My First Public Reading

Saturday, February 28, 2009, 6:36 PM

So, night before last, I did my first ever public reading. It was a strange experience, but one I enjoyed a great deal. There was a decent turnout, and a few familiar faces, such as an old friend I hadn't seen in a few years, and a couple of teachers from my old school.

I remember mentioning to a few published writers I've met before that giving readings was something I was not looking forward to. Some writers do it very well. Declan Hughes and Tana French, for example, both enunciate and project beautifully, thanks I'm sure to their theatrical backgrounds. John Connolly also turns readings into performances of sorts, which I imagine he learned through experience. I've seen video footage of James Ellroy, who plays up to his cantankerous public persona, great showman that he is. I've heard Barry Eisler is also an excellent raconteur, and some have said his entertaining readings have contributed to his great success.

I've seen other writers who mumble and stumble their way through it, and of course the impression they leave is less memorable.

So, where do I stand on the Mumbly Stumbler to Polished Performer spectrum? Somewhere in the middle, I think. I practiced the two pieces I was going to present, reading them aloud, looking for phrases that were liable to trip me up. I'm glad I did, because knowing them beforehand saved me a lot of mistakes. But I should have practiced more; I'd go so far as to say I should have had the pieces close to memorised. This is for two reasons:

1) I didn't make enough eye contact. Readings where all you see is the top of the author's head while they stare at their pages are less than riveting. I did try to look up now and then, and managed it a few times, but nowhere near enough. I think this is the difference between an author performing, as it were, and an author simply reading aloud. It takes eye contact to fully engage the audience, to let them know you're reading to them, not at them.

2) I stumbled when I got distracted. Only a few times, but that was still too many. When I was absorbed in the narrative, it all went smoothly, the dialogue was natural, the prose flowed. But when something pulled my mind away, perhaps worrying about some words ahead, or becoming self-conscious, then I stumbled, misread, and fluffed words. And when you do that, you also pull the listener out of the story.

So, if I may be so presumptuous as to rate my own reading, I'd give it a C. Good effort, but could do better.

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Readers of the Lost ARC

Tuesday, February 24, 2009, 10:20 PM

My apologies for using a pun worthy of Declan Burke for my title, but I'm a little over-excited because I received the advance reader copies (or ARCs, or Uncorrected Proofs, or whatever you wish to call them) of The Twelve today from the wonderful Briony Everroad at Harvill Secker. I got ten, and they're already all spoken for. I'll be lucky if I get to keep one for myself. See, aren't they lovely?

For the sharp-eyed amongst you, the white cover is not a departure from the original design - it is simply to mark these out as advance copies, rather like white label demos from music's vinyl days (yes, I'm that old).

I've been flicking through my single copy all day, and something strikes me as very odd: This doesn't feel like my book any more. I recognise words and passages, remember what was going through my head when I wrote that particular line of dialogue and so on. It is all comfortably familiar, yet somehow different, like a friend who moved away and has come back changed.

Almost two years of growing and nurturing this strange thing, gutting it and putting it back together again, then months of incremental changes - they're almost over. There have been minor tweaks since the version I now have in my hands (like the word 'Acknowledgements' really needing an 'A' on the front, or several continuity blunders I spotted on the last read-through, e.g., magical disappearing and reappearing coats), but the next version I see will be it - done, finished, final, forever cast in stone.

I'm not sure how I feel about that. To steal a line from the wonderful movie Swingers, "Baby's all growed up."

In Other News...

Here's the revised Soho Press cover for The Ghosts of Belfast, as The Twelve will be known in the USA (the grey type will be silver in reality, by the way). I like it a lot more than the previous version. In fact, I like it a lot.

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Reading at Armagh City Library

Sunday, February 22, 2009, 3:27 PM

I'll be reading (from what, I have not decided as yet) at Armagh City Library on Thursday 26th of February at 7:30pm. I'm not sure what format the evening will take, but I think it'll be something along the lines of me reading a bit, followed by a Q&A. I believe there will be refreshments involved somewhere too.

