Big Dreams and Book Deals

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.

Three days later I got a text message from my friend Erin telling me that The Liar’s Girl was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel.

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.


Click here to read the deal announcement in Publishers Weekly.

The Times (Ireland):

RTE Entertainment:

Irish Times:

Hot Press:

The Echo (Cork):–a3f98681-d1b2-4ec1-9458-f80baf332ce0-ds

Irish Mirror:

How To Get An Edgar Nomination in 72 Easy Steps

Last week I wrote a new blog post for, or rather I updated an old one. I took my How To Get Published in 50 Easy Steps post and added the extra ones needed to get to where I am now, i.e. an Edgar nomination. It’s been a long, long road – that involved F1 Champion Jacques Villeneuve, Disneyworld and several John Mayer albums…

In May 2016, my biggest dream came true: my debut thriller, Distress Signals, was published. I had wanted to get a novel published since I was 8 years old and the journey to that moment had taken much longer and had many more twists than I ever could’ve anticipated. To mark the occasion, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek blog post called How To Get Published in 50 Easy Steps.

Last week I learned that my second novel, The Liar’s Girl, has been nominated for an Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America. Their coveted Best Novel award has been awarded since 1954 and previous winners include titans of the genre like Raymond Chandler, Ian Rankin, Minette Walters, Dennis Lehane and Stephen King, who won it in 2015 for Mr Mercedes. I can’t say this is a dream come true, because I didn’t even dream it! To be even tenuously linked to such names is beyond incredible and it’s only in the last few days – helped, probably, by my latest deadline on Book 3, ahem – that I’ve come back down to earth.

And so now, to mark THIS occasion, I’ve updated my list.


Introducing… REWIND

Ten years ago this year, I did something slightly dramatic and incredibly reckless: I quit my Proper Job and booked myself into a holiday home by the sea in East Cork. (I totally blame Alex Barclay for this because I read an interview where she said she finished her first novel in holiday homes around Ireland in the wintertime.) This holiday home was actually not very close to the sea, it was more like in the middle of nowhere. And it was November. And I don’t drive and I was alone. The idea was that with no wifi, no company and only two channels of static on the TV, I’d get loads of writing done. And I did. But in an isolated house in the desolate cold of an Irish coastal winter – a house that felt like it had more windows than solid walls – I also didn’t get a proper night’s sleep for six weeks.

What was weird about this house was that, due to the aforementioned windows and isolation, it could be scary even during the day. There were huge double doors that led to the rear garden from the kitchen, and that garden was communal, i.e. there were no fences, walls, etc. Typing away at the kitchen table, I often wondered: what would I do if I looked up and a strange man was standing at the window, looking in at me? (Clearly born to be a crime writer, these were perfectly normal thoughts for me. How can a serial killer get me here?) There was no one around. I had no mobile phone reception. Glass is breakable. What would I do?


Image credit:

Flash-forward now, I think, to the summer of 2016. I’m on holidays in one of my favourite places – a much nicer place than that holiday home – AKA Villefranche-sur-Mer, just outside Nice, France. My friend Andrea says, ‘Did you see what Postsecret posted on Instagram today?’ I take a look. It’s a picture of a bedroom and the secret on it says, ‘I swap hidden sex camera videos with other AirB&B hosts.’ I think, first of all, boy am I glad I never stayed in an AirB&B and then, immediately after that, what if you were doing that and you got more than you bargained for? What if you captured a murder on tape? How could you report it without revealing your own criminality? What if the murderer – somehow – knew the camera was there and who was watching?

This week, I revealed the cover for my third novel, Rewind. It’ll be published by Corvus in the UK and Ireland on September 5 and I hope to have American publication information for you soon (stay tuned). I am very, very, VERY excited about this one. Not only is the cover amazeballs, but I’ve had a lot of fun writing this book because of its structure. The idea is you’re ‘watching’ a ‘tape’ – but you start watching it in the middle. Then you have rewind to see what led up to this moment, at other points you fast-forward into the investigation, and sometimes you just let it play. What really happened will be presented to you out of order, but when you get to ‘The End’ – or STOP – you’ll know the whole, shocking truth.




Andrew, the manager of Shanamore Holiday Cottages, watches his only guest via a hidden camera in her room. One night the unthinkable happens: a shadowy figure emerges onscreen, kills her and destroys the camera. But who is the murderer? How did they know about the camera? And how will Andrew live with himself?



