What Is A Review Worth?

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Out of every 100 copies of my book sold, approximately 2 people will leave a review. At least that’s what the statistics say, but empirical evidence shows that it is far less.  The fact is that most readers don’t see the connection between leaving a review and improving the book’s visibility on Amazon or Goodreads.  Yet, that is exactly what happens, every time someone writes a review. In fact, few people outside of the publishing industry are aware of the importance of reviews.  They are the lifeblood of authors and their books – a priceless promotional tool that is aimed purely at other readers. In this USA Today article by Elizabeth Weise, it claims that “Just going from zero review to one increases the rate at which online window-shoppers actually click the ‘buy’ button by 65%.”

The publishing industry has changed a lot.  It used to be that you went to your local bookshop, picked up a book you liked the look of and if you enjoyed it, you probably loaned it to a couple of friends.  There was no such thing as writing a review and word of mouth was the only way to spread the love.  Nowadays however, leaving travel reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor has become the norm and something businesses rely on heavily for publicity and future trade.  It’s no different for books and reviews can make a huge difference to future sales, especially for Indie Authors and publishers.

If your book garners 20-25 reviews, regardless of how many stars awarded, Amazon will highlight the novel under the ‘Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought and You might also like’ section on a page.  If your book receives more than 50 reviews, Amazon will include the title in their newsletter and increase its visibility on the site with spotlights, which means it will reach more potential readers.

Obviously, reviews are paramount to your book’s future success.  But how do you encourage readers to write reviews without resorting to begging and losing any sense of dignity?!  Readers are under no obligation to leave a review and to be fair, they’ve already paid you the highest compliment of buying your book in the first place.  But I honestly believe that if readers knew how much of a difference their review could make in terms of an author’s ranking (not to mention potential revenue and ratings), I think they would be much more inclined to write one.  Especially if they are already a fan of the author’s work. When it comes to Amazon in particular, they make it extremely easy to leave a review with their ‘reminder’ email, asking you to rate the book.  These ratings are so important, because even when it comes to promoting your book with sites like Bookbub, they take your star rating into account.

So why do such a small percentage of readers write reviews? Even readers who contact me personally to say they enjoyed my book are reluctant to publish a review online, as oftentimes, they don’t know what they’re expected to say.  If you scroll through the reviews on Amazon on Goodreads, you will find that a lot of reviews are written by professional book bloggers and are written in a standard format that includes the blurb and an in-depth critique of the novel.  However, it is the reader’s choice what they decide to write – after all it is their opinion and they’re free to express it however they wish.

One reader told me that she didn’t like reviewing because it felt like being back at school and writing book reports, so I wonder if that’s what puts people off? It’s not like reviewing a lipstick, for example, because you don’t feel pressure to sound clever about it. Either you liked it or you didn’t! But the thing is, a review is simply to inform other readers – a brief review of your response to the book, saying why you liked the book (or didn’t like it), and maybe a similar book that it reminded you of.  I am currently reading a book that I would describe as an ‘Entertaining read, very likeable characters and an interesting plot.  Fans of Nick Hornby would like this book.‘  However, when I REALLY like a book, I go all out and write something more in depth.  It’s really up to the reader – if you’re really moved by a book, you want to shout from the rooftops about it.  But if it’s just okay or average, you might not bother. However, all ratings have value and even critical ones give a more balanced picture of readers’ responses.

The truth is that we all rely on reviews to some degree before hitting the ‘Buy’ button. Apparently, they drive 20% of overall sales.  I always check out the reviews on Goodreads and Amazon before buying a book, just to get a feel for it and even if there are negative reviews, it can sometimes influence my decision to buy.  As an example, I recently bought and read an AMAZING book that I absolutely loved (you can see me gush about it here) and that was after I saw a negative review saying that it was a story about a girl who talks to squirrels.  Talking squirrels you say?  Count me in!  Obviously, the story was about so much more than that and it’s clear the reviewer hadn’t read the entire book.  But the point is that what turned her off (a little quirkieness) completely turned me on.  So you see, all reviews have their own funny way of influencing future readers.  Ultimately, I think most people make up their mind using a combination of the blurb, the cover and reviews, but it definitely makes a book look more appealing if there are more reviews beside it.

So I would always encourage readers to use this platform to provide feedback on books that traditionally, might only be reviewed by book critics or worse, not at all. Short or long reviews, they all count!  Your review has a big impact on, not only the book’s future, but also the author’s career.  Writers and readers are so important to each other, as the author John Cheever once said:

“I can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss—you can’t do it alone.”

When Someone Has Already Written Your Book

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‘There is no such thing as a new idea’, Mark Twain once wrote. Which is bad news for anyone trying to be original! But as he goes on to say, we can create new and endless numbers of new combinations. Still, what if you find that you keep coming up with ideas that have already been done? I’m reading a charming little book at the moment, ‘How To Fall In Love With A Man Who Lives In A Bush’, (quite easily, it seems, apparently Austrian men aren’t up to much) where the protagonist dreams of becoming an author. The only problem is that every story she comes up with has already been written …. by Charlotte Bronte or Stephen King!

