Why Paris Is Always A Good Idea

Rewind to exactly two weeks ago and find me arriving in Paris, getting to live out a dream: to spend a week at the Centre Culturel Irlandais, or the Irish Cultural Centre.

This is a facility for Irish writers, students, etc. smack bang in the heart of literary Paris. Three minutes’ walk away: Place Contrascarpe, where Hemingway had his first apartment in Paris. Five minutes’ walk away: the Luxembourg Gardens, where he frequently retreated to. Ten minutes’ walk away: Shakespeare & Co, the famous bookshop that first published Ulysses. (There’s so much more, but you get the idea.) The centre itself is down a quiet street, where a heavy green door reveals a tranquil inner courtyard. My room was filled with light and offered a beautiful view of a lush, ivy-covered neighbouring building and a rolling sea of Parisian rooftops (just like— Okay, okay. I’ll stop with the Hemingway now.) Ahead of me stretched a week of writing, Paris and streetside cafe cremes. I was giddy with bliss.

I didn’t even know this place existed until last year when, stood at the end of Rue Soufflot waiting for the lights to change, I looked up and saw a sign for Rue de Irlandais. Google told me what was there and why there was an ‘Irish Street’.  Later, I dashed through April rains to meet my writing friend Elizabeth R. Murray at Notre Dame. She was, by coincidence, in the city with her husband, and we talked about our CCI daydreams. Now, she left a comment on one of the photos I posted saying she was headed to a retreat in Iceland soon, for a month. I laughed and said that we might be in danger of propagating the myth that writers live an enviable, champagne lifestyle…

The next day I was up with the dawn. I eyed my laptop but then decided play first, work later. Everyone goes on about Paris sunsets, but I love the mornings the most. I walked from the CCI to the Eiffel Tower via the Musée d’Orsay (with the help of a few cafe cremes), but by mid-afternoon, I was feeling guilty: the copyeditor had sent The Liar’s Girl back to me a couple of days before, and I had to go through the manuscript to check the changes, answer queries, etc. I took a pre-packed sandwich and a Coke back to my room, opened my laptop and got to work, trying to ignore the fact that outside, Paris was waiting impatiently.

I was also trying to studiously ignore something else: that at seven o’clock Paris time, the Dagger shortlists would be announced at an event in London.

The Daggers are awarded by the Crime Writers’ Association and judged by a panel of crime-writing aficionados, and it seems like every crime writer I loved growing up had the word ‘Dagger’ somewhere in their author bio. They’re a big deal to me. As a reader, I was looking forward to them pointing me in the direction of new books to read. As a writer, they weren’t even on my radar.

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Back in May, I spent twenty-four hours at Crimefest. I was home barely thirty minutes when I got a text message from Andy, a writer friend: she was at the Dagger longlist announcement, and she’d just heard my name read out. This was so out of left-field for me I was scared to tweet anything in case it was a mistake, so I waited (and waited and waited…) until official confirmation had been posted online. Yes, Distress Signals had been longlisted for the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger award.

(What?!)

Tonight, I would again find out by text message. My friend (and Betty’s of Harrogate buddy) Erin was going to the announcement and had offered to let me know if I’d made the shortlist. Sitting in my room in Paris, I was thinking how awful it was going to be for Erin to have to text me to say ‘Sorry, but…’ but also about the fact that I was a published writer and I was sitting in bloody Paris, for God’s sake, so there was absolutely no need to be disappointed, whatever happened.

The clock ticked closer to seven. I tried to concentrate on my copyedits and pretend not to care. Then I decided that I was so not going to care, I was going to go out. I’d get a drink somewhere, gaze adoringly at Notre Dame  or the Eiffel Tower off in the distance for a while. I stood up, grabbed my bag. I was looking for my key when I heard a little beep: a text message. (Please excuse my, ahem, French response.)

Amazingly, Distress Signals has now been shortlisted for a Dagger. Paris is always a good idea!

You can read more about the Daggers and view all the books on all the Dagger shortlists here.

Guest Post: Why Write A Book?

