A word of warning: you know the way I have a tendency to write really, really long posts? Well, this might be the longest one yet. But just think of it this way: I may not blog very often at the moment but when I do, I really do. I’d recommend you go make a fresh cup of coffee before you start. Maybe even grab a snack. Perhaps prepare a packed lunch…?
Getting published is a very strange experience. I spent fourteen months waiting for publication day to come around and then, suddenly, it was a week to go and I was desperate for another week or two to prepare. There just seemed to be so much to do, all at once. I had more than 30 different blog features to write and Q&As to answer, pieces to write for Irish newspapers and magazines, goody bags to assemble for my launch and what seemed like endless e-mails to tackle.
I was also preparing for not one but two book launches, which involved booking travel, hotels and venues for the drinks-and-nibbles party bit afterwards and, most importantly, losing ten stone in a week and shopping for outfits to cover an A, B and C Irish “summer” weather scenario. I also had to find a way to catch-up with the friends who were flying into Dublin for a weekend so they could attend my first launch, and to watch Harlan Coben’s The Five before someone spoiled it for me.
Oh, and keep plugging away at Book 2, study for four exams and, you know, eat and sleep and stuff.
Remember how a few weeks back I went to Paris? Well, since I was going by myself my plan was to sightsee and coffee-drink all day and then work on the features I had to write back in my hotel at night. When I checked into my room and found a beautiful little desk near a window with a view I thought, Perfect. But I didn’t sit down at it once the four days I was there. Because, well, Paris.
That meant that my plan to spend the week before my exams cramming for my exams went to pot, because instead I was catching up on (a) all the stuff I didn’t do in Paris and (b) the backlog of stuff I had to do that starting piling up while I was in Paris.
Cut to Tuesday, the day before my first exam and two days before Distress Signals comes out. I now have just one day to study for my first exam, except… Well, I really need to clean my apartment, go shopping for some industrial-strength shapewear to wear to my launch and collect my dry cleaning… So, ‘studying’ ends up being a SparkNotes speed-read. But it’s very difficult to care about potentially failing an exam when, you know, the only thing I’ve ever wanted is happening the day after it. The exam goes my way (I think – we’ll find out in a few weeks) and straight afterwards I met Eva, she of Mousetrapped fame, who’s flown in from Munich for the launch. We have an over-excitable catch-up lunch, compliment each other on not ageing a day (if we do say so ourselves) and then I disappear back home to tackle the last few emails and blog posts. While I’m there, I get a picture message: the girls (Andrea, also of Mousetrapped fame, and Michelle have since arrived from Orlando via Madrid) are in Dubray Books on Grafton Street, the site of tomorrow night’s launch, and have found my book on the shelves. Exciting!
That night, we all go out to dinner. I tell myself the G&Ts are to help me sleep. When I get home, I stay up to see if the Kindle edition of Distress Signals – that I’ve shamelessly pre-ordered – will arrive on my device once the clock strikes midnight. Spoiler alert: it does.
Launch day morning is actually quite calm. I have the day planned down to the minute and every minute before noon is for sitting in my PJs, drinking coffee from my new anchor mug and giddily clicking through all the lovely messages on Twitter and Facebook.
My parents and siblings are coming up from Cork to stay in a hotel in the city centre for the night, and even though I live in the city centre, I think I should get to stay in the hotel too. I check in and within ten seconds I’ve told the front desk agent that my book is being launched tonight. Same thing in the hairdressers, although that’s really out of necessity. (“Put ALL the hairspray in, okay? ALL of it.”) I have lunch with my editor from Corvus, Sara, who’s flown over from London for the launch too. She’s a very calming influence and talking to her reminds me that the most important thing that evening is that I stop worrying about stuff, relax and enjoy myself. So I do.
A G&T back at the hotel afterwards, just before I have to go get ready, also helps with this.
Then something amazing happens. My writer friend Hazel will be missing from the launch because she’s in Orlando on a family holiday of a lifetime. This is devastating because Hazel is one third of The Lovely Girls, the other two being me and our other writer friend Sheena, and without the two of them I might still be saying, “I’m just not ready to submit it yet…” But Hazel more than makes up for being away, because she’s at Kennedy Space Center, and she sends me this picture (above). If you know me but at all, you’ll know how much this means to me.