It’s something of an occupational hazard for storytellers – even when it comes to choosing a title for your book. A quick search on Google will reveal that your unique, edgy and entirely original title has already been used by a handful of other authors, in some shape or fashion.  It’s happened to most of us, at some point or other in our writing lives, but thankfully it doesn’t always sound the death knell for your book.

On reading Graeme Simsion’s novel ‘The Rosie Project’, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling of deja vu.  Not surprising really, considering one of my favourite movies in recent years is ‘Adam‘, the story of a young man with Asperger Syndrome and his efforts to connect with a young woman who moves into his building.  It’s a really touching love story, as is The Rosie Project, because we can all see a piece of ourselves in these characters as they fumble unsuccessfully on the road to true love and self-determination.  Anyway, my point is that, as I was reading Simsion’s novel, I realised that while both stories had their similarities, they each had their own authentic voice. Imagine if either of them decided to give up on their project, because the story had already been done?

I believe that it is our job as writers to bring our unique viewpoint to these stories, regardless of whether the idea has already been explored.  Because nobody can truly write the same story in the way you’ve written it and that is your gift as a writer.  Original thought might be as rare as hen’s teeth, but it is the writer’s perspective which makes a story ‘new’, recycling old ideas and creating something different. I  found a great article by Melissa Donovan on Writing Forward.  She states that “Originality isn’t a matter of coming up with something new, it’s a matter of using your imagination to take old concepts and put them together in new ways.”  The following is a little test to prove her theory:

A young orphan who is being raised by his aunt and uncle receives a mysterious message from a stranger, which leads him on a series of great adventures. Early on, he must receive training to learn skills that are seemingly superhuman. Along the way he befriends loyal helpers, specifically a guy and a gal who end up falling for each other. Our young hero is also helped by a number of non-human creatures. His adventures lead him to a dark and evil villain who is terrorizing everyone and everything that our hero knows and loves — the same villain who killed his parents.

If you guessed that this synopsis outlines Harry Potter, then you guessed right. But if you guessed that it was Star Wars, you’re also right.

So it’s not unusual for people to independently come up with the same ideas in the creative sphere, or any sphere for that matter.  We all share the same collective unconscious.  Plagiarism, however, is another issue entirely. Plagiarism is the intentional copying or lifting of another person’s work and passing it off as your own. When I hear stories like this, it makes my blood run cold. I was in a chat group recently where a writer lamented the fact that a novel she had written a few years previous was now a major hit for someone else. Obviously, I have no proof as to whether or not this was true, but I could feel their helplessness.  What can you do if you see a book that shares more than a passing resemblance to your own (even the twist that ‘you’ll never see coming’?)

The most recent high profile copyright lawsuit involved the 2012 novel ‘The Light Between Oceans’ by M.L. Stedman (author Margot Louise Watts) which screenplay writer Joseph Nobile alleged was based on his 2004 screenplay, A Tale of Two Humans. The case, which was taken after Dreamworks adapted the novel for screen, was eventually dismissed, despite the plaintiff arguing that there were striking similarities between the work of the two authors, (the story’s setting on a remote storm-swept island, the central couple and specific scenes in chronology and specific passages of dialogue).

Equally being accused of plagiarism, based on mere coincidence, must be an unsettling experience. Unless you’re Daphne du Maurier, whose much beloved ‘Rebecca’ bore many similarities to A Sucessora (The Successor), a 1934 book by writer Carolina Nabuco. Nabuco and her editor alleged du Maurier had stolen the plot and much of the dialogue, but Du Maurier scoffed at the claims, arguing that the plot itself was too common to have been plagiarized. Although sued for plagiarism in 1947, du Maurier won the lawsuit.

As Oscar Wilde once said, as only he could, ‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.’ Although I wouldn’t say that to anyone’s face!

While the majority of us don’t set out to write novels that have already been written, it’s almost impossible not to end up treading on the toes of stories that have already been told.  Having said that, publishers and readers alike don’t want the same old tropes churned out year after year. The trick is to tell a tale as old as time, but in a new way. Mix up genres and avoid the predictable cliches. The real challenge is to find your own unique voice as a writer and tell a story as only you can tell it.  That is what will make your work original.

The Black Hole of Research

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Did you know that The Countess of Lovelace was the mathematician responsible for the very first algorithm? She’s the one we can all blame when our books are foundering in the choppy rankings on Amazon. How do I know this? Because I was researching SOMETHING COMPLETELY UNRELATED!

Many writerly souls have been lost on the road to research. Like pilgrims seeking truth (and hopefully a large chunk of data we can copy and paste into our WIP to boost our wordcount for the day, without actually having to write anything) we set out innocently hoping to find the right answers to our questions. Like, what did people eat in the sixteenth century? Is a hurricane worse than a cyclone? When did indoor plumbing, like, happen? What were the best hotels in Paris before WWI? (asking for a friend). Did Victorian women mountaineers wear skirts? The answer is yes, by the way, they did in the mid 1800s and despite appearances, they weren’t hampered one bit.  Check out the aptly named Lucy Walker.  How do I know this?  Again, I got A LOT distracted from my original quest, which was…. what was it again?