Today I have a guest post from the lovely Andrea Mara, whose debut, The Other Side of the Wall, was published recently. Dublin is a busy place for book launches during the summer, and unfortunately Andrea and Carmel, a friend of mine, had theirs on the same night, and without some sort of cloning machine I couldn’t make both. I like to support other authors (because I know, quite well, the horrible, gnawing fear that no one will show up to your book launch!) so to make up for the fact that I couldn’t physically go to her launch, I invited Andrea on here instead. Take it away, Andrea! 

Why did you want to write a book?

That the question that came today from my five-year-old, as only the simplest questions with the most complex answers do. (How does sound come out of the radio? How do gears in a car work?)

Why did I want to write a book? It’s a good question, and I don’t know if I have the answer. If the question is simply why do you write? the answer is easy – it’s one a writing friend often gives when she’s asked the same question. I can’t not write.

But that refers to blogging, or general navel-gazing type writing.

If I break the kinds of writing I do into compartments – blogging, features, and fiction – then blogging is the one I truly, truly enjoy and do willingly, or even more than that, do compulsively.

And perhaps that’s logical – blogging is not paid, I have no boss, no word count, no timer, no rules, no deadlines. I’m not beholden to anyone. I can write about anything that comes into my head – how much I hate driving, saying goodbye to my old couch (four of us cried, so it got its own memorial blog post), or the time I got my brows tinted and ended up looking like someone Sellotaped a caterpillar to my forehead.

It is said that if you can make your hobby your job, you’ll be happy for life, and for sure, if you’re lucky enough to do that, work is likely to be a lot more fulfilling than doing a job you hate.

But at the same time, once anything becomes work, it becomes, well, work. If you have to complete it by a certain time, to a certain standard, ready for judgement by one or many people, it takes on a new dimension and might not be quite as much fun. And that’s all very well when it’s a 1,200 word feature for a newspaper, something that can be completed in a few days or weeks, but what about a book? 100, 000 words; life-suspending deadlines; Christmas-cancelling pressure, and no idea if in the end anyone will like it – who would willingly do that? I can see where my five-year-old is coming from.

I don’t think anyone does it for the money. Unless you’re selling seven million copies, you’re probably not doing it for the money, and there have been many newspaper articles recently on just how little Irish authors earn.

I don’t think anyone does it to be famous – most authors aren’t famous.

And I doubt anyone does it because it’s easy – we can unanimously agree it’s not easy.

Perhaps some people do it because they love writing fiction, and they don’t mind whether or not their work is ever published. But most authors and aspiring authors I know (with some exceptions) would like to be published.

Maybe some write because it’s enjoyable. I think it’s enjoyable when you’re in the zone – when you’re knee-deep in a scene and feeling every emotion the characters are feeling and tapping out the drama with your fingers flying on the keys; furiously flurrying, needing to get it all down. But for every day like that, there are days when you sit down and stare at a blank screen, looking for any distraction possible to avoid having to come up with the words.

So why do it?

For me, having turned it over in my mind since my son asked me the question, I think it’s because I wondered what if this is something I can do, and what if I don’t try? What if it’s my thing, but I never find out?

I had a story rattling around in my head – prompted by the many night wakings of my babies, wondering what would happen if I saw something in the middle of the night. I wanted to try writing down the story and see where it would go. What if it was terrible? But then, what if it wasn’t?

And in the end, doing it was easier than not doing it, and wondering what might have been.

Thanks, Andrea!

Andrea Mara is a freelance writer, author, and blogger, who lives in Dublin with her husband and three young children. She writes lifestyle features for Irish newspapers, magazines, and websites, and has won multiple awards for blogging. She attempts – often badly – to balance work, family and writing, then lets off steam on her blog, OfficeMum.ie. When she’s not keeping one eye on the kids, and the other on Twitter, she’s furiously scribbling notes for her next book.

Her first book, a psychological thriller set in South Dublin, is called The Other Side of the Wall. It’s available now in bookshops, and on Amazon.

 

Cover Reveal: The Liar’s Girl

So here they are: the covers of my next thriller, The Liar’s Girl, which is going to be published in the UK/Ireland AND the USA at the start of March 2018. (Yes, both sides of the Atlantic get the book at the same time this time. Woo-hoo!)

