CONTEST - Win signed copies of THE TWELVE and THE SIX!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009, 12:04 PM

To celebrate the fact that I am two days away from my official publication date, I'm giving away two signed copies of THE TWELVE, and as an extra special prize, the two winners will also receive one of only fifty paperback copies that will ever be produced of my short story collection, THE SIX. These limited edition paperbacks will be signed and numbered, and will soon be collector's items.

To be in with a chance of winning, just read the excerpt from THE TWELVE on my website, and answer these two questions:

1. In Chapter One, what is the barman's first name?

2. In Chapter Two, what Belfast entertainment complex do Gerry Fegan and Michael McKenna see across the river?

Please don't leave your answers as comments; instead, email them to, and remember to include your postal address. Two winners will be selected at random from those who answered correctly on Friday July 17th. Good luck!

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Launch Night

Monday, June 29, 2009, 10:51 PM

I promised a proper report on Friday's joint launch with John Connolly at No Alibis in Belfast, and I'm going to do my best to summarise things here. It might be a bit ramshackle, but two days on my memory is a little hazy. There was so much happening, so many people I met, that I'm now struggling a little to keep it all straight.

Anyway, I arrived at Belfast's famous Europa Hotel (the world's most bombed hotel, fact fans) about an hour or so before heading to No Alibis, which is about ten minutes walk away on Botanic Avenue. I got myself all dressed up and headed off. It was a warm evening, so I had a good idea things were going to get sweaty. David Torrans had told me to expect a large crowd, and No Alibis isn't the biggest shop in the world.

I arrived at No Alibis a little less than an hour before kick off to find David and his crew getting the place ready for the event. David has designed his shop very cleverly in that all the book cases are on wheels and can be pushed out of the way to open up the entire shop floor for seating. In addition, a newly constructed stage was positioned half way down the venue, allowing people to sit around it, rather than just in front of it. See, this is why David Torrans is well known for hosting the best author events around.

My PR, Hilary Knight, arrived shortly after, along with her husband Michael who was taking photos for local papers. Gerard Brennan was also an early bird, and I managed to capture him on video (see below). Things started to get a bit hectic as the venue rapidly filled up, and a photographer from Ulster Tatler magazine snapped the comings and goings, including me with my mum, some old friends of mine, and author Brian McGilloway. John Connolly arrived fashionably late, but redeemed himself by bringing the beers.

The event itself went brilliantly. Of course, it was really John's reading, and I was the support act, but Mr. Connolly was very generous in introducing me and allowing me time to read and involving me in discussions. If you ever get the chance to attend a John Connolly reading, then you should most definitely go; John is a great entertainer, and his readings are a lesson in delivery, plus his wit and skill as a speaker make the whole thing an enjoyable experience. It would be fair to say John carried my sorry arse for the evening, and I deeply appreciate it.

As it turned out, this was the biggest ever turnout for an in-store event at No Alibis, with just over a hundred people in attendance. This was more to do with John's presence than mine, but I'm not complaining. We sold a load of books, and I lost count of how many I signed. I met loads of nice people from as far away as Texas and Los Angeles, as well as old friends I hadn't seen in years, and a lovely couple who used to live across the road from my mum - I was particularly touched that they made the effort to come.

Afterwards, it was off for a drink with John Connolly, David Torrans, Brian McGilloway and some of the crew who'd helped out. You really couldn't ask for better company over a pint or three. All in all, it was a great night, and I must express my deepest gratitude to David Torrans for organising such a wonderful event, John Connolly for his continued generosity, and everyone who turned up - particularly those who bought my book.

I'm hoping to have a video diary of the day put together some time this week, and also some photos from David, so stay tuned.

In Other News...

A very nice review appeared at the Shots Magazine website over the weekend, and Publishers Weekly named THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST (aka THE TWELVE) as one of the top Fall debuts. What's also notable about the PW feature is that my agent represents not only one author on that list, and not two, but THREE books selected by PW out of the hundreds of debuts to be published in the USA this fall, the other two being Eugenia Kim and Lou Manfredo. This is why Nat Sobel is a legend in the publishing business.

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Blog vs BBQ

Sunday, June 28, 2009, 6:06 PM

I was intending on blogging properly about my launch night, honestly, but fate has intervened in the form of a surprise invite to a barbecue with some good friends, namely James and Louise, and their two little ones.

As an aside, the topic of my musical background came up in conversation with David Torrans of No Alibis the other night, so I thought I might share a piece here. It's an acoustic fingerstyle tune that I named after my friends' first born:

Baby Asa (mp3)

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The Day After

Saturday, June 27, 2009, 8:55 PM

I'm sorry, I'm just too tired to write up a proper post on yesterday's launch of THE TWELVE at No Alibis in Belfast. I'll hopefully have mustered the energy to come up with a full report by tomorrow. In the meantime, I shall leave you with a few photos from the last twenty-four hours.

First up: On my way to Belfast, I stopped in at my nearest Eason's at Rushmere Shopping Centre in Craigavon. Eason's usually put books out before their release dates (unless it's Harry Potter or something), and I'd expected mine to be there before now. But yesterday, there they were, in all their glory. And they're in a primo front-of-store spot right at eye level - I saw them from outside as I was walking up. Here they are:

And this was the moment I've been waiting for - that moment when it clicks that I'm now a published author. It finally hit home. I was a little nervous when I asked the staff if I could sign stock, but I needn't have been - they were very kind and enthusiastic and brought armfuls of them to the counter for me to autograph.

