Writers and Workshops

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

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

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

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


(Lancaster, all was forgiven.)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

‘So I read your book,’ they say.

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

All of it. Every word.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Build Write It and They Will Come

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

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 09.47.45

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

The ideas come while you’re writing.

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

photo 2-7

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

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

Early, First, Focused

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

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

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

Change of Scenery

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

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


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

* * *

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

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


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

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

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‘Twas the Night Before… Um, My Launch

Distress Signals comes out tomorrow.

Getting a novel published is something I’ve wanted since I was eight years old. It’s something I’ve been actively trying to do since I was 18. Eight years ago, I started to make fairly drastic changes in my life so I could go “all in” on making it happen, which would lead to me self-publishing non-fiction to keep me in coffee grounds and ink cartridges. I started with a book about my experiences moving to Orlando, Florida, to work in Walt Disney World: Mousetrapped. Over a year ago, at a minute to one o’clock on Monday 23 March 2015 (yes, I do know it to the minute), I finally got The Phone Call. It came only six days short of Mousetrapped‘s fifth anniversary and my launch tomorrow takes place almost six years to the day that I launched that book in a bookshop, coincidentally.

So I’m teetering on an emotional precipice and not just because I’m sleep-deprived and over-caffeinated and totally underprepared for my university exams. I know I need a new record but I cannot believe this day has come.

Anyway, let’s not get all touchy-feely. Instead, I’ll just say this: these are the things I’ll be thinking about as I (try to) fall asleep tonight…

Christmas Morning 1989


I asked Santa Claus for a typewriter (and Barbie’s Magic Van, which was the best toy EVAH) and promptly went to work on Christmas morning writing my debut. Later I’d ask my parents for an electronic typewriter, a Brother that I ended up writing English essays on for school. Later again, I’d convince them to buy a PC and then a laptop, just for me. But you know what? The first computer I actually finished anything on was also the first computer I’d paid for in full in myself. Coincidence?! I bet my parents would say no.

A Caravan in Garryvoe, July 1993

During the summer we used to go down to a 4-berth caravan we had installed in a field near the beach in Garryvoe, Co. Cork. One warm, sunny Friday afternoon – I assume it was a Friday; we were headed down there for the weekend – I convinced my mother to stop en route at a shopping centre so I could run in and buy the movie tie-in paperback of Jurassic Park to bring with me. I remember quite clearly lying on the bunk bed that slotted in above the dining table and across the front window of that caravan, trying to make sense of all the genetics and Chaos Theory parts Crichton put in at the beginning. I didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t. I wanted to write something that blurred lines in the same way.

I still have that paperback, although these days it’s only held together by Sellotape and love.

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My Friend’s Garden, Spring 2001

School friends on the cusp of leaving school, talking about our big dreams and plans for the future, for the Real World that lay waiting beyond. One of them – the realist – asks me what I’m going to do.

I’m going to be a novelist, I say.

Yeah, but what are you going to do? For work? Like, what if that doesn’t happen?

Her tone implies that she really means when. When it doesn’t happen.

I honestly cannot picture a future where it doesn’t. Not because of an excess of self-confidence or self-belief, but because I want it so badly, and it’s the only thing I want in this way, that I actually can’t imagine an alternative future. I don’t want to.

The Irish Writers’ Centre Dublin, Summer 2004

In the summer of 2004 I made a massive U-turn in my life, breaking up with a boyfriend I’d been living with at the time, a boyfriend that everybody around me thought would one day be a husband. It was immensely freeing and completely terrifying, all at the same time.

One of the first things I did was book myself onto a weekend’s Start Your Novel course at the Irish Writers’ Centre in Dublin (and into a swanky room at the Clarion Hotel. Hey, I was treating myself, okay?) At 22 I was the youngest on the course by about ten years and totally intimidated, but it was heady stuff being around people who openly admitted that what they wanted was the same thing I did: to write books.

The course was run by Rose Doyle. At the end of the first day she gave us an exercise to do overnight that we’d all read aloud and discuss first thing the following morning. I wrote a short piece – half a page – about a woman who’s just given birth being visited in the maternity ward by her husband and her best friend who – TWIST! – discovers from a series of exchanged glances that the two who didn’t just spend nine months growing a human are having an affair.

After I read it aloud, Rose made an approving sound and said, ‘So you’re going to write thrillers then.’

My Desk, May 4th 2016

Yes. Yes, I am.

* * *

So that’s what I’ll be thinking about tonight.

I’ll be doing this:


See you tomorrow for – SQUEALS – publication day!


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?


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. 

Mickeys Very Merry Christmas 003

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.


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?

