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.

And The Winner Is…

Thank you to all the lovely bloggers who answered my ‘Can you help me launch Distress Signals?‘ call. Everyone who participated* had their names thrown into a hat this morning and the winner of the Distress Signals reading kit (below) is…


Drum roll, please …

X-Factor style pause …

Getting awkward now… 


Rhoda, please e-mail me a postal address and whoever’s name you want me to sign the book to. (If it’s you, that’s okay!)


Some of the blog features I wrote might be of interest to readers of this blog so I’ve linked to a selection of them below. Distress Signals is slated to be published in North America in October so if you’re a blogger who’d like to help out then (more goodies will be on offer), stay tuned!

Want to know the exact pen, computer and brand of coffee grounds you need to guarantee publishing success? Well, you’re in luck – just read my piece for the Irish Times online.

I shared my Definitive Guide to Tight Pants and First Novels with my publisher, Atlantic Books.

I told crime author Mark Hill about the dark side of the hospitality industry – don’t read until AFTER you get back from your hols, okay?

I shared my Top 5 Thrillers with Bibliophile Book Club and my Top 10 Crime/Thriller movies with Between My Lines. 

I gave Daisy Chain Book Reviews my top tips for writing a killer twist.

My Reading Corner and I discussed researching your book and using what you know (as opposed to writing what you know).

A blow-by-blow account of my typical writing day is over on The Very Pink Notebook.

After some technical difficulties, Mandi Lynn and I eventually managed a video interview:

I told Rhoda Baxter about my deep love of a battered 1993 movie tie-in mass market paperback edition of Jurassic Park.

Over on eBookPartnership.com, I blogged about what happens when the self-publisher gets published and I told Suzanne Rogerson why I didn’t self-publish Distress Signals.

And finally, over on Writing.ie I talked about how NOT to give up on your publication dreams.

Again, thank you to everyone who helped launched Distress Signals! I really, really appreciate it and reading your reactions to the book has made all the hard work worth it.

*Don’t worry if you forgot to send me the link – I Googled! 

Distress Signals is available now in paperback, e-book and audio download.


Publication: The Epic Debrief

A word of warning: you know the way I have a tendency to write really, really long posts? Well, this might be the longest one yet. But just think of it this way: I may not blog very often at the moment but when I do, I really do. I’d recommend you go make a fresh cup of coffee before you start. Maybe even grab a snack. Perhaps prepare a packed lunch…?

Getting published is a very strange experience. I spent fourteen months waiting for publication day to come around and then, suddenly, it was a week to go and I was desperate for another week or two to prepare. There just seemed to be so much to do, all at once. I had more than 30 different blog features to write and Q&As to answer, pieces to write for Irish newspapers and magazines, goody bags to assemble for my launch and what seemed like endless e-mails to tackle.


I was also preparing for not one but two book launches, which involved booking travel, hotels and venues for the drinks-and-nibbles party bit afterwards and, most importantly, losing ten stone in a week and shopping for outfits to cover an A, B and C Irish “summer” weather scenario. I also had to find a way to catch-up with the friends who were flying into Dublin for a weekend so they could attend my first launch, and to watch Harlan Coben’s The Five before someone spoiled it for me.

Oh, and keep plugging away at Book 2, study for four exams and, you know, eat and sleep and stuff.


Remember how a few weeks back I went to Paris? Well, since I was going by myself my plan was to sightsee and coffee-drink all day and then work on the features I had to write back in my hotel at night. When I checked into my room and found a beautiful little desk near a window with a view I thought, Perfect. But I didn’t sit down at it once the four days I was there. Because, well, Paris.

That meant that my plan to spend the week before my exams cramming for my exams went to pot, because instead I was catching up on (a) all the stuff I didn’t do in Paris and (b) the backlog of stuff I had to do that starting piling up while I was in Paris.


Cut to Tuesday, the day before my first exam and two days before Distress Signals comes out. I now have just one day to study for my first exam, except… Well, I really need to clean my apartment, go shopping for some industrial-strength shapewear to wear to my launch and collect my dry cleaning… So, ‘studying’ ends up being a SparkNotes speed-read. But it’s very difficult to care about potentially failing an exam when, you know, the only thing I’ve ever wanted is happening the day after it. The exam goes my way (I think – we’ll find out in a few weeks) and straight afterwards I met Eva, she of Mousetrapped fame, who’s flown in from Munich for the launch. We have an over-excitable catch-up lunch, compliment each other on not ageing a day (if we do say so ourselves) and then I disappear back home to tackle the last few emails and blog posts. While I’m there, I get a picture message: the girls (Andrea, also of Mousetrapped fame, and Michelle have since arrived from Orlando via Madrid) are in Dubray Books on Grafton Street, the site of tomorrow night’s launch, and have found my book on the shelves. Exciting!


