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Calgary author pens first fiction title – one paragraph at a time

Nancy O'Hare has four non-fiction titles to her credit, but The Man in the Barretina Hat is her first foray into fiction.

Calgary-area author Nancy O’Hare’s latest book, her first fiction title, started off with one paragraph per day, written for her father who was battling lung cancer.

Her book, The Man in the Barretina Hat, will be released in early January 2023. It was a process that began in the summer of 2021.

O’Hare’s dad was sick, and Covid prevented regular visits and the typical family support. Both of her parents enjoyed reading, but her dad was on morphine and couldn’t read as much as he normally would, O’Hare said.

“I remember my mom mentioning this one time that they’d like to have something to look forward to every day and they can’t maybe do as much as normal,” she said.

“I can’t remember why I decided one day, but I thought, maybe if I write them a paragraph a day, something just that’s every paragraph that makes them want to read something the next day and just give them motivation to look forward to something every day.”

Years prior, O’Hare had travelled to the island of Malta. She recalled an inlet surrounded by three cities, harbours with fishing boats and old limestone fortress walls. At that time, she thought it would one day be the perfect setting for a book.

That locale had been tucked away until O’Hare brought it out to start her one paragraph journey.

“I just thought, ‘I’ll start writing. I don’t know where it’s gonna go, but I’ll start with this,” she said.

“As long as my focus was every paragraph’s got to be really interesting. That was the start of it.”

Travel and the sense of place

O’Hare, an accountant by trade, has had the good fortune of working around the world: Switzerland, Nigeria, England, Australia, Oman, to name a few – and of course, in Canada.

She’s also travelled in those areas, plus extended time in South America. O’Hare conducted our interview from Portugal while training for a Nepalese trek slated for 2023.

Two of O’Hare’s prior books are focused on travel. Another two dig into personal finance.

Those non-fiction titles suited the organized part of her accountant’s brain.

“I was always trying to be true to what actually happened,” O’Hare said.

“What was the story and explaining that, so it was still a creative pursuit, but it was in a very organized manner.”

That travel aspect – the observations, the journey, the details – is apparent as O’Hare made the jump to fiction. When you read The Man in the Barretina Hat, the sense of place is apparent right from the beginning.  That helps when writing a story of international intrigue.

O’Hare said that she wants readers to visualize the surroundings as much as possible. Providing details about those surroundings give a sense of reality to a story, she said.  It grounds the story instead of just using general concepts.

“Being in different places and the type of books I like is when you can just feel immersed in it, so that you’ve got this visual in your head of what’s happening in the pages,” she said.

“I try to do that in my writing as well.

O’Hare said she’s enjoyed the freedom of the fiction process. She not only controls the words, but going the self-publishing route she’s also chosen her editors, cover designers and other aspects of the process.

Tying together a story one paragraph at a time

Writing a single paragraph each day, with the intent of making it as interesting as possible, presented a challenge when pulling it all together.

O’Hare said after about four or five months, she had multiple storylines and started pulling everything together in book form. Over the course of a few days, she mapped things out and connections were made between the different fragments. O’Hare could visualize where the story was going to go.

“By that point, I was getting excited by all the different themes and storylines,” she said.

“I was interested in a lot of the storylines, and then I could see kind of this roadmap going forward. And I remember my dad just saying to me, I don’t know how you’re going to pull this together.”

Just you wait, she told her dad.

She read, re-read, moved things around, cut some things and after about 10 months, O’Hare felt she had something that was pretty good. She sent it out to a few friends of hers for feedback. That included one accountant friend who sent it back to O’Hare with a long list of things that had to be fixed.

Other friends gave her additional feedback and encouragement. It was at that point, O’Hare was fairly confident she had a book she could publish.

The feedback that mattered

The Man in the Barretina Hat is dedicated to O’Hare’s dad.

Written for my dad, a man of many hats,” the dedication reads.

O’Hare said the parts of the book her dad was able to listen to, he enjoyed. Though, she regularly asked if he wanted more than a paragraph at a time, just so it wasn’t in bits and pieces. He said he liked the paragraphs.

Though, he never did get to read the finished book, O’Hare said.

“I think he enjoyed it. My uncle was telling me how dad had said, ‘yes, she’s certainly concocted quite the story,’” O’Hare recalled.

“So, I think he enjoyed it; I’m just hoping from wherever he is, maybe he sees how it ends up and that I was able to bring it together.”

O’Hare is offering the first 11 chapters – one each day – to readers beginning Jan. 1. After that, the full book will be available for sale Jan. 11.

The paperback and ebook are also now available to pre-order at Owls Nest Books, Chapters Indigo, McNally Robinson and most other online bookstores including iBooks, Kobo and Amazon.