In The White Album, Joan Didion says that we tell ourselves stories in order to live. ‘We live entirely,’ she writes, ‘especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.’ In other words: we assign nice, neat storylines to what are really just random events in our lives in order to make sense of them. I do this all the time and fair warning: I’m about to do it three times in this post.
If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I’m just back from an absolutely amazing trip to the United States. (Also: sorry! There were a LOT of updates.) First, I headed to New York to attend the Edgar Awards, where The Liar’s Girl was up for Best Novel. (Walter Mosley won, but I can’t be sad about that because Walter Mosley won.) In the days before the ceremony itself, I realised a dream by spending a night in The Library Hotel, did a bookshop crawl armed with ARCs of Rewind and tiny bottles of an Irish whiskey called Writers’ Tears, sat on a panel at the Edgars Symposium and finally got to meet the amazing team from Blackstone, my American publishers. Then I headed to San Francisco where I was a guest speaker at an ‘Irish in SF’ breakfast at the Irish Consulate, and from there it was onwards to Berkeley where I had a wonderful few days at the brilliant Bay Area Book Festival, speaking on the ‘Criminally Good Writing’ and ‘Writing Irish’ panels, and doing, um, let’s say a dramatic reading of my ‘The Girl With Girl in Her Title’ piece at their Noir at the Bar event.
Click on any of these images to see bigger versions.
I was away for seventeen days and nearly every one was filled with new experiences, new people and new things to be excited about. It got to the point where I almost wanted to take a day off from it, just so I could sit in a dark, quiet place and think about the amazing things that had happened and appreciate them. I began to fear that I’d forget some of them or that I’d start to feel blasé about, you know, getting invited to speak at a consulate (even if the event started at 7:30am. STARTED), or getting invited to a book festival where Joyce Carol Oates was also on the bill (even though I never saw her), or getting invited to a party that Harlan Coben had also been invited to (and then being too afraid of radiating Annie Wilkes vibes to speak to him). But fear not: my story-loving brain was on hand, taking all these amazing events, joining them up, arranging chronologies, imposing narrative threads…
Three Years To The Day
I now have an accomplice in this assigning-narratives business. Or perhaps enabler is a better word…? I speak, of course, of Facebook Memories.
On the morning of Thursday, 25 April 2019, I woke up in New York City. It was a stunningly beautiful morning and I spent it strolling through Central Park admiring the cherry blossoms. Then two strangers came to my hotel room armed with a hairdryer and a case of potions and worked their magic, and when they were done I shimmied my way into some industrial-strength
shapingconstricting undergarments and took the elevator down to the ballroom to attend the Edgar Awards as a nominee. I won’t take up another blog post with how much this meant to me – you can read that by clicking here – but it was a lot. In summary: I honestly thought the Edgars was something I wouldn’t come into contact with during the entire length of my career, let alone on my second book. Sitting in a room filled with writers I’m in awe of, wearing a name-tag with a red Nominee tag, seeing The Liar’s Girl projected on the big screen by the words ‘Best Novel’ alongside just five other books… It was crazy.
But here’s what was even crazier: at some point during the day, Facebook Memories informed me that exactly three years earlier – on 25 April, 2016 – I walked into Dubray Books on Grafton Street, Dublin, and saw Distress Signals on a bookshop shelf for the very first time.
Publishing is a strange business to be in. There’s a lot of hurry up and wait, and when the realities of it hit, there can be some crushing disappointments. But three years from first shelf sighting to the goddamn Edgar Awards?
That was something to celebrate.
And I did. But after shimmying back out of the aforementioned undergarments.
The First Real Writer
The first writer I ever met in real life was Mike McCormack: author of Solar Bones, winner of the Dublin International Literary Award, national literary treasure. He came to my school when I was 16 – that would’ve been 1998 – to talk to my class about writing and stories and books. Things are different for young aspiring-writer now. They can talk to their favourite writers directly on Twitter and there’s endless conferences, etc. But until that moment, I had never encountered an actual writer in the flesh. The girls who wanted to be doctors or lawyers or teachers met their role models in the course of everyday life, but when did you ever meet writers? It had a big effect on me and made me think that, actually, maybe I could do this. Maybe I could be one.
