Shauna Mc Eleney is an Irish author from county Donegal, currently living in the UK.
She went to university in Northern Ireland where she studied English & Media. She spent some time travelling in South East Asia and Australia. Shauna returned to Ireland and moved to Galway where she did a Masters in Film & Culture. She called Galway her home on and off for 14 years.
She began writing horror in 2021.
Awake in the Night is her first Novel.
Today we have the pleasure of welcoming Indie horror author, Shauna Mc Eleney. If you like your haunted house stories with a beating heart and kick-ass queer representation. Then I urge you to pick up her debut novel, Awake in the Night.
Welcome, Shauna, first of all, could you tell our readers a little about yourself?
Hi Yvonne, thank you so much for having me. Well, I’m from Donegal, in the north of Ireland. I grew up surrounded by the wild Atlantic – I only mention that because I now find myself landlocked in the English midlands! I went to university in Northern Ireland and studied English Lit & Media. I did some travelling around and ended up in Galway where I did a master’s in film. I fell madly in love with Galway and settled there for about fifteen years, it is the backdrop for Awake in the Night. I moved to the UK towards the end of 2021 and live here with my partner TC Parker, who is also a writer.
I love reading and writing which I try and fit in best I can around my 9 to 5. I also took up painting recently, I’m pretty shite at it but I enjoy doing it so maybe I’ll get better eventually. I also like making odd creatures out of clay – it’s funny, I really wouldn’t have thought of myself as much of a creative but the older I get the more I seem to lean into it.
Your debut novel, Awake in the Night felt like a queer modern-day The Haunting of Hill House. It really feels like horror is going through a bit of a queer awakening, would you agree?
Firstly, thank you for that ludicrous comparison! I’m on a bit of a Jackson kick at the moment, I just reread We Have Always Live in the Castle – I love that book…anyway, I digress.
Secondly, absolutely yes, horror is having a fabulous queer awakening. I am 100% here for it. As a gay woman, I write queer characters because that’s who I want to read about and theirs are the stories I want to tell.
Horror and queerness have always been connected, the idea of otherness and how it strikes fear into the hearts of ‘normal’ people. I think I’ve always been attracted to horror because it connects that personal transformation – grappling with the internal to become something new.
There are tons of talented queer authors writing fantastic horror and now with selfpub/indie pub we just get so much more access to it. When I was a kid, walking into a book shop, we just didn’t have any of that. It’s amazing. It just can’t be overstated how important representation is, in all forms of media.
What was your biggest challenge when writing your novel? Was it something that came easily, or did it aim to trip you up?
That’s a tough question. It needed a fair bit of research around the 1950s chapters. I sat down and read dozens of victim statements around the mother and baby homes – some of those accounts were just devasting. Women’s lives were utterly destroyed for no reason; it was definitely upsetting. They were seen as disposable. I didn’t write on those days, just sat with those stories. So many women who experienced this first-hand are walking around Ireland right now – it’s shocking to me how recent this is in our history.
I started writing it at the end of January 2021 and it started to take shape pretty quickly. I didn’t plot it out, I had a rough idea in my head and every time I tried to jot it down into points or paragraphs, I just couldn’t. So, I would just start writing and hope it came out. I actually think there are times I started sentences and didn’t know what the end of them was going to be. Not sure I would recommend it, but it worked for me.
Mid-2021 I left the book down for a bit. I picked it back up in the November and finished the first draft at the end of 2021. I had wanted to release it in March but was so slow to do rewrites and edits, plus getting the cover sorted out, that it didn’t actually come out until November 25th, 2022.
So, to answer your question, I was the biggest challenge when writing my novel!
Did you achieve any kind of catharsis whilst writing it? Was it therapeutic?
I don’t think so. I think the act of completing it was cathartic but not really the writing of it. I know a lot of writers use their writing as a form of therapy, a way of working through things. I think it’s actually the opposite for me: if something is bothering me, I can’t write. My mind needs to be settled in order to focus on the fictional.
As I said previously, I left AITN untouched for about 5 months in 2021, I just didn’t have the focus to write it. The end of 2021 and the start of 2022 has been the most challenging time of my life, by far, and it left no room for me to create anything. But after a quick breakdown, moving countries, and changing jobs I got back into it. And as I said, it was finishing it that was the achievement for me. There’s a part of the story that jumps over to England, it was written after I moved here and wasn’t planned. My life impacted the telling of the story; I struggle to read some passages back as I know where I was mentally when I wrote them. But both me and the characters got there in the end.
You read horror also, what would you say was your favourite book of 2022, and why?
2022 was a terrible reading year for me – not because of the books, but just because I couldn’t concentrate. I’ve already read more books in 2023 than I did all last year.
That said my favourite book in 2022 was Hummingbird by TC Parker. (Yes, she is my partner, but I genuinely loved that book!). It’s packed full of amazing characters, it’s extremely queer, it’s gory in parts but with loads of heart and soul. I love the way it’s crafted, 5 novellas making up the novel – the storylines are all interwoven beautifully, and I just found it to be a really satisfying read.
If you had to wake up in a horror franchise which, would you choose and why?
Had a mild panic when you asked that – I was thinking about Scream and Nightmare on Elm Street-type stuff – where you’re always being chased. Sounds knackering, I enjoy a cup of coffee and a good sit. But if I really have to wake up in one, I will say Jaws.
It can’t get me on land; I would chill on the beach and read books. Maybe audiobooks so I can put headphones on to drown out all the screaming.
What up-and-coming horror authors do you think the community in particular should pay attention to?
I don’t think I know any authors more lowly than me – so go buy my book! Nah, but seriously, it’s hard to pick out just one. I’m on Twitter (@shaunamceleney) and I’ve met heaps of wonderful writers on there at various stages of their writing journey.
I’m not sure if I can refer to these guys as ‘up and coming’ as a few of them have several books out but I’ve read some great stuff recently from Paula Ashe, Rae Knowles, Adam Hulse, Sarah Budd, Kev Harrison and obviously I love anything by TC Parker (only mildly biased).
What does 2023 have in store for you? What projects are you working on and can you share it with us?
Well, as a self-published author – I guess anything I want (mwahaha…)
At the moment I’m writing a short story. I saw a call on Twitter and thought I might give it a go. I’ve never submitted anything in my life (and still may not) but thought I’d see if I can write for a call. It is called Coffin Ship and is a ghost story set on the seas off the coast of Donegal.
I’ve also written a novelette which I think I will release around St Patrick’s Day. It’s called The House of Stolen Objects and is about a bunch of objects becoming possessed and going on the attack. It’s a bit of a commentary about artifacts being taken by other countries and perhaps now, needing to be returned. It’s set in England but has a strong Irish theme running through it. Aside from my stories being queer, I also tend to want them to be Irish – either set there or with Irish characters. I like writing that voice – perhaps because it comes easily to me. I think Susan was my favourite character in AITN – extremely Irish and I could have written her all day long.
Awake in the Night is the first thing I’ve written so it’s interesting to tackle shorter pieces – they’re a very different beast. I love character-driven stories and it’s challenging to build them in so few pages.
Thank you so much for having me, Yvonne, I’ve really enjoyed your questions. Thank you too for all the good work you do in the writing community – we appreciate you!
I also want to give a shout-out to Todd Keisling who did the cover and formatting for Awake in the Night and to Lynn Love for her editing.
So if you want a Shirley Jackson-esque haunted house tale, you should definitely pick up Shauna’s debut novel, Awake in the Night. It was one of my favourite reads last year and epitomises why I love indie horror so much. Buy Links are attached below.