Laurence O’Bryan describes himself as ‘an award winning Irish crime/mystery writer & social media evangelist who won’t shut up!’ Having spent years working out how to market books, he has had a #1 selling novel on Amazon and his novels have been translated into 10 languages.
His writing career kicked off in 2007 when his debut novel, The Istanbul Puzzle, won the Outstanding Novel Submitted Award at the Southern California Writers’ Conference. The same novel, five years later, was shortlisted for Irish Crime Novel of 2012. Fast-forward to 2015 and The Jerusalem Puzzle and The Manhattan Puzzle are on the book shelves and he’s currently working on his fourth novel, The Nuremburg Puzzle.
His novels have received rave reviews with his writing style compared to that of Dan Brown and Robert Harris, while others felt his electrifying conspiracy thrillers would entice fans of Scott Mariani and Sam Bourne.
‘A brisk plot which draws the reader into a conspiratorial rapport’ – The Telegraph
‘… stylish conspiracy thriller … combines plenty of stirring action with fascinating historical detail’ – Irish Independent
I first had the pleasure of meeting Laurence over three years ago at the monthly ‘live’ crime writers’ group he hosts in Dublin. Although venues may have changed over the years, his mission to help and promote fellow writers has become ever stronger and led to him setting up www.BooksGoSocial.com and most recently to organise the Writers’ Conference which takes place in the Irish Writers’ Centre in Dublin at the end of the month. With a 25 year career in IT marketing and over 117K Twitter Followers, surely he’s the ideal candidate to pass on all he knows to the many unpublished novelists trying to find the edge. It may all be about the writing but, it appears, once your masterpiece is complete it’s time to don your marketing hat and get it noticed.
The first thing you notice about O’Bryan is the sense of calm that emanates from him. He is soft-spoken and self-effacing, but when he speaks you’re keen to listen to what he has to say.
I begin the interview by asking him about the motto he has included on his website, “Not All Who Wander Are Lost – Níl gach uile fhánaí caillte”. ‘For me, it means that you can waste time – I did when I was younger – and still end up where you were meant to go. I think it means we shouldn’t worry about always being focused. Our dreams can carry us on strange paths.’
O’Bryan confirms that yes, it’s true, his first short story was published at the age of ten. “We made a school magazine in our final year in primary school. My story was featured.” He bends forward and whispers, conspiratorially, ‘It helps when you’re also the editor! It was a sci-fi story, about aliens getting lost.” He continues, almost wistfully it appears, that the “magazine is one of the few things I kept from that time.”
Although born in County Down and educated in Dublin and Oxford, his novels are set in such exotic settings as Istanbul, Jerusalem, Manhattan and the latest in Nuremburg. I’m curious to know why he chose these locations and did it then involve lots of research? ‘I’ve been to Istanbul, Jerusalem and Manhattan. Each of these cities fascinates me. Istanbul was so different from my preconceptions – so full of history. I had little idea about the Byzantine Empire, for instance, before visiting the city. I found it fascinating. I must have spent six months there, in total.’
When telling me about Jerusalem, his eyes light up, as he explains how he found it to be such an incredible city. ‘I visited it, and the Palestinian territories, in 2012. The whole area is on the fault line between the ancient and the modern, with all the religions of the book vying over it. You can feel the tension, and the real power of religious belief, in Jerusalem.’
Talk of Manhattan brings O’Bryan right back to his childhood and his obvious love of cinematography. ‘It filled so many movies and the TV series of my youth, with its skyscrapers and subways. It’s a dream city. A giant snow globe,’ he laughs. ‘And it’s full of history too. From Marilyn Monroe back through the depression and the Jazz age to the founding of the city in the first decades of European migration. Manhattan is a key part of western culture. I love it.’
When the conversation turns to writing techniques, O’Bryan tells me that he creates a synopsis first which would have the broad outline of the story and then he fills in the gaps. ‘Sometimes the story will bend and move differently to what I expected, but we usually end up in the right place at the end.’
He agrees that it is difficult to avoid your characters inheriting aspects of your personality. ‘We all interpret the world in our unique way. That has to come out in how we write. I have heard it said that a character can be a better version of ourselves.’ He pauses, ‘I hope so. I think writers include parts of people we know too. I try to mix the parts up, so individuals can never be identified. I don’t want to make enemies! I hope I will never meet or exhibit some of the traits of my characters. I never want to be a murderer or to let hatred corrupt me to the core.’
