LISTEN to any Dublin taxi driver and they’ll tell you that you can’t fling a Bodhran tipper* out of the window without hitting a writer.

Sorry, but I’ve lapsed into gaelic since spending three days in the fair city to launch my difficult second novel Spark Out. And it’s certainly true to say that the only people I saw who weren’t writers during my brief but highly enjoyable stay were those kind people who served me their finest beers, spirits and other sustenance to help me survive the ordeal.

This was the second time I had been to this wonderful event run by the book promotion service, Books Go Social. I had asked Laurence O’Bryan (pictured below) – the brains behind the company – if he might be able to fit my book launch into his jam-packed schedule. Even though he had Hollywood producers and best-selling authors to accommodate, he was delighted to oblige, and kindly filmed the event as well.


BooksGoSocial logoHaving not ventured out of the famous Gresham Hotel last year, I pledged that I would see a bit more of the famed Dublin nightlife this time around. The trouble is that once you become embedded with a group of writers, even the most introverted is itching to tell you of their latest project or their creative journey.

As a result I became part of the fixtures and fittings of the Academy Plaza on this occasion, spending the days enjoying lectures on every aspect of my craft, from first sentence to organising book launches, and nights ensconced in the bar, swapping tales with fabulously entertaining company.

wendyh     There were too many good speakers to list but I would just like to make quick mention of Scottish dynamo and crime writer Wendy H Jones (right). Having lived a full and varied life before beginning a “life of “crime” she drew on her experience as a nurse to inform us: “I can assure you that no one has EVER died of embarrassment.” Wendy was encouraging us to get out and take risks, to ask local book stores and other enterprises to stock and sell our books, or allow us to perform book signings and launches.

A testament to her success was when she visited her local bank branch near Dundee and was not only invited to do a book signing but was then approached by head office to do an entire tour of Scotland’s banks. Brilliant work!


As for myself, despite having to compete with the clinking of cutlery and what seemed like a demolition derby going on in the nearby kitchen, I think my speech went down well.

I was pleased with the banner that I had bought on eBay and had delivered straight to the venue without actually seeing (I feared there might be an awful spelling mistake in it or something, but luckily that wasn’t the case). I was also delighted to be able to do a short reading from the new book and give out three as prizes to those people who could come up with a tale about their favourite fictional baddie.

To finish off I did a reading from the novel which you can see here…

At the end of it all I was feeling revved up, the adrenaline flowing… there was nothing for it than to retire to the bar again and mingle with the glittering company.

* A Bodhran tipper is the stick with which you beat an Irish Bodhran, or drum.

  • Spark Out is available in paperback this Saturday (July 1) and can be obtained through Amazon or ordered through most good bookstores. It will be available as an eBook through Kindle Unlimited from July 10. 

60. That Difficult Second Novel

SETTING A deadline is always a good thing. Without one you can keep tinkering for ever more or, worse, put the whole thing off until you “feel like it”. As a journalist, I pride myself on hitting deadlines in the day job, so I figured I should show the same dedication to my “difficult” second novel.

I was getting a bit bogged down a short while ago so decided that, come hell or high water, I would complete the first draft before my holiday in Spain, when I can go away for a while, lock it in a musty cupboard and forget about it before having to do all the dirty work (editing etc).

I am pleased to say the first draft of the new book, with a working title Headers, is now complete.

Originally, Crossing The Whitewash was intended as a one off. So many people said they wanted to learn a bit more about the characters, though, so I looked at some of the questions that may have been left unanswered.

I kept coming back to the Dolan’s – this career criminal family – and how they had developed. The Boxer Boys were Arnie Dolan’s invention, but he is only the third boy in a family of five.

What about Maurice Dolan, locked up in prison for most of Arnie’s life after a series of Post Office robberies, and his relationship with mum Beryl? What about oldest boy Chuck, the enforcer. How did he start on his journey to become the hard man of the family?

It was originally intended as a novella, but the story developed in such a way that when I finished the first draft this week it was 140,000 words!

Once I started looking into the early 80s, developing the characters and things, what I considered a really intriguing story started to arise – complete with a few twists and turns.

I’m afraid for those who loved the Welsh side of the story The Legend and Gary Marshall only figure briefly, while the Bard Guys don’t get a mention.

It’s possibly not as light-hearted and humorous as parts of the previous book but hopefully it is engrossing nonetheless, covering such important topics like the Falklands War, the Flying Squad, Police corruption and Ron Greenwood’s England Boys of ’82.

Don’t worry, though, the Welsh boys will be back, as will the Sunday Tribune Despatch and Arnie Dolan – you may just have to wait another year to see them.

