Sarah O’Donoghue’s Primortia

Sarah O’Donoghue is here to talk to us about her science-fiction novel, Primortia:

“Primortia: the holy seizure that strikes without warning, the curse that has shaped Hutosan culture and civilisation. After losing her brother to Primortia, Shonoka Lagan devotes her life to studying the phenomenon. Now she believes it can be stopped. With clues from her grandmother’s diary, Shonoka begins an adventure that reveals the secrets of her family, her planet, and the ageless stranger with his peculiar green stone…”

Author of Primortia, Sarah O’Donaghue is a UK-based writer with a background in language and science teaching and she is the co-author of Oxford Content and Language Support: Science (2010 Oxford University Press).
She has been living and breathing science fiction for over twenty years. She has been involved in many fandoms from Doctor Who to steampunk but has always wanted to create her own sandbox to play in.
The world of Primortia has been in development for four years and is growing all the time.
The first of the series: Primortia is available to buy – paperback £11.99, download £3.99 from
I asked Sarah a few questions abut her writing, Primorita and her experience with self-publisher Lulu:
Who, or what, is Primortia?
Primortia is a seizure that strikes some people on the world of Hutosa where most of the book is set. No Hutosan knows what causes it but as the book progresses the reader discovers that nothing about Primortia is what it appears.

Can you tell us a little about it?
A religion has developed around Primortia over the centuries to the point where it defines many of the world’s cultures. People who have the seizure are known as Primortians, and it is known to run in families. Once someone has suffered a seizure they’re on a countdown to transfer, which Hutosans believe to be death. They are fitted with a Primortian Mark by the monks in their local Primortian Temple and are released on condition that they return just before their transfer. This period of time can vary but it’s never more than a few months. The Primortian Temples control Primortians and therefore the fear the general population has of the condition and those who suffer it.
Is Shonoka the main character of the book? What is she about?
Primortia is the story of two women. Shonoka, known to her friends and family as Shony, is on a search to discover what Primortia is. She lost her brother to Primortia when they were children and she has dedicated her life to discovering its secrets. When the novel opens she’s an academic, about to enter what she knows will be a loveless marriage, who is starting to work out some of what Primortia is. We meet her at her grandmother’s funeral. She was very close to her grandmother, Piany, and Shony starts to learn more about her grandmother through the diaries she left behind. The diaries give her information about Piany’s mysterious past and the adventures she got involved with before Shony was born. Shony is inspired to break free from what society expects from her and pursue the truth of Primortia. She gets caught up in a quest she never imagined with a man from her grandmother’s past, and finds out that Primortia has consequences far beyond her world.

What era is Primortia set?
Primortia is set across multiple eras and locations but Shony’s story unfolds in her world’s modern-day which has technology loosely comparable to ours. Hutosa has regular space travel within its own system but people still like to travel by ship. Most cultures have evolved from monarchies to democracies, but religion is dictated by a central order of Primortian monasteries.

How much research did it involve?
The first ideas for Primortia were sparked about five years ago when I had the idea of a woman learning about her grandmother from diaries she’d left behind. From there I started to world-build Hutosa and the other locations and eras within the story. I have always had an interest in science and there is a very important mineral within the novel that became a character itself. I drew on courses I have taken in astronomy and geology to create a source and properties for this mineral which, whilst not exactly true to science, are at least vaguely plausible!

How does it compare with other novels?
I’ve been reading and involved with science fiction for over twenty years and whilst I love the ‘hard’ science fiction of Clarke, Verne and Asimov I’ve always been drawn to science fiction written by women like Marge Piercy and Connie Willis. I love Connie Willis’ work, particularly her novel Bellwether. Her books combine romance, science and science fiction in fascinating ways and I’ve aimed to mix up the genres as she has done.

What audience is the book intended?
Not to sound selfish but I primarily wrote what I wanted most to read! There is very little science fiction with a romantic element out there and I wanted more! Primortia contains space-faring, technologically-based societies, time travel and a brutal war; but it’s also the story of two women, one in the present and one in the past, each trying to escape what their society expects of them and to find out the truth about their families. I hope the novel will appeal to anyone who enjoys science fiction for adults.

How long did it take you to write it, and how many drafts?
The actual writing took about two years. The first half was written as my project for NaNoWriMo back in 2006 and then I wrote another story, set in the same universe in 2007/8. It was then that I discovered that the story was actually one continuous novel and spent the next eighteen months in Editing Hell, moulding and enriching the storyline to create what became the finished book. Looking at my hard drive I went through 16 drafts. I really hope I never need quite so many again!

Will you be interested in writing another genre?
Not at the moment. The science fiction and fantasy genres have been my home for over twenty years because they are so rich. I can’t remember who said it but I’ve read that the grand stories of our time can only be contained by an arena as vast as SF/fantasy. Older societies had mythologies and sagas. SF/fantasy is where our battles between heroes and villains, gods and demons are now played out.