PicMonkey Collage

What’s it about? Well, all I can tell you for now is this: ten years ago, her first love confessed to five murders. But the truth was so much worse… 

What about those bridges, eh? Well, besides the fact that I’m thinking of starting a new ‘bridge noir genre’ (not really), fun fact: those are both real bridges here in Dublin. The UK/Ireland cover has the Ha’penny Bridge on it, which goes over the Liffey and is probably one of Dublin’s most famous landmarks, and the USA cover has Huband Bridge, which is on the Grand Canal, right by a house once lived in by none other than Samuel Beckett. (If Irish bridges are your thing, here’s more information about them and eight other beauties.)

I’m off to Harrogate this week, THE crime writing festival, with Writing.ie who will be tweeting like mad from all the events (and, um, the bar…) so if you can’t make it, you can still enjoy it through us. And if you can make it, see you there! x

Coming Soon: THE LIAR’S GIRL

So, news. My second thriller, The Liar’s Girl, will be out in the UK/Ireland and the USA in early 2018 and I’ll be revealing both covers on Instagram on Friday, so if you’re not already following me @cathryanhoward over there, start now!

(That’s also where I share what books I’m reading and sometimes what I thought of them too, if you’re into that kind of thing.)

To make things more interesting, I’ll be revealing each cover square by square. So you might see me post weird images like this:

But then when all 12 weird images have been posted, go look at my Instagram page (in grid view) and TA-DAA!

(That is, obviously, the UK/Ireland trade paperback cover of Distress Signals. I did a test with it.)

The covers will be revealed this Friday, 14th July:

  • From noon for the UK/Ireland cover
  • From 6pm for the USA cover (that’s 1pm Eastern and 10am Pacific – thanks Erin!) 

OOOH, THE ANTICIPATION.

(Mostly felt by me, because I can’t wait to hear what you think of these covers. They’re VERY different to each other but both amazing in their own ways.)

What else can I tell you about this novel? Well, not much because I like being an international woman of mystery. For now, anyway. But let’s just say:

  • It’s another standalone (it’s not a sequel to Distress Signals)
  • ‘Girl’ is in the title but hold your books-with-girl-in-the-title-think-piece horses: she actually IS a girl (or at least she was when the Bad Stuff started happening)
  • It’s set in Ireland
  • It’s set on dry land BUT…
  • … water does feature. (The featured image on this post = BIG CLUE.)

I am currently in the south of France slowly melting into a puddle of Irish Person Who’s Not Used To This Heat. Here’s a picture I took last night to depress you:

Next week, I’ll be heading for Harrogate, THE crime festival of the year, with the Writing.ie gang and between us – there’s four of us, I think – we will be tweeting every event LIKE MAD so do brace yourself for that. If you’re going to be AT Harrogate, do find us and say hi!

Don’t forget – there’s an easy way to stay up to date with my bookish news: my newsletter. Sign up here. I only send a handful a year so you don’t need to worry about inbox overload. Alternatively you can follow me on Twitter or “like” meh Facebook page thingy. (*whispers* Then there’ll be NO escape…. *evil cackle*)

But remember: if you want to see my new covers first, you better be on Instagram!

#IBW2017 And An Epic Bookshop Crawl

Hellooo! Remember me? Yes, yes, I know, I have been terrible at blogging lately. And yes, yes, I know, I seem to be starting every blog post in the last 18 months with an apology about not blogging more often. But I’ve discovered that this writing full-time gig alongside going to university full-time doesn’t leave you much free time, especially when there’s so much good stuff on Netflix. (Have you watched GLOW? No? Go!)

I’m here to tell you the hilarity/mayhem that went on yesterday but before I get to that, I have some news. Distress Signals has been longlisted for the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger! This means a huge amount to me because the Daggers are decided by a panel of crime fiction connoisseurs, and there’s only 12 books on the New Blood longlist out of all the debut crime novels published in the year-long judging period. They include some debuts that just blew me away, like Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land and Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker. So, yay! You can view the entire longlist and the other Dagger categories on the CWA website.

Book 2 has gone off to the copyeditor and I’ve seen the UK cover concept. In other words, sh-t’s getting real. I can’t wait to tell you more about it. Hopefully I’ll be able to soon.