Meanwhile, below is a sample of the new book Headers. Remember this is only the first draft and I will probably need to cut about 40,000 words, change things around, get it edited, proofread, have a cover designed, formatted… In fact, it’s unlikely this will bear any relation to the finished article! Hope you enjoy, and want to read more about Big Mo and the Dolans.


56. How Audible brought my characters to life


ANYONE who has read Crossing The Whitewash will probably agree that Arnold Dolan is a pretty terrifying character. At least, that’s how he was described by judges in the Writers’ Digest eBook awards.

This week, though, Arnie even SOUNDS terrifying. I know, because I have heard him speak.

Today I am wallowing in the satisfaction of releasing an Audio version of my UK gangland thriller, having spent four months helping to edit and perfect what I believe is a pretty impressive product.

In collaboration with a very talented young producer/narrator, Samuel J Haskell, I think we have come up with something with which we both can be pretty proud.

Don’t take my word for it, though. The book is on sale on Audible and if you take up their offer of a month’s trial you can download it for FREE and put it on your MP3 player, phone or other listening device. Better still, why not listen to the sample which is provided on the page first to see if it whets your appetite.

I am a convert to Audio books. I find they take the pain out of the mundane commute to work, though I’m not sure if I would like Arnie Dolan sitting next to me on the District Line journey from Mile End to Monument!

The book has to be pretty exciting, though, to maintain the interest, because it is easy to doze off as the tube train clickety clacks through Whitechapel and Tower Hill.

I think Samuel manages to do that, and he has also added some pretty impressive sound effects for things like loud speakers and phone conversations.

So how easy is it to produce your own audio book? Amazon’s ACX division have made it a pretty straightforward process.

All you have to do is put a sample of your book on their website and then invite people to audition for the role of narrator/producer.

Then it is a question of setting a deadline for the first 15-minute sample, followed by a deadline for completion. You have to agree a fee – which can be done either as a flat rate of a certain amount per hour, or as a share of the profits.

With Samuel I agreed BOTH but unfortunately ACX don’t have a provision for that so he will just have to hope I am honest about how much money we rake in.

I paid Sam £750, which may seem a lot, but over that period of four months he certainly earned his corn. He was able to put up chapters a few at a time for me to listen to, and I then sent him corrections or comments if I didn’t think things sounded quite right. There was a lot of back and forth before we got it exactly how we wanted it, and Sam – a trained film producer – also threw in the promotional video that you can see here.

I think I got a bargain but, as it was his first experience of ACX too, I believe the experience for both of us has been invaluable.

At the end of it all, one simple click on the writer’s part and the audio book goes to the ACX techies for final approval, which they carry out as soon as the producer confirms he has been paid.

It’s interesting to know, too, that every time someone signs up for the one-month free trial with Audible and makes your book their first order, you earn $50. Whether I will get my money back I don’t know… but, to be perfectly honest, hearing characters I have created like Arnie, Gary and The Legend talk has been priceless.


39. Yankee Doodle Dandy!

LATE last year I took the plunge – I crossed the pond to enter a competition run by the most prestigious writing magazine in America.

I wasn’t sure what would happen. After all, you can’t get a more British novel than Crossing The Whitewash. It features rugger, for goodness sake, old chap!

Still, I chose to back myself and entered my gritty urban gangland thriller in the genre category at the 3rd Annual Writer’s Digest self-publishing awards.

For those unaware of its existence, Writer’s Digest has been publishing magazines since 1920. It produces eight a year for writers of all levels. It is also responsible for Writer’s Market, the American equivalent of the Writers & Artists Yearbook.

And recently it combined with Book Baby, which is one of the most-used tools by self-publishing authors.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, just before Christmas I received a congratulatory e-mail telling me that I had won an Honourable Mention in the Genre category (spelt honorable, of course, because the Yanks don’t do proper English!).

The prize amounts to a mention on the writer’s digest website and $50 worth of books – always useful to a bookworm like me.

The judges praised me for my “Evocative, original, unfailingly precise and often humorous” novel. And there was a lot, lot more besides.

If you can bear my gloating any more, here’s the full transcript (links below)…

Books are evaluated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “needs improvement” and 5 meaning “outstanding”. This scale is strictly to provide a point of reference, it is not a cumulative score and does not reflect ranking. Our system only recognizes numerals during this portion of logging evaluations. As a result, a “0” is used in place of “N/A” when the particular portion of the evaluation simply does not apply to the particular entry, based on the entry genre. For example, a book of poetry or a how to manual, would not necessarily have a “Plot and Story Appeal and may therefore receive a “0”.

