Distress Signals Shortlisted for Irish Crime Novel of the Year (Whaaa..??!)

If you missed my tweetgasm yesterday, I have news: Distress Signals has been shortlisted for Crime Novel of the Year in the Irish Book Awards!


(One exclamation mark is really not enough for that but I’m trying to restrain myself here, okay?)

I’d love to be able to play it cool, but I can’t, I’m sorry. This is a really big deal to me. If you’ve been following my blog or me on Twitter for a while, you might know that for the last two years, I’ve attended the Irish Book Awards ceremony. The IBAs are a very unusual literary prize in that they highlight achievement in many different categories, with the winners are decided by a voting system that includes literary critics, booksellers and the public. In this way, you get a collection of books that the nation has actually been buying, reading and loving in the past year, as opposed to, say, a number of challenging literary fiction titles that hardly anyone has read and most people have never heard of. The ceremony itself is both the Irish Publishing Christmas Party (well, it is to me anyway!) and a warm and fuzzy celebration of all things books. It’s wonderful.


The first year I went, I had only just signed with my agent a fortnight before and hadn’t yet started to edit the book that would become Distress Signals; I didn’t know it, but the realisation of my lifelong Get Published dream was five months away. The highlight of my night was getting to stand behind Tana French in the queue for the bathrooms. French to me was – and still is – a literary goddess among women. I’ve been reading her since I picked up In the Woods in the New Fiction section of what was then my local Barnes and Noble, back in Orlando in 2007. Just to be in the same room with her was thrilling – even if, yes, that room was a hotel bathroom!

This year my little book is nominated alongside Tana French’s latest, The Trespasser.

Isn’t that crazy?!

But it gets crazier. Better and crazier.


L-R: Hazel Gaynor, Carmel Harrington, me (obvs) and Elizabeth R. Murray

At last year’s ceremony I was back at the Writing.ie table sitting with two lovely writing friends: Elizabeth R. Murray and Hazel Gaynor. Also present at the ceremony was another lovely writing friend, Carmel Harrington. We were all there because of Vanessa O’Loughlin, the founder of Writing.ie and a great friend and support to all of us, who writes crime fiction under the name Sam Blake.

All of us, I’m sure, harboured secret dreams of one day being more than a mere attendee, but getting shortlisted felt improbable. Just getting published had been a long, winding, difficult road. And only six books make the shortlist in each category, and there’s a whole year’s worth of publications to choose from.

But this year we will all attend the ceremony as shortlisted authors.

(I’m sorry, I’m breaking them out: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Between the five of us we have (at my count): five different agents, four different genres and four different publishers. One of us writes for children, one of us is on her third book. We all got published at different times after very different journeys. And yet all five of us have had this amazing, unlikely, thing happen to us, in the same year

Sam Blake/Vanessa O'Loughlin and me

Sam Blake/Vanessa O’Loughlin and me

What are the odds? When you consider the odds of just getting published in the first place,  I think they’re pretty damn astronomical.

So shoot for the moon. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you it’s unlikely you’ll get there. Someone has to. You might.

The Irish Book Awards are partly decided by a public vote. Choose your favourite reads of the year here.

Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards 2016 – Full Shortlist


  • All We Shall Know – Donal Ryan
  • Days Without End – Sebastian Barry
  • Solar Bones – Mike McCormack
  • The Lesser Bohemians – Eimear McBride
  • The Wonder – Emma Donoghue
  • This Must Be The Place – Maggie O’Farrell


  • All Through the Night – Edited by Marie Heaney
  • Dublin since 1922 – Tim Carey
  • Looking Back: The Changing Faces of Ireland – Eric Luke
  • Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks – Edited by Fintan O’Toole
  • The Invisible Art: A Century of Music in Ireland 1916-2016 – Michael Dervan
  • The Glass Shore – Sinéad Gleeson


  • Himself – Jess Kidd
  • Red Dirt – E.M. Reapy
  • The Last Days of Summer – Vanessa Ronan
  • The Maker of Swans – Paraic O’Donnell
  • The Things I Should Have Told You – Carmel Harrington
  • This Living and Immortal Thing – Austin Duffy