Onto yesterday… This week is Independent Bookshop Week (IBW) in the UK and Ireland and to kick it off yesterday, a number of indie bookshop crawls were organised and Hazel Gaynor and I embarked on one. The idea was simple: visit as many indie bookshops as you can, maybe buy a few books, and tweet etc. about your journey on the way using the hashtags #IBW2017 and #bookshopcrawl. Then, reward yourself appropriately. Hazel and I picked ten shops between the picturesque little village of Kilcullen in Co. Kildare and Dubray Books on Grafton Street, the busiest shopping area in Dublin, bought a packet of Percy Pigs and hit the road.

We hit a couple of bumps – we got to our first shop so early they weren’t open yet (oops!), and the amazing Dublin Pride parade closed down streets between us and our city centre bookshops late in the afternoon – but all in all it was the most fantastically fun day and we got to meet some incredibly enthusiastic booksellers whose love for books and expertise on them was obvious.

Here’s the thing: independent bookshops offer something the likes of Amazon and chain book retailers just cannot. I buy a tonne of books off Amazon, but whenever I go there it’s to get a book I already know I want. I rarely end up buying books on Amazon I didn’t know existed before I got to Amazon. I also buy a tonne of books from chain bookstores, like Eason here in Ireland. They do great deals and if it’s a new commercial fiction title you’re after, you will find it there. I do find new books there, but usually books in genres I already read, i.e. books inside my comfort zone.

But consider what happened yesterday. On our stop at The Company of Books in Ranelagh, we asked the owner Gwen for recommendations to share with our followers, as we had been doing throughout the day. She mentioned a book called You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann, which she said was about a writer and had shades of The Shining by Stephen King. It’s a tiny book, a novella really, and it’s been published by Riverrun in a small but perfectly formed slim hardback, translated from the original German. I was sold. And I would never, ever, ever in a million years have happened upon this book any other way. THAT is the joy of an independent bookshop.

At other stops, Hazel and I walked back out onto the street in awe of how incredibly dedicated, knowledgable and enthusiastic the booksellers we’d just met had been. It was, honestly, joyful. We write books because we love them and it was such a lovely day meeting other people who love them so much too.

(I also bought some books on the recommendation of Frank and Amy in Magpie Books but I’m not going to share them here because they’re research for A Very Secret Project. Oooh, intriguing! I know.)

My crawling buddy Hazel Gaynor was multi-tasking because yesterday was also Harry Potter Day (celebrating the 20th anniversary of the publication of The Philosopher’s Stone) AND International Fairy Day – and Hazel’s new book, The Cottingley Secret, is about one of the most famous hoaxes of all time, The Cottingley Fairies. This is her in Magpie Books, Enniskerry, on the bookshop crawl, wearing a HP T-shirt and a pair of fairy wings. Is she the most on-brand author of all time? I think so! (Find out more about Hazel’s new book and her New York Times bestselling backlist here.)

Independent Bookshop Week runs all this week. I highly recommend you stop into your local indie bookshop without any book in mind and ask the bookseller to pick one for you. You never know what you might discover!

Relive our bookshop crawl adventure on Storify here.

What’s the best book you discovered in an indie bookshop? Where’s your favourite one? Did you do any bookshop crawling yesterday or do you plan to this week? Let us know in the comments below… 

How Do You Track Your Word Count? (And Other Things)

Do not adjust your sets. This really is a new blog post. Yes, new material has appeared on this blog. Be gone, tumbleweeds!

I have been MIA because the last six weeks or so have been crazy. I had three university assignments due on the same day, followed by, oh, you know, 100,000 words or so of a book, followed by an exam that I basically had 24 hours to cram for. (Fun fact: my exam was on the history of the book so I was able to throw in loads of stuff about e-books, and I wrote about Celebration, Florida, for one of my assignments.)

Credit: Kathryn English, Blackstone Publishing

In the midst of all that I also wrote a piece about a real life cruise ship murder for the Irish Times, won an award and, needless to say, watched all of 13 Reasons Why because my motto is No Netflix Left Behind even when you don’t have time to sleep and even if the show is utterly rage-inducing on multiple levels. Side note: roll on Master of None this coming Friday. (I think MON is one of the great televisual shows ever made.)

