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Wednesday 26 July 2017

TEA FOR TEW - an interview with Columbkill Noonan

Today I have another fabulous guest: Columbkill Noonan, whose debut novel Barnabas Tew and the Case of the Missing Scarab is released today by Crooked Cat Books.

Welcome, Columbkill.  You have a fascinating name.  Please can you tell me a bit more about it?

Sure, I’d be happy to! My dad is a dentist, and when I was growing up he had a lot of nuns as patients (comes from growing up Irish Catholic, I think!). Anyway, my favorite was a nun named Sister Columbkill; she used to crochet the cutest little dollies for me and my sister. So when it came time to pick a pen name, I just knew that I had to be ‘Columbkill’. As for Noonan, that’s just a family name (Irish, again!). It was between that and my maiden name, which is Hickey. Noonan won out.

What prompted you to first start writing? What was the first thing you wrote?

I’ve always wanted to write, but was always caught up with work and life and just plain busy-ness. But one day a short story just jumped into my head and wouldn’t go away. It was about the ghost of a little boy who gets stuck at a boarding school and has to haunt the place in the most ridiculous of ways. It was published by the first place I submitted it to (Strangely Funny II) which really gave me confidence to keep on writing things.

Can you summarise your book in just a few words?

Ohhhh, that’s a tough one! I’d say cozy, fun, and a little bit weird. “Barnabas” is a hero like no other, really. He’s anxious, excitable, and probably overly constrained by social niceties, but he takes his responsibilities very seriously and tries so very hard to not let all those other things get in his way.

What was the inspiration for this book?

The Barnabas character has been banging around in my head for awhile now. It was clear that he was there to stay, and that he needed something much more than a short story. He pretty much demanded to be written, the pesky little bugger! I am fascinated by history and mythology (and mythological history!) so there was never any doubt that I’d put Barnabas in a mythological setting.

Did you do any research for the book?

I did, and I had the best time doing it! I used the university library, online sources, and bookstores to read any-and-everything I could find about Egyptian mythology. It’s very fascinating! And I learned a lot of things I didn’t know before. For example, I had no idea that there was a feminist Egyptian goddess. So of course she had to play a part in the book!

What does a typical writing day involve for you?

I wake up, have some tea, and sit down to write for a couple of hours before I go to work (teaching Anatomy and Physiology at a university). Every single day my cat Orangina sits on my lap while I write (in fact, she’s here right now, as we speak!). I have to have a blanket draped there for her just so or else she’ll meow piteously at me until I comply. It’s a bit distracting, come to think of it!

How do you decide on the names for your characters?

For historical names, I usually look up a list of baby names from that place and era. Then I scroll through until I find one I like the sound of, or that has a meaning that resonates with the character I’m writing. For example, in the book I’m writing now there is a horse by the name of Hynder… which means (drum roll, please!) ‘horse’ in Old Norse.

Do you plot your novels in advance, or allow them to develop as you write?

A little of both. I outline the chapters, and give the characters a particular job that they absolutely must do (or a place to which they absolutely must go). Then I let them take care of that on their own.

Now the book is published and ‘out there’ how do you feel?

It feels a bit surreal, to be honest. And a bit scary, too! When you put your all into something and then put it out there for everyone to see (and judge!), well, you just want people to love it the same way you do. It’s like that feeling when you try a daring new haircut, only amplified.

Is there a message in your book? 

That the little guy can be a hero, once in a while. That even when you’re nervous and scared and have no idea what you’re doing, sometimes things can still turn out all right anyway. Or at least almost all right. Barnabas is, ahem, a bit excitable, shall we say, and has a lot of self-doubt, but still he tries and that’s what’s important.

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Keep at it, and if you get a harsh rejection, pull a face, stick your tongue out at that email and submit someplace else. I once had a short story rejected by an editor who was so harsh in his criticisms that he even said he didn’t like my name, and offered an in-depth description of what, exactly, was wrong with it. My name! I get that ‘Columbkill’ is a bit unusual, but that’s why I like it. I’m certainly not going to change my name to ‘Bob’ just because someone doesn’t get it. By the way, a week later I received the most glowing acceptance email ever for that same story. So there.

What can we expect from you in the future?

Well, right now I can’t even imagine a day spent without Barnabas, so I’m currently working on the sequel to Barnabas Tew and the Case of the Missing Scarab. Really, I’m planning a whole series. In each book he’ll go to a different afterlife, so I’ll have loads of fun researching all the different mythologies and religions. This next book is already shaping up to be quite action-packed, because, well… Vikings! (Oops, did I let that slip? Barnabas will be terribly put out if I give away his surprises!)

Barnabas Tew and the Case of the Missing Scarab is now available on Amazon.

Connect with Columbkill:
Twitter: @ColumbkillNoon1


  1. I'm very excited to read your book! I luff you !!

  2. I'm very excited and can't wait to read your book!!! I luff you!!