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. 

How To Get Published in Just 50 Easy Steps

(Did you miss me? After the craziness of the Distress Signals month-long blogging bonanza, I decided to give you all a month off from me. Well, a month and a bit. Also, since I last blogged WordPress have hidden the ‘justify paragraph’ button from me and it is driving. Me. CUCKOO. I can’t even look at this left-aligned. Oh my God. Deep breaths. Wait! Keyboard shortcuts! YES. Okay. It’s all okay. Everything’s going to be okay. Breathe… Okay. Anyway.)

As of February 1, this little blog is a staggering SEVEN years old. One of the first posts I published on here was a tongue-in-cheek How To Write A Novel in 37 Easy Steps. So, seven years and a bit on, and to break my post-blogging-bonanza fast, I’ve decided to update that – or rather, continue it.

How To Get Published in Just 50 Easy Steps! 

  1. Decide, aged 8, that you are going to be a novelist.
  2. Ask Santa for a typewriter.
  3. Ask your parents for an electronic typewriter.
  4. Ask your parents for a PC.
  5. Spend much of your late teens carrying the first three chapters of your first attempt at a novel, a Formula 1-themed thriller named Chequered Flag, around on a floppy disk. By ‘novel’ read ‘excuse to daydream about Jacques Villeneuve’s abs on the cover of Jacques Villeneuve: A Champion in Pictures’…
  6. Sorry, drifted off there.
  7. Avoid studying for your own Leaving Cert, i.e. the final exams in Irish school, by writing a funny but quite pointless YA novel about avoiding studying for the Leaving Cert. Submit it to a publisher whose office is 5 minutes’ drive from your house, because you think geographical proximity will help seal the deal.
  8. Get rejected.
  9. Tell your parents you need a laptop ‘for college’.
  10. Go to college.
  11. Drop out of college.
  12. Go to NYC for a week’s holiday and think this qualifies you to write from the POV of a NYPD detective. Submit your (god awful) attempt at a detective novel via post to a top London agent and get so swiftly rejected that SAE arrives back at your house before you do.
  13. Stop writing. Pretend that reading books about writing will move you closer to your published novelist dreams in the meantime.
  14. Quit your crappy job working in a greeting card store.
  15. Quit your pleasantly boring job working in an auctioneer’s office.
  16. Take a job in the Netherlands.
  17. Take a job in France.
  18. Take a job in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
  19. Buy John Mayer’s Continuum album and put ‘Stop This Train’ on repeat for 36 days. (This is KEY.)
  20. Go backpacking in Central America.
  21. Start writing a book about number 18 after you return home to Cork.
  22. Find an agent who is interested in said book but cannot represent you on the strength of it due to there being only about 23 people in the whole world who’d be interested in reading it and even less in buying it (probably).
  23. Tell agent you are already writing a novel. (This is a big fat LIE.)
  24. Decide you can’t write the novel because your soul-destroying job is slowly but surely sucking all the life force out of your blackening soul and if you don’t do something about it soon your heart will be an empty abyss of abandoned dreams, bitterness and contempt.
  25. Quit your job – in the middle of a devastating economic recession, for maximum dramatic effect.
  26. Put a MacBook on your credit card, because you simply cannot work under these conditions.
  27. Use your savings to relocate to an isolated and slightly scary holiday home by the sea (in winter, in Ireland) with two coffee machines and your new computer.
  28. Write a comic, corporate satire, chick-litty novel. Describe it The Devil Wears Prada meets Weightwatchers.
  29. Start submitting the novel to agents and editors.
  30. Buy John Mayer’s new Battle Studies album and put the song Assassins on repeat for thirteen days. (No, really. This is KEY.)
  31. Self-publish the Disney book, i.e. Mousetrapped.
  32. Read an article about cruise ship disappearances in a magazine that someone left behind them in a café that your mum was in shortly before she picked it up and brought it home.
  33. Write a book about number 20.
  34. Self-publish that book, i.e. Backpacked.
  35. Get a meeting at a Major Publishing House by way of your friend Vanessa. The MPH don’t like the Weightwatchers Prada book, but they do like your writing. Tell them you’ll write something else.
  36. Writing something else (well, a synopsis and three chapters of it) and send it to the MPH.
  37. Writing something else else (well, a synopsis and three chapters of it) and send it to the MPH.
  38. Write something else else else (well, a synopsis and three chapters of it) and sent it to the MPH.
  39. Go for a meeting at the MPH and get offered freelance work using social media to promote their commercial fiction titles instead. Be very excited about this.
  40. Get an idea for a thriller from number 32. Write 30,000 words of it.
  41. Stop.
  42. Buy John Mayer’s Born and Raised and put the title track on repeat for the entire month of May.
  43. Let a year pass.
  44. Struggle to find anything to play on repeat on Mayer’s Paradise Valley. *tear*
  45. Decide to apply to return to university as a mature student to student English Literature.
  46. Panic when you actually get in, as this necessitates a move to Dublin. Use the panic to push past the 30,000 barrier and finish the thriller. Call it Dark Waters. Start submitting it to agents.
  47. Go to college. Stay this time. Use this as a distraction from the UTTER DEVASTATION OF REJECTION.
  48. Unexpectedly get offer of representation from dream agent while sitting in a coffee-shop near college waiting for your American Genres lecture and looking out at grey and gloomy rain. (Hooray!)
  49. Work with agent’s amazing in-house editor to write a second draft of the thriller. Change the name to Adrift.
  50. Get a 2-book deal. (Bigger hooray!) Change book’s name to Distress Signals. Start buying everything you see with an anchor on it and planning your book launch like it’s your wedding.