I ask if he was surprised to have his debut novel, The Istanbul Puzzle, not only win the Outstanding Novel Submitted Award at the Southern California Writer’s Conference but then to have it shortlisted for the Irish Crime Novel of 2012. ‘Each was a surprise. Each was wonderful. The first award was affirmation that I was on the right track. The second meant other people liked my book too. You never really know, do you, until someone tells you!’
Which led on to a conversation on reviews and whether he ever reads them? O’Bryan admits that on Amazon he has come across a number of ‘stunning, heart breaking, one star reviews’ but is quick to point out that there are lots more five star reviews. ‘I don’t read them as carefully as I used to. I have had some, which cut deep, but there are so many up there now, I don’t pay as much attention anymore. You need a thick skin to be a writer.’ And he offers words of wisdom, ‘and a cover you can put over your keyboard, so you don’t respond online.’
I’m interested to know a little about his career in IT marketing and wonder whether he thinks it might have helped to launch his writing career. ‘I worked for ten years in the UK, mostly in London. I saw the highs and the lows, in a way I never did in Ireland. What drove me to write though, was the empty hamster-on-a-wheel experience I had of corporate life. I found it totally unfulfilling. I needed to create, not just to work and consume.’ However he admitted that ‘my involvement in IT helped me when I decided to start a writer’s blog in 2009. That helped me get noticed.’
With the Writers Conference taking place in the Irish Writers’ Centre from 26-28 June I’m curious to know what attendees can expect from the event. ‘I went to about a half dozen writers’ conferences in the US and the UK over the past ten years. I enjoyed them so much. I hoped for a long time to be able to bring that experience to Dublin. We have a lot of conferences for readers in Dublin, but I wanted to have that coming together – of writers sharing and learning experience. I hope to provide that experience for writers here.’
O’Bryan tells me that there will be workshops hosted by an inspiring line up of writing craft instructors – Margaret Murphy, Jessica Morrell, Jean Gill, Catherine Ryan Howard and Debbie Young – who teach at writers conferences all over the English speaking world and have had many books published by major publishing houses. He is confident that they can provide ‘valuable opportunities to learn and make contact with people who can really help any writer’s career.’
The Digital Marketing Workshops will cover the use of social media and other digital marketing tools to aid writers to promote their writing. I wonder whether all of this can take us away from the act of writing or is it necessary, in the current climate, to secure that publishing deal. ‘We live in a world dominated by social media and the internet. To ignore all this, as a writer, would be like ignoring radio or television when they first appeared. You can do that, but why not participate in the technology of our age? We can use Twitter and other online tools to reach people. We can use them badly, waste time, and these services can take us away from our writing. But used properly, effectively, we can still find time to write and to live.’ O’Bryan is animated in his response, ‘I see opportunities as well as dangers in the online world. I see opportunities to find readers, to get noticed and to create deeper experiences for our readers.’
A busy schedule ahead, I wonder what’s next. ‘As well as BooksGoSocial.com, which allows me to help other writers, there’s a few writing projects I am working on. They include finishing The Nuremberg Puzzle and starting a new mystery series. I also recently did some work on a TV adaptation for a Hollywood production company, which was a lot of fun.’ Interested, I enquire further, but O’Bryan just smiles. ‘It’s still under wraps, until we get the final green light. Wish me luck!’
Full details on the Writers Conference which takes place in the Irish Writers’ Centre, Dublin from 26 – 28 June available here.
(c) Susan Condon
Susan Condon, a native of Dublin, has written a crime fiction thriller set in New York City. Her short stories have won the Jonathan Swift Award, the Bealtaine Short Story Competition and the Sport and Cultural Council, City of Dublin VEC and she was thrice long-listed for the RTÉ Guide/Penguin Short Story Competition. Publications include Original Writing from Ireland’s Own, Anthology 2012; South of the County: New Myths and Tales and My Weekly magazine. Follow her blog at www.susancondon.wordpress.com or follow her on Twitter: @SusanCondon