Likewise the Belfast Eason's, though putting the book under 'Bestsellers' might have been a little premature - but I'm not complaining.

Then the very lovely Tamsin at the Belfast branch of Waterstone's, where THE TWELVE will be a book of the month for July, also let me sign stock (incidentally, I bumped into a certain mister John Connolly at Waterstone's as he also attacked a stack of books, pen in hand).

And then, of course, there was the main event: No Alibis. David Torrans had lots of stock for me to sign:

And David may also have had a little something-something I've been dropping hints about...

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Today's the Day

Friday, June 26, 2009, 2:38 PM

This evening I shall launch THE TWELVE at No Alibis bookstore on Belfast's Botanic Avenue, along with John Connolly, who will be reading from his new best seller, THE LOVERS. I'll try to video some of the goings on, but no promises how that'll turn out.

So, I'm off to Belfast. Wish me luck.

Just a Quickie

Thursday, June 25, 2009, 10:39 PM

This time tomorrow, the launch will be over, and I hope to be in a pub or restaurant somewhere near Botanic Avenue, eating steak and drinking beer. Now I'm off to practice and annotate the passage I'm going to read...

Amazon Sales Rank: A Fickle Mistress

Wednesday, June 24, 2009, 11:26 PM

I did not heed the advice I'd read so many times: do not pay attention to Amazon sales ranks because you'll only drive yourself crazy.

Well, I paid attention, and now I'm driving myself crazy.

It's not that long ago that I was in the millions, occasionally making jumps into the hundreds of thousands, then a couple of weeks ago I seemed to settle in and around the 150k mark. Then all of a sudden I'm leaping up to 30k, 20k, 10k, then I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I might make it into four figures some time before publication - then last weekend came around, and I'm up into three figures, peaking at a majestic 802. This also meant I was charting in the crime/thriller/mystery categories, and got to #49 in the upcoming releases section (thanks to Josie for pointing that out).

I found out afterwards that the weekend's spike was due to being named as one of the best 50 summer reads in a feature in The Independent last Saturday. The 'Customers also bought' bar is almost entirely made up of other titles that were in that list, and I am now 'frequently bought with' a certain Stieg Larsson. That's not bad company, really.

But now I am checking my ranking almost as often as I check my email, even though everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) says not to, it's not a valid number. But here I am, checking again, and I am dismayed to find I have plummeted to the 3-4000 badlands. Still, that's probably not bad a week before publication for a debut novel.

But still...

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All Booked Up

Tuesday, June 23, 2009, 11:42 PM

So, the US tour is all booked up and confirmed, hotels sorted, and flights bought. I have to admit, I'm excited. And for various reasons.

As a musician, the one thing I always wanted to do was go on tour as a rock star. That didn't quite work out, but I get to do the next best thing, which is an author tour. Which is like a rock star tour, but with less drugs and guitars and debauchery and groupies and sex. At least, I imagine so.

Anyway, I'm also looking forward to meeting some people, chief amongst which is of course our very own Betsy Dornbusch, who has promised to let me do my laundry at her house. There's also a possibility of meeting Aerin while I'm in Denver, which will be very cool. Then there's Bouchercon where I hope to meet lots of authors whom I've encountered online over the last year or so.

So, all is good in my world.

On an unrelated note, I've been checking in to my nearest Eason's every time I've passed in recent days to see if they're selling THE TWELVE yet. They often have books out on the shelves before their official dates, and they've had John Connolly's THE LOVERS on display since last week, and it isn't out until a week after my book. But no sign of THE TWELVE. If anyone happens to see one for sale anywhere, do let me know!

A Crazy Day

Monday, June 22, 2009, 11:42 PM

It's coming up on midnight, and I've been sat on this chair (aside from meal, toilet, and exercise bike breaks) since around 9:45am. And how much progress did I make on the new novel?

None. Nada. Sweet Fanny Adams.

Not that I'm complaining, really. I got a lot of promo stuff done today, not least of which was revamping my home page and getting THE SIX, my free downloadable short story collection, online. I also set up a contest while I was at it. Simply by entering your email address at the point of downloading the collection, you could win one of five of the limited run of fifty signed and numbered paperback editions of THE SIX.

There was also some good news today from the publicity folks at Random House, namely that THE TWELVE was named as one of fifty best summer reads in Saturday's Independent. This might explain the sudden spike in my Amazon sales rank that happened over the weekend. The publicity department tells me there is more good news to come, so I shall keep you posted.

Oh, and there's that fabled extra special giveaway I've been bleating on about here for a while. That took a step nearer reality today, so I'm hoping I can post about that towards the end of the week. I've been thinking about the contest - it's going to be something extra challenging, as befits the prize.

And speaking of the end of this week - it may have escaped your attention, but this Friday evening, 26th of June, THE TWELVE will be officially launched at No Alibis, Belfast's famous crime bookstore, on Botanic Avenue. It's a joint event with none other than John Connolly, who will read from his latest sure-fire best seller, THE LOVERS, which Declan Burke reckons is his best yet. Although it's a free event, high demand for seats means it will be ticketed. To be honest, I don't know if David Torrans has any tickets left, but you could always give him a try on 028 9031 9601.