If you want to read Distress Signals, check it out here for Ireland/UK and here for the USA. Also if you’re in Dublin this Saturday, I’m chairing a panel on self-publishing at the Irish Writers’ Centre Women Aloud NI IWD event. Get more info on that here.

Also, on a more serious note, there’s an update on the Irish resident accused of murdering his wife on the MSC Magnifica. In a line that could’ve come from Distress Signals, his lawyer has said to reporters, ‘If this was murder, where is the body? Where are the witnesses?’ (There are neither because, of course, this is a cruise ship.) A working theory is that he allegedly stuffed her body into a suitcase and threw it from the balcony of their Deck 11 cabin. You can read more about this terrible case here.

Next time on Catherine’s blog: the Great Desk Redesign of 2017! It involves an actual pink typewriter. AN ACTUAL ONE. 

Distress Signals is out in the U.S.! (Plus, a new video blog)

Guys, we made it! A 28 day straight blogging bonanza. Thanks so much for sticking around this past month.

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Distress Signals is out now in the US! It’s available in hardcover, e-book and audio download. You can read the beginning of it here or find out more about it here.

I did my final video blog this morning, which answers your questions about the US edition. I also show you the little pile of other people’s books I’m dying to get stuck into now that I’ve finished the latest draft of my own book, and shed about half a pound of hair.

Congratulations to katielookingforward who has won the signed copy of DS! (Please message me with your address, Katie.) Thank you for all your comments, retweets, Facebook shares, etc. over the past month. I am now going to take a few days off from this blog, you’ll probably be delighted to hear.

If you’re reading Distress Signals any time soon, I hope you enjoy it! x

#TBT: How Did I Get My Agent? (The Answer May Surprise You)

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2 (one week from today!), and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post. 

Thursdays are for throwbacks, so a replay of an old post. This one was originally posted in March 2016. 

(What an awfully clickbaity title, I know. Guilty as charged. But I think it will.)

It’s easy for me to answer the question “How did you get a book deal?” I only need two words and those are Jane and Gregory, i.e. my amazing agent. She took me on, we worked hard on revising the book and just five days after she sent it out on submission, we had a pre-emptive offer from Corvus/Atlantic for a two-book deal. My debut thriller Distress Signals will be out in mere weeks and you can find out more about it here.