Natalie wishes she’d stayed at home as soon as she arrives in the wintry isolation of Shanamore. There’s something creepy about the manager. She wants to leave, but she can’t – not until she’s found what she’s looking for…



Psycho meets Fatal Attraction in this explosive story about a murder caught on camera. You’ve already missed the start. To get the full picture you must rewind the tape and play it through to the end, no matter how shocking…

From the bestselling crime writer shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger, the Irish Crime Novel of the Year and the Edgar Award for Best Novel comes an explosive story about a twisted voyeur and a terrible crime.


Click here to pre-order the Kindle edition (Amazon UK)

Click here to pre-order the paperback edition (Amazon UK)

Comments are closed here but you can let me know what you think on Twitter and Instagram at @cathryanhoward. 


Signs and Corners

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that the Saturday night before last, at precisely 1:44am, a framed print I have hanging above my desk that says Something wonderful is about to happen suddenly fell off the wall.

I was at the bottom of a bottle of wine and into the second series of my West Wing re-watch, and after a long, dark and dull start to January (plagued by the plague *coughs*), I wanted it to be a sign that something wonderful was going to happen, and not merely that Blu-Tac is an ineffective material for hanging picture frames.


I was in Paris in July 2016 when my friend Erin sent me a text message from the CWA Daggers shortlist announcement. I knew Distress Signals was on the longlist for the John Creasey New Blood Dagger, but I had no expectations that I’d advance any further. Erin promised me she would text either way so when my phone beeped, I presumed it was with a ‘Hard luck’ message – but she was texting to say I’d made the shortlist.

Growing up, devouring every crime novel I could get my hands on, the same two awards kept popping up on the About The Author pages: the Edgars, awarded by the Mystery Writers of America, and the Daggers, awarded by the Crime Writers Association of the UK. So this, for me, was A Very Big Deal and probably the highlight of my writing career.

Last Tuesday afternoon, I got another message from Erin, but this one was completely out of the blue and totally mind-boggling. This time, she was texting to tell me that The Liar’s Girl had just been nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel. What?!?!?

Some context: the Edgar awards, named for Edgar Allan Poe, are awarded each year by the Mystery Writers of America to “the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction and television” and are “widely acknowledged to be the most prestigious in the genre”. If the Edgars are the Academy Awards of crime fiction, the Best Novel category is the equivalent of Best Picture. A judging panel of 8 whittled more than 500 entries down to a shortlist of 6 and The Liar’s Girl is – miraculously – on there.


I’m fairly sure I’m the only Irish author nominated this year and I’m pretty sure I’m only the second female Irish author ever to be nominated in this category. (Tana French is the other, for Faithful Place.) Previous winners of Best Novel include names like Raymond Chandler, Stephen King and – anyone who knows me will know what a big deal this is to me – Michael Crichton. (Writing under a pen name because he was still in med school, but STILL.) More recently, the winner of Best Novel was Flynn Berry, who wrote a crime novel so good – Under the Harrow – I broke my lifelong rule of not taking a pencil to books because I simply had to underline some of her stunning sentences.

Because of all this, I’m typing this a whole week later and I’m STILL muttering, ‘I can’t believe this has happened’ and periodically checking the Edgar shortlists online to check that I’m still there.

The ceremony is in New York on April 25. Stand by 24/7 Instagram updates from the City In Which Catherine Definitely Won’t Sleep Because She’ll Be Too Overwhelmed And Excited.

Writing books for a living is a wonderful but weird job to have, and it can be an emotional rollercoaster. My Inspiration Project partners in crime, Hazel Gaynor and Carmel Harrington, and I often talk about corners – about how, at any moment on any given day, you can get a phone call or an email with amazing news. It could be something major, like a new foreign deal, or it could just be something nice, like being invited to a festival you’ve always enjoyed going to. But with your books out in the world, the possibility is always there. Last Tuesday afternoon, I was sitting on my couch sorting out my laundry on a grey, dull, cold January day when, without getting up, I turned a corner.

Something wonderful did happen.

Bargain alert! If you live in the UK or Ireland, you can download The Liar’s Girl in e-book for just 99p for a limited time.