That’s the beauty and the beast that is the Internet. It’s a wonderful tool for research and even when you end up deep down a black hole of ‘Stuff That Will Never Make It To Your Novel,’ it’s still really interesting (albeit time-consuming).  I would love if Google could accumulate some of the most common searches for each writing genre.  I’m guessing crime writers would have the most gruesome results – like how many times and in what location you can stab someone before killing them? So much of a writer’s search history has been conveniently explained away as “research”.

Writing historical fiction doesn’t help.  When people ask why it takes so long to write a book, they don’t mean how long you spent researching it (like spending half the day reading about how Joan of Arc was captured in a small town in Northern France, called Compiegne, only to vaguely refer to it in one sentence).  They mean how long you spent putting words together.  But if you’ve ever written a story, you learn pretty quick that everything needs to be researched – location, professions, dialect, clothing, customs and anything else that has a question mark over it, because as we all know, fiction needs to be factually correct or else it doesn’t work. Unless you plan on writing an autobiography, or a story that never mentions anything outside of your field of knowledge (which isn’t a bad idea, actually!)

But then there are those wonderful moments when the black hole of research leads you to your next story idea.  Such was the case with The Story Collector; I was looking up information on a local hill, where it is said that the King of the Connacht fairies (that’s Finvarra to you) is buried.  I found myself being swept slightly off course and in a couple of clicks, came face to face with a dapper-looking anthropologist who wrote a book about The Good People in Celtic countries.  I made a note of it – lost the note – but never forgot his story and in a few years began researching in earnest for what would become my third novel, inspired by that man.  So you never know!  Books are certainly much more contained when it comes to research, and once I know what I’m looking for, I tend to use books more than the internet, but it’s the ‘lucky dip’ of searching online that makes it so exciting. Research can be a fun and interesting part of the writing journey, just don’t forget to book a return ticket.

Why Writers Are 100% My Type On Paper

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You know that old cliche – you don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps?! Well, welcome to the book business my friend.  In the style of Joni Mitchell, I’ve looked at publishing from both sides now – well, three sides to be precise, a triangular perspective with lots of 90 degree angles.  I’ve gone from an unpublished writer, to self-published to traditionally published and I can safely say that the one rule of successful book publishing is…. there are no rules!  I’m starting to wonder if the publishing industry is some form of collective insanity.  And it is the writer, the creative power at the centre of the… triangle, who has the least amount of certainty in this baffling equation of reader plus book, multiplied by publishing.

But wait, that’s just inside the triangle.  The real uncontrollable variables are all outside the triangle, like….. like a big circle encasing billions of little triangles (God I wish I hadn’t brought up geometry) that functions according to its own rules and agendas.

Let me break it down (and stop pretending I know anything about sums).  As an unpublished author, I clung onto the popular belief that published authors had it made, that publishers showered you with advances and follow-up deals for books you haven’t even written yet and that once your book was on the shelf, everyone would know of its existence and buy it.  It’s weird to be looking back on that time now, because I suppose it forces me to see how far I’ve come, which is not something I’m very good at doing.  I’m always chasing after the next rainbow – I guess it’s the human condition.  But it’s also a reminder of how much work went into becoming the writer I am now – which is the same for all writers.  So much work goes on behind the scenes, during the lean years when the only message you got from the outside world was, ‘getting a book deal is harder than winning the lottery‘ or ‘writing is a nice hobby‘.  At this point, a lot of writers think about quitting.  It seems utterly pointless and delusional.  A strange breeding ground for future authors, but one thing it certainly teaches us all is resilience and something else far more interesting (okay, two things, I told you I was bad at maths) PASSION.  It’s at this stage you find out whether or not writing is your passion, because if it is, it won’t let you go, so you may as well make the best of it.

Which brings me to self-publishing.  The best compliment I can give to self-publishing is that most readers hardly notice if a book is self-published anymore (I know this from my reviews).  It turns out the digital revolution was right; people don’t care where their stories come from, as long as they’re good.  The cream did rise to the top – all of the worries people had about rubbish novels taking over the world were unfounded and in the end it was the reader who shaped the self-publishing landscape.  Yes, it drove down the price of an eBook, which has had both good and bad repercussions (more anon), but it also introduced authors (who might otherwise have withered and died in a pile of their own submission material) to a new readership that traditional publishers weren’t targeting.  Turns out people wanted to read about vampires and spacemen and weird sexual contracts!  But I digress – the point is, self-publishing is brilliant, dynamic and offers better royalties than the main traditional publishers, but it does have its limits and this is where reality sets in. Your book is just one out of zillions of books published every year and the problem that needs solving is how to get noticed?