But how did I get my agent?

Let’s back up a bit. Let’s go back a bit, to about seven years ago. That’s when my journey to publication really began.

Are you sitting comfortably?

I’d always, always, always wanted to write a novel but, despite daydreaming about this full-time and buying every How To Get a Book Deal: No Really, THIS Book is the One That’ll Make That Happen-esque title I could get my hands on, I was missing a crucial ingredient: a good idea for one. In the mid-2000s I stopped worrying about this and went off to have adventures working abroad instead.

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After moving to Orlando, Florida and taking a job in Walt Disney World in September 2006, I started keeping a diary about my experiences that eventually turned into a non-fiction book, Mousetrapped. I submitted it to various agents and publishers, who all said thanks but no thanks. One agent, however, really loved my writing and said she’d love to see some fiction from me if I was interested. At the time I was working an utterly awful job that was turning my soul more and more necrotic every weekday, so I made a drastic decision: I quit my job and used my savings to rent a holiday home by the sea for 6 weeks. (Note: I was living with my parents and had no real financial responsibilities.) I finished a novel – finally! – which was a kind of chick-lit meets corporate satire thing that I described as The Devil Wears Prada meets Weightwatchers.

firstdraft

I also self-published Mousetrapped. This was back in early 2010 and, being in Ireland, I benefitted from big fish/small pond in a big way. The book did well and I quickly established a blog, Twitter following, etc. I was interviewed on national radio, featured in various newspapers and even appeared on TV. I was invited to give talks and lead workshops and participate in panel discussions at various literary festivals and writing seminars. I even got to do a session at a Guardian Masterclass, to lead the first ever self-publishing workshop at Faber Academy in London and got put up in a dream-like 5* hotel in the English countryside by the (very generous) organisers of ChipLitFest. Because Irish publishing has, like, 50 people in it (okay, slight exaggeration…), I also got to know a lot of people who were in the industry and made lots of great contacts and new friends. The first year I went to the Irish Book Awards it felt like the office Christmas party, I knew so many people there.

One of these new friends was Vanessa O’Loughlin, who founded Writing.ie and works as a literary scout (and who, under her crime-writing alter-ego Sam Blake, is about to release her debut crime novel Little Bones). She loved my Prada/Weightwatchers novel and she gave it to an editor at Penguin Ireland, who called me in for a meeting. They didn’t love that book but they liked my writing, and wanted to see something else. For a couple of years I tried writing Something Else, but I was making a few mistakes, the biggest being writing what I thought would get me published (women’s commercial fiction) and not what I really wanted to write (crime/thrillers).

Looking back, I think I was scared to. It was all I’d ever wanted to do since I was a teenager – what if I couldn’t? Luckily in the summer of 2012 I got a clue and started writing Distress Signals.

In the meantime though, Penguin Ireland had a title coming out that they thought would really benefit from some focused social media marketing and since I’d had success using it to promote my own books, they asked if I’d be interested in trying to make it work for them. I was and it did – and so they gave me more projects. That was in the autumn of 2012 and although I am winding down my work for them now – because, in the midst of all this, I went back to college and got a book deal so I don’t have the free time that I used to! – I have been working for them, freelance, ever since.

Got all that?

So to recap: it’s September 2014 and I’m a writer with a novel that I dream of getting published, who has already successfully self-published, has media experience, does well speaking in public and has been paid to do it, works for the biggest publishing house in the world (after the merger, anyway) and has a proven track record for selling books, not just her own but other people’s too.

Surely, I thought, there’ll be a queue of agents ready and waiting to snap me and my book up. I look so good on paper. Everything is in place. I’m a publisher’s dream.

Right?

Jane wasn’t the first agent I submitted to. I actually had no plans to submit to Jane at all, because it’s like deciding you’re going to gatecrash an Oscar party and then aiming for the Vanity Fair one. The chances of success are better for winning the lottery. She gets 5,000 submissions a year, takes on 2-3 new clients annually and only allows a submission in the first instance of the first ten pages of your work. Plus her roster of clients reads like the Female Crime Fiction All Stars team. I thought there was no hope.