 *If you wish to reference this review on your website, we ask that you cite it as such: “Judge, 3rd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published eBook Awards.” You may cite portions of your review, if you wish, but please make sure that the passage you select is appropriate, and reflective of the review as a whole.

Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 4

Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 5

Production Quality and Cover Design: 4

 Plot and Story Appeal: 4

 Character Appeal and Development: 5

 Voice and Writing Style: 5

Judge’s Commentary*:

Our judges all have professional experience in their background, whether it’s as a teacher, editor, publisher, agent, published author, etc. Judges are asked to write a short commentary, which you will find below. Some judges use this as an opportunity to critique, others as an opportunity to review, and others yet may choose to combine the two. Some judges choose to speak largely, or in general terms, about a work so that they can cover as much as possible. Others choose to hone in on a few key points, leaving out larger portions but hopefully giving examples on a smaller scale that can apply to a larger one. 

 ‘Crossing the Whitewash is a gripping, at times poignant, at times funny, story of the problems of fathers and sons. Despite being unfamiliar with rugby and some of the British vernacular, I found myself transported to Gareth’s world. The prose here is excellent: evocative, original, unfailingly precise and often humorous. I was also impressed by the development of all of the characters, major and minor. Arnold is terrifying, but never comes off as a two-dimensional villain. By the end, the reader can see that all of the characters have changed. My biggest criticism of the novel concerns its organization.’

There are some criticisms that go on from there, about how some of the structure was slightly confusing, but there are plenty of plot spoilers in there, so I’ll just say they weren’t happy with everything.

Still, if it has taught me anything it is don’t be afraid to take the plunge and offer your work up. This is the best morale-boosting news I’ve had since releasing the book and has reinforced my determination to carry on writing.

  • For full judge’s verdict click on WDPDF03 below but, beware, there ARE plot spoilers revealing all the twists and turns of the book…





33. Ways to deal with life interrupting NaNoWriMo

THE new novel went on hold today. Four days into the project and I officially hit a brick wall. It was all down to a bed.

When I say that I don’t mean I just couldn’t face getting up, going downstairs and sitting in front of a laptop until the words came.

I mean that my wife saw a bargain bed for our 5-year-old to replace the cotbed she has had since birth.

Admittedly the bed has been “upgraded” a couple of times. It’s not like she still peers at us through the bars.

But when your little ones feet are hovering perilously close to the end of the bed yet she is one of the smallest in her class, you know it’s time for drastic measures. Or, rather, my wife does.

So late last night we took delivery of the bed, and first thing this morning my little one noticed it and got all excited.

I was quite prepared to leave the assembly, plus rearranging of bedroom furniture and 15 boxes of seldom used toys, to my wife as a nice chore for the weekend. The rugrat was having none of it though.

So today, when I should have been firmly engrossed in my Nanowrimo story adding to the 5,000 words I had painfully eked out so far, instead I was performing back-breaking tasks of manual labour.

I’ll be honest. It’s not my forte. Infact, I hate it. Still, what I hate even more is seeing the look of abject disappointment on a 5-year-olds face when you tell them “Sorry, honey, daddy was just too busy to put your new bed together today”.

Anyway, the point of this long-winded tale of parental guilt is that the new bestseller took a back seat and I added exactly zero words to it today. I could, I suppose, be working on my masterpiece now but it seemed far easier to tell you the story.

I do, however, have a recipe for writers block and will aim to catch up tomorrow. I’ve already a plan in place for much of the book which I can follow, but as I am expecting to stumble tomorrow my first task will be to throw together some dialogue.

I have a few characters involved in the next scene – chapter 4 in a writing project I would loosely term “science fiction” which I’ve called State of Reality – and the way I shall endeavour to make progress is to construct a long conversation between them.

Like people in everyday life they will shoot the breeze, discuss the weather and – like certain people I know – enjoy the sound of their own voices. No doubt, while this frank exchange of views takes place some germ of a good idea will come about on how to progress the plot.

Even if it turns out to be poor material it won’t matter too much. Nano is about the first draft and you can include all sorts of crazy things, many of which will hit the cutting room floor when you start the editing process.

So don’t fear. If you are in the same position and life has already interrupted your best laid plans, adopt this catch up formula. Pick a couple of characters and imagine they are meeting up to discuss life, the universe and everything. You never know, they may just give you some very good ideas.

If not, well at least you’ve gone some way to understanding your own characters.

Happy writing and if anyone wants to touch base on NaNoWriMo feel free to look me up and become my “buddy” (a term that makes me want to put my fingers down my throat – I imagine the Americans are to blame!).

Best of luck.