Cue traditional publishing!  The old school, tried and tested way of getting your book in front of readers, but even this approach has its challenges.  There’s no doubt that having your book published traditionally gives you (as a writer) the kind of validation recognised by booksellers and readers alike.  And for me personally, it was a huge vote of confidence in my writing career.  I’m no longer working in complete isolation and it feels good to have people who care as much about my book as I do!  But books don’t automatically appear on shelves, they need to charm the book buyers first and if you walk into any bookshop, you will see who has the most influence.  You’re still facing the same problem – how to get my book noticed in a crowded market.  This came home to me when I walked into my local Dubrays the other week, an auspicious occasion, because it was the first time I was going to see my book in a shop (that I didn’t have to hand-deliver myself!)  The windows were taken up with large displays for Anne Tyler’s new novel (like she needs the publicity – and now I’ve given her more!!) and as I walked down the centre aisle, all of the mainstream publishers had their new releases displayed like colourful fruits at a stereotypical French market. I had already heard of these books through print media and online thanks to their big promotion budget, and now they held prime real estate right throughout the shop.  So there is a lot more to this book business than meets the eye and each new deal is a giant victory for your book. (Like the fact that The Story Collector is now on promotion in all WH Smith stores in Irish airports – YAY!!)

So I’m still pushing, still trying to let people know that my book is good and it’s on the shelf.  I’m very lucky to be with my publisher and have a wonderful PR person helping me, but the truth is, I am probably working harder to promote this book than I did on my previous two.  Then again, I have more to promote and that’s thanks to having a publisher, which has definitely opened more doors for me.  I just got off the phone from the arts reporter for my local newspaper and I’m constantly submitting articles to online publications and (gently) reminding people that my book is on promotion and on the shelf.  What’s that? Where can you buy it? Allow me to furnish you with those deets 🙂

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Book Depository ~ Dubray Books ~ Foyles ~ O’Mahony’s ~ Waterstones ~ WH Smith

Amazon UK  ~ Amazon US ~  Amazon (paperback)

So what’s my point?

It’s non-stop graft, but you still have very little control over how well your book will perform.  You spend years in the Unpublished Doldrums, wondering if you’re any good at all or if you’ll ever make it, then if you hang in there, you might get to Self-Published Isle, a wonderful place where you make everything happen yourself but lack the support of industry insiders.  Then if you’re really, really lucky, you’ll get to Trad-Published Mountain, a mythical place where not all is at it seems, but the view is good and the bar is subsidised!

HOWEVER, after all of that and regardless of which route you take to publication, chances are your voyage will be scuppered by pirates (or as they should be called, copyright thieves).  The digital revolution has been such a wonderful progression for everyone who loves books, but the downside is the growth in illegal download sites.  Like the music industry before, books have lost their value for some and even 99p is deemed too high a price for a book.  A typical comparison when discussing this topic is that some people believe it’s normal to pay more for a cup of coffee than a book.  So after all those years of working on your craft for no income – the years of submitting and learning how to deal with rejection – the years of starting over with a brand new novel and putting the old one in a drawer – the years of being told it’s not commercially viable or ‘right for our lists’ – the years of promoting your author platform – more writing – more editing – waiting for a response – providing tons of free content to gain exposure – finally getting a deal – discovering you won’t be getting a six figure advance after all – more promotion – doing all of this before you see a red cent – some creep comes along, takes your new book and makes it freely available for anyone to download.

Because, as we all know, people in the arts aren’t really working; it’s not like a real job, so they don’t deserve a real income.  And the people who download your book from an illegal site aren’t really stealing, because they probably wouldn’t have bought it anyway. Or maybe they’re like the old me, thinking that published authors are doing quite nicely for themselves and anyway, the publisher will probably cover the loss.  Maybe articles like this in which author earnings are revealed to be less than the minimum wage, will help (and they’re the lucky ones, professional writers who got published and write full time).  For authors in Ireland, it’s even less (The €500 a year career)  This is what’s happening and finally the industry is starting to fight back, as in the recent case with OceanofPDF (The Times).  But is it too little too late?  Who knows.

All I do know is that, in the face of all this improbability, writers keep on writing and books are more popular than ever.  I see the enthusiasm of new publishers (like Urbane) to become a dynamic and exciting alternative to the Big 5, to give voice to new writers and offer readers something different from the risk-averse mainstream.  But this whole fallacy about ‘writers not doing it for the money’ needs editing.  We might not be motivated to write by money, but we would very much like to be remunerated for our work, thank you very much.  Even if it is a pittance, we’ve earned it! Fiction writers are real people with very ordinary lives, trying to create something a little extraordinary that everyone can enjoy.  I don’t think the world owes us a living, but it sure as shit needs to protect our copyright and give us a fair share of the profits from our work (UK book sales for 2017 hit a record £5.7 bn, read more here).