So before I submitted to her, I submitted to a few other agents – more realistic choices, I thought at the time. Below is the actual text of the (loooong) cover letter I sent to them.

(FYI: Distress Signals was called Dark Waters back then and this letter is a couple of years old.)

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Great, right? I was downright smug about this cover letter. I was the mayor of Smugsville.

But the agents I submitted it to? They weren’t impressed. They all said no, because they didn’t like the book that came with it.

On a day in September 2014, I remember very clearly sitting at my desk – where I’m sitting now – browsing the Gregory and Company website. I couldn’t get over the idea of the ten pages. How could they possibly tell whether you were good or not from a mere ten pages? I read over mine and thought they’d never cut the mustard. But… What did I have to lose? So, feeling like I was probably completely wasting my time, I sent in my submission.

Time out here to say something very important: follow the submission instructions to the letter. To. The. Letter. I didn’t send nine pages. I didn’t send eleven. I sent ten, which is what they asked for, even though this left them hanging mid-chapter. I had done my research; I knew Jane specialised in crime fiction. I personalised my letter. I sent it to the e-mail address they specified. I didn’t telephone to ask any questions, I didn’t email five days later to check if they’d got it and I didn’t Google Map their address, fly to London and post a chocolate bar through their letterbox with a note saying, ‘Something to enjoy while you read my submission!’ I just did what I was told. Nothing more, nothing less.

The vast majority of submissions that come into agents’ offices – and for as long as I live, this is something I’ll never understand – don’t follow the agency’s submission guidelines. Even though they’re right there, on the website. I just don’t get it. You’re hoping this person will enter into a long-term business relationship with you, that you’ll become partners at the wheel of your career. That they’ll risk investing time in you that they might never get paid for. And they’ve never met you. All they know is what you present. And you start off by completely ignoring what they’ve politely requested you do?

It reminds me of the time I was working in a B&B and we needed a new part-time member of staff. I put an ad online that asked for people to email a CV and, because the B&B was incredibly busy and we barely had the time to answer the phone to prospective guests, I specified that application was by e-mail only (important because the position would involve a lot of emailing with guests, etc. and the e-mail itself would provide us with an insight into their skills in that area) and that the person doing the hiring would not be at the property itself, so please don’t call. But what did people do? They called. And they called to ask questions that were either answered by the ad or that weren’t appropriate to ask at that stage of the application process. Of all the calls like this I answered, not one caller had a legitimate reason to call. So it may sound harsh but anyone who called got put in the “No” pile – because, by calling, they had proved that they couldn’t follow simple instructions and other people who wanted the job had proved that they could, so…

In summary: follow the instructions. Just by doing that, you’ll already be putting your submission head and shoulders above most of the rest.

Anyway, a couple of weeks after I sent in my submission, Gregory and Company asked me for the full manuscript and a couple of weeks after that, they offered to represent me and I celebrated with Starbucks and champagne. (Thanks, Denise!)

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It all had all been worth it. That’s what I thought. All those years – five of them, at this stage – that I’d spent worming my way into the publishing industry, establishing myself, selling books… It had all been worth it because now I had managed to write a cover letter that had convinced an agent – the agent – to take me on.

Except I hadn’t.

Because Jane wasn’t interested in the cover letter or its contents. When we first met, she asked me a few things that made me suspect she hadn’t even read it, or perhaps someone else on her team had and they’d just recapped the highlights for her. She was only interested in one thing: the book. She made her decision based on one thing: the book. I got a book deal based on one thing: the book.

The other agents rejected me because my cover letter theatrics weren’t enough to make up for the fact that they didn’t like the book. They didn’t “love it enough”. Not one of them said, “Well, I think this is good but I don’t think it’s great… But I’m so impressed by everything you’d done over the last few years and I think you could still manage to flog a few copies of it even if it isn’t great, so… I’m going to offer to represent you anyway!”