If you can make it, do say hello.

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Reviews et al

Sunday, June 21, 2009, 11:41 PM

Just a quick filler post this evening. My short story collection THE SIX is almost ready, and I hope to have it online within the next twenty-four hours. There are new reviews appearing all the time, including the string of 5-star comments on Amazon, and a stellar write-up at that is scheduled for this week - highlights are: "Grabs hold and doesn't let go ... frighteningly assured ... a tough, uncompromising thriller ... in the best, tragic, noir fiction tradition."

I'm also revamping the home page on my website to reflect all that's going on at the minute, so a link will be forthcoming.

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On Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Other Insufferable Tosh

Saturday, June 20, 2009, 8:24 PM

I posted on Twitter this morning about having watched Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona last night, and that I hadn't disliked a movie so much in ages. There were a few comments on my Facebook wall in response, so I thought I'd elaborate here, and tie it in to another topic that's been floating around the Interwebs in recent days.

Sometimes a film is poorly made; sometimes it has a turgid script, or bad acting, or uninspiring photography, or any number of faults. I can't say Vicky Cristina Barcelona (henceforth known as VCB) had any such flaws. It was certainly a well-crafted film, as one would expect from Woody Allen. But I used the word 'dislike'. There are many movies that I think are bad, but there are few I actually dislike. Because dislike is personal. Dislike means something in the film actually bothered me. One film I dislike, for instance, is The Devil's Own. I don't dislike The Devil's Own because it's a formulaic and predictable thriller; I dislike it because it displays a shocking ignorance of, and insensitivity to, its own subject matter.

I approached VCB with a positive frame of mind. For one thing, I have visited Barcelona three times, and it is one of my favourite places on earth. For another, I generally have a lot of time for Woody Allen. And yet another, the movie has an excellent cast, and not just in terms of eye candy. Thus, I was hopeful as I inserted the Blu-Ray into my player.

I think the fingernails-on-the-chalkboard feeling began about fifteen minutes in. The problem was this: these characters meant nothing to me. The story, in a nutshell, centres on two young women summering in Barcelona. They are approached and individually seduced by a local artist, and matters are further complicated by his unstable ex-wife. All well and good. But then my inverted snob started to rear his ugly head.

The two young women had no visible means of support. One is studying for a Masters in Catalan culture (as an aside, all the Catalan characters strangely spoke Castilian Spanish, rather than Catalan, which is the dominant language of the region), while the other had just spent many months making a twelve minute film. In other words, they were trust fund kids, living off their fathers' money while arsing about in Europe. In yet other words, they were feckless young adults who had grown up with no idea of the realities of life or the issues that affect most people day to day. While they're mooning around, whinging about the pain of love and desire and commitment, real people are working their guts out and wondering if they can make the next mortgage payment. When the intrusive narrator (and that was one specifically bad part I neglected to mention) tells us how the artist, played by the excellent Javier Bardem, bought his beautiful house with its rambling rooms and gardens from another artist, he neglects to tell us how the artist paid for it. I don't know a single artist who can afford anything other than a normal standard of living, at best, let alone a life of luxury. Then along comes Penelope Cruz, playing a deranged ex-wife whose deep love for the artist drives her to violent rage while she drives us to slap her about the head and shoulders.

So, despite their good fortune in life, these four characters are not a happy bunch. I wish I could afford to be that bloody miserable. While I didn't grow up in poverty, things were tough. I know my mother often went without so that us kids could have basics like shoes or milk money for school. I grew up in a house where a can of Coca Cola was a special occasion luxury. By special occasion, I mean Christmas, or the time I nearly lost my little finger to a school gate, and I got a can of Coke for being brave as the doctors worked on my damaged hand. How can someone like me (not to mention anyone who grew up in real hardship) be expected to feel anything but contempt for a cast of characters who are so vacuous and self-absorbed as those in Vicky Cristina Barcelona? Is there a film genre specifically for those privileged few who have been cushioned from reality all their lives?

As I watched the movie, all the time resisting the urge to just press the Stop button, I couldn't help but think of recent online debates on literary versus genre fiction. There was the Esquire article, and Jason Pinter's response, and then this little gem brought to my attention by Lisa Kenney via Facebook. The argument in that second piece was basically that if the unwashed masses would only give literary fiction a chance, we might have an epiphany and forever leave the intellectual deserts of our crime and romance books, and discover the delightful oases of cerebrally challenging and important works at the higher end of the market.


There is good and bad in all fiction, whatever the genre. And whatever some might like to think, literary is just another genre, a means of organising the shelves in bookstores. I have read as many works from the literary shelf as any other genre. Some of it was brilliant, some of it was tosh. But here's the problem with literary fiction versus other genres: bad literary fiction is insufferable. I simply can't endure the kind of middle-class navel gazing that bogs down the literary field. Good crime novels are just as capable of shining a light on the human condition as good literary fare. Bad thrillers may be unbelievable, shallow, or even manipulative, but bad literary novels are self-important and pretentious. And worst of all, bad literary novels, and bad art-house movies for that matter, are just plain dull.