  • I Read The News Today, Oh Boy – Paul Howard
  • Ireland The Autobiography – John Bowman
  • The Hurley Maker’s Son – Patrick Deeley
  • The Supreme Court – Ruadhán Mac Cormaic
  • Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir – John Banville & Paul Joyce
  • When Ideas Matter – Michael D. Higgins


  • Lying In Wait – Liz Nugent
  • Conclave – Robert Harris
  • Dictatorship: My Teenage War With OCD – Rebecca Ryan
  • All Through the Night – Edited by Marie Heaney
  • All We Shall Know – Donal Ryan
  • Victim Without A Face – Stefan Ahnhem


  • In Glasnevin – Jane Clarke
  • Patagonia – Emma McKervey
  • Suppose I Lost – Andrew Soye
  • Love / Hotel / Love – Michael Naghtan Shanks


  • A Child of Books – Sam Winston and Oliver Jeffers
  • Goodnight Everyone – Chris Haughton
  • Historopedia – Fatti and John Burke
  • Pigín of Howth – Kathleen Watkins
  • Rabbit and Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits – Julian Gough & Jim Field
  • Rover and the Big Fat Baby – Roddy Doyle


  • Knights of the Borrowed Dark – Dave Rudden (Puffin)
  • The Book of Shadows – E.R. Murray (Mercier Press)
  • The Making of Mollie – Anna Carey (The O’Brien Press)
  • Needlework – Deirdre Sullivan (Little Island Books)
  • Nothing Tastes As Good – Claire Hennessy (Hot Key Books)
  • Flawed – Cecelia Ahern (HarperCollins Children’s Books)


  • Recipes For A Nervous Breakdown – Sophie White
  • The World of The Happy Pear – Stephen and David Flynn
  • Natural Born Feeder – Roz Purcell
  • The Little Green Spoon – Indy Power
  • Neven Maguire’s Complete Family Cookbook – Neven Maguire
  • The Brother Hubbard – Garrett Fitzgerald



  • Game of Throw-Ins – Ross O’Carroll-Kelly
  • Lyrebird – Cecelia Ahern
  • Rebel Sisters – Marita Conlon-McKenna
  • The Girl From The Savoy – Hazel Gaynor
  • The Privileged – Emily Hourican
  • Holding – Graham Norton


  • Adventures of a Wonky-Eyed Boy – Jason Byrne
  • Fat Chance – Louise McSharry
  • Making It Up As I Go Along – Marian Keyes
  • Pippa – Pippa O’Connor
  • Talking to Strangers – Michael Harding
  • Pussy: Before I Forget to Remember – Alan Amsby/David Kenny


  • Blood, Sweat & McAteer – Jason McAteer
  • Coolmore Stud, Ireland’s Greatest Sporting Success Story – Alan Conway
  • My Life in Rugby – Donal Lenihan
  • Out of Control – Cathal Mc Carron
  • The Battle – Paul O’Connell
  • Win or Learn – John Kavanagh


[You can read all the shortlisted stories here.]

  • Here We Are – Lucy Caldwell (Faber&Faber)
  • K-K-K – Lauren Foley (OL Society – Australia)
  • The Visit – Orla McAlinden (Sowilo Press)
  • Green, Amber, Red – Jane Casey (New Island)
  • The Birds of June – John Connell (Granta Magazine)
  • What a River Remembers of its Course – Gerard Beirne (Numero Cinq Magazine)


  • Distress Signals – Catherine Ryan Howard
  • Little Bones – Sam Blake
  • Lying In Wait – Liz Nugent
  • The Constant Soldier – William Ryan
  • The Drowning Child – Alex Barclay
  • The Trespasser – Tana French

HUGE congratulations to all my fellow shortlisted authors!

Voting is now open. Cast yours here. The ceremony takes place in Dublin on November 16th. Follow @BGEIBAS on Twitter to find out more. 


Writers and Workshops

The very first writing workshop I ever attended turned me off them for life (I thought at the time). Fifteen years ago I spent three whole weeks* as a Lancaster University undergrad, taking Creative Writing as a minor alongside my science degree. To get onto this module you had to queue up in front of a specific table in a huge hall of similar tables and hand a writing sample to the lecturer who was sitting there. I had written my piece the day before, and it was about a writer who was trying to come up with something that would prove he was a good writer. (Oooh, meta!) The lecturer scanned the first couple of paragraphs, running her finger along the words, and then said, rather unenthusiastically for my liking, “Yeah, okay. Fine.” I was in.

