In May 2016, my biggest dream came true: my debut thriller, Distress Signals, was published. I had wanted to get a novel published since I was 8 years old and the journey to that moment had taken much longer and had many more twists than I ever could’ve anticipated. To mark the occasion, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek blog post called How To Get Published in 50 Easy Steps.
Last week I learned that my second novel, The Liar’s Girl, has been nominated for an Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America. Their coveted Best Novel award has been awarded since 1954 and previous winners include titans of the genre like Raymond Chandler, Ian Rankin, Minette Walters, Dennis Lehane and Stephen King, who won it in 2015 for Mr Mercedes. I can’t say this is a dream come true, because I didn’t even dream it! To be even tenuously linked to such names is beyond incredible and it’s only in the last few days – helped, probably, by my latest deadline on Book 3, ahem – that I’ve come back down to earth.
And so now, to mark THIS occasion, I’ve updated my list…
- Decide, aged 8, that you are going to be a novelist.
- Ask Santa for a typewriter.
- Ask your parents for an electronic typewriter.
- Ask your parents for a PC.
- Spend much of your late teens carrying 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 abdominal muscles on the cover of A Champion in Pictures…
- Sorry, drifted off for a second there. ANYWAY—
- Avoid studying for your own Leaving Cert by writing a mildly amusing 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.
- Get rejected.
- Tell your parents you need a new laptop ‘for college’. Ahem.
- Go to college.
- Drop out of college.
- Go to NYC for a week’s holiday and think this qualifies you to write a first person narrative NYPD detective novel. 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. (Ah, SAEs. Remember those?!)
- Stop writing.
- Commence reading books about writing. ALL THE TIME.
- Quit your crappy job working in a greeting card store.
- Quit your pleasantly boring job working in an auctioneer’s office.
- Take a job in the Netherlands.
- Take a job in France.
- Take a job in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
- Buy John Mayer’s Continuum album and put ‘Stop This Train’ on repeat for 36 days. (This is KEY.)
- Go backpacking in Central America.
- Start writing a book about number 19 after you return home to Cork.
- 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.
- Tell agent you are already writing a novel. (This is a big fat LIE.)
- Decide you can’t write the novel because your soul-destroying day-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.
- Quit your job – in the middle of a devastating economic recession, for maximum dramatic effect.
- Put a MacBook on your credit card, because daahling you simply cannot work under these conditions.
- Use your meagre savings to relocate to an isolated and slightly scary holiday home in the dead of winter with two coffee machines and your new computer for 6 weeks.
- Write a comic corporate satire/chick-litty novel. Describe it as The Devil Wears Prada meets Weightwatchers. Feel smug about that.
- Start submitting the novel to agents and editors.
- Buy John Mayer’s Battle Studies album and put the song Assassins on repeat for thirteen days. (No, really. This is KEY.)
- Self-publish the Disney book, i.e. Mousetrapped.
- Read an article about cruise ship disappearances in a magazine that someone left behind them in a café that your mum picked up and brought it home.
- Write a book about number 21.
- Self-publish that book, i.e. Backpacked.
- Get a meeting at a Major Publishing House by way of your friend Vanessa (of Writing.ie fame). The MPH don’t like the Weightwatchers/Prada book, but they do like your writing. Tell them you’ll write something else.
- Writing something else (well, a synopsis and three chapters of it) and send it to the MPH.
- Writing something else else (well, a synopsis and three chapters of it) and send it to the MPH.
- Write something else else else (well, a synopsis and three chapters of it) and sent it to the MPH.
- 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.
- Get an idea for a thriller from number 33. Write 30,000 words of it.
- Buy John Mayer’s Born and Raised and put the title track on repeat for the entire month of May. (I JUST CAN’T STRESS HOW MUCH THIS IS—)
- Let a year pass.
- Struggle to find anything to play on repeat on Mayer’s Paradise Valley. *tear*
- Decide to apply to return to university as a mature student to student English Literature because arranging your life around something you desperately want to happen but have zero control over is no fun.