So on the one hand we have an industry that has been described as ‘exploitative’ by author Philip Pullman and on the other, a section of society that now expect to read books for free.  Even with my limited skills, I know that doesn’t add up.  And that is why writers are SOOOOO my type, because even though they are aware of this shit storm going on in the big circle around them, they sit down and keep plugging away at their story, in the hope that the pen will ultimately triumph over everything else.  Yeah, maybe we’re slightly deluded, but how else do you think books get written?!  Writers are dreamers.  They have to be, to imagine a place where words are not something to be stolen, but something to be cherished.

Come Away

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Come away, O human child!

To the waters and the wild

With a faery, hand in hand,

For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand

THE STOLEN CHILD

William Butler Yeats

This poem has been knocking on the door of my subconscious for quite a few years now and I’m proud to have it gracing the first page of my book, The Story Collector.

Growing up in Ireland, it’s easy to take things for granted. To me, Yeats was just another poet whose lines I had to learn off by heart at school and coldly analyse for exams.  But it was during the 80’s, when my brother bought a record (remember those!) by The Waterboys called Fisherman’s Blues, that it all changed.  The band were aiming for a more stripped back sound and spent some time in County Galway, writing and recording the album in an old house in Spiddal.  I’ve always loved that record, but one of their greatest triumphs was in marrying the words of WB Yeats to music.   Some poems have music in them and Mike Scott reveals the lyrical prose with a haunting recording of the poem.  It features Tomás Mac Eoin, a local Sean-nós singer, narrating the verses and as Scott himself remarked, once they ‘had the poem fastened snugly to the music, worlds merged.’  For me, that recording brought the words to life and I’ve been enchanted by the poem ever since.

The idea that the fairies can lure beautiful boys and girls is an old one, and Yeats captures the romantic picture they might paint of life in the wilds of nature.  My novel also features an old Irish lullabye, Seoithín seothó.  I first heard it on the radio, sung by Roisin Elsafty (another Galway woman!) and I was mesmerised by its beauty.  The song tells the story of a mother lulling her baby to sleep with soothing promises to keep them safe from the fairies,  who are playing in the moonlight on the rooftop.  There is a wonderful fascination with The Good People in Irish ballads, where people are helplessly drawn to their beauty, despite the dangers.  I love that sense of push and pull, the lure of the unknown.  But again, this song came to me long before the novel, weaving its way in amongst my memories and waiting until the right moment.

Novels are funny creatures, because you realise you’ve been collecting knowledge all through your life without understanding where it may lead.  A few years ago, I visited Thoor Ballylee, Yeats’ tower home in county Galway.  I was with my sister, who is the poet in the family, and so I figured this pilgrimage was more for her than myself.  But once there, I experienced such a sense of ease, of playfulness and yes, magic!  I could completely understand how he had been inspired to write about The Good People.  Maybe the spell was cast even then to write The Story Collector!

The summer home of W. B. Yeats and his wife George, Thoor Ballylee is a 15th century tower house built beside the Streamstown River, it’s idyllic setting is simply mesmerizing.   We arrived late on a sunny evening, crossing the little bridge just as the sun began to set.  At once, I was under the spell of the place.  Surrounded by trees whose leaves whispered in the breeze, I could feel a sense of timelessness and calm in this beautiful place.  It wasn’t hard to imagine why he loved to escape to Thoor Ballylee and  I’m sure he was never short of inspiration there.

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We spent a long time there, exploring the pathways that led through the woods and down by the stream and discovered the sweetest little picnic tables across the road that resembled little toad stools.  I’ve never felt such an instant connection with a place and I really cannot wait to return.  As Yeats wrote in a letter to a friend about leaving Thoor Ballylee, “Everything is so beautiful that to go elsewhere is to leave beauty behind.”

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The Story Collector is now available in eBook and Paperback

Amazon UK ~ Amazon US ~ Dubrays ~ Foyles ~ O’Mahony’sWaterstonesWH Smith

Book. Launched.

It’s been almost a week since The Story Collector was released and I think I’ve finally dragged myself out of my post-launch stupor!  How to even begin to explain to you, dear reader, what this week has been like.  It has been a mixture of utter joy, trepidation, excitement, anxiousness, exhaustion and elation.  Let’s say it together, it’s been an emotional roller-coaster!  But mostly, there’s a sense of mission accomplished.

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Launching in style at Ashford Castle!

There are so many stages to getting a book from manuscript to shelf and even though I’ve had a publisher behind me this time, it still doesn’t change the amount of work to be done.  Thankfully, all of the preparation has paid off and my new book has been chaperoned into the world by the most amazing book bloggers – newly christened #TeamEvie !  Book bloggers are quite simply, angels.  I never cease to be amazed by the amount of work they put into helping authors and publishers promote their new books to the world.  All for the love of books and reading.  It’s kind of phenomenal and something I never take for granted.  It’s a huge commitment that they take on for no financial gain, and yet their professionalism is exemplary.  It also helps that readers (we knew this already!) are just the best humans!!  I’ve had such fun on this tour, so big thanks to everyone who is taking part and cheering from the sidelines.