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Writers, Go Forth and Binge-Watch Netflix

I often think of the additional books I might have written if it wasn’t for the invention of Netflix, and I mourn them. I watch so much Netflix and I almost always do it in a binge.

Last summer I started what I’ve heard referred to as ‘extreme scheduling’, i.e. the only kind of extreme anything you’ll ever catch me doing, which is where you use an hourly planner to keep track of and/or to plan out your days. The same week I discovered Project Runway. There’s four (old) series of it on Irish Netflix, each of which have about 14 episodes, each of which are approximately 40 minutes long.

That’s 37 hours of television which I blasted all the way through in the space of about eight days.

This despite the fact that I was supposed to be writing the first draft of Book 3, Rewind (coming September 2019; more on that soon) and that, as per my Must Write This Amount of Words In Order Not To Be Late calculations, I was on track to not finish in time.

Thirty-seven hours. I had to write that down in my planner and look at it in black and white. I felt terrible about it. Shameful and guilty and icky and stressed. But yet I still hit PLAY NEXT EPISODE every time I was given the option.

My brain just doesn’t do rewards. I can’t say to myself, ‘I’ll write now, and save this as a reward for when my draft is submitted.’ Instead I say something like, ‘I want to watch this now, and the wanting is distracting me, so I think it’s better that I down tools and watch it now and then write later instead.’ I wasn’t going to change. I wasn’t going to stop binge-watching Netflix.

So I needed to justify it – and that’s why we’re here today. Here’s why I think all writers should be watching Netflix, lots…

Netflix Helps You Write

If you haven’t watched Set It Up on Netflix (five times already, ahem) then you definitely you should. Immediately.

It’s a smart, funny and fresh rom-com that also contains one of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever come across.

Harper is the very much overworked and underpaid assistant to Kirsten, the founder of an online sports news site, but she dreams of being a sports journalist herself. She was hoping that sticking it out as Kirsten’s assistant might help her writing career, but there’s a crucial problem: Harper has never actually written anything. When she finally opens up her laptop, she feels like everything she’s writing is a pile of molten sh*te and despair ensues. But then her roommate gives her some great advice. She tells her, ‘You’re not a bad writer – yet.

One of the biggest lessons you have to learn when you start out as a writer is that the first draft of anything is sh*t. Listen to me: the first draft of anything is sh*t. Because I’d heard that time and time again and yet, when I sat down to write, I got frustrated that the words on the page weren’t matching the vision I had of my book in my head. But realising – accepting – that you’ll never get to that amazing fifth draft without writing drafts 1 through 4 (or however many) is a game-changer. And it’s something you may have to accept again and again, as I did, when I sat down to write Book 2. And Book 3…

You can’t skip that step, you have to write through it. You can’t evaluate your work on your first attempt. You’re not a bad writer – yet.

Netflix Helps You Write Better

A few months ago, Netflix released The Good Cop. I was looking forward to watching it because it starred Josh Groban and I very much enjoy looking at his face. Plus it was from the creator of Monk, which was incredibly popular and I think multi-award-winning.

But I only got 12 minutes into the first episode before I turned it off.


Why? Because in those first 12 minutes, characters repeatedly said things like this:

‘That’s a nice way to talk to your father.’

‘You talked to Chuck Finch? […] ‘You’re not supposed to talk to anyone in the department. It’s a condition of your parole. […] Especially Finch. He was on your crew, for God’s sake.’

‘Oh, it’s Cora now? How sweet. My son and my parole officer.’

‘Don’t quote your mother at me. I was married to the woman for 29 years.’

‘You asked me to sell my liquor licence, I sold it. No problem. You asked me to move in with my kid, here I am… You gave me 90 days to find a job. I’ll do it. I still got 3 weeks left.’

‘Save your tears, Captain. Jack was dead to you 8 years ago, the second he agreed to testify.’

Now, disclaimer: I’m not a TV writer. I didn’t create a show that drew in millions of viewers and won awards. I can only evaluate this as a viewer, and as a viewer, I was annoyed. Because it felt like the characters weren’t having real conversations, but dumping chunks of exposition into everything they said. Show me Tony Danza’s character is father to Josh Groban’s character. Show me that his parole officer is in a relationship with his son. Show me that he’s living with his son against his will. And if none of that is possible, find a way to tell me in dialogue that feels like real people talking in real life.