Is it going to be part of a series?
I’ve just started writing the sequel to Primortia, using NaNoWriMo 2010 to kickstart the writing process. Primortia 2 (not the final title!) will answer all the major questions left at the end of Primortia, but there are many other stories to be told within the Primortian universe so it’s a place I plan to come back to in future books. I’m aiming for a reader to be able to pick up Primortia 2 and jump right into the story but the books are designed to be read in order.

Do you have a favourite scene in the book? Can we have a snippet?
I think it has to be the scene where Shony first explores a place called the Sundial Garden. I’ve always loved sundials and their image is woven throughout the novel. Here’s a snippet:

One dial appeared to be made of clear glass, raised looping patterns etched onto its matching base, numbers unrecognisable. She was familiar with the Dargan Firescript of another dial, mounted on a base of volcanic rock, pockmarked with chips exposing the voids within the stone. Next to a sundial carved into a large block of horostone, another base was engraved with spirals and swirls. They were ancient carvings, perhaps dating back to the Samana Dynasty. She remembered reading of their ancient priesthood who worshipped the end of the world and, stooping to look at the worn carvings, she could make out crude figures running from a large spiky shape in the sky. An explosion perhaps? Intrigued, she knelt on the grass, her finger tracing the patterns in the crumbling sandstone. From her new position she could see some of the figures were prostrate, perhaps praying, perhaps dying. Then she saw a blurred shape at the centre of the explosion. It was a large, deep rectangle. Age had barely blurred the edges of the shape.

 Are you agented?

No, I’m not agented and I haven’t tried to find an agent for Primortia for a number of reasons. Firstly, I know that very few agents will touch Science Fiction, secondly, I want to keep control of my books and finally I see internet publishing as getting more and more powerful year by year. Thanks to the internet I can get my book printed, promoted and distributed right around the world; and thanks to the internet I can interact with readers and writers on every continent.

You published with Lulu. What was your experience with them?
I’ve been really pleased with Lulu. I did a lot of research before deciding to go self-published, and I did a lot of research before deciding to go with Lulu. I read a lot of other authors’ websites to find out about their experiences and in the end Lulu seemed best for me.

Were they expensive?
I haven’t given Lulu a penny!

If you hit a problem were they there for you?
So far I haven’t hit any problems, but any queries I’ve had about formatting, distribution etc have been answered on their comprehensive user forums.

Do they help with marketing?
I’ve opted for their Extended Reach distribution package which has given me a Lulu ISBN and distribution with Amazon (that should be online within the month). Again, all this has been free. I’ve taken on marketing duties myself, setting up my website and getting involved in science fiction and writing communities.

Did they typeset the novel?
The option is there but I chose to do this myself. Again, other author pages gave me great advice on formatting the manuscript correctly. I have reasonable IT skills and found typesetting fairly painless.

Did they arrange your bookcover/blurb?
I designed the cover myself and a good friend wrote my blurb.

And finally would you use them again?

Would you call yourself a full time writer?
I’m on a career break from teaching at the moment so, for the next few months at least, I am a full time writer.
Do you have any writing experience?
I’ve always been immersed in words. My first degree is in English Language and Literature and I taught English as a foreign language for over 10 years. I have taken a couple of short writing courses but I’ve learned far more about the craft by reading fiction and getting out there and writing my own. are the co-author of Oxford Content and Language Support what is this book about, and how much input did you have as a co-author?
OCLS Science came out of my background in science and English Language teaching. I saw there was a gap in the market for books to help second language teenagers get to grips with science topics, so I put a proposal together and approached a number of publishers.
Academic writing is the only area I’ve found where publishers are willing to look at unsolicited proposals and so I was able to move forward without an agent.
Oxford University Press were interested in my ideas and asked for a science workbook for second language students. I asked a science teacher friend of mine to get involved and we ended up splitting writing duties 50/50: she wrote the science material, I then unpacked the science content through a variety of exercises and sections on grammar, comprehension and vocabulary. I also compiled a chapter on study skills and a glossary to explain complex scientific terms in straightforward English. It’s been a fantastic project and it’s given me a valuable professional writing credit that I want to build on in the future.


7 thoughts on “Sarah O’Donoghue’s Primortia

  1. Thanks, Jo-an, I'm really glad you enjoyed the book! I've always been fascinated by the idea of a diary being a glimpse into the past and I thought it would be a good device for showing an alternative narrative timeframe.

    The ideas in Primortia have been kicking around in my brain for a few years, all sorts of bits and pieces fed into the story.


  2. I really like the idea around the book, it is interesting. You write so well, especially for someone for whom this is the first time they have published a novel? Where did you get the idea around. The grandmothers diary is good method of moving the story along.



  3. Anonymous

    Sadly I had to charge 11.99 GBP to make even a tiny profit on a paperback sale. The book is an 80K novel with over three hundred pages. Lulu charges a high price per copy that they print but each copy is of a professional standard. I took the decision to make the e-copy of the novel just 3.99 GBP to make the book accessible to anyone who wants to check it out, and the prologue/first chapter are available free to read on my website.


  4. 11.99 is a bit pricey for a selfpubbed book, but Lulu usally is. YOu'd think it was the opposite. Why is that?



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