Nigel Quinlan on The Maloneys’ Magical Weatherbox

Writing.ie | Magazine | Children & Young Adult
maloneys-magical-weatherbox

How do you write a book like The Maloneys’ Magical Weatherbox?

It started with a story. The story was called The Weatherman, and it was about a family and their phone box. The phone in the box rang four times a year, and when it was answered, the Seasons changed. The old Season left, the new Season arrived. One year, without warning or explanation, when Summer is ending and Autumn is due, the phone fails to ring. Thanks to that tiny little insignificant non-event, the whole world starts to die.

I wrote this story in the forecourt of my dad’s village petrol station one hot September when I was around 18. I liked the story. I was proud of it. It was the best thing I’d written to date. I’d written it long-hand on an A4 notepad, and when I sat down to rewrite it, I just started again on a new page.

I rewrote it a lot. There were light, funny versions and darker, more angsty versions. Despite my apparent longing to express heavy emotions of loneliness and loss and fear, I instinctively went back to the lighter version when I rewrote it again a few years later, typing it up on a groovy Apple Mac in the UCC Accommodations Office where I also wrote ridiculous articles for the College Gazette. I wrote my new version of Weatherman, and I wrote a story called Lady Loss about a girl who loses the ability to talk, read or write when the Devil comes to take her father’s soul. I was very pleased with myself. Then, when I was removing the floppy disc, the computer bit it. I managed to recover Lady Loss. I lost Weathermen.

The next day I sat down and wrote it out again, almost word for word.

I was proud of both stories. They were the best things I’d written to date.

In the following years, I wrote three novels and a bunch of stories and I got more or less nowhere in my dream of becoming a professional writer. I was living in Cork, had just finished my third novel, and knew in my heart of hearts that it was not good enough. I wasn’t ready to give up. It never even occurred to me. That would have been like giving up breathing. But I couldn’t see a way ahead, and any notions of success seemed remote and unimaginable. Unimaginable, that is, except when they were all too imaginable and I lost myself in visions of publication and bestsellerdom when I should have been writing.

One day, walking through Patrick Street, I suddenly decided that I was going to turn The Weatherman and Lady Loss into books, children’s books. I was walking through Easons, trying to decide which one I’d do first, when I was confronted with a large, demonic, black and red display for Darren Shan’s new book: Lord Loss. The Weatherman it was, so. I subtly changed the name to Weathermen, and off I went.

It seems like forever ago, now.

Not long after, we moved to North Tipperary, and over the next few years I finished the book, mostly while sitting in a bookshop/cafe called Sheelagh Na Gig, drinking exceptionally delicious lattes. At no point while writing it was I able to envisage myself finishing it. Halfway through I gave up and started a new version revolving  around a Weather Festival where the Seasons would take human form and cause trouble in a small village. Then I realised that I had come up with an idea for a different book entirely and set it aside and went back to the half-finished version and pushed ahead to the end.

There followed a longish interlude of what I thought at the time was rewriting, editing and revising, but which I now know was just fiddling about, tidying up, mooching around the text knowing it needed work, not really sure how it could be done. More productively, I worked hard to produce a submissions package, boiling down my story to a brief synopsis, crafting my letter down to the bone and polishing my first ten thousand words until they were clean enough to eat my dinner off.

I got some very nice rejections, and then I got an agent, and then the real work began.

Over the next year, at the behest of my agent and her expert readers, I took the book apart and put it back together again four times. A small army of characters were cut. My hero’s sister, Pam was aged up and given a more prominent role and eventually became co-narrator, renamed Liz. There are more versions of the opening and closing chapters than I can count. Battles and adventures were lost to legend as I hammered my book into new shapes.

Every time a new round of edits came it was like finding myself back at the bottom of a mountain getting ready to roll a rock to the top. Again. I would stand, exhausted and bewildered, staring at the endless slope, trying to make out the peak lost in the mists and clouds above. I didn’t want to do it. I couldn’t do it. Nobody could make me do it.

Then I’d put my shoulder to the rock, and start to push.

There were no simple changes. Everything had repercussions. Changing one thing changed everything, and if you decided that one change didn’t matter or could be left untouched and unnoticed, you regretted it. Sooner or later a draft would come where it became incredibly obvious that those bits had to go. It got so that I hunted them, chased them down, cut them out without regret.

Finally, it was ready. My agent submitted it to publishers. It was accepted by Orion.

And it started all over again.

Fortunately, I was under no illusions, and at this point rewriting Weathermen was practically second nature. I wasn’t so much pushing a boulder up a hill as sprinting up the slope bouncing it like a basketball. I cheerfully rewrote huge chunks of the beginning and the ending and my editors had to make me stop and put them back more or less the way they were. Calm down. Take it easy. We’re nearly there.

Somewhere in all this, my agent gently reminded me that I would need to have another book written soon and perhaps I should get on with that. Oh. Yeah. My writing career, such as it is, will not consist of me rewriting Weathermen, or The Maloneys’ Magical Weatherbox as it is now known, over and over and over again. I’ll have to write a whole new book. It was a scary, liberating idea. So: Lady Loss, or the festival?

Actually, in the meantime, I’ve written both. As to which will be next on the shelves, that remains to be seen. But there’ll be a lot of rewriting first.

(c) Nigel Quinlan

About the book

A magical tourist, a bog beast, two hags and some very mixed-up seasons . . . it all adds up to a truly original magical adventure.

Neil and Lizzie’s Dad is a Weatherman. But not the boring kind that you see on TV. He’s one of the people who make sure that the Seasons change every year.

But this year the Autumn hasn’t arrived. Who is stopping it. Why? And can Neil and Lizzie help their father bring in the Autumn before it’s too late?

This is a rich, magical fantasy adventure from a talented debut author – a story that readers are sure to fall in love with.

The Maloneys’ Magical Weatherbox is in bookshops now or pick up your copy online here!

About the author

Nigel Quinlan is an Irish writer born in Limerick in 1970. He has worked in libraries and bookshops all over Ireland before washing up in the midlands village of Cloughjordan with his wife and his two children. He writes stories for local festivals and acts with the local drama group. His first novel, The Maloneys’ Magical Weatherbox is a middle grade fantasy based on a short story he wrote as a teenager while minding his parents’ petrol pumps.

Find Nigel’s website here.

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