Kindle Author Interview: Sarah O'Donoghue

Sarah O'Donoghue, author of Primortia, discusses her book, her journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle

DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about Primortia?

SARAH O'DONOGHUE: Primortia is a seizure that strikes some people on the world of Hutosa where most of the book is set.

A religion has developed around Primortia over the centuries to the point where it defines many of the world's cultures. People who have the seizure are known as Primortians, and it is known to run in families. Once someone has suffered a seizure they're on a countdown to transfer, which Hutosans believe to be death.

The novel is the story of two women. Shonoka, known to her friends and family as Shony, is on a search to discover what Primortia is. She lost her brother to Primortia when they were children and she has dedicated her life to discovering its secrets. When the novel opens she's an academic, about to enter what she knows will be a loveless marriage, who is starting to work out some of what Primortia is. We meet her at her grandmother's funeral. She was very close to her grandmother, Piany, and Shony starts to learn more about her grandmother through the diaries she left behind. The diaries give her information about Piany's mysterious past and the adventures she got involved with before Shony was born. Shony is inspired to break free from what society expects from her and pursue the truth of Primortia. She gets caught up in a quest she never imagined with a man from her grandmother's past, and finds out that Primortia has consequences far beyond her world.

DAVID WISEHART: How do you do your world-building?

SARAH O'DONOGHUE: It’s a very long process but it usually begins with a character or a scene. I then ‘reverse-engineer’ that snippet: how did that character come to react in that way? What technology or cultural aspects of the fictional world enabled that incident to happen? I also work in features of the real world that interest me. For example, I’ve just finished a science degree for which I took several geology courses. Geology fascinated me so there’s a particular mineral that plays an important part in the Primortia story. I used my background knowledge to enrich where this mineral could have come from and the properties it is shown to exhibit which, whilst not exactly true to science, are at least vaguely plausible!

DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

SARAH O'DONOGHUE: I’ve always written cinematically. I see and hear the characters walking and talking in my mind’s eye and it’s always been natural for me to ‘cast’ actors in each role as if I was making my ideal movie adaptation of the book. I know that so-and-so is playing Shonoka Lagan (the main character in my book) so I use her appearances in various films to formulate the speech patterns and body language of the character.

DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?

SARAH O'DONOGHUE: Primortia contains space-faring, technologically-based societies, time travel and a brutal war; but it's also the story of two people, one in the present and one in the past, each trying to escape what their society expects of them and to find out the truth about their families. I hope the novel will appeal to anyone who enjoys reading about characters learning the truth about their society and themselves.

DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?

SARAH O'DONOGHUE: I've always been immersed in words. My first degree is in English Language and Literature and I taught English as a foreign language for over 10 years. I started writing fanfiction for various television shows back in the mid 1990s which encompassed all sorts of lengths and genres. I got involved in fandom writing communities and met people who became good friends. They encouraged me to start writing original fiction.

Over the last few years my writing has taken me in two different directions. I successfully pitched a proposal for an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) Science textbook. I co-wrote the textbook with a good friend and it was published by Oxford University Press last summer (Oxford Content and Language Support: Science by Saema Kauser and Sarah O’Donoghue OUP 2010). Alongside that I got involved with Nanowrimo in 2006 and wrote a 50,000 word novella which I expanded and refined over the next three and a half years. That Nanowrimo 2006 project became Primortia.

DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?

SARAH O'DONOGHUE: I see writing as sculpting words. To create a sculpture you need a big block of raw material from which you carve the most beautiful object you can; I may start with a very rough outline or concept but usually I sit down in front of the keyboard and hammer out a big chunk of text. Then the real work begins. After letting that block of raw material sit for a while I go back over it. I delete what isn’t working and then I start exploring the text. I go through several cycles of expanding, rewriting and editing until I have a story I’m happy with. The manuscript goes off to a couple of trusted beta readers and then I integrate their feedback. For every hour of writing I probably spend four editing.

DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?

SARAH O'DONOGHUE: P.G. Wodehouse for his sparkling, witty dialogue; Jules Verne for his technology; Isaac Asimov and Anne McCaffrey for their logical world-building; Neil Gaiman and Susan Cooper for their imaginative concepts; Susanna Clark and Connie Willis for their plotting and character interactions.

DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?

SARAH O'DONOGHUE: Connie Willis’ Bellwether. Nothing is wasted. Every word of dialogue, every scene, every interaction is integrated into a funny, sweet and subtle plot. The characters are funny and real, the situations they find themselves in are ridiculous yet familiar and the story always makes me smile.

DAVID WISEHART: How did you create your cover?

SARAH O'DONOGHUE: It was really basic! I had a beautiful blue glass pendant which I took out into my garden on a bright summer’s day. I photographed it against a white background. I then manipulated the colour with a photo editing program to make the pendant appear green. The sundial image was created in a really old graphics program.

DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?

SARAH O'DONOGHUE: I’ve concentrated on online marketing through my website, blog and Twitter feed. I want to get my name out there and provide readers with interesting, original content which I hope will encourage them to try my novel.

DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?

SARAH O'DONOGHUE: I wanted to make Primortia as widely available as possible. The problem with using print-on-demand is that paperback books can be very expensive. Even taking a tiny margin the paperback edition of Primortia is still more expensive than many comparable novels. The ebook industry is growing exponentially so I wanted readers to be able to choose an electronic form of the book. Kindle is a huge part of that. It also means that I can offer a reading option at a far lower price for those readers who are happy with a virtual copy of the book.

DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?

SARAH O'DONOGHUE: Format your book correctly! Even though my manuscript was fine for Lulu’s paperback printing and ebook format Kindle is pretty quirky. I had to tweak a lot of paragraph indentations and word spacing. It was a very fiddly job.

The other drawback with Kindle is that every time you make a change to the manuscript or Amazon description the book goes back into ‘publishing’ mode for at least 24 hours so minimizing those edits before you go live is essential.

My final piece of advice would be to get access to a Kindle or download the Kindle for PC programme and download your book to it. That’ll allow you to catch even more errors in the formatting that are invisible in a standard word processing program.

DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.


Sarah O'Donoghue a UK-based writer with a background in language and science teaching and I'm co-author of Oxford Content and Language Support: Science (2010 Oxford University Press).

Primortia is her first novel.  
She's been living and breathing science fiction for over twenty years. She's been involved in many fandoms from Doctor Who to steampunk but she's always wanted to create her own sandbox to play in. The world of Primortia has been in development for four years and is growing all the time.

Visit her website, read her blog, and follow her on twitter.

The Kindle edition of Primortia is available from and

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