It’s National Hangover Day here in Ireland—I mean, um, it’s a Bank Holiday Monday because St Patrick’s Day fell on a Sunday—but I’m up early to share some news. You may have seen me tweet about it over the weekend: I’ve signed a major deal with my American publishers, Blackstone, for six more books.
Nine years ago this month, in March 2010, I stopped merely talking about how my biggest dream was to work as a writer for a living and actually did something about it, even though that something was never in the original plan. I self-published a memoir that was, I like to think, as much as mildly amusing (in parts), about my time working in Walt Disney World in Florida, i.e. Mousetrapped. This, through a series of fortunate events, led to speaking engagements, workshop gigs, invites to book festivals, a job with a major publisher and two more self-published titles. I worked my butt off during these years—sadly not literally—and was pretty much permanently attached to my laptop at all hours of the day and night.
But my dream had always been to get published and self-publishing, no matter what dizzy heights of success it could theoretically bring, was never going to be enough for me. So I kept trying to write novels. I only ever managed to finish two, the second of which was Dark Waters, a thriller about a serial killer on a cruise ship.
Four years ago this month, in March 2015, I got The Phone Call I’d been dreaming of getting all my adult life: it was my agent, Jane, telling me that my novel, now called Distress Signals, had been pre-empted as part of a two-book deal by Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books in London. (Actually all I remember her saying is, ‘We have an offer…’ and the rest of the conversation is a blur.) That meant the book would be published in the UK and Ireland. Shortly thereafter, an American publisher called Blackstone also took Distress Signals in a two-book deal for North America. Blackstone had been in the audiobook business for more than three decades by this point but their publishing division was a new venture. I was one of its first acquisitions.
I had dreamed of being a writer since I was a child, ever since I figured out that someone actually sat down and wrote the books I loved, and that that could be your job. Distress Signals was published a month before my thirty-fourth birthday. It’s very hard for something you’ve fantasised about for that long to live up to your expectations and you also have to learn how to be a published author. I’ve often said it’s a job like any other and publishers should run a sort of induction course or orientation for their newbies. (Seriously!) There’s a lot of floundering in that first year.
The other thing is that even though you’ve spent years and years thinking If I just got a book on the shelf I’ll be blissfully happy forever no matter what else does or doesn’t happen, in reality you’re happy for about five minutes and then you want more. You want the next thing, the bigger thing. A number one bestseller. A blurb from Stephen King. A phone call from Reese Witherspoon. (Reese, I’m at home all day today, okay? CALL ANY TIME.)
That’s not to say amazing things didn’t happen. They absolutely did. Distress Signals was optioned for television. It was shortlisted for the Irish Crime Novel of the Year and the CWA’s John Creasey/New Blood Dagger Award. I saw my books on the shelves of my favourite bookshops and got messages from readers thanking me for happy hours of reading. I got to watch Netflix and call it work. (Well…) My stationery addiction became a business expense.
Despite some serious Second Novel Syndrome, I managed to write a second novel, The Liar’s Girl, which was published last year. Shortly before that came out, I signed new deals on both sides of the Atlantic for two more books. Rewind will be out in September and a fourth, working title The Nothing Man—which I should really be writing instead of this thesis-length blog post—will be out next year. So that’s four books under contract, for those counting.
Meanwhile me and my very bestest writing buddies and unpaid therapists, Carmel Harrington and Hazel Gaynor, had assembled around some G&Ts and set up The Inspiration Project. By now, all three of us were making a living as writers and yet, time and time again, we read articles and sat in the audience at literary events and listened to people say that such a thing was impossible, that writing for a living meant living in poverty or doing loads of other things as well. We were Irish writers who, because we wrote genre/commercial fiction, were unlikely to be lauded on ‘Irish Writing’ lists, but we were living out our dreams and we wanted to help other people do the same. Plus when the three of us get together we have loads of graic, which is a word I just made up this minute that means gin-infused craic. (Just go with it, okay?)
Despite all this, at the start of this year, I was feeling a bit meh. I think the lowest point for any author is equidistant between two publication dates—you’re working so hard trying to make a deadline, but it doesn’t feel like anything is actually happening, there’s no forward motion—and it didn’t help that January this year was approximately 812 dark days long. Then, in the early hours of Sunday 20th, at 1:44am to be precise, my Something wonderful is about to happen sign suddenly fell off the wall above my desk. I have 10-12 framed things hanging above there and none of them had ever fallen off before. (Something Wonderful was the only one up there with Blu-Tack, but ssshhh.) I was at the bottom of a bottle of wine and on cold and flu medication and utterly convinced that THIS WAS A SIGN.
The Edgars, awarded by the Mystery Writers of America, are like the Academy Awards of the crime writing world and as I type these words that news is nearly two months old and I still can’t wrap my head around it. Best Novel’s previous winners include Ian Rankin, Dennis Lehane and Stephen King. I never thought I’d have anything to do with the Edgars in my entire career, let alone Best Novel, let alone my second book. But in the midst of organising my trip to New York for the ceremony and looking for something to wear to it (a navy dress, OF COURSE), something even more amazing happened: Blackstone made an incredible offer for the North American rights to my next six books.
Book deals tend to come in ones, twos or threes. I was mildly terrified by the idea of six but I love working with Blackstone and the offer was one I just couldn’t refuse. (I’ve had a few, let’s say, polite enquiries about how much the deal is worth. I really think writers should talk about money more, because knowledge is power, but I don’t want to give away the farm. So let’s compromise. I will point you in the direction of information that is freely available: American publishing has a kind of code for the value of book deals, and major means $500,000 and up.)
I think one of the reasons I got asked to do so many talks, workshops, etc. back in my self-publishing days was because I was always realistic about it. I said, ‘Here is this great thing you can do, but it’s not the same as getting published, and I still want that to happen for me in the future.’ I’d been rejected, but I didn’t take it personally. I didn’t have a chip on my shoulder about the [insert eye roll here] gatekeepers, and I didn’t want to burn traditional publishing to the ground. But I often found myself in front of people who did. And—probably because I was relatively young, blonde, female, and often wearing pink (I guess…?)—they felt they could smirk at me, or argue, or go home and write nasty comments about what an idiot I was online. One man nearly derailed a day-long workshop by telling me this up front, during the introductions. Another effectively ruined a special occasion for me because I had the words of his awful blog comment running around my head all day. One woman, during a Q&A, sat back, folded her arms across her chest, tipped her chin at me and said, ‘Oh, you think you’re going to get a six-figure deal, is that it?’ in a tone that was just dripping with condescension. But my silent answer was yes! Yes, I do! I just knew that one day, somehow, I would prove them wrong. All I had to do was keep going and hang on. I’m not bringing this up as a told-you-so. I bring it up because I think you should ignore the Negative Nellies too. Keep going and hang on.
So that’s the news, a few thousand words later. In other news, I’m coming to America! I’ll be at the Edgars Symposium and BookExpo/Con in New York City, and I’m doing three (!) events at the Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley on May 4th. Closer to home, I’m teaching a five-day crime writing workshop at West Cork Literary Festival in July and last I heard they were only three places left on it. This weekend I did my last job as an author on Rewind, i.e. checking the page proofs. It will be out in September in North America/UK/Ireland. You can pre-order here for the US and here for the UK/Ireland.
I know some of you reading this have been around since the pink typewriter days of ‘Catherine, Caffeinated’ which I started on February 1, 2010. Haven’t we come a long way? Thank you, sincerely, for sticking around.
Seriously though, I need to stop with the long blog posts now.
I’ve got approximately 700,000 words to write.
The Times (Ireland):