A few days later I attended my first lecture; my notes from it could be condensed into a single line, and that line would be keep your ideas in a notebook. I’d already spent my entire adolescence reading books like On Writing, From Pitch to Publication and every new edition of The Writers’ and Artists’ Handbook. Keep a notebook? Um yeah, like, I know? But there was worse yet to come: a workshop where five or six of us would sit around in a circle, read a piece of work aloud and then brace ourselves while the others sandblasted our soul—I mean, our writing. I learned nothing except that we were all really, really bad and that a surprising number of people were writing novels about what “really” happened to Princess Diana.

(And this was 2001. It wasn’t exactly a hot topic.)

Flash-forward now to the summer of 2004. The ending of a long relationship at first felt like being dangerous unmoored, and then deliciously free. Single for the first time since I was a teenager, I spend one of my first weekends alone doing something that’s just for me: I book myself into a fancy hotel in Dublin and attend a two-day workshop at the Irish Writers’ Centre that I think might have been called Start Your Novel or Finish Your Novel or Stop Arsing Around and Write Your Bloody Novel, For Feck’s Sake. This workshop felt totally different. For one thing, it was useful. And for another, it was the first time I spent any time around people who were as serious about writing as I was. Going back down to Cork on the Sunday evening I was buzzing with motivation, buoyed by encouragement and, best of all, I felt like I finally had permission to write, to say, ‘I want to be a writer’.


(Lancaster, all was forgiven.)

Then adventure distracted me. In 2005 I moved to the Netherlands to take up a seasonal job, had the best seven months of my life and then went back there the following year to have more fun. I went from there to working in Walt Disney World, and from there to backpacking across Central America. When I eventually got back to Ireland and I started seriously thinking about writing again, I was more focused on it than ever – which is why I ended up at an Inkwell Getting Published workshop in Killiney, Co. Dublin in April 2010.

This workshop has since become legendary. Monica McInerney and Sinead Moriarty dropped in to talk to us, and we all sat there in awe – and jealously, of course – wondering if we’d ever get published and if they had magic pens. “We” including Maria Duffy, whose sixth book will be published by Hachette this week, and Hazel Gaynor, a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction. The facilitator, Vanessa O’Loughlin, now writes crime under the name Sam Blake, and her debut Little Bones spent an amazing four weeks at No. 1 when it was published earlier this year. Oh, and there was me, of course. Five years later, Atlantic pre-empted my debut, Distress Signals, as part of a 2-book deal, it debuted on the Irish bestseller list back in May and has been optioned for TV.

(You know, just in case you’re new around these parts.)

There are benefits to attending a workshop that are obvious: you learn useful information that needed to know. That’s what you pay for. But it’s what you get in addition to that that I think makes attending workshops, seminars and other writing events really, really worthwhile.

If you want to be a doctor or a teacher or an entrepreneur, you will come across people in your normal, daily life who already do those things. But how often do you accidentally cross paths with a professional writer, and in a setting where you can pick their brains? And we all know that telling friends and family your career plans involve a 6-figure book deal doesn’t exactly result in a cheerleading routine complete with pom-poms, which is why it’s so important to spend time around people who not only share the same goal as you, but believe it’s possible too (because it IS).

And finally, giving an afternoon or a weekend over to your writing self isn’t indulgent, but necessary. Imagine your creative self is like a well that needs refilling every so often; spending time thinking, talking and focusing only on your writing will do that. On a more practical level, events like these can get you face-to-face with editors, agents and other contacts who might help you get a step up down the line.


A little story: the first time I met Monica McInerney was at that 2010 Inkwell writing workshop. She had brought some of her books to show us and when the workshop was over she invited us to take home one of them if we wanted, and I wasn’t shy – I took one and asked her if she would sign it. She wrote in it that she was looking forward to reading my novel. In this picture, six years later, Monica is getting me to sign a copy of my novel for her, and I’m reminding her of the workshop, and I’m starting to cry. (I love this picture!)

What do you think? Have you ever done a writing or publishing workshop? How was it? Did it help?