I was so happy to kick off the week with a piece for the Irish Times, all about folklore in fiction.  I loved writing this article and I’ve connected with some fellow folklore fans (try saying that three times!) off the back of it, so do have a read if you’re interested in the inspiration behind the story.

Another feature I really enjoyed doing was My Life In Books for Woman’s Way Magazine.  I love sharing books that I’ve enjoyed and it’s a nice change to chat about other writers!

 

Finally, the lovely people at with Female First UK invited me to do their feature, 10 Things I Want My Readers To Know About Me.  Honestly, I couldn’t think of one at the beginning!  But once I started writing, it kind of snowballed, reminding me of things I hadn’t thought about for years.  Like how I worked as an intern with Airbus Industrie in the south of France, and in a bizarre twist of fate, they are publishing a book this year with my publisher, Urbane!

 

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So that’s it, The Story Collector is out in the world, revealing its pages to new readers every day.  There is still lots more to come, so stay tuned for details.  If you want to pick up a copy, check out the following stores for more info.

 

Book Depository ~ Dubray Books ~ Foyles ~ O’Mahony’s ~ WaterstonesWH Smith

Amazon UK  ~ Amazon US ~  Amazon (paperback)

My Writing Life

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I read somewhere that you don’t become a writer; you discover you are one, and I suppose that’s what happened to me.

People always talk about their love of books as a child, but I also had a love of stories and storytelling.  So much so, that I often made up my own and told them – seanchaí style – to anyone who would listen! My goal was to entertain and storytelling became my party piece.  But when it came to reading, well, books were my medicine.

I spent a lot of time in and out of hospital as a child and people would always bring me books, mostly fairytales. I would read voraciously when stuck in bed.  The Grimm brothers helped me escape from the confines of a hospital ward, along with Johnathan Swift whose crazy stories of magical lands and strange wonders opened up a whole new world for me.  Later, my older sister’s Edgar Allen Poe collection saw me through countless infections and fascinated me with his gothic tales.   Yet, as soon as my health improved, I would abandon my books for the outside world, making up for lost time. I was a fair-weather friend to books, but they were still there waiting for me, whenever life got hard.

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I’m not sure this little girl, surrounded by books, would’ve believed she’d be an author one day.  I think there’s a part of me that still doesn’t believe it!

It wasn’t until much later that I even dared to think of writing a book. Again, it was one of those ‘stuck’ moments in life and I needed a new story to help me find a way out. I rediscovered the library, my love of books and an escape route. I’m not sure at what point I decided, ‘Hey, I could write one of these!’ but I certainly remember the moment when I realised it wasn’t as easy as it looked. I felt like a fool for even trying. I wasn’t a writer! It was a silly dream. And so I buried my first attempt deep in my hard drive and tried to forget about that part of myself.  I kept reading though – if I couldn’t be a writer, I was going to be a reader.

It worked, for a while, but it was like I’d been bitten by a bug (a not very talented, but persistent bug!) and before I knew it, I was writing another novel. I submitted it to ONE publisher before I even finished it and they requested the full manuscript. I couldn’t believe it. “It’s happening!” I thought to myself, “It’s really happening!” Then came the rejection letter – which wasn’t surprising, seeing as I had submitted just 50k words of a first draft. The editor said that, while it was well written, the story wasn’t strong enough. Well, if that’s not an excuse to wallow in self-pity for a good two years, I don’t know what is! But I kept reading, exploring new genres and different voices.

So yet again, I had pushed aside this crazy dream and told myself I’d have more chance of winning the lottery.

I think it’s a rite of passage for writers, this tug of war between heart and mind.  You try to talk yourself out of it; acutely aware of how irrational this longing is.  Everyone tells you there’s no money it, you’ll never get published and besides, the novel is dead!  But you keep climbing into your ivory tower anyway, because you simply have to tell your story.  Even if no-one listens, you have to tell it because if you don’t, no-one else will.

So when do you really start feeling like a writer?  I can’t say.   It’s an unusual process; you spend all this time wondering when you will become a ‘real writer’, but just like the Velveteen Rabbit, the realness happens without you noticing it. You work away, writing stories, writing articles, submitting manuscripts, waiting endlessly and then one day you look around you and realise, I am a real writer! It’s happened.  I think seeing my photo in the Irish Times with the caption Evie Gaughan, Author was what really clenched it!  I mean, who am I to argue with the Irish Times!!

Evie Irish Times

And then came the greatest endorsement that all writers hope for, dream of, but never really believe will happen.  Yet just like love, it happens when you least expect it and have almost given up on it.  In a happy twist of luck and happenstance, fellow writer Thomas Hocknell (The Life Assistance Agency) pointed me in the direction of Urbane Publications, and I found my perfect fit.  I submitted my manuscript and on Saint Patrick’s Day, merry with wine, I received the email I’d been waiting for – “We’d like to publish your book”.  It was really happening.

It IS really happening.