That night, we all go out to dinner. I tell myself the G&Ts are to help me sleep. When I get home, I stay up to see if the Kindle edition of Distress Signals – that I’ve shamelessly pre-ordered – will arrive on my device once the clock strikes midnight. Spoiler alert: it does.


Launch day morning is actually quite calm. I have the day planned down to the minute and every minute before noon is for sitting in my PJs, drinking coffee from my new anchor mug and giddily clicking through all the lovely messages on Twitter and Facebook.


My parents and siblings are coming up from Cork to stay in a hotel in the city centre for the night, and even though I live in the city centre, I think I should get to stay in the hotel too. I check in and within ten seconds I’ve told the front desk agent that my book is being launched tonight. Same thing in the hairdressers, although that’s really out of necessity. (“Put ALL the hairspray in, okay? ALL of it.”) I have lunch with my editor from Corvus, Sara, who’s flown over from London for the launch too. She’s a very calming influence and talking to her reminds me that the most important thing that evening is that I stop worrying about stuff, relax and enjoy myself. So I do.

A G&T back at the hotel afterwards, just before I have to go get ready, also helps with this.


Then something amazing happens. My writer friend Hazel will be missing from the launch because she’s in Orlando on a family holiday of a lifetime. This is devastating because Hazel is one third of The Lovely Girls, the other two being me and our other writer friend Sheena, and without the two of them I might still be saying, “I’m just not ready to submit it yet…” But Hazel more than makes up for being away, because she’s at Kennedy Space Center, and she sends me this picture (above). If you know me but at all, you’ll know how much this means to me.



Here’s the thing with the launch, THE launch, my first one, in Dubray’s on Grafton Street: it’s been like a wedding. It feels as if not more important. I’ve been thinking about it and daydreaming about it and planning for it for more than a year. (Well, the daydreaming was definitely going on before that.) There’s a pit in my stomach where all the doomsday scenarios are hanging out: nobody will come, nobody will buy the book, everyone will come and everyone will buy the book and we’ll run out, I’ll get a ladder in my tights… And I’m really nervous about speaking, which is something I normally love doing. It’s all getting a bit much.

Is it too late to have another G&T?

(Yes, because the industrial-strength shapewear takes at least ten minutes to get off and back on.)


But… the launch goes amazingly well. It really does. And the main reason for this is that I get to enjoy it. As soon as I see friendly faces arrive, I start to relax. Even the speech goes really well. I start by talking about how it isn’t my first launch in Dubray’s; because I’ve such a talented bunch of writer friends, I’m at launches there all the time. “So,” I say, “please forgive me for this, but the first thing I want to say is… FINALLY! It’s my turn.”


That gets a good laugh, as does my top tip for getting published (“writing something”) and my instructions that, should I faint, just grab a scissors and cut me out of the underwear that is currently dissecting my spleen. There is one little moment when I realise what I’m doing, i.e. making a speech at my book launch, and my voice cracks and my vision blurs. Uh-oh. I’m crying. But I take a deep breath, tell myself to cop on and power through.


My writer friend Ellen sent me a lovely quote via Instagram that morning – “Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable” by Mary Oliver – and I think it’s the perfect note to end the speech on. But I don’t trust myself to say it so I get her to instead. It’s all great fun and at one point, even if it’s just for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hot second, #DistressSignals trends no. 1 in Dublin.


You can find all the launch pics on my Facebook page if you want to see more than what I’ve posted here. Huge thanks to Ger Holland who took all the professional shots on the night. Not only do I now have wonderful pictures to look back on, but she made us all look totally fab in them too. Hooray!


I’m in bed back at the hotel by a very reasonable hour (in my Distress Signals-matching pyjamas) but I can’t sleep. I’m too jazzed and am up scrolling through Twitter and Facebook well into the night. The next morning I’m hungover and sleep-deprived, so downing a bucket of Starbucks is the first item on my To Do list. After that I do a radio interview with a station in Cork and then hit the road with my publicist, Declan, to sign stock in Eason’s branches around the city and suburbs.


This is something a lot of authors do here in Dublin, but I wanted to add another element to my stock signing trip, namely something that would tie into Twitter. So: I brought goody bags. Remember all that blue, nautical stuff I was buying? That’s what that was for. At each location I left one or two behind and tweeted that the next person to buy a copy of Distress Signals would get the gift of a bag too.