Continue reading

Hello 2016! I’ve Been Waiting Ages for You

Can you believe it’s 2016? I certainly can’t. When I got my book deal (have I mentioned that…? #sarcasm) I was telling people, “It’s out in June. Like, next June. June 2016.” The reaction from civilians, i.e. those not involved in writing or publishing or book-making in any way, was always “What? What the hell takes so long?!” Then, come July 1 last, I was able to say, “The book is out in June.” Then I started saying “May” because the date got brought forward, and as of today I can finally say, “My book is coming out this year.” Time is flying forward at violent speeds.

photo 2-7

YEAR IN REVIEW ⇒ (prologue) The Surprising Thing About Rejection, or What I Learned in 2014 → (February) Scenes from the Rewrite → (April) How To Finish Your Damn Book

I’ll admit it: things got away from me a little bit this year. Up until May and then again since the end of September, I’ve been at college full-time. English Lit, you won’t be surprised to hear, involves a crapload of reading. This was something that, once upon a time, I was looking forward to. I imagined myself curled up on my couch, or comfortably ensconced somewhere among the stacks of the college library, or sitting cross-legged on the floor of the university’s designated bookshop, having some kind of delirious metaphysical experience with a classic title, one I just wouldn’t be able to believe I’d reached the age of thirty-something without ever reading before.


YEAR IN REVIEW ⇒ (May) I’ve Been BURSTING To Tell You: I Got a Book Deal! → (June) Being On Submission Syndrome → Are Amazon Really Paying Their Authors Per Page Read? No. No They’re Not. [Pause] Well…

Leaving aside for a second the fact that I would never sit cross-legged in any kind of retail space, this has not yet happened. Not once, and we’re up to the start of the last century, set-texts-wise. I applied to do this degree in part because I realized, sometime in late 2013, that for the previous eighteen months I had only read new books. And I mean new – either released recently enough to still be in the “New” section of the bookshop, or not even out yet (that I’d got in proof form). I used to joke that Orwell’s 1984 was as far back as I went, and only because when he wrote it, he set it in the future.

YEAR IN REVIEW ⇒ (July) A Short Story About Scarpetta → (August) How Many Drafts Did You Do Of Your Book? [Freshly Pressed!] → Something Nice From Nice

But as of right now, I’m not sure I didn’t have the right idea the first time. Awful, I know, but it’s difficult to make any kind of connection with a novel when it’s 500 dense pages long and you have a week to read it, digest it, read around it and prepare some sort of intelligent response to present in class – times six modules – while all the while trying to write a first draft of The Dreaded Second Novel in five months when The Exciting First Novel had a couple of years to percolate – as well as eat and sleep and stuff.

And yet, I’ve already seen all of Making a Murderer.

I’ve seen half of it twice.

As a crime writer I could say it was for research, but I’d only be kidding myself. The truth is I made time to watch it, even though it didn’t advance my progress on any of the extremely pressing items on my To Do list. The truth is that there is plenty of time to do all the things we really want to do. The challenge is making sure that none of that time gets away from us, and that we want to do the right things, the things that will make a difference in the long run.

But how do we do that? To be honest, I don’t know. But in 2016, this is my game plan:

  1. Get one up on my procrastination problem
  2. Track and plan (related: buy stationery)
  3. Stop being busy, talking about being busy, reveling in my busyness, etc. Be calm.


YEAR IN REVIEW ⇒ (September) Book 1/2: Full Steam Ahead → (October) What Could Happen If You Worked As Hard As You Possibly Could? → Where The Crying Happens → Book 1/2: Cover Reveal → (November) The Worried Writer → Book 1/2: Proof Copies //

January on this blog will be all about those three things. Speaking of this blog, my friendly WordPress end-of-year e-mail report thingy says I blogged a mere 17 times in 2015. That. Is. Shameful. For context I blogged 30 times in 2014, 81 times in 2013, 117 times in 2012 and a whopping – and rather unbelievable – 235 times in 2011. There was no annual report for 2010 but I do know that when I copied all the posts from that year into a Word document to make a bound copy of my year in blogging, it amounted to more than 100,000 words.

Do you see a pattern? That’s a trajectory I need to reverse – that I want to reverse. Consider me already brainstorming ways to do that, but if you have any suggestions for topics, features, etc. do let me know in the comments below. (Sorry, but I don’t mean guest posts. I mean things I can write.)

BOOK12newlogoAlso, you may have noticed that things are looking decidedly blue around here. Sadly, RIP Catherine’s Pink-Soaked Blog. Pastels and polka-dots don’t really say “crime/thriller writer” and that’s what my website needs to start saying now. Blood splatter and an author photo which comes with an overtly threatening expression aren’t my thing, so the blue is a compromise. Book One/Two also has a new blue logo and I have been having fun buying blue things for my Instagram props box.

A reminder: if you have a copyright notice on your blog, update it now.

So, we have a brand new year. What are you planning to do with it?