Clunky exposition is the kind of thing where, once you notice it, every subsequent occurrence is mercilessly amplified. I’m sure loads of people watched this show without noticing this at all, but apparently not enough of them to convince Netflix to do a second season. Personally, 12 minutes in, I just couldn’t take any more.

When something someone else has written doesn’t strike you as ‘right’, ask yourself why it doesn’t. You can learn a lot about what not to do that way. It’s always easier to see mistakes in other people’s work (unfortunately!).

Oh well. I did very much enjoy looking at Josh Groban’s face…

Netflix Helps You Deal With Rejection

And finally, back to Project Runway.

If you’ve never watched it, it’s basically a reality competition show like The X-Factor or The Voice, except it’s for fashion designers. Michael Costello was a contestant on the 8th season, who was sent home first in the finale, in fourth place.

And he was devastated. Broken. CRUSHED. He looked like he was in physical pain and he was clearly struggling to accept that his chance of getting his dream – the prize is to show a collection at New York Fashion Week – was gone, over. He was inconsolable. In an interview filmed shortly afterwards, his eyes still red from crying, he said, ‘I just couldn’t take it. The first thing that came to my head was my family… Once they see it, they’re going to say, “See? Just give that up now.”‘ I was heartbroken for him, watching it.

Then I Googled his name to see what he was up to now.

Four years later, Michael Costello dressed Beyonce for the Grammy awards, on a night when she took home 3 of them, and his career has just been on an upward trajectory since then. He’s designed gowns for Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys and Katy Perry, and Oprah has personally delivered him pizza. He is living his dream, and it’s probably bigger and better than he ever imagined.

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I know of a time in my writing life when I had pinned all my hopes on getting a ‘Yes!’ from someone who then said, ‘Thanks but no thanks’. I was devastated then too. I didn’t see a way forward. It felt like this could be the only way, and now the door had closed on me. But you know what actually happened? I got a better version of the thing later. It was actually good that I got rejected that time. And that’s happened a few times to me. Rejection is part of the journey, not the end of it.

So next time you get a rejection, think of Michael Costello. And don’t feel bad about mainlining four seasons of Project Runway in the space of a week. Not too bad, anyway…

[Catherine’s Deadline: What the actual—?]

A note: one of my writing goals for 2019 is to get back into blogging on a limited basis, so 1-2 blog posts a month. But I’ve decided to turn off the comments. For chat, I’m over on Twitter, where I’m @cathryanhoward. Happy New Year! 

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New around these parts? Click HERE to find out more about The Liar’s Girl, my latest book, or click HERE to find out more about me. Tickets are still available for The Inspiration Project in Cork on January 26, which you can find out more about by clicking HERE.

So You Want To Publish A Novel

In the past week I’ve visited a lovely writers’ group in Drogheda and taught a crime-writing workshop in a converted church, and at both events I brought along my plotting poster for the third and final draft of Distress Signals. Its four different coloured sheets of A4 card taped together at the creases, one for each part (Act I, Act II Part 1, Act II Part 2, Act III), and each one is covered in Post-Its, scribbles, reminders, instructions and scene summaries. You might have seen pictures of it on this blog before. Whenever I unfold it in a room of writers, it always gets greeted with the same noise: a collective Oooh. I don’t know if it’s because people are impressed, or terrified, or wondering how I ever actually wrote the book seeing as I spent so much time messing around with sticky notes and marker pens.

There’s less than a fortnight to go now to our Inspiration Project presents Refreshers Week event here in Dublin and this morning I thought I should post a short video of my messy, sprawling master plan and then the small, neat, lovely book that was the eventual product of it. The tutorial I’m teaching on the day, The Dreaded Synopsis, should help bridge the gap – and that’s what I was going to say when I posted the video.

Except I started thinking that, actually, the book started with an article in the Guardian’s Weekend magazine, and there was a lot of coffee involved, and a number of drafts…

And then, well, let’s just say I got a bit carried away.

So here is everything you need to get published, or how I got from dream to Dagger award. (Spot my plotting poster.) Enjoy! A handful of tickets are still available for our Inspiration Project event. You can find out more here.

(Okay, so yes, I am blogging again after a six month break. But-but-but… I’m finally done with college and the worst part of Book 3, i.e. the first draft, is done too, so hopefully it won’t be another six months before I blog again.)