Even now, in the midst of my third book launch, I think there’s a part of me that still can’t accept that this is real, that it’s really happening.  People ask me how I feel and I’m sure I reply with something coherent, but really it’s a jumble of feelings and impossible to put into words (ironically!).  I’m just trying to do the work and give this book the best launch that I can.  Another surreal moment has been the endorsement of one of my favourite authors, Niamh Boyce (Her Kind).  Having her words on my cover, praising my story, is something (again) I could only have dreamed of.  Another welcome surprise to me is how generous and supportive authors are of each other – something I hope to pay forward.

But it’s probably the same for most authors, a lot of the time you just can’t see the wood for the trees.  There are lots of hidden moments; a contract to be signed but you can’t talk about it, a new cover that you can’t reveal yet, a new story you don’t want to jinx, so you keep it to yourself.  And so you never really know when to celebrate and when things finally do start happening, you’re already in promotion mode.  So maybe it will be another few months before all of this sinks in and I can give myself a congratulatory pat on the back.  And a holiday!  Or sit down in a quiet, still place and let myself feel this in my bones, remember what it was like when I started out and see how far I’ve come. Till then, thanks to everyone who has supported me, my squad, my tribe 🙂  It would be a far lonelier journey without you x

The Story Collector is available to purchase here – 

Hive  * Foyles * WH Smith * Amazon *

 

Books Are For Everyone

It was a bit disappointing to hear about a bookstore chain getting a bashing this week.  Not least because I can’t wait to see my own book, The Story Collector, stocked there! I wrote a post last year about Book Snobs and how readers often feel judged for what they read as well as how they read, but with the recent WH Smith story, it seems there are those who will judge you for where you buy your books! A Which survey voted it the worst store on the UK high street (you can read The Bookseller article here) but authors such as Joanne Harris (or My Joanne as I call her!) have been quick to defend the retailer and its patrons, calling out an undercurrent of snobbery among those who have accused the store of being ‘a chocolate shop pretending to be a stationary shop’.

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I’m not sure we have the same kind of snobbery here when it comes to bookshops – at least not that I’m aware of.  In Galway city, Easons, Dubrays and Charlie Byrne’s all seem to rub along nicely together, it just depends what you’re looking for.  And if you’re still book-hungry, you can pop across the road to the library where, shock horror, you can get books for free!  I know that library services are being cut all across the UK, something which seems to be decided by people who have probably never used a library and fail to see the need for free access to books.  So there’s a bit of a trend emerging which divides the haves and have-nots and when that kind of elitism invades the realm of arts and culture, we need to speak out.

As a writer, I couldn’t care less how people get their hands on my books (as long as it’s legal!).  And I hate the thought of someone feeling intimidated by a bookshop, because that is not what the authors want.  It reminds me of a gallery I went to years ago – it was very trendy and full of people with, as my mother would say, more money than sense.  They were talking utter shite, like someone who’s taken a crash course in wine tasting just to sound knowledgeable and I kept thinking, the artist would HATE this!  Art is created on kitchen tables, in cramped spare rooms, by people wearing crappy clothes and eight-day-old hair.  They don’t want their audience to feel intimidated.  Art should be inclusive and I love when places like cafes exhibit art or fill their shelves with books.  Art needs to be out in the community where people can access it.

Because there is a knock-on effect when we judge people for how, what, when, why they read (or don’t read at all).  It makes people feel excluded – like they’re locked out of a world that thinks they’re not good enough to be a part of.  I read a great article recently by Kit de Waal in The Guardian in which she revealed that she read her first novel (voluntarily) at the age of 22.  Not all authors grow up steeped in books or houses doubling as libraries.  I think there is a perception there that most authors were complete bookworms, working their way through the classics before hitting puberty!  She even admits that buying hardbacks is a treat she cannot always afford – same Kit, same.  So when you hear people being snobby about books, as a writer, it makes no sense.  Writing is an equal opportunities affliction – it’s just that you might not hear as much about the working classes in fiction.  This is something Kit De Waal is trying to address and in fact, just this morning it was announced that newcomer Stephen Morrison-Burke is the first recipient of the Kit de Waal Scholarship that funds a place on the MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck College, London.

We need to hear all kinds of voices if we are to keep books relevant and relatable.  We want to engage readers, not alienate them.   1 in 6 adults has literacy difficulties in Ireland (www.nala.ie) so we need to focus on improving access to books and reading.  Books and the possibilities that lie within them, are for everyone.

 

3 Gorgeous Books For Historical Fiction Lovers

So it turns out that other people have also written books over the last couple of years – imagine that!  So instead of dropping not-so-subtle hints about my own book, I thought I’d take a breather and recommend some lovely books I’ve read so far this year.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock was always going to be top of the list!  If you know me at all, you can see why…. Historical fiction, a long-winded title and MERMAIDS!!!  Nuff said.  But was this book all fur coat and no knickers?

Poldark meets Moulin Rouge!