SO FRAMING IT.
Here’s the thing with the launch, THE launch, my first one, in Dubray’s on Grafton Street: it’s been like a wedding. It feels as if not more important. I’ve been thinking about it and daydreaming about it and planning for it for more than a year. (Well, the daydreaming was definitely going on before that.) There’s a pit in my stomach where all the doomsday scenarios are hanging out: nobody will come, nobody will buy the book, everyone will come and everyone will buy the book and we’ll run out, I’ll get a ladder in my tights… And I’m really nervous about speaking, which is something I normally love doing. It’s all getting a bit much.
Is it too late to have another G&T?
(Yes, because the industrial-strength shapewear takes at least ten minutes to get off and back on.)
But… the launch goes amazingly well. It really does. And the main reason for this is that I get to enjoy it. As soon as I see friendly faces arrive, I start to relax. Even the speech goes really well. I start by talking about how it isn’t my first launch in Dubray’s; because I’ve such a talented bunch of writer friends, I’m at launches there all the time. “So,” I say, “please forgive me for this, but the first thing I want to say is… FINALLY! It’s my turn.”
That gets a good laugh, as does my top tip for getting published (“writing something”) and my instructions that, should I faint, just grab a scissors and cut me out of the underwear that is currently dissecting my spleen. There is one little moment when I realise what I’m doing, i.e. making a speech at my book launch, and my voice cracks and my vision blurs. Uh-oh. I’m crying. But I take a deep breath, tell myself to cop on and power through.
My writer friend Ellen sent me a lovely quote via Instagram that morning – “Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable” by Mary Oliver – and I think it’s the perfect note to end the speech on. But I don’t trust myself to say it so I get her to instead. It’s all great fun and at one point, even if it’s just for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hot second, #DistressSignals trends no. 1 in Dublin.
You can find all the launch pics on my Facebook page if you want to see more than what I’ve posted here. Huge thanks to Ger Holland who took all the professional shots on the night. Not only do I now have wonderful pictures to look back on, but she made us all look totally fab in them too. Hooray!
I’m in bed back at the hotel by a very reasonable hour (in my Distress Signals-matching pyjamas) but I can’t sleep. I’m too jazzed and am up scrolling through Twitter and Facebook well into the night. The next morning I’m hungover and sleep-deprived, so downing a bucket of Starbucks is the first item on my To Do list. After that I do a radio interview with a station in Cork and then hit the road with my publicist, Declan, to sign stock in Eason’s branches around the city and suburbs.
This is something a lot of authors do here in Dublin, but I wanted to add another element to my stock signing trip, namely something that would tie into Twitter. So: I brought goody bags. Remember all that blue, nautical stuff I was buying? That’s what that was for. At each location I left one or two behind and tweeted that the next person to buy a copy of Distress Signals would get the gift of a bag too.
Seeing piles of the book in store, signing them, meeting with booksellers – it was all so much fun, if completely surreal. And then, on the very last stop, I notice that I’m piled high next to Harlan Coben’s new book, Fool Me Once. This is the most surreal moment of the day, because Coben is my hero. Back in 2007, when I was living in the Netherlands, I took a train to Paris and back on the same day so I could attend a signing event he was doing in La Defense. When I got to the top of the queue, I found that I couldn’t coherently speak. I just kept smiling and nodding and let my friend Sheelagh do the talking for both of us. I was mortified, but hey, I’d met the great Harlan Coben and I had my signed book. Now, nine years later, I was looking at my book – my book?! – next to his. I put this on my personal Facebook and tagged him in it, and he left a comment on my post.
Bestseller lists? Awards? Good launch hair? Forget all that – Harlan Coben left a comment on my Facebook post!
