Writing Advice

I’m calling this post Writing Advice because I said on the About page that there would be no writing advice.

Some of the best writing advice I’ve ever had came in a rejection slip. I don’t know if it was intended as advice, but it worked. The Editor said she could see how much work and creativity had gone into the book. After I got over my initial disappointment, which included a lot of ‘What the hell does that mean?’ moments, I had another look at the manuscript and discovered it was so overwritten it could be fairly described as the work of someone desperate to prove they could write.

As I write this there’s one thing that comes back to me. The protagonist, Jack Higgins, is a burglar, and in one sentence I had written ‘To Jack, burglary was an art form, and those on whom he practiced his art…’ It goes on. When I read it out loud I couldn’t believe how bad it was. The idea was fine, the expression was terrible. It took a few rewrites before I arrived at ‘the victims of his art’, much better.

I went through the entire book like that, making the language as straightforward as possible without compromising the story. In some parts I cut whole sections. When I finished I had cut about twelve thousand words. I had also turned what was a run-of-the-mill thriller into what I’m told is a literary thriller, a term I’d never heard.

Unfortunately the finished book was too short for publishers. I didn’t mind that because indie publishing was by then a serious option, so I went that way. Now if I could just figure out how to market a book that’s written for the characters instead of the reader, I might actually sell a few copies!

That book is The Company of Thieves

The Bridge

The Bridge

I took this on my way home from a job interview. I didn’t get the job, but I got this. It was the only good thing in that area.

There was a tension in the air, like you could be attacked at any moment. The streets were empty, with litter the only evidence of life.

I’d been in a situation like that only once before. A theatre company I worked for in the mid nineties hosted a workshop for kids in a deprived area of Dublin. Even though I traveled in the back of the van, with no windows to look out, I knew we had entered the area because the atmosphere suddenly changed.

Temple Bar, Dublin

Another of my Lockdown pics. Temple Bar is usually overcrowded and noisy. Maybe that’s because I’m over fifty and quiet, thirty years ago it was one of my stomping grounds. I remember getting stoned in the green room at the Rock Garden while the worst hair metal band I’ve ever heard sang about being red hot lovers. The air in the green room was like mist in summertime with hairspray. Thankfully it didn’t ignite when we lit the spliff.


I joined Librarything, they give you the option of describing your book with a haiku. Here’s what I wrote for Online Cupid:

She is the woman 
Of his dreams. He is the man  
Of her worst nightmares. 

Granted, it’s not a real haiku, but it does, somewhat, sum up their relationship.

You can find it here.

Genre Genie

I read a question on Twitter a few minutes ago: What genre do you write in? I have no idea what genre I write in. Broadly speaking I write thrillers, but answering that question made me wonder if that’s true.

Years ago I decided to make my fortune in the movies, so I wrote a screenplay that was a masterpiece of character and story. In a nutshell: a has-been movie star puts himself up as the prize in a competition to try and revive his career. High-jink ensue. The script was called The Big Time. I had access to an agent in LA, and sent off both the script and a prose version of the same story. A couple of weeks later I got a rejection email, which was actually full of useful advice, so, cool!

I applied the advice to the next script and sent that off. Word came back this was something that could be take to a studio. Brilliant! I had it made! Bruce Willis would star in the movie and I could retire to a tropical island and develop an interest in some obscure form of something obscure. Before that could happen, the agent fell out with the person who had put me in touch and my movie became something obscure.

A couple of years later Win a Date with Tad Hamilton came out, I nearly threw up. This does not necessarily mean my scrip was stolen. I got the idea from Tony Curtis, who had been a prize in a competition, and had to go and live with a family for, I think, two weeks.

To salvage something from the situation, I started to turn my action script into a novel. I would sell the movie rights, Bruce Willis would star, and I would retire to a tropical island…

I set to work, before I had finished the first draft I was bored. Rather than throw it out, I decided to play with the form and I ended up with something I liked. The book is The Company of Thieves, and aside from the main story, there’s a parallel story, and many asides exploring the history of minor characters because I wondered how they ended up where they are in the world of the book.

Before I decided to self-publish, I went the traditional route and collected my rejection slips.

In the five years or so since I did publish I’ve sold about ten copies. The strongest response I’ve had was second-hand. Someone started to read it and their initial reaction was, ‘What the fuck is this?’ They threw the book aside, but then couldn’t get it out of their head and had to give it another go; on the second reading they couldn’t put it down.

As I say, that news came to me through someone else.

I just wish they guy who read it had put that on Amazon.

If you would like your very own copy of that very story, you can get it here: paperback; ebook.