If you are in or near Dublin, the Dalkey Creates Festival kicks off next weekend. It has a stellar range of workshops including Writing Historical Fiction with the aforementioned Hazel Gaynor, Writing Crime with Louise Philips, Writing Memoir with Alana Kirk – and, yay for you, Vanessa O’Loughlin is doing a Getting Published workshop there too! There’s also a chance to find out exactly what editors are looking for from Ciara Doorley, editorial director at Hachette Ireland. Visit the Dalkey Creates website to find out more

*Well, one of them was Freshers’ Week, so technically it was two.

I Swear, I Just Made It Up (No, Really, I Did)

‘So I read your book,’ they say.

When someone I know personally – a relative, a friend, a former co-worker or classmate – says this to me, I never know how to respond. You cannot ask ‘And what did you think?’ because that puts them on the spot and anyway  I don’t want to know because it might be bad. Usually I either mumble a thank you, or giggle nervously and say that that’s good because now there’s going to be a quiz.


Sometimes though, before I can do any of these socially awkward things, they get a bit of a glint in their eye and their face adopts a kind of suspicious-yet-bemused expression (trust me, this exists) and then they say something like ‘Who was x based on?’ or ‘Where did you get that idea?’ and everything – their tone, their face, the little pause they took before they asked the question – suggests to me that they think they already know the answer, and that the answers lies in my real life.

They refuse to believe that I just made it up. Or maybe they can’t believe it, and I get why that might be.

First of all, if you’re not a writer, making stuff up must seem like a bat-faeces crazy concept. Something from nothing? A whole 100,000-word book from a virtual blank page? What voodoo is this?! (The caffeine-induced kind, obviously.) I feel the same way at the start of the process, when I’m staring down that blank page, the first of 400 or so of them that I have to murder one-by-one in order to write a book. It is a kind of black magic. And over those 400 pages, there’s bound to be some person or some experience that’s common to us all, and people who know you are bound to read it and think that it’s based on your personal experience that’s common to us to all, and that actually this fiction is thinly disguised fact. Even though it’s not.


Big surprise for me this week – Blackstone, my US publisher, did my ARCs (American for proof copies, don’t ya know) in hardcover! They look absolutely amazing – as do the “brochures” for a cruise aboard the Celebrate that are going to go out to reviewers, bloggers, etc. with them. We have a new US publication date as well: February 2, 2017. 

Second of all… Well, not all of it is fiction. Some of it is thinly disguised fact. Because while I don’t abide by the advice that you should write what you know, I wholeheartedly believe that you should, as much as possible, use what you know. In Distress Signals, Adam is a struggling writer surrounded by people who think he should get a proper job. (Ahem.) This was easier for me than, say, making him a biochemist, especially because I was so bad at the single year of Chemistry I did in secondary school that I wouldn’t have just failed the state exam in it, I would’ve been unable to say for sure if the exam paper I’d been handed was in fact the correct one. (Luckily I dropped it before such a scenario could occur.)

I’d never worked on a cruise ship, but I had worked in the housekeeping department of a colossal hotel, and in principle the running of a department that cleans cabins on a ship is exactly the same. I’d also had experience of living “on site”; back in 2006, I (briefly) worked as a campsite courier on a resort in France. During the day I cleaned sparkly new customer accommodation – tents and mobile homes – and afterwards I went back to the crappy old broken tent the company had given me to live in. Everything we had, from the pillows thinner than a slice of toast to the cracked patio chairs to the chipped mugs, had already been used and abused the paying customers – just like what Corinne and the rest of the crew have on board the Celebrate.


There is a chance to win one of these beautiful babies, signed and personally inscribed, over on my Facebook page. Open worldwide until midnight GMT Sunday 18th September. 

And, yes, all Corkonians – most Irish people, in fact – do pronounce the word ‘film’ with two syllables, i.e. ‘fill-um.’ And ever since I started working abroad and being the butt of good-natured jokes about this, I have avoided using that word. I tend to say ‘movie’ instead, encroaching American influence on my language be damned, or very carefully pronounce the f-word. Adam does this in Distress Signals. Does that mean Adam is really me? No! Because if we take that logic to its extreme, I am also French and (potentially) a serial killer.

(And let’s just say, god help me for Book 2.)