Do you see where I’m going with this?

I have had a lot of fun since 2009. But I always had my eye on the prize. Whenever I got an invite to somewhere cool or I met someone important or I was interviewed by a newspaper whose name everyone would recognise, there was a part of me that mentally banked it for the cover letter that I’d ultimately send in with my submission. That’s always what I was working towards. And there was, admittedly, a part of me that also thought, Even if they don’t think the book is great, wouldn’t they still take me on because of all this stuff? I’m such a catch! 

Sometimes I slipped in little puddles of despair and looked around at all my friends with agents and book deals – some of them friends who didn’t have blogs or websites, or who rarely used Twitter – and got annoyed. Why didn’t I have agents and book deals, eh? Hadn’t I done my time? Paid my dues? And then I’d remember the big difference between us: they’d all finished books. I’d been too busy adding to my CV to finish mine.

Maybe you had the thought, when I was on here squealing and exclaiming about getting a book deal or getting an agent, of course she did. She works in the industry and she has great contacts. That’s fine for her but I don’t have those advantages. I don’t have a platform and I don’t know anyone on the inside. 

But I’m here to tell you – and this was as surprising to me as it might be to you now – that when it came to it, none of that mattered. It really didn’t. It was only about the book. I didn’t know Jane and Jane didn’t know me. I just went to the website, got my instructions and submitted the first ten pages of my book, just like approximately 5,000 other people did that same year.

And I’m not the only one whose story is like this. Most of the writers I know, their stories are the same.

(Of course, there are exceptions. Some people meet their agents at novel fairs or conferences or even online. Meeting at conferences seems to be a big thing in the U.S. And I’m guessing celebrity memoirs and celebrity novels aren’t quite all about the book, because at the end of the day the clue is in the name – it’s called the publishing industry – and brands sell books. But we’re not talking about celebrities, we’re talking about you and me.)

For us, it’s all about the book.

So don’t worry about anything else. Just make your book the best book it can be. When you start agent-hunting, you’ll have just as much chance of success as anybody else.

Well, provided you follow the instructions anyway.

(Guys, we just have ONE WEEK left of this blogging craziness! Almost there…)

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Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!

Catherine’s Video Blog Thingy: Episode 2

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2, and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this postIf you’re in Ireland or the UK, you can download Distress Signals for just 99p for a limited time.

TODAY IS FRIDAY which can only mean one thing: I’ve made a huge mistake. Because on Fridays, I committed to posting a video blog. (WHY?!) Here it is, the second episode of Catherine’s Video Blog Thingy…

In this episode:

  • My new favourite plotting tool
  • A podcast that every writer should listen to
  • Your questions answered
  • Lots of things going wrong
  • My glasses perched precariously at the very end of my nose.

Let me know what you think in the comments below, which is also the same place you can leave any questions you’d like me to answer in next week’s episode.

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Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!

Also, it’s just 99p to download right now! 

Throwback Thursday: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2, and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post.

Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!

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If you’re in Ireland or the UK, you can download Distress Signals for just 99p for a limited time.

It’s Thursday, which under the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza rules, means a replay of an old post you might have missed the first time. This was originally posted last April.

‘WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR IDEAS?’

The dreaded question asked of writers the world over. Now while personally I’ve been stalking authors – ahem, I mean, going to author events for years and have only ever heard it in the context of authors saying they’ve been asked it, I don’t doubt its popularity. Because that’s what everyone wants to know. It’s what I want to know whenever I read a book with an intriguing premise and/or a huge twist. How did he come up with this? Where did she get the idea for that?

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I can tell you exactly where I got the idea for Distress Signalsthe 12 November 2011 issue of the Guardian Weekend magazine. Specifically its cover story, ‘Lost at Sea’ by Jon Ronson.