Seeing piles of the book in store, signing them, meeting with booksellers – it was all so much fun, if completely surreal. And then, on the very last stop, I notice that I’m piled high next to Harlan Coben’s new book, Fool Me Once. This is the most surreal moment of the day, because Coben is my hero. Back in 2007, when I was living in the Netherlands, I took a train to Paris and back on the same day so I could attend a signing event he was doing in La Defense. When I got to the top of the queue, I found that I couldn’t coherently speak. I just kept smiling and nodding and let my friend Sheelagh do the talking for both of us. I was mortified, but hey, I’d met the great Harlan Coben and I had my signed book. Now, nine years later, I was looking at my book – my book?! – next to his. I put this on my personal Facebook and tagged him in it, and he left a comment on my post.


Bestseller lists? Awards? Good launch hair? Forget all that – Harlan Coben left a comment on my Facebook post!

So it was a really great, fun day, made even greater by the fact that I was home by mid-afternoon and so had time for a disco nap. Then it was back out for another gin-soaked dinner with Andrea, Eva and Michelle, who were all flying home the next morning. More fun, except—

Saturday morning. Back down to earth with a thud. All the excitement of the last few days, the running around, the dreams coming true, the gin… It’s all hitting me now and I can barely lift my head off the pillow. That’s a problem, because I have an exam at 2pm and I was supposed to get up with the dawn so I could try to cram enough facts about post-colonial literature into my brain to have something to write down come the afternoon. I keep hitting the snooze button and next thing I know, I’m out of time. I message my college buddy, Elaine, and tell her I’m thinking of not coming in, that I don’t think there’s any point, that I’m so underprepared there’s no way I’ll pass. She says, “Are you serious?” Well…

No. No, I should go. So I haul myself out of bed, throw myself into the shower for a second (I can get another day out of my launch hair, right?), eat an avocado with a spoon, swallow two espresso shots and run out the door. Do I pass the exam? I’ve no idea yet. I know I did better than I would’ve done if I’d stayed at home though. To get over the trauma, we head to a bar afterwards and have a French 75, which contains gin.

(I’m sensing a theme here. I really should have got Hendrick’s to sponsor this post.)


Dublin the next day – Sunday – is all blue skies and hot sun, but I’m spending it on a train to Cork. Launch No. 2 is Monday evening in Waterstone’s Patrick Street. Vanessa O’Loughlin, AKA Sam Blake, is coming down to launch it for me.


My attitude to this launch is totally different. I’m completely relaxed. I’m wearing a dress I’ve owned for years, I’m doing my own hair (badly) and I’ve arranged to meet Vanessa for a drink – yes, more gin – just before the bookshop bit. I’m that relaxed. But I shouldn’t be, because I’ve picked the absolute worst day for a launch. It’s a Monday, it’s raining like it did when the storm hit Isla Nublar in Jurassic Park and there’s been a traffic accident somewhere that makes the traffic absolutely apocalyptic. It’s going so slow it looks like that scene in The Walking Dead where Rick is approaching Atlanta while an endless line of abandoned cars snakes out of it. I think I’ll be walking into an empty shop, and wonder how long I can push the start time. But I’m actually one of the last to arrive. (My hair is disastrous, but we’ll get over that.)

My uncle took a video (above) of the Cork launch: Vanessa introducing me, me winging it and then my brother John reading the prologue of Distress Signals. (The speeches start at 1:35.)


Can I just say: it was very special for me to have my launch in that shop. I’ve been buying books in there for as long as I can remember – especially the “how to write books” kind of books. When I was as far away from my dream of getting published as I could be, I would go into Waterstone’s and buy a new one, and just reading it would spur me on. Getting to have my launch there was really special and BIG thanks to John and the rest of the staff for making it such a fab night, despite the rain and the traffic!


After a very late night, I was up early the next morning for more stock signings. This time, my brother was my chauffeur. I met some more lovely booksellers, saw my book in some more exciting places, and signed some more stock. Around lunchtime John and I are sitting in a Starbucks when I see that the piece I wrote for the Irish Times has gone up online (‘Catherine Ryan Howard on the secret of getting published: it’s all about the book’) and down the end of it is this:



I had no idea I was getting reviewed, so that’s excitement enough, but to know already what that review is going to say, and for it to be that brilliant… It’s just too much. The whole point really of the trade paperback (which is the print format Distress Signals has been published in) is to lay a foundation for the mass market paperback (the smaller one) which will come out a few months later. One of the key ways to do is to get reviews that you can put on the mass market paperback’s cover and here, not even a full week after publication, was ours. I was smiling to myself the whole way back to Dublin on the train, and not just because I had two bottles of champagne carefully wrapped in towels in my bag…

The plan was that I’d take the next day, Wednesday, off, i.e. have a sweatpants and Netflix day, and then starting Thursday it’d be cramming o’clock for my remaining two exams, which were one after the other in seven days’ time. Yes, that was the plan.


During my sweatpants and Netflix relax-a-thon, I fell asleep on the couch and woke up with an almighty crick in my neck. But no worries, I thought. It’s just because I slept funny. It’ll go away soon.