I think there could be a third reason the non-writing people in your life believe that they see mutual friends or shared relatives in the pages of your book: because they want to. That’s what the suspicious/bemused look is about, the knowing smile, the wink. (Yes, sometimes there’s even a wink.) They think they’ve sussed it, spotted a secret hidden in plain sight, solved the clues – and maybe they think no one else has. Or maybe it’s not about them, but about me. Maybe they think I couldn’t have made it up. That I’m just not that talented or creative or imaginative. But moving swiftly on—


Book 2 is finally FINISHED. Well, the first draft of it is but that’s the hardest part.  I bought this little bottle of champagne to drink when I typed THE END but it’s actually still in my fridge because I am awaiting verdicts from my agent and my editor. I love revising and redrafting so I know this is just raw material in many ways, but still it’s important that they think it’s good enough raw material. I’ll let you know if I get to open it! 

I made it up. That’s what fiction is, what being a writer is. I sit down at my desk, I drink coffee and I make stuff up until there’s enough made-up stuff to make a book.

So if you’re reading Distress Signals or you’ve travelled into the future and are already reading Book 2, rest assured, I just made it up.

All of it. Every word.

Well, except for that bit that’s obviously about you.

In other news, you may have noticed the e-book of Distress Signals has got new threads. Find out more about what and why in Distress Signals: The Cover Story over on Writing.ie. Don’t forget you can enter to win a HARDCOVER (ooooh!) ARC of it over on my Facebook page or, if you’re a book reviewer or blogger who’s based in the U.S., you can also request it from NetGalley

The Feeling of My Own Extreme Caring

I have always been jealous of people with a demonstrable, consuming passion, especially when it results in an incredible, sustained effort to start and finish a creative project.

As regular readers know, thanks to the whole Distress Signals editing and launch festivities, I ended the academic year down three essays and had to do them over the summer. One of them was about the Lisle Letters, a collection of 3,000 pieces of correspondence generated by a dynastic Tudor family during the reign of Henry VIII. To the untrained eye, they look to be written in hieroglyphics – and did I mention there are 3,000 of them? The historian Muriel St. Clare Byrne took it upon herself to translate them, edit them and put them together in six volumes with her own commentary, a collection published in 1981 on Byrne’s 86th birthday. It had taken her almost 50 years to complete the project. Fifty years of work with no guarantee of publication. Imagine the dedication that required.


A few years back I went to a talk in Waterstones Cork given by John Boyne and Claire Kilroy. At it, Boyne talked about the feverish creation of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. He said it was something he had to start right away and that once he had, he couldn’t stop. The story flowed. It flowed so much that he wrote continuously from Tuesday to Friday, punching out 50,000 words, only stopping when his friends insisted that he step away from the desk for a night on the town – because Friday was his birthday.

It doesn’t have to be books. During a recent and particularly shameful bout of procrastination, I discovered that early seasons of The Hills were on my On Demand TV menu. In one episode, a superstar intern from Teen Vogue in New York comes to Los Angeles and instantly removes any doubt about whether the MTV girls are working there for real or not. I wondered where this superstar intern was now, because surely she was editor of her own magazine or something. When I looked her up, I found an interview where she talked about launching her own website/blog while still holding down a day job. This involved getting up at 4:00am every morning and working until she had to leave for work at eight. Every. Single. Morning. Jonathan Safran Foer also spent a period of time getting up at 4:00am ‘savouring both the solitude, and the feeling of my own extreme caring‘.

It doesn’t even have to be real. There’s something about the movie Julie and Julia (which, while based on a true story, probably isn’t exactly true to life) that stirs a motivation in me. I just love how Julie is feeling a bit blah about everything until she decides that she’ll cook everything – all 500+ recipes – in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in the next 365 days, and blog about it. This commitment, this passion project, takes over her life. Meanwhile, in 1950s Paris, Julia Child is revelling in her newly discovered passions of food and cooking.

I’m jealous of these people, and unnerved by them. Should I feel like this about my work? When I’m writing a book, should I feel like they do, ignoring everything else besides? In one of my favourite movies, Adaptation, Meryl Streep (playing author Susan Orlean in a screenplay by Charlie Kaufman) considers that the reason people are passionate about things is because ‘it whittles the world down to a more manageable size’. How wonderful that would be – to not even think about cleaning your house or Netflix or in fact anything at all except writing and finishing your book. Because at times that’s all I can seem to think about.

There have been times in my life when I had felt that drive to finish something, when I really did ignore everything else – food, time, TV – because I was so consumed by what I was doing. Making a scrapbook when I returned from my eighteen months in Florida. When I decided to start a handmade card company and worked to put together a catalogue. Self-publishing Mousetrapped and everything that came with it.