Someone left their copy of it behind them in a cafe in Cork, and my mother picked it up and brought it home for me to read. This is something she does all the time: she saves magazines and newspapers, or just clippings from them, or nowadays she’s more likely to email a link to a thing she’s read that she thinks you might be interested in. Thinks. And that’s the problem, because more often than not the link between the article and an area of interest to you is tenuous at best.

For instance, back when I was self-publishing, she thought that all I wanted was to read local community newsletter stories about the latest Tom, Dick or Harry who’d written a 400,000-word opus about every single thing that had ever happened to him, ordered a box of them from CreateSpace and was now flogging it to family and friends while wondering aloud where you send submissions for the Booker.

(I didn’t, for the record.)

Even here, on this occasion, the link was weak. Once upon a time, I worked in Walt Disney World. Not directly for Disney, but for the global hotel brand that operated one of the resorts next to Epcot – and decidedly on dry land. Three and a half years after I returned home, Mum sees a story about a Cast Member (employee in DisneySpeak) who’d disappeared from the Wonder, a Disney cruise ship (run by an entirely separate branch of Mouse Ears Inc), and thinks Oh, Catherine worked for Disney too, she’ll be interested in that. 

Turns out though I actually was, although not because of the Disney link.

I’d never been on a cruise ship or been even mildly tempted to get on one – the biggest ship I’d ever been on was an overnight passenger ferry to France. Still, I had what I would assume are typical ideas about it for someone who’d never been: suntanned pensioners, buffets and cocktails, cabaret shows. Bad stuff that could happen to you on a cruise were, in my head, mostly limited to: (a) claustrophobia because you didn’t book a cabin with a balcony, (b) getting stuck with annoying people at dinner and (c) Norovirus. (The Costa Concordia would add another possibility to that list – sinking – in a couple of months’ time.) As for the rest… Well, terrible things happen in hotels too, on occasion. I knew that from experience. Many suicides, for instance, happen in hotels. A cruise ship is primarily a floating hotel. What’s the difference?

The difference is that if something happens to you in a hotel in New York, the NYPD will come running. If something happens to you in a hotel here in Dublin, the Gardai will quickly arrive on the scene. But what happens when you’re on a ship that’s sailing in international waters? What happens when you’re in no country at all?

Rebecca Coriam was a British citizen working on a ship that was based out of L.A. – a ship owned by a company headquartered in the UK – who disappeared somewhere between the U.S. and Mexico. But yet her disappearance – potentially a crime with a witness list of 3,000 passengers and crew – was investigated by one man, a police officer from the Bahamas, who couldn’t start his investigation until he’d flown over a thousand miles to meet the ship. Why? Because maritime law governs cruise ships when they’re in international waters, and it states that the authority on board is that of the country where the ship is registered. Cruise ships tend to be registered in ‘flags of convenience’ for tax purposes, e.g. Bahamas, Panama, Libya. And no authority is on board, ordinarily – they have to be invited on, which only happens after the fact.

Would you go on holiday to a country that had no police?

Moreover, on a ship with thousands of passengers and crew, a disappearance might not be noticed immediately. And what if it wasn’t a disappearance? The ship might continue to sail away from the location where it happened, the crime scene could be a cabin that’s getting professionally cleaned once a day and potential witnesses – crew and other passengers – could leave the ship and go home. It’s also surrounded by the perfect place to dispose of evidence: three hundred and sixty degrees of open sea.

I was horrified. But at the same time, I was reasonable. This was a horrendous tragedy, yes, but surely it was an isolated incident…? Then I read something that stopped me in my tracks, so much so that I actually took out a pen and highlighted it.

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International Cruise Victims. International Cruise Victims. What was happening out there that a group like this existed – and clearly needed to? I started researching the answer online, reading the stories I found with my jaw on my desk.