The second time I met Mike was a couple of weeks ago, on the day we were both guest speakers at an event at the Irish Consulate in San Francisco. It was just as interesting to listen him to talk about writing and stories and books all these years later, but this time I was sitting alongside him, talking about my own writing and stories and books as well.
I tried not to think about the 16-year-old with the hair she’d bleached at home, crazy dreams and absolutely no idea how she was going to get to where she wanted to go because I would’ve been… Well, hashtag totes emosh.
But I was delighted for her.
(Of course I told him, and he remembered the visit. Potentially because I’m pretty sure we’re the only school in the nation with bright purple uniforms.)
Getting home commenced on the second last day of my trip, with a flight from San Francisco to JFK. It was supposed to be a boring day and I was looking forward to it for that reason: I wanted the exciting amazing things to stop happening so I could reflect on all the exciting amazing things that had happened and send my head home ahead of me, where Book 4: Draft 1 really needed me back at my desk. But then the festival organisers told me that another writer was getting the same flight back and so we’d be sharing a car to the airport, and that writer turned out to be—
Well, let me back up. I went to university as a mature student; I just graduated last year. In place of a dissertation I wrote a 10,000-word piece of narrative non-fiction, which meant spending my entire final year elbows-deep in the work of A British Author because the piece was about something that had happened to him. A British Author is lauded but not especially well known and so anytime I explained to anyone what I was working on, I had to explain who he was and what had happened to him as well.
And then I meet this other writer and we put our suitcases in the car and chat as heavy rush-hour traffic slows our route into San Francisco and I discover that she’s an editor too, at a New York publishing house, and that one of her authors is A British Author and that one of the books of his she edited was one of the books I wrote about.
I honestly can’t tell you how I felt in the moment of finding this out. The situation was so utterly improbable. I’m pretty sure no other undergrad has ever written about A British Author, at least not in the way that I did. (The thing that happened was a very recent event.) Then a year after I submit the piece I travel 8,000 miles from my home to attend a book festival and am randomly sent back to the airport with another author who is also an editor who I discover by chance has A British Author as one of her authors. So improbable but also so exciting: someone to talk to about my specialist subject without having to explain anything about it first. I will tell you this: as soon as I could I sent a message to Elaine, my college buddy and the only one who truly knows how much time I spent poring over pages written by A British Author, and that message had lots of exclamation marks in it and was typed in ALL CAPS.
It was supposed to be a boring day. Just travel. Planes, (Air)Trains and automobiles. But instead it was the twist after the end, the one in the final few pages that really makes it a satisfying read.
It was the perfect ending.
In other news, we’ve announced our next Inspiration Project presents Refreshers Week event! Yes! More exclamation marks! This September we’re heading to the STUNNING dlr LexIcon Library in Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin. Find out more/book your place on The Inspiration Project website.
I very nearly fell over when I saw that The Guardian included The Liar’s Girl in its list of 50 Great Thrillers by Women. Thank you so much to Sarah Ward for including it as one her picks. P.S. if you’re in the UK/Ireland, the e-book is currently on sale for mere sofa change. Sofa change, I tell you!
The other news it that tomorrow, I’m off to NYC again. On Wednesday I’ll be joining Kalisha Buckhanon, Helen Philips, Chris Pavone, Riley Sager and Karin Slaughter on the ‘Thriller Quest’ panel at the Library Journal Day of Dialog. Then on Thursday I’ll be at the Blackstone booth (#1411) at BookExpo for an ARC giveaway/signing of Rewind, and on Sunday I’ll be back there doing the same at BookCon. More info here.
Brace yourself for more Instagram stories.