Writers In Ireland: Derek Flynn

This week, I’m chatting to Derek Flynn, an Irish writer and musician with a Masters in Creative Writing from Trinity College, Dublin. THE DEAD GIRLS is his second novel. Readers called his debut novel BROKEN FALLS “a gem of a book”, and “a perfect crime drama”.

Derek’s short story “The Healer” was featured in “Surge”, an anthology of the best new Irish writing published by O’ Brien Press. His non-fiction has appeared in a number of publications, including the Irish Times. He is also a regular contributor to Writing.ie, where he writes his “Songbook” column. Like most writers, he is fuelled solely by caffeine and self-doubt…

Welcome to the series, Derek, and I’ll start with a question we writers are often asked – when you first began to write?

When I was twelve/thirteen, I was obsessed with comics. I would write comic scripts and either draw them myself or give them to more talented artistic friends who would draw them for me. Eventually, I moved on to writing stories. But that took a back seat from about the age of 16, when I joined a band. Music became my main passion for the next few years. I moved to New York in the late 90s and played music there for five years. It was while I was living there that I got an idea for a novel.

And how did you get your first publishing break?

After I moved back from New York, I started to write the book that I’d gotten the idea for over there. This was around 2004. But it was another 10 years before I published anything! I wrote a couple of novels in that time and submitted them to agents, often coming tantalisingly close. My first publishing break came in 2014, when one of my short stories was published in an anthology of the “Best New Irish Writing” by O’ Brien Press. Then, in 2016, I was offered a bursary from my local arts office to self-publish one of my novels. So I decided to take the plunge!

As a self-published author then, you must contribute to the marketing and PR of your work?

I have to – there’s no one else to do it for me! Being an independent author brings with it a lot of work when it comes to marketing and so on. But, at the same time, I love being in control of that side of things and trying to come up with new and innovative ways of getting my books in front of readers.

Do you find social media useful for marketing?

I can only speak as an independent author, but from my point of view, it’s essential. There are so many books and authors out there, that it takes a lot to cut through the noise. And social media is a great way of speaking directly to readers. I published my first novel, Broken Falls, during the Waterford Writer’s Weekend 2017 which was curated by Rick O’ Shea. There were some members of The Rick O’ Shea Book Club there and they happened to pick up a copy of Broken Falls. They went on to post some very lovely comments about it on the ROSBC Facebook page and word of mouth spread from there.

Is there anyone you would credit with inspiring you to write?

As I said, I was a huge comic’s nerd, and the one comic that made me want to be a writer was the science fiction comic 2000AD. And the 2000AD writer who inspired me the most was Alan Moore, who would later go on to write Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and From Hell, amongst others. For me, Moore was – and is – a genius. And he’s a magician! What’s not to love?

Do you write every day, and if so, how is your writing day structured?

What is structure!? I aim for structure but it usually descends into farce! Having said that, when I’m working on a book, I do try to write every day, even if it’s only a few hundred words. Every little helps, as they say!

Tell me a little about the genre of your work?

I think of my novels as occupying the territory somewhere between crime and thriller. And the great thing about those genres is that it gives you the opportunity to explore issues that might not necessarily be associated with them. So, in my first novel, Broken Falls, I looked at the legacy of the Magdalene laundries and the “Mother and Baby” homes in Ireland through the lens of a crime story set in Newfoundland. Likewise, my second novel, The Dead Girls, looks at the horrifying story that has recently come to light in the US of hundreds of women who were murdered, their bodies dumped by the side of the highway. Forgotten women who slipped through the cracks. Being able to explore those kinds of issues while telling a good story is what attracts me to these genres.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers, Derek?

Just go for it. I was asked in an interview recently what my biggest fear was. My answer? Not having tried. You’ll hear a lot of naysayers telling you you can’t do things. I say ignore them. I’ve recorded albums; I’ve written books; I’ve just staged my first play. And it’s all gone pretty well. I’m not buying a house in the South of France, but I’m doing what I’ve wanted to do my whole life. People think the worst thing is to fail – I think the worst thing is to never have tried.

I couldn’t agree more! Now, a fun question – is there a book by another writer that you wish you had written?

The Sandman comic series by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is mostly known now as a novelist (and the husband of Amanda Palmer) but he got his start in comics and The Sandman is his magnum opus. Incorporating fantasy, horror, historical fiction, and just damn good storytelling, it is stunning.