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The Six

Friday, June 19, 2009, 6:37 PM

As I've already mentioned, I have a small short story collection coming up. It will be available as a free e-book download from my website at some point next week, but there will also be a limited run of fifty signed and numbered paperback editions printed. Some of these have already been promised for little promos I've been running here and there, but a few will also be given away here and on my website. Question is, what do I do for competitions? Any ideas? Also, although I can't quite 100% confirm it yet, there will also hopefully be an extra special and exclusive prize up for grabs soon. It'll need a suitably extra special competition, so I'm going to give that some thought.

In the meantime, here's the cover design for THE SIX, as created by Julie Chalmers, an extraordinarily talented graphic designer I work with as part of my day job. Isn't it pretty?

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Yosl Rakover Talks to God

Thursday, June 18, 2009, 11:48 PM

People who have read THE TWELVE will have seen a reference to a book titled YOSL RAKOVER TALKS TO GOD. The character Marie McKenna tells Gerry Fegan about it as she discusses the futility of hate. It seems relevant given recent headlines from Belfast. An excerpt can be read at the New York Times website. Let me know what you think.

Update: for some reason the above link bounces you to a subscribe page, but if you Google the term 'yosl rakover talks to god ny times' it'll turn up exactly the same page, and it'll work. Odd.

A Day in the Life

Wednesday, June 17, 2009, 10:23 PM

This post is inspired by a comment from Aerin Bender-Stone over at Facebook where she asked what a typical day is like for me as a writer.

Now, I'll preface this by saying I'm not really a full time writer. I've still got a web design and print business, but I've taken a leave of absence while I work on the sequel to THE TWELVE. Up to about two weeks ago, I had my days mostly free for writing, and one of those days would go like this:

Get up, ablutions, feed self.

Switch on computer, check emails.

Deal with any day job stuff that needs attention.

Check a few blogs etc.

Fire up iTunes, select some music.

Start writing.

Occasionally pause to research on the fly, for example, how to chamber a round on a Glock 17, what engine sizes do Audi A4s come in, check Belfast layout on Google Maps (the new Street View thing is fantastic...)

Also occasionally pause to answer email, or (if I'm procrastinating) check Twitter and Facebook for something desperately important I might have missed.

Also occasionally pause to play some guitar.

All that up to lunch time, at which point I have a healthy meal of salad and whole grain pulses with water - or possibly a big fat sandwich with a bag of crisps and a can of coke. Actually, more often the latter.

After lunch, back to the computer, indulge in some pointless web browsing, then back to some writing - though usually it's not that fruitful, and the best stuff was done before lunch.

And then finish up for the day and watch one of the late repeats of Deal or No Deal.

Exciting, eh?

I've been rather surprised to find my most productive writing time is indeed the morning, because I am most definitely not a morning person. The last novel was written almost entirely at night. I still find the time between 9:00pm and 1:00am good if I'm able to sit down and concentrate, but I'm also finding the three hours between 10:00am and 1:00pm very good for writing. In fact, as often as not, if things are flowing I'll wind up working on and having a late lunch.

Problem is, all of this is rather dependent on being able to maintain a routine. Since I began my sabbatical, I've still been going into the office one day a week to catch up with stuff, so that day's out. And since the publicity machine kicked in at the start of this month, any notion of a routine has evaporated. As I said in an earlier blog, publicity tends to come at you in fits and starts, and is almost always last minute. I'd say over the last two weeks, I've maybe had three or four days clear to write. But that goes with the territory, and I'm just going to have to figure out a way to adapt to that.

Anyway, in keeping with the title of this post, here's the great Jeff Beck performing his version of the Beatles' A Day in the Life. I'll be going to see Mr. Beck in Belfast just a day or two before THE TWELVE is published, meaning I'll fulfil two lifelong dreams in one week. Which is nice.

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Another Link: The First Official Review

Tuesday, June 16, 2009, 9:47 PM

You may notice a pattern developing here. A more substantial post one day, a link or two the next, and so on. Today's link is a bit special, though...

Declan Burke's review of THE TWELVE originally appeared in last weekend's Sunday Independent, but I'm linking to Dec's own blog version. I have to say I'm very, very happy with my first official press review, so many thanks to Declan. Incidentally, the review is a round-up of three books, including John Connolly's latest, THE LOVERS. I called into my local Eason's today and was surprised to find THE LOVERS already on sale, but no sign of my humble effort, even though it comes out a week before John's.

On another note, I'm giving serious consideration to trying a video diary, or vlog, of the days leading up to publication, including the launch at No Alibis in Belfast on Thursday 26th of June. You have been warned...

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The Hidden Depths of Genre

Monday, June 15, 2009, 11:29 PM

This post was inspired by two things. One of them was this very snotty and condescending piece at Esquire magazine's website, which masquerades as a review. Jason Pinter did a better job of critiquing this critique with his own much more intelligent piece.

The other was watching the movie Cloverfield over the weekend. On the surface, Cloverfield seems the very model of an Event Movie, a film driven more by hype and special effects than plot, dialogue or meaningful characterisation. A typical monster movie, in other words, albeit set apart from the crowd by the jerky camcorder photography (which transfers to the Blu-Ray format better than you might think). If we take Cloverfield at face value, then it is a brilliant example of its kind. It's breathlessly paced, lean as a 100-metre sprinter, and has all the crash-bang-wallop and scares you could want in its ninety minute duration.

