A Day in the Life of Oisín McGann

The morning starts when my wife gets up for work. She has a proper job, but I could get up much later if I wanted. I can rarely summon up the nerve though, so I usually rise around the same time.

I normally don’t start work as soon as I get up. I prefer to do something active first, like go for a walk, go to the gym or even just do some housework (it’s not that I’m particularly house-proud or anything – it just seems to need doing all the time). Sometimes there’ll be shopping to do. I find getting in a bit of physical activity helps to get the blood going first thing in the morning – if I didn’t, I’d be sluggish for a lot of the day. I’d hope one day to have a studio a short distance from my home rather than in it, so I could walk or cycle to work, but that might be a while away yet.

There are times when I have to do visits to schools or libraries to talk to kids, or I might have a residency once a week in a school. I’ll often have to get up very early to travel to wherever that might be going on. There are also conferences and meetings that I have to attend and they can be anywhere in Ireland or the UK. They’re important for spreading the word about my books and for meeting the people in the book industry, but they can break up my routine and can often be a big obstacle to getting any writing or illustration work done.

I have a studio at home where I work. I often stand up to write and I made a computer desk and a drawing desk at standing height to cater for this. I don’t want to spend my whole life sitting down. I can draw and paint all day, but rarely write for more than two or three hours. I like working in the evening, but that’s hard to do very often when you’re in a relationship (or at least, one you hope will last).

I normally start work late morning, unless I have some urgent illustration deadline to meet. I’ll often do some office work and answer emails before I start my actual work. I can waste a lot of time with emails. It feels like work, but it’s actually just a big distraction, delaying the inevitable effort of getting started properly. That said, there are so many bits and pieces that have to be organized which have nothing to do with writing or illustration, I have to be careful not to give them any more time than they deserve. I try not to waste too much time making and drinking coffee (I’ve been on decaf for some time, but I’m still hooked – at least I’m down to one or two a day).

If I don’t get moving on some proper work, I’ll start getting really restless and impatient – as if there’s some narky little foreman somewhere in my nature who thinks I’m a lazy git (I am, really) and he’s not having any of it. He’s probably the part of me that knows I don’t get paid by the hour – I have no regular income at all – so I have to get my arse in gear if I’m going to be able to pay the rent and put food on the table.

Writing takes the form of making copious notes over a long period of months to plan a story and then the actual writing is done on computer. I’m normally making notes on three or four stories at any one time. Sometimes research for a story will take me out of the house, but not often. When my schedule is quieter and I have more long-term work on a novel to get on with, I’ll occasionally go out and find some quiet café to sit in with my notebook. It helps fight off the cabin-fever and it’s the kind of relaxing environment where I can just sit and listen to my imagination ticking over without my usual over-anxious prodding.

Illustrating takes a few different forms: the thumbnails – or rough sketch-phase – to show a publisher my ideas, then the more finished pencils, and then the final inked drawings or paintings. Sometimes I render the illustrations on computer, but I prefer doing most of my pictures the old-fashioned way. I’ll often listen to music when I’m drawing or painting, but not while I’m trying to sketch out ideas and never when I’m writing.

I’m pretty disciplined, but all the promotional work and other parts of running my business do often get in the way of actually producing books. Every writer is self-employed and has to look after business stuff, just like anybody else who runs their own company. It’s funny, but it seems the more successful you get, the less time you have to do the work you actually get a buzz out of. Even so, it’s a great life – a strange, confusing, stimulating, demanding, inspiring, frustrating, exciting, surprising, stressful, unpredictable, and ultimately satisfying life… if you get it right.

I’m certainly enjoying it so far.