What else have I been up to, I pretend to hear you ask?

Happy Birthday, Distress Signals

Distress Signals, my serial-killer-on-a-cruise-ship-thriller (nautical noir, we’re calling it) was first published a year ago yesterday, which means it’s been a year since the actual craziest week of my life. You and I can relive all the excitement here.

Credit: Hazel Gaynor

The twelve months since have been tough, trying to write a second novel while also doing a full-time degree and being constantly distracted by the shiny stuff of publication (and, ahem, Netflix), but they have also had so many exciting and happy moments. My launch, getting shortlisted for Crime Novel of the Year at the Irish Book Awards, finding that one of my favourite bookstores in the world, the Barnes and Noble at Dr Philips in Orlando – where I wiled away many a blissfully happy hour – had DS in stock. (This was seriously, like, the BEST.)

I must say a big THANK YOU to everyone who read, reviewed and recommended Distress Signals to their friends and followers. You are all lovely and deserve to drink only good coffee, never instant. To celebrate, my lovely American publishers have slashed the price of Distress Signals‘ digital edition to just $0.99 – its RRP is $9.99 – but only for a limited time. So if you haven’t read it yet, you live in the States and you’d read an e-book, quick, go! Or if you know someone else who fits that criteria who you think might be interested, tell them! More exclamation marks!

While I was typing this, something ah-maze-ZING happened: Distress Signals slipped into the No. 1 spot on Barnes and Nobles’ NOOK bookstore. In other words, it became the top selling NOOK book. Whaaa…? I may have to frame this.

Distress Signals can be purchased for sofa-change from Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and Kobo USA, among others.

Events

For some reason May is like peak events over here. I have three coming up: I’m doing a Marketing and Publicity Workshop with Peter O’Connell for Publishing Ireland next week, May 11 (suitable for both publishing professionals and writers), then I’ll be on the Twists and Turns panel at Crimefest, Bristol, on May 18, and finally I’ll be taking part in the How To Get Published Day at Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, as part of the International Literature Festival: Dublin on May 20. For more information on any or all of these, go to my Events page and click on the relevant image.

I’m also going to London next week to hit a few stationery shops, Foyles and Hotel Chocolat, but that’s really just an event on my personal calendar…

Book 2

You guys, as a Youtuber might say, we are almost there. In a couple of weeks, Book 2 will be done*. (Can I just give you some unsolicited advice? If you are an aspiring writer who dreams of getting a book deal, here’s what you need to do the second you type THE END on the submission draft of the book you hope will get you published: open a new document, type CHAPTER ONE and start the book after that. Don’t wait, because if your dreams come true, there’ll be lots of shiny exciting fun stuff that will distract you and your deadlines will crumble to dust.) I can’t wait to tell you about it, share the title, show you the cover, etc. but I can’t do any of that just yet. What I can say is:

  • It’s another standalone thriller
  • It’s due for publication early next year
  • It’s set on dry land and that dry land is Dublin, but water does feature.

*Ready for copyediting.

Book 3 (and How Do YOU Track Your Word Count?)

Book three?! I know, right? How did we even get here? Well, that’s what I’ll be doing this summer: writing the first draft of my third thriller. I have an idea that I’m really, really excited about, as my writing friends will testify to because I’ve been blabbing about it— I mean, um, testing it out on them for months now.

One thing I really want to do is obsessively track my word count. I want to be able to say exactly how long it took me to write this novel. So, tell me: how do you track your word count? I was hoping to use Prolifiko after I read this fascinating article in The Guardian about how long – exactly – it took Wyl Menmuir to write his Booker-longlisted novel, but when I went to look at the app it wasn’t what I was expecting. (And you have to do a five day writing ‘challenge’ to unlock access. Um, no.) Have you used it? Are there alternatives? Any good apps? Or do you rely on spreadsheets, etc?

Let me know in the comments below because I really want something good I can use going forward. Any one who leaves a suggestion/comment on this topic will be entered into a draw for a prize that will probably consist of (a) a signed book, (b) something caffeinated, probably and (c) stationery so I have an excuse to buy some fancy stuff in London. (If you don’t track your word count at all it’s okay to leave a comment saying that. That counts as an entry.)

