Orla Shanaghy can remember vividly the moment she realised she wanted to be an author.
“When I was about eight years old, I had a series of Ladybird books called ‘The Garden Gang’. The books were about these cute fruit and vegetable characters. But it wasn’t so much the content of the books that interested me; it was the picture of the author on the back cover. Her name was Jayne Fisher and she was twelve years old. That was my first eureka moment. I realised that you didn’t have to be rich or famous to be a published author. You didn’t even have to be an adult. My mind was made up: I, too, would be a published author by the age of twelve.”
The Waterford-based writer didn’t quite make it at twelve, but she’s upbeat about it: “Hey, I missed my first ever deadline – I was destined to be an author!”
Fast forward a few decades to Friday March 24th, 2017 in The Book Centre in Waterford, and the launch of Orla’s first published book, a short story collection called Mental.
“By the time the event got started, there was standing room only (about 70 people attended). By the end of the night, all books had sold out. Okay, it was my home town and I knew pretty much everyone who came. But still. My childhood dream had come true!”
As the title suggests, all the stories in Mental are about mental health. I wondered if this was intentional.
“I didn’t start out writing with this theme – or any theme – in mind. The theme of mental health only became apparent to me after I had done about five stories. By that stage of my life, I had been through periods of mental ill health, chiefly anxiety and depression. Maintaining good mental health is something I still find challenging but my family and I are much better able to deal with it now. During my twenties and thirties, when my state of mind would start to deteriorate, I just thought I was failing at life.”
Orla finally decided to seek professional help in her mid-thirties.
“When it comes to looking after your mental health, late is infinitely better than never. I now manage my mental health through a combination of things. Self-acceptance, good self care, and medication are the three pillars, complemented by a range of other things including exercise, fresh air, socialising (like many writers I have a tendency towards self-isolation), and support from friends and family.”
When Orla decided to publish her book of short stories, she turned to self-publishing.
“I had been aware of the rise of the new era of self-publication for a number of years. I did seminars on the subject with Vanessa O’Loughlin of Writing.ie, and also with Nuala ní Chonchúir. By the middle of 2016, I had my five stories that I was happy to publish. I had been bogged down for quite some time with the notion that I had to have a ‘full’ collection, which the courses I had taken told me would require about 70,000 words. My five stories totalled about 10,000 words. I had a gut feeling that the time was right to send them out into the world, but traditional publishing was simply not an option with such a short book.”
“Enter digital self-publishing. The joy of this is that you, the author, call all the shots. Short book? No problem. Uncomfortable subject matter? Great. I’m not exaggerating with the word “joy”. I was one of those kids who was forever busy with sellotape and staples, making little ‘books’ that featured my own illustrations to boot. Now, as an adult, I was getting the chance to re-live that childhood pleasure.”
One of the decisions Orla made early on was that everything would be as professional as possible. This included a graphic designer to create the cover, a professional editor, and a long session with a local photographer to come up with a good author head shot.
“All these decisions cost money. That is an investment I made in my book. Every single thing I paid for was absolutely worth it. I am delighted with the result. Going on the feedback I have received, readers get a professional feeling from the book right from the moment they pick it up. Another key element in all of this was a smaller investment I made a few years ago: a book called Self-Printed by Catherine Ryan Howard. Self-publishing is daunting when you start out. Catherine’s book takes you by the hand and leads you through every step of the way. I relied on it for everything and can’t recommend it highly enough.”
But now that her book is out in the world, Orla says, its journey is only beginning.
“If I was under any illusion that my self-publishing journey would end on launch night, that illusion disappeared gradually as I moved through the process. Now that the launch is behind me, I’m only getting started on the next stage: promotion and selling. (There are also plans for an audio version of Mental). If finding time to write was a challenge, finding time to do all the things required to get my book out there into the world is a whole new ball game. To be continued!”
Mental is available in ebook and paperback format from The Book Centre http://shop.thebookcentre.ie/ProductInfo.aspx?productid=9781540718761, The Book Depository https://www.bookdepository.com/Mental-Orl-Shanaghy/9781540718761, and Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mental-Short-stories-Orla-Shanaghy-ebook/dp/B01NA0C6BU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1490698435&sr=8-1&keywords=shanaghy.
Check out Orla’s blog, Wait til I tell you, https://waittilitellyou.com/, and follow her on Twitter https://twitter.com/OrlaShanaghy, Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/21915407-orla-shanaghy and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/orlashanaghy