So it was a really great, fun day, made even greater by the fact that I was home by mid-afternoon and so had time for a disco nap. Then it was back out for another gin-soaked dinner with Andrea, Eva and Michelle, who were all flying home the next morning. More fun, except—
Saturday morning. Back down to earth with a thud. All the excitement of the last few days, the running around, the dreams coming true, the gin… It’s all hitting me now and I can barely lift my head off the pillow. That’s a problem, because I have an exam at 2pm and I was supposed to get up with the dawn so I could try to cram enough facts about post-colonial literature into my brain to have something to write down come the afternoon. I keep hitting the snooze button and next thing I know, I’m out of time. I message my college buddy, Elaine, and tell her I’m thinking of not coming in, that I don’t think there’s any point, that I’m so underprepared there’s no way I’ll pass. She says, “Are you serious?” Well…
No. No, I should go. So I haul myself out of bed, throw myself into the shower for a second (I can get another day out of my launch hair, right?), eat an avocado with a spoon, swallow two espresso shots and run out the door. Do I pass the exam? I’ve no idea yet. I know I did better than I would’ve done if I’d stayed at home though. To get over the trauma, we head to a bar afterwards and have a French 75, which contains gin.
(I’m sensing a theme here. I really should have got Hendrick’s to sponsor this post.)
Dublin the next day – Sunday – is all blue skies and hot sun, but I’m spending it on a train to Cork. Launch No. 2 is Monday evening in Waterstone’s Patrick Street. Vanessa O’Loughlin, AKA Sam Blake, is coming down to launch it for me.
My attitude to this launch is totally different. I’m completely relaxed. I’m wearing a dress I’ve owned for years, I’m doing my own hair (badly) and I’ve arranged to meet Vanessa for a drink – yes, more gin – just before the bookshop bit. I’m that relaxed. But I shouldn’t be, because I’ve picked the absolute worst day for a launch. It’s a Monday, it’s raining like it did when the storm hit Isla Nublar in Jurassic Park and there’s been a traffic accident somewhere that makes the traffic absolutely apocalyptic. It’s going so slow it looks like that scene in The Walking Dead where Rick is approaching Atlanta while an endless line of abandoned cars snakes out of it. I think I’ll be walking into an empty shop, and wonder how long I can push the start time. But I’m actually one of the last to arrive. (My hair is disastrous, but we’ll get over that.)
My uncle took a video (above) of the Cork launch: Vanessa introducing me, me winging it and then my brother John reading the prologue of Distress Signals. (The speeches start at 1:35.)
Can I just say: it was very special for me to have my launch in that shop. I’ve been buying books in there for as long as I can remember – especially the “how to write books” kind of books. When I was as far away from my dream of getting published as I could be, I would go into Waterstone’s and buy a new one, and just reading it would spur me on. Getting to have my launch there was really special and BIG thanks to John and the rest of the staff for making it such a fab night, despite the rain and the traffic!
After a very late night, I was up early the next morning for more stock signings. This time, my brother was my chauffeur. I met some more lovely booksellers, saw my book in some more exciting places, and signed some more stock. Around lunchtime John and I are sitting in a Starbucks when I see that the piece I wrote for the Irish Times has gone up online (‘Catherine Ryan Howard on the secret of getting published: it’s all about the book’) and down the end of it is this:
I had no idea I was getting reviewed, so that’s excitement enough, but to know already what that review is going to say, and for it to be that brilliant… It’s just too much. The whole point really of the trade paperback (which is the print format Distress Signals has been published in) is to lay a foundation for the mass market paperback (the smaller one) which will come out a few months later. One of the key ways to do is to get reviews that you can put on the mass market paperback’s cover and here, not even a full week after publication, was ours. I was smiling to myself the whole way back to Dublin on the train, and not just because I had two bottles of champagne carefully wrapped in towels in my bag…
The plan was that I’d take the next day, Wednesday, off, i.e. have a sweatpants and Netflix day, and then starting Thursday it’d be cramming o’clock for my remaining two exams, which were one after the other in seven days’ time. Yes, that was the plan.
During my sweatpants and Netflix relax-a-thon, I fell asleep on the couch and woke up with an almighty crick in my neck. But no worries, I thought. It’s just because I slept funny. It’ll go away soon.