I came away with three clear ideas in my head. There are no police at sea was the first. The second was the horrific challenge of looking for a missing loved one, searching for them all by yourself, when you had the whole world to check and no one to help you. What would you do? Would you – could you – ever stop, give up? How far would you go if you just had to know what had happened? And the third, which came later, when the wheels in my crime-writer-brain really started whirring, was this: A cruise ship is the perfect place to get away with murder.I once watched an interview with Edna O’Brien where she talked about writing being her way of grieving for what she read in the headlines. I think of Distress Signals a bit like that, a way of working out for myself the question that I kept asking when, after reading Ronson’s article, I started researching the laws, circumstances and attitudes that seemingly enable cruise ship crimes to happen so frighteningly often: how can this be? 

That’s where I got my idea.

The original article by Jon Ronson is online here and it’s also included in his collection of journalism, Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries, which is available here. Rebecca Coriam’s parents have established a website here, and also had a hand in founding the Maritime Victims International Helpline initiative. You can visit the International Cruise Victims website here. Cruise Junkie keeps a running tally of how many people have gone overboard from cruise ships going back to 1995. It’s currently at 270. [Update: it’s gone up to 285 since I first published this post.] 

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Quick reminder: leave a comment on this post to be in with a chance to win a copy of Distress Signals.

Also, it’s just 99p to download right now! 

The Best Thing About Getting Published

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2, and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post.

Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!

If you’re in Ireland or the UK, you can download Distress Signals for just 99p for a limited time.

BACK IN NOVEMBER, I brought my friend Iain to the Irish Book Awards. We’ve know each other for eleven years and he’s one of my favourite people, but he was, unfortunately, in the U.S. with work the night of my book launch back in May. Being Instagram-ready and owning his own (blue) tux, I thought the perfect commiseration prize would be to come with me to the Irish Book Awards. Getting shortlisted for Crime Novel of the Year was obviously a huge deal for me, but when Iain asked if it was the highlight of this whole getting-published adventure, I don’t think he expected me to say no.

Don’t get me wrong – it was fabulous. But the actual highlight was a tweet from a stranger who’d just finished Distress Signals. I received it over the summer. It contained the phrase ‘Thank you for those lovely hours of reading’. And I don’t know why, but it struck me right in the feels.

I think because my idea of pure joy is to curl up on the couch with a fabulous book, a blanket and a cup of tea, and lose myself in another world, and to wander back, hours later, feeling like those hours were well spent. So the idea that I could have given that to someone else was honestly – without turning this into a total cheesefest – the best thing that had ever happened to me.

So I thought, instead of a year-in-review type post, I’d tell you about some of the other ‘best’ moments I’ve experienced since my book came out, the kind of things that have made all the hard work utterly worthwhile…

A BOX OF BOOKS

If you follow any authors online, you’ll know what an exciting moment it is when you get a box of your books for the first time. I can tell you firsthand that the excitement is the same whether you’ve self-published on CreateSpace or whether a whole team of people you’ve never met have put your book together at a publishing house. I clearly remember the moment I first held finished copies of Distress Signals in my hand back in March, and I clearly remember the moment nearly six years before that when I opened a box and saw stacks of Mousetrapped inside.

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But the smallest box was the biggest surprise. It was from Blackstone, my U.S. publisher, and it contained two wonderful treats: proof copies of the book and some of the ‘cruise brochures’ they’d made to send out to reviewers. I’d been expecting them. But what I hadn’t been expecting was that the proofs would be in hardcover. I love to read and I love to write, but I also love books, the physical objects themselves. Holding a beautiful hardcover edition of my book – way earlier than expected – was quite the treat indeed.

A Starbucks Shock

The week my book came out was probably the busiest, most exciting week of my life – because I had two book launches (one in Dublin, one in Cork), some of my best friends travelled from abroad (from Munich, Orlando and Orlando via Madrid) and I had university exams to contend with as well (update: I passed everything). You can relive the madness in this post.

One of the best moments of the whole thing though happened while I was sitting in Starbucks with my brother the morning after the Cork launch. Scrolling through Twitter, I saw that the Irish Times online had published the article I’d written for them on the secret of getting published. The tweet with the link said Distress Signals was going to be reviewed the following Saturday.