So, to recap:

  • Sherlock lives— I mean, this blog does
  • Distress Signals is discounted to $0.99 for a limited time – tell your friends!
  • Tell me how you track your word count/novel progress. You might win something…

I just sent out a newsletter. Have you signed up to receive my sporadic musings, eh? You should, if I do say so myself. 

Desk Dreams

I spent January working feverishly on the second draft of Book 2 which meant (a) a lot of sitting at my desk, (b) a lot of sitting at my desk late into the night and (c) a lot of sitting at my desk, looking around and thinking I despair. I live in an actual shoebox and so avoid adding too much furniture or doing too much decorating, not just because I rent but because there’s very little space to go around and extra things make the place look even smaller. But I was so sick of things not being exactly as I wanted them, I decided that in the gaps between drafts, I would give my desk a makeover. I would create, in the limited space I had and without going completely broke, the desk of my dreams. And here it is. Ta-daaa!

The idea: When I moved back to Ireland, the first thing I did was cover the walls of my teeny, tiny bedroom in my parents’ house in framed pictures. I wasn’t living abroad anymore, so the next best thing was to surround myself with happy memories of it. That’s what I wanted to do here: I’m stuck at my desk, so I might as well be surrounded by nice, pretty things while I’m stuck there.

The furniture: I have a Micke desk from IKEA (I bought my pink trim version over two years ago. I don’t think they still do it but they do have other colours, including plain white) to which I added an extension. My bookcase is from their Kallax range, with one drawer insert and one of their paper storage boxes that fit perfectly. Finally I decided that after years of sitting in dining chairs, I deserved a proper, comfy chair and – guess what? That’s from Ikea too!

The decoration: My pink lamp is from Dunnes Stores (I’m told the pink version will be restocked in the summer; for now they have a beige and a blue), my Scrabble tile lights were bought by Santa a couple of Christmases ago, my pink file folders are from Ban.do and the rose gold holder they sit in is from KikkiK, and my A6 lightbox and little plant are from New Look. There are also little bargain touches from places like Sostrene Grene and Flying Tiger.

(And yes, it’s neat. But when you live in a small space, you have to keep things neat because it’s like you put a single crumpled receipt from your pocket onto the dining table and then BAM! The next thing you know you’re on Hoarders. And also, don’t you think I might have tidied up before I took pictures to put online? And procrastinators have to be neat, because tidying up is a great procrastination activity. So, yeah. It’s neat. Get over it.)

The typewriter: My new baby is by We R Memory Keepers and the pink version is exclusive to Michaels, a craft/hobbies superstore in the US. I always, always, always said I’d get myself a pink typewriter and now I (finally) have. LOOK HOW PRETTY!

Tip: Michaels only ships to US addresses, so I had to overcome that in some way. I signed up for MyUS.com which gives you a US address for $7 a month, so you can take advantage of free shipping from online US stores and then have stuff reshipped to your home address. Now it is – or can be – a bit pricey to have these things shipped across the Atlantic, but the good thing is that you can consolidate packages and save. And I have to say, I experienced fabulous service. I bought the typewriter and a replacement ribbon, which Michaels shipped to my virtual US address separately. When the typewriter arrived here in Ireland, the replacement ribbon had been tucked carefully inside the typewriter’s box, and that box had been carefully replaced in the box it had shipped in originally, and alongside the ribbon was a signed note from the MyUS.com packer. Not only did it get here quickly, but I really felt they were as careful with it as I would’ve been myself. And this is just my unbiased, average customer opinion – this isn’t sponsored, or anything!

For balance, this is my desk from several years ago – 2010, I think –  when I was back living with my parents after coming home from the States and just had a tiny desk pushed up against my bedroom wall. Bit of an improvement, eh? (Also, is that TEA?!)

Let’s just do a side-by-side, shall we?

Places that are good for buying cute home accessories/stationery stuff from: Kikki.K, Sostrene Grene, My Shining Armour, Paperchase, Dunnes, Flying Tiger, The Range, Typo and obviously IKEA. (‘You’re welcome’ – not something your credit card is going to be saying.)

Now to actually do some work here…

If you live in Ireland or the UK, Distress Signals is currently just 99p!