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It’s a Living

Local author values networking with fellow creatives


According to George Orwell, “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”

This certainly does not apply to author and playwright John McDonnell. No demons here. He is one of the nicest human beings you will ever meet.

John is the author of 24 books that include collections of horror short stories, short funny plays, and an eight-book historical fiction series about Irish immigrants who came and settled in Bucks County and Philadelphia called “Rose of Skibbereen” that is based on his mother’s family history. “Skibbereen is the town in Ireland where my mother’s grandmother came from,” he said.

John was born and raised in Bucks County. He went to LaSalle University and later got his master’s in English from Villanova. He has been making his living as a writer ever since.

“I worked at ad agencies, PR agencies, trade magazines, a publishing company, and I even did a stint as a PR writer for Ford Motor Company.

John’s first professional piece of writing was a profile of an 80-year-old man who had been a competitive bike racer in his youth and still rode hundreds of miles a week. It was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“I was so thrilled I went out that night to celebrate with my friends—and I met the woman who would become my wife!” When his four children were born, John became a stay-at-home dad while doing freelance writing.

I asked John what his first love is, playwriting or novel writing. He finds the question hard to answer. “I absolutely love hearing people laugh at lines from my plays – it is such a kick – so writing funny plays is a joy. But I also like writing fiction because I get to dive deep into the characters’ lives in a way that I can’t do in a play.”

John’s plays have been performed in eight states now, plus the U.K. and Ireland.

In addition to working on his own writing, John has done a lot to help the careers of local writers and actors. After a playwriting class he took at Bucks County Playhouse, he decided to form Playwrights’ Bridge, a group that met once every month and had local actors read short selections from members’ works in progress.

“It was a great way to network with local writers and actors, and I met some very talented people who gave me valuable feedback on my work.”

Phillips’ Mill Theater produced one of John’s plays in 2016 and ever since then, he has been involved with the Drama Committee. In 2022, he started an ongoing series of literary salons. About every two months, John holds a salon about a topic related to the arts in our area.

“We’ve had salons for poetry readings, self-published fiction, storytelling, and dramatic monologues. Local performers and writers get a chance to showcase their work in front of a supportive audience. It’s been a lot of fun, and we have more salons planned for next year.”

John’s body of work is truly impressive, and I ask him if he has any advice for new writers. “Find a writing group where you can read your work and get feedback. It’s an important part of the learning process to hear what others think of your writing.”

He has more advice when first time authors are ready to publish. “Self-publish,” he says, “rather than trying to get an agent or a publishing contract. It can be difficult these days getting a publishing deal. Self-publishing is much easier—although you’ll have to learn how to market yourself because no publisher is going to do it for you.”

John also has some encouraging words for those who feel they may be getting started too late in life. “It wasn’t until I turned 50 that I decided it was time to start writing all the novels I had been putting off when the kids were little.”

Information on upcoming salons can be found at

The “Rose of Skibbereen” series is available on Amazon.

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