I wasn’t one bit surprised to learn, while reading this book, that it had been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize, because it has everything you want in a book – originality, personality and mermaids!

I hardly even read the blurb – I was already hooked by THAT cover and the intriguing title, so it was a pleasure to find that what lies within does not disappoint. Wonderfully written with characters that stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock is like historical fiction with a generous sprinkling of Baz Luhrmann theatrics!

A truly wondrous book, full of excess and greed, grace and humanity. The author does a fantastic job of representing women who, born into a patriarchal society where property and wealth are always something to be attained through trickery but never to be owned, are forced to live by their wits. Yet there is no moral judgement here, which allows the reader to completely immerse themselves in the lives of these characters and feel forever changed by them.

I loved spending time in Imogen Hermes Gowar’s world, as she deftly weaves myth and magic into the harsh realities of 18th century life, and I would highly recommend a visit.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Okay so I arrived a little late to this party, but The Essex Serpent was so much more than I expected.  Again, I was caught by the lush cover, the hint of something otherworldly afoot, and yet again, I was not disappointed.

“They sharpen themselves on each other; each by turn is blade and whetstone”

Seriously, do yourself a favour and read this book. Masterful, elegant, authentic, quite funny and keenly observed – a study of feminism, religion and society in the 1800’s – this book is the epitome of soul-satisfying literature. There. If you don’t read it now, there’s no hope for you.

The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde

Just finished The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde, a dual-timeline novel (my fav!) that has all the charm of 50’s England and the unbreakable bond of sisters.

I already have one amazing sister, but this novel made me greedy for more!  Eve Chase has captured the nature of sibling relationships perfectly in this gorgeous novel about one hot summer that leaves an indelible mark on the Wildling sisters.  If you like old country houses with hidden secrets, set against a modern family coming to terms with their own problems, then this book is for you.  Absorbing and charming, a perfect summer read.

Highly recommend these books and if you’re thinking, ‘hey, these are totally my cup of tea and if these are the books Evie enjoys, I wonder if her new book would appeal to me too?’ I couldn’t possibly be so brash as to answer that question.  But probably, yes.

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So I’ll just leave this here…

Early reviews for THE STORY COLLECTOR say ‘Simply magical’, ‘Captivating’ and‘Heartily recommended’.

Pre-order your eBook or Paperback on Amazon

What To Do Before Your Book Launch

Sound the 30 days to launch klaxon!!  It’s just T minus 720 hours until my new book, The Story Collector, hits bookshelves and I’ve decided to draw up a helpful list of all the things I should be doing during this final phase of publishery and book launcherism.

  1. Panic.  I’m particularly good at this and have devoted many years of worship at the altar of worry.  Some people say that stress is a negative use of energy… I say they’re not doing it right!

 

2. Have my immune system turn against me.  

Immune system:  Hey, remember that time of the big freeze when you’re pipes burst and the house flooded and you got a chest infection and just for fun, I thought I’d spice things up with some weird eczema rash on your legs??  Let’s do that again!

Me: Um…

Immune system:  You know, it’s been ages since we’ve been to the dentist for a filling…. it’d be a shame if you had to get a really deep filling and upset all your nerve endings right before your launch…

Me: HELP!

3. Start comparing myself (unfavourably) to other authors

It doesn’t even need to be launch time to do this – authors can do this any old time they fancy but it’s particularly effective when you’re looking for proof that everyone else on the planet is doing a better job at this than you.

 Me watching someone have a better launch than me.

 

4.  Plan my spontaneous wardrobe

Why do we spend two months planning an ‘I just threw this on’ look?  Why is it so damn hard to look natural?  And why oh why is it that when authors buy an outfit for their author photo, they look like someone trying to look like an author??  What do authors even wear? If I’m being authentic, I should just wear pyjama bottoms and an old t-shirt. READY!

5. See how many times you can remind people of your launch date before they take out a barring order.

Work in progress.

6. Cry.

Did I say cry?  I meant smile, dementedly.

I’m really happy and not nervous at all!

7. Reality check

Remember that anyone without a book deal would bite your arm off right now – in fact, you yourself would have gnawed off an appendage less than two years ago to be where you are now.  So try to be mindful, greatful and remember that it’s a book, not a rocket launch.  You don’t need to be a scientist or anything other than yourself.  I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

But seriously folks, it’s not all fun and games, I have actually done something productive!  I am planning a VIRTUAL BOOK LAUNCH and you’re all invited 🙂  Love book launches but hate having to leave the house?  Want to chat with booky people AND stay in your pyjamas?  I’ve got you covered!

Book launch

All you need to come to my party is a Twitter account!  Just follow the hashtag #TheStoryCollector or my handle @evgaughan and rock up at about 8pm on the 14th June for an hour of book chat and you might even win something for your trouble.  As the book is all about folklore and superstition, I’m actively encouraging everyone to share their stories – perhaps an old family story that has been handed down or a superstition unique to your area.  I’m really looking forward to it and hope you can join me!

In the meantime, you can preorder your copy here.