But there's so much more to Cloverfield than the visceral spectacle of a monster levelling skyscrapers. While characterisation and real dialogue aren't a big part of the movie, and given its format and streamlined running time they aren't overly missed, it is certainly more than throwaway popcorn fare.

To anyone with half a brain, the movie's underlying theme is hardly subtle. But then neither was 9/11, the horrific event this film represents. Some scenes are so reminiscent of actual footage from 9/11 they must have been deeply disturbing for anyone who was there that day. Take, for instance, the scene where a group of people take refuge inside a drug store, sealing the doors just in time as a wall of dust and debris stampedes past the windows.

An obvious influence on Cloverfield comes from the other side of the world. The makers of this movie have openly stated it is an homage to Godzilla, a cinematic icon that has never successfully transferred to Western movies. But looking at the cultural context of Godzilla in Japan's history, there is a darker comparison. As Cloverfield acts as an analogy for 9/11, Godzilla is symbolic of Japan's coming to terms with the atomic bombs detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Both the first Godzilla and Cloverfield portray monstrous entities laying waste to entire cities less than a decade after both the respective countries suffered terrible attacks that were unimaginable before they occurred. Thus, what seems the most absurd of cinematic genres - the monster movie - is used to explore a horror that can't be expressed in a more literal, realistic way.

(A quick note before anyone points it out - the Cloverfield and Godzilla analogies are well worn, but I wanted to use them as known examples.)

And horror, as a genre, has always been used to explore more serious themes, from the 19th Century fear of scientific progress (Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) to the pain of a developing adolescent sexuality (The Exorcist, Let the Right One In). Genre fiction, whether that be crime, horror, science fiction, romance, whatever, is perfectly capable of tackling themes that more literary work will struggle with.

In fact, the best genre fiction does exactly that; it shows us things that would be too difficult to contemplate in any other context. Remember that next time you feel belittled by some supercilious literary type who wouldn't stoop to such trash as genre fiction.

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Just a Couple More Links...

Sunday, June 14, 2009, 10:15 PM

Just a couple of links this evening, but they're both goodies, I think.

First, an article about yours truly appeared in The Observer today. Hopefully, a review of THE TWELVE will also appear in the newspaper's REVIEW supplement at some point over the coming weeks.

Second, I've added a new feature to my website: deleted scenes from THE TWELVE. The bulk of them are about Gerry Fegan's early life, and how he came to be a killer, and then tried to turn his back on his old ways.

A more substantial post will appear tomorrow.

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The Politics of THE TWELVE

Saturday, June 13, 2009, 7:58 PM

In recent days I have been answering questions about the politics of THE TWELVE. I suppose that was inevitable, given the nature of the story, its setting, and its characters. As I stated in an earlier post, I never intended THE TWELVE as a polemic. It was just a thriller that happened to be set against Northern Ireland's peace process. But everything in Northern Ireland is political, so there's no escaping the issues that have dogged this country since its inception.

I won't go into the background of the novel's setting; there's plenty of material out there on the Troubles. A lot of the information online is inaccurate, substituting fact for opinion, speculation and omitted truth. One only need read a few pages on Wikipedia to see how distorted some of the truth is, but if you read enough, you should get an idea. Revisionism is something we'll have to live with here, as people on all sides cherry pick history to present the version best suited to their own agendas.

Many will use these narrow windows on the past to justify the actions of certain individuals and organisations, whether they are politicians, security force personnel or paramilitaries. If there's a political thrust to THE TWELVE, it's this: the violence was never justifiable. Republicans may argue that armed struggle was the only way to achieve change in an unjust society. I would argue that the use of violence held back societal reform by decades, while the republican leadership used the blood of this country to grease its way to power. Loyalists may argue that their actions were necessary to protect their people from the aggression of insurgents and a hostile neighbour state. I would argue that the greatest threat to ordinary loyalist people is those same loyalist paramilitaries who to this day continue to leech off their own communities.

What I fear history will overlook is that whatever social conditions provided the kindling for the Troubles, it was the personal agendas of individuals on both sides of the divide that made the spark to ignite the conflict. Those individuals created and perpetuated a war to satisfy their greed for power, status and wealth, and when the war became untenable, they reaped the rewards of the peace process that followed. I don't think that's news to anybody here in Northern Ireland, yet we go out and vote for them election after election anyway.

A point that was raised by two of my beta readers when they reviewed early drafts of the novel was this: why did the ghosts (if they are indeed ghosts, rather than figments of the protagonist's guilt-driven imagination) have no names? The reason for this was simple. The victims of the Troubles, mostly civilians despite what paramilitary apologists would have you believe, are by and large nameless. I'm sure most of us can recall some names, perhaps from particularly notorious cases, or maybe people we actually knew who were caught up in the conflict. I would struggle to name more than a handful of people who lost their lives here. The rest have been washed away by time to become just numbers, lost among more than 3500 such people, now remembered only by those who loved them. Sadly, that number continues to grow in our supposedly peaceful utopia.

