Marina Julia Neary is an acclaimed historical novelist, award-winning essayist, multilingual journalist, dramatist and poet. Her areas of expertise include Neo-Victorianism, French Romanticism and Irish nationalism. Her literary career to depicting military and social disasters, from the Charge of the Light Brigade, to the Easter Rising in Dublin, to the Chernobyl catastrophe. Neary declares that her mission is to tell untold stories, find hidden gems and illuminate the prematurely extinguished stars in history. She explores human suffering through the prism of dark humor, believing that tragedy and comedy go hand in hand. Her debut novel Wynfield’s Kingdom: a Tale of London Slums (Fireship Press) appeared on the cover of the First Edition Magazine in the UK and earned the praise of the Neo-Victorian Studies Journal. Her subsequent novels include Wynfield’s War (2010), Brendan Malone: the Last Fenian (2011), Martyrs & Traitors: a Tale of 1916 (2011), Never Be at Peace: a Novel of Irish Rebels (2014) and Saved by the Bang (2015).
Why do you write?
I chose literature as my medium of artistic expression because it’s cheaper than making movies, and I am a horrible painter. My brain works by generating a series of pictures. Since I cannot rely on paint and brushes, I have to rely on words. I would absolutely love to be a filmmaker and produce gorgeous experimental costume dramas, but that requires a budget, and you have so little control over the final product, because there are so many other people involved, and so many things can go wrong. To quote a certain film director, it’s a miracle that movies even get made. With writing, you have a lot more control over the final product. It’s a great medium for an introvert.
How has writing impacted your life?
I cannot say that writing made me a millioniare (so far). I’m not noticeably richer or more famous than I was before my first book came out (although I did end up on the cover of a magazine in the UK). I cannot say that people who know me treat me any differently than they did before. I cannot speak for everyone else, but some people expect that the release of their first book is going to dramatically change their lives and immediately hurl them into this glamorous new world, and when it doesn’t happen, they feel deflated. It’s not my place to tell other writers how to measure their success, whether they should compete – or not compete – with Stephen King. We all reach for the stars. It’s just that for some of us those stars hang lower than for others. The reward is not always dramatic or apparent. Since I write historical fiction, research is a huge part of the creative process. I made friends with historians, museum curators, other writers of historical fiction. That in itself is a very rewarding and enriching experience.
What advice would you give to beginner writers?
I’ll be totally frank. Be careful about joining informal groups for aspiring writers. Without a professional moderator to keep those gatherings focused, it’s very easy to lapse into the pity-party mode. I’ve been to a few of those “workshops”, which aren’t even workshops but rather rallies against the traditional publishing model. A functional author group should have several components including constructive criticism as well as networking with more established writers. If the group consists only of aspiring authors, they will not get very far on their own. It would be extremely helpful to have at least one established author as a mentor figure in the group, perhaps an editor, or a creative writing instructor. This way the aspiring authors will get the benefit of various perspectives. I would highly recommend joining a professional organization that holds regular networking events with agents and editors as guest speakers. Again, you have to be careful about throwing too much of your money on a membership that you do not use. What worked for me personally was becoming friends with authors whose books inspired me when I was younger. Some of them are very approachable, actually. They remember what it was like starting out, shopping their first manuscript around, so they are very helpful and sympathetic. I wanted to extend special thanks to Stephanie Cowell and Sharon Kay Penman. These two remarkable ladies, in spite of their popularity, always take a moment to respond to a message or an e-mail.
A most interesting post. It’s always great to hear what the author has to say about their writing, the reason they write, and the impetus for writing more books. Thanks for sharing, Marina.
I have to say that I endorse the comments regarding writing groups. You have to pick your groups so carefully otherwise you spend more time being a committee than a bunch of writers.
I wholeheartedly agree with Marina’s stance on writers groups. It’s something I’ve wanted to say for awhile now and Marina said it with honesty and grace.