- 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 in 5 weeks. Call it Dark Waters.
- Start submitting Dark Waters to agents.
- Go to college. Stay this time. Use this as a distraction from the UTTER DEVASTATION OF REJECTION.
- Unexpectedly get offer of representation from dream agent while sitting in a coffee-shop near college waiting for your Week 6 (i.e. half way through the first term of the first year of your four-year degree) American Genres lecture and looking out at grey and gloomy rain.
- Work with agent’s amazing in-house editor to write a second draft of the thriller. Change the name to Adrift.
- Get a 2-book deal. (HOORAY!) Change book’s name to Distress Signals. Start buying everything you see with an anchor on it for the ‘Gram.
- Meet your editor about Book 2. Tell you her have an idea and describe the introductory paragraph of an article you read about Thomas Quick, once thought to be Sweden’s most prolific serial killer. The kicker is the last line when, after confessing repeatedly and in graphic detail to killing around 30 people and having been convicted of about 8 of those crimes, the journalist writes, ‘… but he’d left out the worst part of all.’ Tell her you want to write a novel with that blurb on the back. Editor thinks this is an amazing idea.
- Realise that all you have is that paragraph. You’ve no plot, no characters and, crucially, no idea what the worst part of all is. PANIC.
- Some more.
- Get shortlisted for the Irish Crime Novel of the Year for Distress Signals.
- Get shortlisted for the CWA New Blood John Creasey Dagger for it too.
- Celebrate Distress Signals being optioned for television.
- Feel a crushing, choking pressure because WHAT?! How are you supposed to follow up that? HELP!
- Write the worst first draft you’ve ever written in your life – so bad that you still cringe when you think about the fact that you let your editor and agent see it. (Nooooooooooooooooooo!)
- Insert crying here.
- Write a marginally better second draft while also Doing College.
- Diagnose yourself with Second Novel Syndrome and spend hours staring at the blank virtual page, and then at your author copies of Distress Signals on the shelf next to your desk, and then back at the virtual page, and wonder how you wrote that book, again? Anyone remember? Because you’ve clear forgot.
- Write a third draft that makes agent and editor happy but secretly suspect they’ve just had it with you now and are drawing up plans to burn your contract in a bonfire and make you give back your advance.
- Think this until March 2018, when the book comes out.
- Despair because the book doesn’t hit No. 1, or get endorsed by Oprah, or get bought by Reese Witherspoon’s productive company. Drink lots of gin. Realise that if this is going to be your career, you need to cop yourself on and focus on the only thing you can control: writing your next book.
- Write your next book. Set it back in the house from number 28.
- Watch as, one Saturday night in the depths of an interminable January, at 1:44am, the framed print you have above your desk that says, ‘Something wonderful is about to happen’ suddenly falls off the wall. You think, THIS IS A SIGN! Then you realise that of the 12 items hanging up there, that’s the only one you put up with Blu-tac. Decide to conveniently discard this fact.
- Three days later, find out that that Difficult Second Album, AKA The Liar’s Girl, is nominated for the most prestigious award in the crime/thriller genre and you’re off to New York in April to attend the ceremony.
- Forget everything except number 1. It was all worth it.
(c) Catherine Ryan Howard
Necklace photo (c) Ger Holland
Catherine is running a crime-writing workshop at West Cork Literary Festival this summer. More info here.
About The Liar’s Girl:
Her first love confessed to five murders. But the truth was so much worse.
Dublin’s notorious Canal Killer, Will Hurley, is ten years into his life sentence when the body of a young woman is fished out of the Grand Canal. Though detectives suspect they are dealing with a copycat, they turn to Will for help. He claims he has the information the police need, but will only give it to one person – the girl he was dating when he committed his horrific crimes.
Alison Smith has spent the last decade abroad, putting her shattered life in Ireland far behind her. But when she gets a request from Dublin imploring her to help prevent another senseless murder, she is pulled back to face the past – and the man – she’s worked so hard to forget.
Order your copy online here.