David O'Sullivan is a writer, author of The Bomber and his new novel Anvil Soul. He lives in Australia. His latest book is based in a small country town. A priest moves to this town and uncovers a series of sexual assaults being committed by a fellow priest. When no one believes the main character, he is forced to shoot the offender dead, then he must live with the consequences. We have conducted an interview with David about his new book.
What inspired you to write this story about a priest uncovering a series of sexual assaults which were committed by a fellow priest?
I am interested in the story of the outsider, coming up against significant challenges. I selected a small town I know well for the setting, and I chose the story of a man who is not only a stranger to the location but is also set apart by his vocation. The main character’s name is James O’Ryan; he travels to the new town expecting to bring the word of God to the local people. However, he finds it takes a lot more than his good intentions to fit into the new town. Not only this, the other priests are only interested in their own satisfaction and actively commit crimes. When no one takes him seriously, when he tries to expose the criminals, he has to take matters into his own hands. O’Ryan ends up killing a fellow priest.
I lived in the town in which I set this book for eight years. It is a prosperous farming community, old and set in its ways. I know the town well, my ancestors arrived in the early 1880s, I know how wet and cold the winters can be, and how hot the summers get, I know what the sunlight looks like on the main street in the afternoons and how the winds can become strong in Autumn. Having this inside knowledge, an interest in the outsider and a love of thrillers, I was able to combine them in my novel, Anvil Soul.
Why did you choose to write about the relations of priests and his fellow priests and how did you research these characters?
I choose to make my main character a priest because I wanted someone who was both an outsider, but also committed to a cause. I wanted someone with a strong faith who is convinced they are doing the right thing and tested in their beliefs. I wanted to show the opposites that exist in society, the troubled and the good, and that troubled people can be in respected positions. In many small towns, a priest is still a highly respected individual. I have been told that when my great-grandfather died in Temora, at his funeral my grandfather had to go and find the priest who was to preside over the ceremony. When my grandfather found the father, he was drunk and had to be taken to the Church. It is a story that has haunted me. I asked myself, ‘who can we trust,’ and ‘are the people we put faith in always the best people to lead us?” These questions gave me an interest, and I decided to include them in my novel.
I grew up a Catholic; I went to Catholic school, and so I have a strong idea of what is involved in the Church and the priesthood. While writing this novel I attended church a number of times and took the time to speak to the priests after the service. Most of them are kind, intelligent good people. I also spent many hours looking at the buildings that are related to the Catholic Church in Temora. I became well acquainted with the Church, the presbytery and the Catholic school buildings.
Who is the main character and how did you develop the story further?
The main character is James O’Ryan; he has only recently been ordained; he is inexperienced, naïve and he cannot control his emotions well. He is often tempted and feels he may not be strong enough to resist such things as lust and greed. However, his heart and faith are strong. James is a lonely man, he is a natural outcast, the isolation and sadness beat out of him but he is willing to make a stand for what he believes.
I developed this story over a number of years, I thought carefully about the issues I wanted to write about and then when I sat down to write the novel; it took me about seven or eight months to finish it. The story flowed from me. My editor-in-chief at Pen Name Publishing, when she received my manuscript asked me if I would consider making the change from third to first person. I had some concerns about third person and when she mentioned this, it confirmed I needed a rewrite, so for another four months, I rewrote the work. It has developed into a very tight, well-structured story.
When did you discover your passion in writing fiction?
I have always loved reading since I was a small child. I first formed the idea of being a writer when I was 20 years old. I was sitting on the bus heading home from university, and I was reading, and I wondered if that was something I could do. I remember it clearly. As soon as I arrived home, I started to write. I tested to see how good I was, and I remember how disappointed I was with my results. I kept at it, and I feel I have improved over time.
It is a passion, one that requires hard work and a certain level of isolation. I cannot write around people; I must have time alone. It is a hard skill to maintain because in order to have the inspiration you must also be among people and friends. You have to have both, alone time and time with people otherwise my writing fails.
Does the feedback from your first novel affect the story of this new book?
No, and yes. I listen to all advice, compliments, and criticism. I have received some extraordinary praise for my first novel The Bomber, but I choose not to take it seriously, I do not want to be over-confident. I write as hard as I can, concentrating on the story. I take all advice seriously, but I do not let it control my process. I find that reading the works of great authors is the best way to learn the skill of writing.
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