D C Gogan, author of Critical Value, tells us how writing stories on computer paper, aged five, led to asking the ‘what if’ question, and as they say, the rest is history!!!
The first thing I ever wrote on was that old, thin A3 computer paper that came accordioned in cardboard boxes. A detachable strip at each edge for antique dot-matrix printers. Blank on one side, alternating dark and light green strips on the other. That was the side I wrote on, printing with coloured pencils in the darker green and leaving the lighter strips free. My five-year-old brain was convinced that I had to write an entire story on a single page. Those stories weren’t much more than description of what I saw at the zoo/circus/beach with a list of attendant family members, but they were something. It was only in second class in school that I remember getting essay titles like An Adventure in the Park and realising the thrill of being given permission to make stuff up. I wrote copybooks full of stories, sometimes many different versions based on the same title I’d been given for homework. In Fifth Class my teacher asked if she could photocopy my stories and keep them (as an eleven-year-old my knowledge of intellectual property rights was limited at best, so I let her). In Second Year, I wrote a story about a hunter chasing a genetically modified monster through our school; the teacher read it out over two classes, and guys that never usually spoke to me came up to ask me what happened next. I wrote a horror novel when I was fifteen just so I could look like I was studying for my Junior Cert. I wrote, and occasionally finished, dozens of short stories over the years.
So I have technically always been a writer for the pure reason that I’ve always written things. But calling myself a writer feels strange, as if I should wait for someone to give me permission. My debut novel CRITICAL VALUE is out now and I’m reliably informed that people who neither know nor are related to me are buying it, so I guess I’m a professional writer. It’s thrilling, and gratifying and scary, but just ever so slightly unbalancing. The first time someone told me that (SUBTLE BACKPATTING ALERT!) they had finished my novel in a matter of hours when it had taken me over a year to write, my equilibrium took a knock. What did they think of the admittedly violent passages in the book? Weeks or months would go by between writing those scenes, but if you read the book quickly, how do I come across? From one point on the space-time continuum, I’m a careful writer, painstakingly constructing events so that the inevitable violence is shocking, but not gratuitous, and has somehow been earned. From another point, I am slavering and cackling away as nasty situations flow from the reptilian part of my brain via my clawed fingers, killing off characters indiscriminately (or, in some cases, with great discrimination).
I mention violence because I have written a crime novel; I guess so, anyway, because there’s crime in it. But when I was writing CRITICAL VALUE I didn’t consciously think that I was writing a ‘crime novel’. The catalyst for events is a brutal killing, but the two main things I think of when writing aren’t murder and mayhem, but (a) how my characters are going to react to the situation they’re in, and (b) what if…? And that ‘what if?’ is the best, most exciting thing about writing for me.
In the case of CRITICAL VALUE, the first ‘what if’ moment happened when I was daydreaming in a college lecture: “What if a student was doing research into how often people thought about killing someone, got lots of responses from people, and then someone was actually killed at the university?” That was the cue ball that made the break, scattering balls in not-quite-random ways to bounce and career off each other, until something like a pattern emerged by the third draft. Just like a thesis, you never really finish a novel, you just stop working on it. And now CRITICAL VALUE is out there, with its sadists, psychopaths, car chases (one), gunfights (three) and multi-dimensional scaling – yes, I like to think that I’m the first Irish writer to have a chapter based on the use of multi-variate statistics in offender profiling. Probably won’t spark off an erotica-like wave of non-parametric statistics-based thrillers, but it’s something different. And like I said, there is a car chase.
I’m currently working on my second novel and having my ‘what if’ moments with it, even if some of them are the negative ‘what if this is rubbish?’ sort of thoughts that other writers say they get but I don’t really believe… Ah, other writers. Despite the, ahem, current climate of sock-puppetry and fake online reviews (actual crimes, if what some analysts say about merchants allegedly pretending to be purchasers is accurate, which introduces Morissette-like levels of irony to the situation of crime writers committing crimes to promote their crime novels), the Irish writing community appears to be populated with mostly wonderful people, dedicated to honing their craft and extremely supportive of others. It’s a pleasure to be in their company, and if you feel moved to spend your money and your time on CRITICAL VALUE, I hope you enjoy it almost as much as I enjoyed writing it. Not that I’m necessarily a writer, you understand…
Adam Twohig is in his final year of Psychology at University College Dublin. He never settled into the college lifestyle, never plugged into the social scene, and never excelled at his studies. Which is why he’s puzzled when Greg Taylor comes to him looking for help with his thesis.
Greg is studying the homicidal fantasies of UCD students, getting hundreds of written accounts of students’ darkest, murderous desires. When high-profile Entertainments Officer Christine Harvey is savagely murdered, the investigating detective wants access to his data.
At first Adam thinks that the police are clutching at straws, but another murder on campus draws him deeper into the investigation.
The secrets buried in Greg’s data force Adam into an unlikely alliance between the Irish police and two FBI agents on the hunt for a serial killer, and put him and his friends in the sights of a murderer whose depravity seems to stand outside everything Adam knows about human psychology.
You can order Critical Value via the link below