Well, my stomach dropped. This was the first I heard of the book getting a broadsheet review and of course my immediate thought was, What if they hate it? This was Tuesday – there were three days of worrying about this to go before I’d be put out of my misery. I felt sick. But then I clicked the link and scrolled through the (short) article to remind myself what I’d actually written, and down the bottom was this:

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Well, I actually squealed in the middle of Starbucks. My brother didn’t know what was happening. It was so much good news in one moment: a review in the Irish Times, a good one, and me not having to spend the next three nights awake in the dark wondering – hoping, praying – that the reviewer didn’t think it was a load of crap. Hooray! (You can read the full review here.)

A STARBUCKS SURPRISE

The following Sunday was a beautifully sunny one in Dublin. (This was back in May.) I live in a place which basically has a Starbucks nearby no matter what direction you head in, so on this morning I picked up some newspapers and headed to an outdoor table at my nearest one. I knew I was going to be in the Sunday Times because I’d written the piece but as I flipped through the Sunday Independent, I found a review of the book in there too! It was such a nice moment: sunshine, coffee and an unexpected review.

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Plus, there in black and white: my debut thriller on the bestseller lists. No. 8 in Original Fiction.

Coffee never tasted so good.

BEST NINE

If you use Instagram, you’ll know that at the year’s end there’s a tradition of posting your ‘best nine’, an automatically generated collage of your most popular nine posts of the year. I, however, decided to manually choose mine, and I picked out the nine pictures that represented the highlights of my 2016.

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They were, going left to right, row by row:

  1. Receiving finished copies of Distress Signals for the first time and immediately throwing a shelf of books to the floor so I could snap a picture of them all lined up (with matching flowers, obviously!)
  2. A fortnight before the book came out I took myself off to Paris, by myself, for a few days, just to have a bit of quiet Me Time before all the book launching, exam-taking and Book 2-writing started. This was taken at Les Deux Magots and that book is one of my favourites: A Writer’s Paris by Eric Maisel. It’s a book of dreams.
  3. My writing bestie Hazel Gaynor launched her book The Girl From The Savoy in a cocktail-soaked, 1920s themed party and being the best pals ever, myself and Sheena Lambert (The Lake) came dressed appropriately.
  4. Late in the summer I stayed in a hotel in Villefranche, about 10 minutes’ drive from Nice, that offered the most exquisite view of any hotel room – or room in general – I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying in. As this was just a week after the horrific Bastille Day attack it was quite a sad, sobering time to be in the area, but tourism is their livelihood and I thought it was important to go anyway and show my support for the city I love.
  5. The aforementioned Hazel missed my book launch because she was in the only place I couldn’t be angry at her for choosing instead: Orlando. I actually emitted a high-pitched noise when I saw this picture on Facebook. She took a copy of the book to one of my favourite places on earth, Kennedy Space Centre, and got an, ahem, astronaut to hold it. I mean
  6. Back to Villefranche again. It features in the book, because it’s where Adam disembarks the Celebrate, and I spent some time writing it there tooThey have an adorable free library in the village square, so I left a copy of Distress Signals in there, with a note inside (see below). I wonder who got it?
  7. It wasn’t all full and games, because 2016 was really dominated for me with the writing of Book 2. Moving swiftly on—
  8. An absolute high point: the shortlist announcement for the Irish Book Awards. Distress Signals was nominated for Crime Novel of the Year alongside my hero Tana French (for The Trespasser) and, better yet, I got to celebrate it alongside many dear writing friends who were, in an astronomical defeat for the “it’ll never happen/give up on your dreams” crowd, also nominated. (Read more about that here.)
  9. And after all that… Relaxing at home with my family at Christmas. And wine!

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But you know what?

In all honestly, the best moment was still that tweet. Thank you for those nice hours of reading.

Thank you for reading this.

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Quick reminder: leave a comment on this post to be in with a chance to win a copy of Distress Signals. Also, it’s just 99p to download right now!