Why Paris Is Always A Good Idea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(What?!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isn’t that crazy?!

But it gets crazier. Better and crazier.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Blake/Vanessa O'Loughlin and me

Sam Blake/Vanessa O’Loughlin and me

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

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

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

Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards 2016 – Full Shortlist

bookclubnovel

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

irishpubbed

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

newcomer

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

nonfiction

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

tubs

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

poem

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

childrenjnr

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

childrensenior

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

cookbook

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

popularfiction

 

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

popnonfict

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

sports

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

shortstory

[You can read all the shortlisted stories here.]

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

bgacrime

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

HUGE congratulations to all my fellow shortlisted authors!

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

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.

cruisesstreet

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.

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(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):

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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… 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

SO FRAMING IT.

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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.)

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.)

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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!

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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:

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?!?!?!?!?!?!?

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.

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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 …

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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.)

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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.

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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…

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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. 

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

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. 

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Me in Magic Kingdom in 2006

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.

You can now read a preview of the first three chapters of  Distress Signals here. If you’re on Facebook, you can enter the giveaway currently running on my Facebook page. The prize is a signed copy and a gift. (Ends Friday 8th.)

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. 

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

(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?

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