The event is being hosted by the City Chapter, a cooperative initiative by Armagh City Library, Armagh Public Library, Cardinal O Fiaich Library and Archive, and the Irish and Local Studies Library to promote reading and literacy across all age groups. It's being held to celebrate World Reading Day, though it's a week early as I'll be off on my holidays on March 5th.

Anyway, all are welcome. I haven't decided what I'm reading yet as I'm struggling to find a passage in The Twelve that doesn't include too much foul language...

Oh, and there'll be a chance to win an advance copy of The Twelve for all who attend.

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Gerard Brennan is Having a Good Month

Tuesday, February 17, 2009, 10:11 PM

My blogging friend Gerard Brennan just announced some exciting news on his blog: he has been taken on by literary agent (and acclaimed crime writer) Allan Guthrie of Jenny Brown Associates. I've said it several times already, but it bears repeating - congratulations, Gerard, this is well deserved and long overdue.

And it comes in the wake of some short story successes. I posted the other day about Gerard's recent appearance in Thuglit, and he also just had a story appear in Three Crow Press.

Keep up the good work, Gerard.

In Other News

Congratulations are also due to Chris F Holm for a fine horror-crime mash-up that recently appeared in the Beat to a Pulp ezine.

I have received the final version of THE TWELVE's UK cover...

The differences are subtle, but I do think this version seems more balanced and cohesive. And that tag line is a nice touch. It's a recurring line of dialogue from the novel, so well done to whoever thought of putting it on the cover.

I also received the US design for THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST (as THE TWELVE shall be known there). This time it follows the corporate branding of Soho Press, with the characteristic white stripe for the title.

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A Nice Surprise: The CCV Catalogue

Thursday, February 05, 2009, 9:11 PM

The postman delivered another nice package today, courtesy of my editor at Harvill Secker, Geoff Mulligan. It was the June 2009 CCV catalogue. CCV (Cape Chatto Vintage) is the division of Random House that encompasses Harvill Secker amongst others, including the Vintage mass-market paperback imprint, where I will eventually end up. Anyway, I was shocked and delighted to find that THE TWELVE is featured on the back cover, presumably as a preview for the July catalogue. Needless to say, I am chuffed!

In other news:

Two blogging friends have recently had short stories published online, and I read both stories one day apart, which given the nature of the pieces, may have left me traumatised. These authors are sick puppies, and neither story is for those of a nervous disposition. You have been warned...

Gerard Brennan's Hard Rock, in which sex, drugs and rock'n'roll lead to worse than rehab, is in Issue 29 of ThugLit. Start running a bath now. You'll need it when you're done reading.

Chris F Holm's flash fiction horror piece The Well just appeared at Flashes in the Dark. The claustrophobic among you should proceed with caution.

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Proof of Life

Sunday, February 01, 2009, 3:14 PM

So, I received the proof of THE TWELVE yesterday and it looks great. As far as I know, this is the version that will be printed as bound proofs, or ARCs. It's starting to feel like a proper book now, complete with copyright, epigraph, dedication and acknowledgement pages.

It struck me as I was reading through the proof how much better this novel is than the one I sent to my agent less than a year ago. That version had already benefited from detailed critiques and been redrafted several times, but this version is still way ahead. There are a couple of significant differences in the meat of the story that came from the revisions I did under Nat Sobel's guidance, and there are a host of smaller, more subtle enhancements that were made during that time and in subsequent edits. These all add up to be more than the sum of their parts, and the result is a more streamlined, smoother read.

In realising that, I also realised how much I've enjoyed the editorial process. My editors at Harvill Secker, Geoff Mulligan and Briony Everroad, have been a huge factor in that. I've been very lucky in the way things have turned out. I have the advantage of a more select imprint in that Harvill Secker doesn't put out a large volume of books compared to some others, so I've had the personal attention that many authors complain they don't receive from their editors, but at the same time I have the mega publisher clout of Random House when it comes to selling it. Working with Briony on the line edit process was enlightening, and she and Geoff have been shepherding me through the various steps with great understanding and tolerance of my inexperience. Really, I couldn't have asked for a smoother road to publication.

Next up, hopefully, will be the bound proofs, as in actual proper honest-to-God books.

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