But it didn’t. The next day I went and got some heat packs (which look exactly like sanitary pads? Did nobody think that through?!) and some anti-inflammatories. They made me feel a bit better, but Vanessa Ronan’s launch for The Last Days of Summer was that evening, I was going, and I couldn’t really show up to it with what looked like a sanitary pad stuck to the side of my neck. So I just had to grin and bear it. Afterwards, I called into Dubray Books to see Distress Signals at No. 1 on their in-store chart for myself (below). By the time I got home, my neck was worse than ever. Cue me trying everything: more heat packs, heat packs and a travel neck pillow, Ibuprofen gel, pills which made my stomach hurt, excessive sleeping …
In the midst of all this, there was lots of newspaper-related excitement. I’ve self-published in the past, as you know, so seeing people talking online about your book, reviewing it, recommending it, etc. while absolutely wonderful, is something I’ve experienced before. Traditional media coverage, however, not so much. I’ve never been reviewed in newspapers. And the weekend after my Cork launch – the second weekend of Distress Signals’ published life – I was spoiled with coverage. There was the aforementioned Irish Times review, another wonderful review in the Irish Independent, a feature in the Irish Daily Mail’s You magazine, a mention in Woman’s Way magazine and I wrote the ‘My Week’ feature for the Irish Sunday Times, in which I fit everything I’ve blogged about in this post into just 850 words, something you’re probably wishing now I’d done today too.
But my neck was still killing me, and nothing was working. Finally, the same college buddy who’d told me to get out of bed and go sit my post-col exam recommended something called wintergreen oil which I had to go buy from a Chinese medicine shop and just trust that it was wintergreen oil, because the label was in Chinese. And even though I was dubious and it smelled awful, it was a miracle worker. Almost from the first application, the pain started to go away.
But by the time this happened, it was Sunday evening. I’d lost nearly all my study time and now it was just forty-eight hours until the first of two truly awful exams. But they were the two last ones, so I crammed in as much as I could and just got them out of the way.
I took the last one the day after Vanessa O’Loughlin’s launch (for Little Bones, as Sam Blake – yes, it is book launch season in Dublin, in case you’re wondering) which involved a spectacular after-party in a secret speakeasy (that we needed a password to get into! Best launch EVAH) during which I drank yet more gin-based cocktails. I felt so sick the next day, I nearly threw up all over my Realism: The Novel paper.
(But I didn’t. That’s the main thing.)
In the midst of all this, the wheels started turning on the American publication, which is currently slated for October. Distress Signals will be published in the States in hardback, e-book and audio. I saw the cover for the first time last week and I can’t WAIT to be able to show it to you, because I love, love, LOVE it. It’s really amazing. And now we’re getting ready to go through the manuscript again, copyediting with American English and Americans in mind.
And this morning, more newspaper excitement, because Distress Signals is at No. 8 in Ireland’s Original Fiction chart! Not only that, but I hear copies of it are lurking in some CrimeFest goody bags…
This is one of my favourite pictures taken at the launch in Dublin. It’s me laughing about the fact that I’ve started crying again, because when I first met the wonderful Monica McInerney at an Inkwell workshop back in 2010, she inscribed a copy of one of her novels to me with a message that said she couldn’t wait to read mine. I was reminding her of this when I started crying again.
Three thousand words later, I just want to finish with thanks. Thanks to everyone who has bought, read or reviewed the book. Thanks to the amazing book bloggers who have written reviews that I want to print out and keep in a book that can be used to ward off self-doubt in the future. Thanks to everyone who came to the launches, and who helped me annoy everyone else on Twitter by tweeting about it incessantly. Thanks to Jane Gregory, Corvus/Atlantic and Gill Hess. Thanks to the booksellers and all my writing friends. Thanks to YOU, for reading this.
Now, back to Book 2. I’m actually itching to get back to it after all this non-writing excitement. Between now and next weekend – when I’m in Enniscorthy for the Focal Wexford Literary Festival – I’m locking myself away to finish it. The reaction to Distress Signals has been truly amazing, but, um, it is piling the pressure on… (First world problems, I know.)
Distress Signals is currently just £1.99 on Kindle. Tell a friend! Or tell an enemy. I don’t mind. If you want to find out more about it first, you can do so here. In short, it’s about a serial killer on a cruise ship. (Or IS it?! Dum-dum-DUUUUUUUMMMMM.)
Now please excuse me while I go lie in a dark room and watch Bates Motel.
Dublin launch pics by Ger Holland Photography. Cork launch pic and video by Tom Ryan. Additional photos by Eva Heppel, Waterstone’s Cork, Marianne of Eason’s Mahon Point Cork, Gill Hess Ltd and Hazel Gaynor.