And it’s looking back on these times that I realise I’m romanticising this kind of passionate, creative rapture and that the way I work – over a long period of time, with breaks for Netflix, around my normal life – is, while not as exciting, the only way forward. Because these raptures aren’t sustainable. Everything would fall apart if I ignored everything but my writing. And I want to sustain. I want to be able do this for as long as I possibly can.

I’m passionate about that. And I think that’s enough.

Distress Signals American Style

Apologies in advance: this isn’t a ‘proper’ blog post. I am still (STILL!) squirrelled away on Book 2 but, rest assured, I’ll have some looooooooooong ones coming up soon. People have been giving me the best ideas: a post about my UK versus my US editing, an in-depth look at my plotting approach and what happens when your friends and family read a novel you wrote (spoiler alert: you’ll be protesting, ‘I just made it up!’).

In the meantime, if you need a good writing post, check out Alana Kirk’s one on writing like a [BLEEP]. You’re going to have a new motivational Post-It stuck on your computer, trust me, but also trust me: it’ll be NSFW.


The reason I’ve popped in today to pop out this post is that *waves* U.S.A.-based book bloggers, reviewers and Goodreads users: Distress Signals is now available to request on NetGalley! You can request an ARC here. You won’t forget Distress Signals‘ American publication date, because it’s November 8th – yes, the day of the U.S. presidential election.

I’ve also seen something INCREDIBLY EXCITING that my American publishers, Blackstone, have made to go out with the proof copies (or ARCs, since we’re talking about operations across the pond) and as soon as I have one of those here in Dublin, I’ll be holding a giveaway that’s – finally! – open to all my lovely American readers.


In the meantime, for the rest of you, Distress Signals is still just sofa change on Amazon.co.uk. This picture was taken in Villefranche-sur-Mer, where I was the week before the last, and where my fictional cruise ship, the Celebrate, stops. (You can even see a cruise ship in the background.) I also left a copy of the book in the village’s free library with a special note inside…

PicMonkey Collage

I’ve also managed to – gasp! – read a handful of books for pleasure. Check out my Instagram account for some quick little reviews of them.

If you’ve any requests for blog posts I might write on here, let me know in the comments below.

Normal service shall resume soon. Until then…


How To Write a Novel (When You Think You’ve Forgotten How)

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am a pathological procrastinator. I don’t know why, but I do know that I have never been able to delay gratification. So instead of rewarding myself with 7 hours of OJ: Made in America when the first draft of Book 2 is done and dusted and I can relax and enjoy it guilt-free, I watch it now and tell myself I will write after. I mean, I’d just be distracted by my wanting to watch it otherwise, right?

(Side note: OJ: Made in America is truly incredible TV.)

I joke that I’d call my would be productivity guide Don’t Start Until It’s Already Too Late – and that’s pretty much what I do. I can only work under pressure, while panicking. I read somewhere that the procrastinator’s sweet spot is the exact moment when the fear of creating something crap is overtaken by the fear of not having enough time to create anything at all. That’s almost always when I start work – and not a moment before.

This past year or so, my procrastination problem has got worse. This is the first time I’ve ever had to write a book under contract, and I’ve had to do it in a period of time that’s, at most, half as long as the time I spent writing the first one. So for starters, you’ve got pressure. I believe procrastination is something like 30% laziness and 70% fear. Distress Signals has been incredibly well received by critics, book bloggers and readers. It’s wonderful but it’s also terrifying. Can I do this again? How did I do it the first time? So, we’ve got plenty of fear in the mix too. I’m a binger, in that I do my best work when I can clear my schedule, lock myself away and write from dawn to dusk – or maybe through the night – without stopping, hopped up on caffeine and sugar. A slow and steady 1,000 words every day just doesn’t work for me.

But now, I’m much busier than I was when I was writing most of Distress Signals that way. Being in university full-time means essay deadlines and exams and more reading than any person who sleeps could possibly do (I maintain). Then there’s everything Distress Signals demands as a book that’s out in there in the world. Online promotion, U.S. edits, a one-day 10-stop bookshop road trip, a signing, an interview for a newspaper and preparation for a literary festival in a couple of weeks are just some of the things I’ve had to do in the last two weeks. So most days I just can’t binge-write any more. The schedule is too busy to clear.