Final question, Derek, can you share with us what you are working on now?

I’m about to start work on my third novel in my Detective John Ryan series. I’m also working on a Young Adult novel which I’m very excited about.

 

Check out Derek’s Facebook Page HERE

THE DEAD GIRLS is available on Amazon UK and Amazon US Or from the author’s Website HERE

Writers In Ireland: Sharon Thompson

This week on my Writers In Ireland series, I am delighted to welcome Sharon Thompson, author and co-founder of #WritersWise tweet-chat on Twitter. Sharon has also recently set-up an exclusive, online writing group (indulgeinwriting.com). Her short stories, articles and other writings have been published in literary magazines, newspapers and online resources such as writing.ie. She writes a regular column, Woman’s Words on donegalwoman.ie, as well as recommending new book releases on indulgeme.ie (#indulgeinbooks).

Sharon’s debut crime novel, ‘The Abandoned’ was published by Bloodhound Books UK in January, 2018, launching at #1 Bestseller in Kindle Irish Crime Fiction. She has signed for two more crime novels, and has a further two manuscripts on submission through her agent.

Welcome to the series, Sharon, and congratulations on co-creating #writerswise, such a valuable resource. It is so nice to see writers encourage others on their journey, and with that in mind, how long were you writing before you were published for the first time?

I was writing in a sustained way, for five years, before my debut crime novel ‘The Abandoned’ was released. I entered writing competitions and joined online writing groups. I practiced. My short stories were accepted into literary magazines and this helped me go on to try novel-length pieces and to have them read and subsequently submitted to agents and publishers. It was a long road with lots of words and many stumbling blocks along the way. It feels like it was a longer process.

Did anyone inspire or encourage you? 

Carmel Harrington, the Irish Times bestselling Harper Collins author is my writing, fairy god-mother. She is called @HappymrsH on twitter and she is my leading light in the writing world. We found each other many years ago now and she lead me to start taking writing seriously and she has helped me every step of the way. I cannot thank her enough for all of her support. Carmel changed my life.

I see from your bio that you have an agent. Do you think it necessary for writers to have one?

Tracy Brennan from Trace Literary agency, is my agent. It also feels like I fought long and hard to get my great agent. For me, an agent is necessary. It is a lonely enough road sometimes. I like having someone in my corner, who works in my best interests. I don’t annoy Tracy (I hope I don’t) but we communicate regularly and I would be lost without her.

From my experience in talking to authors, marketing is often the most daunting aspect of the work. Do you contribute to the marketing / PR of your writing?

My life is full of social media and what I consider marketing. Outside of actually writing the manuscripts, all of my work is connected to writing and being immersed in the industry. All of the platforms I contribute to, hopefully extend my readership and support other writers.

Last question, Sharon. What are your thoughts on writing in multiple genres?

I hope that we can write anything that takes our fancy? I love to write across genres. I am drawn to dark crime or historical fiction, but I also write fun pieces. I try to write contemporary romance or ‘lighter’ fiction. I tend not to worry about the genre or the box I fit in, but merely write. I love what I do and write whatever I enjoy. I need to explore and read across even more genres and see if I could write in them as well. I am thinking on a project a fellow writer asked me to collaborate on – a script for a play. This is all very exciting!

That is lovely to hear, Sharon. I wish you the very best of luck with all of your projects!

Find Sharon on Twitter at @sharontwriter and on her website HERE

Link to The Abandoned HERE

Writers in Ireland: Niamh Boyce

Today, I am delighted to welcome Niamh Boyce to the ‘Writers In Ireland’ series. Niamh’s first novel, The Herbalist, won Newcomer of the Year at the Irish Book Awards 2013, and was long listed for the IMPAC Award. Her stories have been adapted for stage, broadcast, published in literary magazines and anthologized, most recently in ‘The Long Gaze Back- Irish Women Writers’ and ‘The Hennessy Book of Irish Fiction. ‘ Niamh has just published Inside The Wolf, her first collection of poems.

Niamh, congratulations on the publication of Inside The Wolf, a collection I am thoroughly enjoying at the moment. The poems feel interconnected, exploring issues such as death, memory and transformation. Did you plan to write this collection, or have they been gathered over the years?