A line from John Hewitt's The Bloody Brae is quoted by one of THE TWELVE's characters: God forgives all soldiers. Perhaps that's true. This society certainly seems to have done so, but more out of political expediency than compassion for those who were manipulated into committing terrible sins by the politicians of all hues now dividing up the cake at Stormont. And I, like everybody else, can live with that. It seems a price worth paying if it means my children, should I ever have any, can grow up in a happier place than I did. It doesn't mean it's without pain, though.

Like I said, THE TWELVE was not written to make any political point. It was written as an entertainment, a thriller that will hopefully keep you turning pages into the small hours. If it achieves that simple purpose, then I will be very happy. But all fiction has themes, whether overtly expressed or not. And whether I like it or not, these themes are present in the novel. You can make of them what you will, because really, I just want to scare the crap out of you.

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Just a couple of links...

Friday, June 12, 2009, 10:20 PM

Bit of a filler post today, I'm afraid. Well, it's better than nothing, plus I'm saving the good stuff for the weekend.

First, the audio of my interview with Malachi O'Doherty is now online, which opens with our rather bemused sounding reaction to a bus driving past. The interview was conducted in a car parked close to Botanic Gardens, which was fun, and it seems it gives the proceedings a nice acoustic quality. You may find my diction isn't quite as cleat as Malachi's...

And an interview has just gone online at The Book Depository, which was done a few months back. I also did 'My favourite books' piece for them at the time, but I don't know if that's going to appear.

A more substantial post will come tomorrow.

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On Publicity

Thursday, June 11, 2009, 8:23 PM

Publicity is a funny thing. Although the distinction between publicity and marketing is, on the surface, pretty clear, I do sometimes struggle with whom to contact on certain issues. What I do know about publicity, though, is that it has a tendency to come out of the blue. Like Christmas time when my PR Hilary Knight put out a fairly straightforward press release about the local-boy-made-good author, and I'm getting phone calls telling me I'm doing an interview with the Belfast Telegraph in half an hour, or guess what, you're live on the radio this afternoon.

Such was the way of it yesterday when I made a stray comment on broadcaster and journalist Malachi O'Doherty's Facebook wall (he was asking about ghosts in contemporary fiction). Next thing I know, I've an interview lined up for a segment on Sunday Sequence on BBC Radio Ulster (a link to the iPlayer version will appear after it airs). Then that interview turns into a double header with another journalist writing for The Observer. Oh, and then a photo shoot which I knew was coming some time, but was hastily arranged to tie in with the visit to Belfast to do the other stuff.

And that's the other thing about publicity: it snowballs. One media outlet gets hold of a story, then another follows, and then another. The trick seems to be getting their attention in the first place. I have some excellent people working away on this as I type, namely the aforementioned Hilary, and Claire Jackson and Kate Bland at Random House, and Justin Hargett at Soho Press.

But it's all good. Even if I hate getting my picture taken, which I had to do today in a public place. A quite busy public place. It was my own fault, seeing as I suggested the venue (the Palm House in Botanic Gardens, where a scene in THE TWELVE is set). Justin the photographer was a consumate professional, I must say. He seemed to have a knack for finding good backdrops, and even foregrounds, and he made me feel about as relaxed as is possible for someone as camera shy as me. I don't know what will appear where, but you may see some shots of me staring wistfully into the distance from behind a greenhouse door in the not too distant future. During the lunch with Malachi, he took this snap, which reveals my horrendous double chin:

I share this because it reveals that, even though I'm as photogenic as a donkey's arse, I'm still quite vain; I put on my glasses as soon as the camera came out because I've got a nice little eye infection, and I thought they might distract from it. And if I look like I'm deep in philosophical discussion, that's probably deceptive; I might well have been debating who was going to get the last chocolate mint on the table.

Malachi made a post over on his blog, which I think is supposed to have audio from the interview, but it's currently not working. Check back, and you might get to hear my dulcet tones as I ramble incoherently about ghosts in modern fiction.

And lastly, still on the topic of publicity, it's looking like I'll be having a little trip through the US of A this October to pimp THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST. Locations currently planned are NYC, Indianapolis (for Bouchercon), Scottsdale AZ, Houston TX, San Mateo CA, then Denver CO for a few days at a convention and a little R&R, and possibly Boston to finish up. It's still to be absolutely and definitely confirmed (i.e. the tickets aren't bought yet), but it's looking hopeful.

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The Acknowledgements Page

Wednesday, June 10, 2009, 10:12 PM

Today's post is about the big speech at the end of the book, the one where you get all teary and thank everyone from your old English teacher to God. I didn't agonise over my Acknowledgements page a great deal; I had a good idea of who I wanted to thank, and why, pretty early on.

The main part of the list fairly obvious. I thank my agent and editors, and although this is to be expected, the thank you is genuine; I really do appreciate what they've all done for me.

Then there are those who have given me practical assistance. Betsy Dornbusch, of course, as well as Shona Snowden and Josephine Damian. I've gushed at length about my affection for Betsy, and Josie is a regular around these parts - her pom-pom waving on my behalf can be seen from space, and I really do appreciate it. I haven't spoken so much about Shona's input, but her early critique's were of great benefit to me. Then there's an editor friend who has always been there for me when I needed practical publishing advice at various junctures. Finally, there's my PR Hilary, who has done great work for me, and my friends Declan Burke and Gerard Brennan who have been tremendous supporters over the last year.