Last Friday I visited ten bookstores in Limerick, Shannon, Ennis, Newcastle West and Tralee. The Eason’s on O’Connell Street in Limerick had a side entrance onto Cruises Street – perfect! (Distress Signals is about a murder on a cruise ship.) 

So we’ve got more fear, more pressure and then more things to do/less time in the mix too. It’s the perfect storm. It’s the reason why the first draft of Book 2 still isn’t finished, even though my original goal – back in the rose-tinted days of last summer when the world was all rainbows, puppies and unrealistic plans – was to have a vomit draft by last Christmas and a first draft by the end of April, just before Distress Signals came out.


(I really want to go back to Summer 2015 Catherine and slap her in the face. Hard.)

The good news is we’re almost there. I’m almost there. This is the last week I’ll work on this draft of the book. But I’ve had to sort of trick myself into writing it.I’ve had to hunt down procrastination, sedate it, bound and gag it and lock it in a basement room. (Hey, I’m a crime writer, okay?) In the process, I’ve been reminded of things – tips and tricks and truths – that I’d forgotten. In case you’re struggling with your project, here they are.

Build Write It and They Will Come

I’m a big plotter, so the first thing I have to do in order to write a book is sort mine out. I don’t plan everything out in advance, but I like to have some signposts along the way. I open a Word document and create a simple outline using numbering. It’ll be a longer version of this (the notes in square brackets pertain to my specific plot):

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 09.47.45

Then what I’ll do is I’ll take my ideas for scenes, plot developments, etc. and fill as much of this in as I can. The problem was that when I sat down to do this for Book 2, I ended up with mostly blank space. Erm… Hang on a second. Do I even have a plot for this book?! I started to panic. Yep, totally screwed. I’m just an impostor. I knew I’d be found out. But because I was contracted to write this book, I had to sit down and write it anyway, which is when I realised/remembered:

The ideas come while you’re writing.

I’ve put that in bold and italics because it’s the most important point of this whole blog post. You can sit in all the cafes you want with your notebook, chewing on a pen, dreaming up plot lines and characters and killer twists. But – at least in my writing life – I will never come up with stuff that way that’s half as good as what I come up with while I’m actually in the midst of writing the book.

photo 2-7

This is what the plot of Distress Signals looked like by the third and final draft (the one with my editor at Corvus). But this is the end game. It’s okay to start with mostly blank space on your plot charts. You probably should. 

So don’t panic. You may have no idea what goes in Part 3 right now, or you may not even be sure you have an ending. Your plot plan may be mostly blank space. But don’t wait until you have a plot to start writing. A few signposts will do. The ideas will come. Until then, just concentrate on writing this chapter.

Early, First, Focused

There’s a difference between saying ‘I’m going to spend all tomorrow writing’ and ‘I will write for no fewer than six hours tomorrow’. I turned 34 yesterday, you’d think I’d have discovered this before now. But that’s one lesson that has really been driven home to me recently, because so many hours and days seem to disappear into time-sucking, pointless tasks, and I end up with nothing to show for them. It’s not enough to intend to write tomorrow or this week. When you’re a procrastinator, you need to plan exactly how, when and where you’re going to.

I get the most out of my writing days when I:

  • Start early. This is allowing for the fact that even though you may have eight hours free in which to write, you’ll be lucky if you spend half of them actually typing words into your manuscript. The other thing is that you don’t know what’s going to happen during the day. You could get an exciting e-mail or an unexpected invitation or a toothache. Best to start now, as early as you can, before real life wakes up and starts distracting you.
  • Do the writing first. It’s the only way. Otherwise you end up watching OJ: Made in America before noon. (Trust me on this.) Also, the best thing about doing the writing first is that it’s done, it’s out of the way, and you can spend the rest of your time not feeling guilty or anxious, but smug and overly pleased with yourself that you got it done.
  • Focus. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But as I said at the top, these were things I’d forgotten. I’d forgotten that the internet is like a fibre optic cable plugged directly into my brain – I can’t work with it. Blocking apps don’t work for me; I can’t bring myself to turn them on and whenever I do, I pick up my phone before they’ve timed out. The best thing for me to do is go to a cafe or a library, not connect to the wifi and leave my phone in my bag at my feet. I can get as much done in an hour without the internet as I can in a whole day with it, and I write much better when I’m deep in my fictional world as opposed to being yanked out of it every five minutes, distracted by shiny things.

