) and figure out what came next. That works for me, so now I know to tell myself to do it.
- What will you do differently when working on your next project? Have faith in my process. Know how to get past being stuck!
- After publishing your book, has your writing process changed? No. I tell beginning writers to write the story of their heart. That’s what I do and what I will always do. I believe in the magic of story and the craft of writing. The only difference between the first and second novels is that I’m writing to a deadline now. I find it concentrates the mind wonderfully!
- What advice do you have for any aspiring writers who would like to see their own book published? This needs bullet points!*DO call yourself a writer. You may aspire to be published, but if you’re writing, you are a writer. Don’t be afraid to name it. *DO write every day. Every day. The habit is what creates inspiration. Nothing might come at first, but it will. * DON’T worry about your writing not being as good as that brilliant book you just read. That brilliant book started out as a rubbish first draft and was polished by the writer and then an editor before it saw publication. At the start, don’t get it right, get it written. *DON’T think about what your friends and family will say. Even if there are bits that you don’t want them to read now, forget about it. If it’s important to the story, write it. It won’t matter later; they’ll just be proud of you. *Remember, no one is looking at you or your story. It is totally private. You can write anything you like. This is yours and yours alone. How wonderful is that?! Later others will read it. That’s for later. Enjoy the hell out of writing it now. The rest will follow. * Write the story of your heart.
- Bonus question!Other than DWDW, what dark fiction/supernatural/thriller novel would you recommend to readers?I have always loved Stephen King. I love the fact that his novels are about ordinary people experiencing extraordinary things. I particularly love IT, The Dead Zone, Bag of Bones, Lisey’s Story, Duma Key, The Stand, Salem’s Lot…I also recommend the following writers…John Ajvide Lindqvist – Let the Right One In, Harbour
Thomas Olde Heuveldt – Hex
Jack Finney – especially for his wonderful time travel book Time and Again
Richard Matheson – anything of his but especially I Am Legend which is very different from the movie with Will Smith, and is a beautiful story about loneliness and isolation. With vampires.
My new book, which may or may not be called The Witch of November…
If you would like me to review your ‘dark fiction’ book contact me on Twitter @gloralot