Then there's a paragraph where it gets a little more vague. It generally thanks the online writing community, and lists a few names such as JJ de Benedictis, Ellen Oh, Cindy Pon, Chris F Holm and Jeremey Duns. Of course, Moonrat gets an honourable mention. There are some friends I've made since then that aren't included, but I couldn't squeeze everybody in. But these are all people who've helped me out along the way, in some cases with just an encouraging word at the right time, and others by making me laugh when that was just what I needed.

I also thanked a couple of blogging agents, and they may wonder why, seeing as I know neither of them personally. I give Nathan Bransford a nod because his blog has been a huge source of information for me and many other writers, and I think he deserves a thank you for all the work he puts into it. I also mention him because he chose me as a finalist in one of his contests last year; it seems a small thing, but it was a huge boost to my confidence at a time when I was wondering if I was wasting my time at this writing lark. I also thanked a certain Miss Snark; I don't know Miss Snark, or her real life alter ego, at all. But her blog was, and remains, one of the greatest online resources for writers, and I learned such an enormous amount from it that I couldn't possibly let my debut novel out into the world without including a thank you. I genuinely feel that what I learned from reading her blog made the difference between landing an agent and a publishing deal, and winding up lost in the slush pile.

So that's why some people might see their names in my acknowledgements that might not have expected to.

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And Some More Reviews...

Tuesday, June 09, 2009, 10:55 PM

This blog-post-per-day thing will be a doddle if reviews keep coming in. Especially if they're as well written and thought out as this one from an Irish bookseller.

And here's another all the way from the US of A. It's good to know THE TWELVE travels pretty well - it's always been a concern that people from far off places may not get the socio-political aspects, but that seems not to be an issue.

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A Quick Review Roundup

Monday, June 08, 2009, 11:38 PM

You know what the hardest thing about daily blogging is? Remembering to bloody do it. Anyway...

Early reviews for THE TWELVE are starting to creep in. Here are a few highlights:

Just today, Gerard Brennan posted his thoughts over at Crime Scene NI. Gerard mentions, as a few people have, the genre hopping aspects of the book. Yes, it's a thriller first and foremost, but there are paranormal and horror elements in there too. The review also touches on the book's politics, and I'll come back to that in a moment.

And yesterday, of course, I linked to my friend Betsy Dornbusch's review. Then there's the inimitable Josephine Damian's take on things, which I've just realised I hadn't linked to from this blog until now. I linked it from Facebook and so on, but neglected to do it here. That was very remiss of me, so apologies to Josie, particularly in light of her kind words.

There have also been five star reviews cropping up at, (be sure to click on "Read all customer reviews"), and, arising from the proof copies sent out by he excellent marketing and publicity folks at CCV/Random House.

I said I'd come back to Gerard's points on politics: Over recent days I've been doing little bits and pieces of publicity work, answering questions, writing small pieces for websites and newspapers. People have started to raise the issue of THE TWELVE's politics. I'm told on the grapevine that some press reviews are going to highlight that aspect.

I never intended THE TWELVE to be a polemic. But there's no getting away from that side of the story; everything about Northern Ireland is political, whether we like it or not. So, at some point in the coming days I'm going to tackle this issue directly. It's not going to be easy, seeing as controversy is intrinsic to politics in this part of the world. But I want to air the topic and perhaps give a better picture of the novel's background. Until then, however, I think Betsy Dornbusch's line is my favourite: "THE TWELVE is the conscience of Northern Ireland."

I wouldn't put it quite so emphatically or dramatically, but the novel is, right down at its core, about guilt. More to follow...

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Writing Magazine Interview

Sunday, June 07, 2009, 7:10 PM

First of all, thanks to the ever vigilant Josephine Damian who spotted that I didn't post yesterday. And why did I not post? My hectic schedule? Lack of inspiration? Illness?

I just plain forgot. Sorry.

Anyway, this post is just to let my UK readers know there'll be an interview with yours truly, conducted by Adrian Magson, appearing in the July edition of Writing Magazine. Apparently, it should be in the shops any day now, so if you don't subscribe, ask your friendly neighbourhood newsagent for a copy.

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The Best Thing About Being A Writer Is...

Friday, June 05, 2009, 7:14 PM

On Wednesday, Betsy Dornbusch (aka Sex Scenes at Starbucks) made her 1000th blog post. I'm very flattered that it featured a review of THE TWELVE (which incidentally got its first Amazon review today - five stars, thanks for asking). I was going to use a link to Betsy's piece yesterday to fulfil my once-a-day obligation, but that was waylaid by the arrival of the actual finished book in the mail.

In yesterday's post I may have given the impression that finally reaching the milestone of clutching my own published novel in my sweaty hands was somehow anticlimactic. That wasn't what I meant to say; it was such a big moment for me that I took the book straight to my mum's house where she and my sister and I all sat around and adored it. Since yesterday, the book has rarely been more than two feet away from me as I carry it from room to room. In fact, I think the only room it hasn't entered is the bathroom.

What I meant to put across is that this wonderful event has been preceded by a string of wonderful events. There was the thrill of finishing the novel's first draft, then the thrill of finding my beta readers actually liked it, then the thrill of realising I could make it better, then the thrill of my beta readers liking it even more, then the huge thrill of being approached by a top agent, then the even more huge thrill of said agent offering representation, then... you see where I'm going with this? Everything that happened between first deciding to write this novel and finally holding it in my hands has been a series of intensifying wonderments. It was not a stark transition, a flip, between being an aspiring writer with an idea, and a published writer with a physical book. It was a two year marathon, with the occasional stumble along the way.

