In October of 2010, J.K. Rowling was named the most influential woman in the UK on a list issued by a panel of magazine editors affiliated with the National Magazine Company, surpassing Victoria Beckham, No. 2, and the Queen of England, No. 3. Since the first novel’s release in 1997, the “Harry Potter” series has made Rowling a cultural icon and mainstay in the public eye, with an influence that transcends language, age, and international borders.
Her influence extended to Chinese teacher Katie Gallagher, who recently completed a full-length fantasy novel and will be leaving the KO community as she embarks upon the publishing world, and credits J.K. Rowling as one of her earliest inspirations in her development as a writer.
Writing is a medium which, like many others, requires years of practice to hone. J.K. Rowling came upon the idea for the Harry Potter series seven years before the first book was published. More importantly, as they fine-tune their skills, authors pass the time in the same way that non-authors do: by reading. In Mrs. Gallagher’s life, her love for reading quickly translated into a love for writing.
“As soon as I started reading books, I wanted to write books,” she said. In the fifth grade, her teacher noticed Mrs. Gallagher’s talent and interest in writing, and served as a guide as she exercised different skills. “Ms. Crane started trying to mentor me in that way,” Mrs. Gallagher said. “I was doing fairy-tale retellings, and things like that.”
As a child, Mrs. Gallagher was most attracted to the fantasy style of novels and drew inspiration from a variety of sources within the genre in her own stories, generally whatever selection she was reading at the time. Apart from fantasy, Mrs. Gallagher’s literary favorites traverse into the horror genre.
“I started reading Stephen King when I pretty young and even before that, ‘Goosebumps,’” Mrs. Gallagher said. As an adult, Mrs. Gallagher’s love for fantasy and horror has yet to fade. She lists “horror-writing duo” S.L. Gray, middle-grade author Tamora Pierce, YA author Sarah J. Maas, as well as critically acclaimed non-fantasy author Haruki Murakami as her contemporary favorites. In the discussion of Maas, she commended the skillful development of her novels. “The stuff that she puts out is really in-depth world-building, and I really appreciate that,” Mrs. Gallagher said.
Considering some of the most famous novels have taken as little as two and a half weeks (“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,”) to 16 years (“The Lord of the Rings,”) of nearly 24/7 writing time to complete, one can only wonder where a KO teacher finds the time to write. For Mrs. Gallagher, seeking out a community of authors to write alongside, which in effect created an environment conducive for writing, was the key.
“I have a lot of friends in the area who also write,” she said. She said that once she found them, the rest was history. The coalition of writers meet between two to four times a week at a central location for what she describes as “just butt-in-chair time.”
“You get together, [but] it’s not [for] critiquing or anything like that: it’s just being together to write–and occasionally talk about something funny you’re writing about,” Mrs. Gallagher said.
The group assembled through the digital forum extension of NaNoWriMo, a month-long online program that authors all over the world sign into every November, Mrs. Gallagher and her fellow authors simply transferred their online writing relationships to real life.
Aside from having a small society of enthusiastic writers by her side, Mrs. Gallagher’s dedication to writing stems from her love of the craft. The big, existential question posed to or imposed by all writers on themselves at some point in their career: Why do you write? From Ms. Gallagher’s perspective, she writes because of her commitment to articulating the truth of a story.
“[Writing] feels like telling a story to yourself,” Mrs. Gallagher said. Her stories go through a siphoning process as she boils down to what’s the most important. “I’ll have an initial idea, and I don’t quite know how we’re going to get to that in execution,” she said. “[Writing] feels like whittling down an original idea to actually find the real story.”
For anyone who has written prose of considerable length, editing can be a daunting process–being forced to cut away descriptive gems, or alter “perfect” sentences. For Mrs. Gallagher, this is the most enjoyable stage of novel-writing. Drawing from her experience as an author on the cusp of publishing, Mrs. Gallagher offered some crucial advice for writers of the world, and those present on our campus.
“Be reading: It’s really important to see the way other authors put their craft together,” she said. In conjunction with reading, Mrs. Gallagher advises aspiring authors to pursue writer’s workshops and education. “It’s so helpful to have some sort of mentor, [to] take a creative class,” Mrs. Gallagher said.
She also advocated for programs like NaNoWriMo, which serve as the catalyst many writers need to do one of the hardest parts of their work: starting. “The most difficult thing is staring at a blank page,” Mrs. Gallagher said.
For those inspired explore the fantasy genre, Mrs. Gallagher provided two book recommendations she holds to esteem: “The Golem and the Genie” by Helene Wecker and Australian author Garth Nix’s “Old Kingdom” series.