But it didn’t. The next day I went and got some heat packs (which look exactly like sanitary pads? Did nobody think that through?!) and some anti-inflammatories. They made me feel a bit better, but Vanessa Ronan’s launch for The Last Days of Summer was that evening, I was going, and I couldn’t really show up to it with what looked like a sanitary pad stuck to the side of my neck. So I just had to grin and bear it. Afterwards, I called into Dubray Books to see Distress Signals at No. 1 on their in-store chart for myself (below). By the time I got home, my neck was worse than ever.  Cue me trying everything: more heat packs, heat packs and a travel neck pillow, Ibuprofen gel, pills which made my stomach hurt, excessive sleeping …


In the midst of all this, there was lots of newspaper-related excitement. I’ve self-published in the past, as you know, so seeing people talking online about your book, reviewing it, recommending it, etc. while absolutely wonderful, is something I’ve experienced before. Traditional media coverage, however, not so much. I’ve never been reviewed in newspapers. And the weekend after my Cork launch – the second weekend of Distress Signals’ published life – I was spoiled with coverage. There was the aforementioned Irish Times review, another wonderful review in the Irish Independent, a feature in the Irish Daily Mail’s You magazine, a mention in Woman’s Way magazine and I wrote the ‘My Week’ feature for the Irish Sunday Times, in which I fit everything I’ve blogged about in this post into just 850 words, something you’re probably wishing now I’d done today too.

(You can find out more about the reaction to Distress Signals here.)


But my neck was still killing me, and nothing was working. Finally, the same college buddy who’d told me to get out of bed and go sit my post-col exam recommended something called wintergreen oil which I had to go buy from a Chinese medicine shop and just trust that it was wintergreen oil, because the label was in Chinese. And even though I was dubious and it smelled awful, it was a miracle worker. Almost from the first application, the pain started to go away.

But by the time this happened, it was Sunday evening. I’d lost nearly all my study time and now it was just forty-eight hours until the first of two truly awful exams. But they were the two last ones, so I crammed in as much as I could and just got them out of the way.

I took the last one the day after Vanessa O’Loughlin’s launch (for Little Bones, as Sam Blake – yes, it is book launch season in Dublin, in case you’re wondering) which involved a spectacular after-party in a secret speakeasy (that we needed a password to get into! Best launch EVAH) during which I drank yet more gin-based cocktails. I felt so sick the next day, I nearly threw up all over my Realism: The Novel paper.

(But I didn’t. That’s the main thing.)

In the midst of all this, the wheels started turning on the American publication, which is currently slated for October. Distress Signals will be published in the States in hardback, e-book and audio. I saw the cover for the first time last week and I can’t WAIT to be able to show it to you, because I love, love, LOVE it. It’s really amazing. And now we’re getting ready to go through the manuscript again, copyediting with American English and Americans in mind.


And this morning, more newspaper excitement, because Distress Signals is at No. 8 in Ireland’s Original Fiction chart! Not only that, but I hear copies of it are lurking in some CrimeFest goody bags…


This is one of my favourite pictures taken at the launch in Dublin. It’s me laughing about the fact that I’ve started crying again, because when I first met the wonderful Monica McInerney at an Inkwell workshop back in 2010, she inscribed a copy of one of her novels to me with a message that said she couldn’t wait to read mine. I was reminding her of this when I started crying again.

Three thousand words later, I just want to finish with thanks. Thanks to everyone who has bought, read or reviewed the book. Thanks to the amazing book bloggers who have written reviews that I want to print out and keep in a book that can be used to ward off self-doubt in the future. Thanks to everyone who came to the launches, and who helped me annoy everyone else on Twitter by tweeting about it incessantly. Thanks to Jane Gregory, Corvus/Atlantic and Gill Hess. Thanks to the booksellers and all my writing friends. Thanks to YOU, for reading this.

Now, back to Book 2. I’m actually itching to get back to it after all this non-writing excitement. Between now and next weekend – when I’m in Enniscorthy for the Focal Wexford Literary Festival – I’m locking myself away to finish it. The reaction to Distress Signals has been truly amazing, but, um, it is piling the pressure on… (First world problems, I know.)

Distress Signals is currently just £1.99 on Kindle. Tell a friend! Or tell an enemy. I don’t mind. If you want to find out more about it first, you can do so here. In short, it’s about a serial killer on a cruise ship. (Or IS it?! Dum-dum-DUUUUUUUMMMMM.)

Now please excuse me while I go lie in a dark room and watch Bates Motel.

(Thank you!)  

Dublin launch pics by Ger Holland Photography. Cork launch pic and video by Tom Ryan. Additional photos by Eva Heppel, Waterstone’s Cork, Marianne of Eason’s Mahon Point Cork, Gill Hess Ltd and Hazel Gaynor.