It doesn't make this singular event in my life any less of a landmark - it's just that it's in the context of a string of landmarks that got me here.

Which brings me back to the start of this post, and indeed its title. I thought a little bit about what the best thing about being a published writer is. Fame and fortune are, alas, still distant dreams, so they're out to start with. The sense of achievement is one highlight, certainly, and that comes at all stages, from having a particularly good writing session to signing the contract. Receiving compliments from readers is wonderful, and my vanity will most likely ensure I never tire of it. The sheer joy of bringing the strands of a plot together to form something you hadn't anticipated is another great part of it.

The biggest thing, though, is very personal. And it's going to sound mawkish and sentimental. The best thing about being a writer is all the friends I've made, from the earliest days of sending stuff out for critique, up to being published and the other writers I've met as a result, some of them big names, who have turned out to be very nice people. I suppose I use the term 'friend' loosely, in that some are really no more than friendly acquaintances, and some are people I've only exchanged emails or blog comments with. But as a whole, the number and variety of people I've come to know over the last two years in the greatest reward for the work I've put into this.

I won't go into naming names - you all know who you are. But I will single out Betsy as being my earliest and best writer friend, because she symbolises the whole experience for me.

You may now all call be a great big wuss.

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The Dream We All Dream Of: My book is here!

Thursday, June 04, 2009, 8:18 PM

Today I had planned to post a link to a wonderful review on a dear friend's blog, but that has been postponed for one day due to...


I was out on an errand this morning, and came home to find a padded envelope stuffed into my letterbox. It had a Harvill Secker address label attached. It was quite bulky. It was approximately the size and shape of a trade paperback book. I tore it open, and this was inside:

Isn't it pretty? And just in case that angle doesn't suit you, here's another:

The design of the whole book is wonderful, including the dual texture laminate (my name and the title are glossy, while the rest is matte) and the colour inside covers. At the front are a few of the great quotes I've been blessed with:

And in the back, there's my ugly mug, floating menacing in space over my bio. One omission is that they neglected to credit the photo to my business partner, Greg Haire. Anyway, it looks like this:

So this is it. The summit to which we all aspire. My own published novel, in my hands. And how does that feel?

Strange. And cool. But mostly strange.

I hope another recently published author, Cindy Pon, might chip in on the following point. I'm curious to know if her experience is similar to mine. Anyway, the point is: Holding the book in my hand wasn't the earth-shattering, life-altering, choirs-of-angels-sing-while-the-world-is-bathed-in-white-light moment I thought it might have been two years ago. Don't get me wrong, it's a truly wonderful feeling, but ever since bagging my agent, the journey to this stage has been a long series of victories, and the occasional defeat. There wasn't one definable moment where I crossed the threshold between hope and actuality. Rather it has been a steady climb to this place where I can call myself an honest-to-God published author.

It's still bloody good, though.

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What say you now, doubters? Here's what's coming up...

Wednesday, June 03, 2009, 11:33 PM

A couple of you have commented on my previous post, pointing out how fine I'm cutting it if I want to meet my daily target - so here I am, getting in just under the wire. A caveat, however - I promised quantity, not quality...

So, what's in store for the next thirty days? Well, hopefully, lots of links to reviews for one thing. There'll also be some contests to win signed books and collectibles. And a few of those books will be very special.

I think I mentioned a while back, I will be offering a short story collection titled THE SIX as a free download from my website. In addition, there'll be a limited run of fifty signed and numbered paperback editions; these will not be for sale anywhere, and some of them will be given away right here on this blog. You'll have to stay tuned for those giveaways.

And also, there might - just might - be an even rarer collectable being given away before the end of the month. These are so rare that I'll only be able to offer one, if at all. Again, watch this space.

My friend Jospephine Damian has hypothesised that I've given myself such an impossible task that I will end up filling blog posts with random YouTube clips. That's a possibility. More likely, I will be post links to articles on other websites, starting tomorrow with one that has had me smiling all day.

In the meantime, here's a small announcement for anyone in Ireland: THE TWELVE will be book of the month for July in all Irish branches of Waterstone's. There will be more retail promotions (I know some retailers have committed to 3-for-2 offers already) over the coming weeks, but I also would like you to consider the great independent bookshops out there, such as No Alibis in Belfast, where... No, hang on, that's a post for another day...

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Thirty Days and Counting...

Tuesday, June 02, 2009, 10:18 PM

So, it is now exactly thirty days until THE TWELVE is officially released in the UK. To celebrate that fact, I am going to set myself a rather rash challenge: one blog post per day between now and then. Seeing as I'm hardly a prolific blogger at the best of times, that might be a bit of a stretch, but I'm going to give it a go.

Some of the posts will be purely self-promotional, while others will be more philosophical. Some might just be news items about me, or even other bloggers. But I will do my very best to blog once a day until July 2nd.

To kick off, here's some rather splendid news: a fantastic story titled LIVING ON THE BLOOD OF OTHERS by a certain Betsy Dornbusch has just been published in the latest issue of ThugLit!

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