Change of Scenery

When writers moan about how lonely a profession this is, I roll my eyes. To me, that’s like saying ‘I love being hairdresser but – ew! – touching people’s hair. Yuck.’ I love the solitude. I need it. But I work from home, and my home is very small (I’m a writer and I live in Dublin city centre, so I’m essentially in a telephone box), and lately I’ve been experiencing cabin fever. So now I get out.

I’m surrounded by coffee shops and live only 15 minutes walk or so from my university, where there’s a whole library I can work in during office hours that’s comfortable, quiet and even has plug sockets. I’ve been making the most of this. The best things about writing somewhere else are that (a) you have almost none of the distractions you have at home and (b) when you do come home, you can enjoy it. There’s a separation between work and play.


Think outside the box. One day last week I was really, really fed up. The weather was terrible, I was struggling to write and I honestly could not look at these four walls for a moment longer. So I did something drastic: I went on Booking.com and looked for cheap hotel rooms available for that evening within walking distance of my home. If a hotel has availability and it uses a third-party site like that, it might drop its rates during the day to try and fill empty rooms that night. I got a bargain, threw my toothbrush and my laptop in a bag and walked 30 minutes down the road to the hotel. I refused the receptionist’s offer of the wifi password and brought enough milk and coffee with me to see me through the night. Then I wrote 6,000 words, falling asleep as the sun came up. It was ridiculous, but it was just what I needed.

* * *

So there you go. I also recommend (i) whingeing and moaning to your writer friends over gin-based cocktails, (ii) re-reading Rachel Aaron’s From 2K to 10K on a regular basis and (iii) investing in a Nespresso machine. And reminding yourself that, hey, this is your dream job. Jobs are hard and sometimes they suck and you’re not going to love every single day, and some days will be more productive than others. But don’t forget about the “dream” part. These are all good problems to have. I mean, I used to have a job where I spent my days stapling things together for Satan himself, and my nights crying about my blackening soul in the shower.

This writing gig? It’s not all that bad…


Distress Signals has a new cover! And it’s still only 99p! More exclamation marks! 

How’s your writing going? Do you suffer from procrastination? What do you do to help overcome it? Let us know in the comments below… 


Cover Reveal: The U.S. Edition of Distress Signals!

Good morning!

A short but exciting blog post this morning, as I am (a) getting ready for the launch of Hazel Gaynor’s gorgeous The Girl From the Savoy this evening, (b) working on my U.S. edits of Distress Signals and (c) finishing the first draft of Book 2 – yes, still – which is due at the end of this month.

So I’m just popping in to say that Distress Signals now has a U.S. publication date – 8th November 2016 – and I can finally show you the cover design, which I am SO in love with.


I think it’s absolutely fabulous and I can’t wait to see it in the flesh. And November 8th might have rung a bell – yes, it’s the day of the U.S. presidential election. Hey, at least you won’t forget!

Distress Signals will be published in the U.S. by Blackstone in hardcover, e-book and audio download. You can pre-order the hardcover on Amazon.com here.

In other news, I did a radio interview last week with Gerry Kelly on LMFM’s The Late Lunch, and honestly it was one of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve ever done. Gerry is an amazing interviewer. If you’d like to listen to it, click on this link and select the podcast for the Late Lunch on Thursday June 2nd. I start around 19:30.


And if you’re in Cork, I’ll be at Eason’s in Mahon Point Shopping Centre on Saturday June 18th at 2pm, signing copies of Distress Signals. Find out more about that event here.


I had a lovely weekend down in an usually sunny Cork, visiting bookshops and meeting some lovely booksellers (and trying to sweeten them up with, um, sweets). It was great to see Distress Signals on the shelves. Thanks to my Dad for doing all the driving!


Finally, a reminder: I’ll be at the West Cork Literary Festival in Bantry in July. I’ll be doing a workshop on The Business of Self-Publishing on Wednesday 20th July and my first (!) public reading from Distress Signals on Thursday 21st July (before hightailing it to Harrogate with the Wriitng.ie team – can’t wait for that!).

Distress Signals is available now in Ireland, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Find out more about it here.