Yes, that’s true Caroline, those themes – especially transformation – reoccur throughout the collection. I was always interested in reclaiming forgotten voices, and in subverting fairy tales, especially the wolf and Red Riding Hood. But there was no plan to concentrate on certain themes in any way. The poems were just written over the years, reflecting my interests, or my life – some go way back. Night Feed is sixteen years old, written during a wakeful night with my baby. Poems from that time are short, echoing the conditions under which they were written, baby in one arm, pen in the other. I felt very close to the elements then, very primal. It was a creative time, despite the exhaustion!

The rest of the poems were written over the years since then, and I wasn’t aware of the themes until I had laid them all out on the floor in front of me last year. That’s when I saw that there were art poems, ghost poems, fairy-tale poems, transformation poems and so on. The interconnectedness was not immediately obvious to me, it took a while to figure out how to shape the book; in which order to place the poems – some fitted together naturally – the ones about The Beast, Bluebeards Wife, Sleeping Beauty and so on – but seeing exactly how the others spoke to each other, took some time. At that stage, I sought out Grace Wells, as I needed a fresh perspective, someone who could see what I was too close to the work to see. That was very fruitful, as Grace has a very clear eye and was very honest. Its only now, looking back that I realise that what I thought of as the end stage, was actually the beginning of a potent process of transformation itself – any number of editorial decisions about placement and inclusion, could have led to many different types of book.

You also write novels, but what is your first love, poetry or prose?

Poetry is my first love, and I find poems most satisfying as a writer, closest to the bone. Sometimes they come in an organic way, unbidden – poets often refer to poems that come that way as gifts, and they are. They are pure joy. Others require a lot of redrafting, I was Swallowed by a Harry Clarke Window, a pretty short poem from the collection, was originally four pages long. But I enjoy working like that too – whittling away at the words, trying to find the poem within the poem.

You are traditionally published, with a great deal of success. Why self-publish Inside The Wolf?

Yes, my novel The Herbalist was published by Penguin, and I was very happy with that. When it came to the poetry collection, a poetry press that I greatly admire, told me it would take two years; if they were to decide to publish my work. That was one of the main reasons I went ahead and set up Red Dress Press. My collection was ready, and I didn’t want to have to wait till 2020 – not if I didn’t really have to – before publishing it. I wanted to go to print this summer, and without being flippant, why not self-publish? I enjoy all aspects of creating and love a challenge – plus it gave me full control over the timing, the cover, the contents. So, I found it a relatively easy process, and will probably publish my next collection under that same imprint.

It is a beautiful publication, and the cover is very evocative, and eye-catching. How much input did you have on how it would look?

Thankyou! I am so happy with the cover. I commissioned Jessica Bell to design it. She asked me to fill in a detailed questionnaire about the book and read some of the work. She responded to the information with three different cover ideas, one of which I loved immediately. We exchanged ideas back and forth, and she tweaked the image until it became the one on the cover. It was a very smooth process as Jessica really ‘got’ what the book was about.

Well congratulations, Niamh, I wish you every success with it. Also, you have a second novel in the works, I believe. Can you tell us anything about it?

I can yes – the novel is called Her Kind and was inspired the Kilkenny witchcraft trial – an event which occurred after a bishop called Ledrede accused a local moneylender, Dame Alice Kytler of sorcery. It was a 14th century case which required all sorts of fascinating research. It will be published in April 2019 by Penguin Random House.

 

You can check out Niamh’s Blog HERE. Inside The Wolf is available to purchase HERE

Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Niall Queenan

Niall Queenan is a screenwriter from the North West who currently lives in Dublin and graduated from the National Film School at IADT in 2012 with a Masters in Screenwriting. He was recently awarded an emerging screenwriter talent development mentorship from the Irish Film Board, won the gold prize in the thriller/horror category of the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards for his feature thriller script NEXT OF KIN, and the bronze prize in the thriller/horror category of the World Series of Screenwriting Awards for his feature thriller script SHADOW OF THE BLACKBIRD. He was consequently signed by manager/producer Peter Katz of Story Driven in Los Angeles. His feature debut, THE HIT PRODUCER, an independent Irish crime thriller, screened and won awards at a number of international film festivals and recently had a limited cinema release in Dublin. He has worked with Irish director Cathal Black under his Nightingale Films Ltd production company in a script development capacity and also co-produced his recent short film BUTTERFLY. He has completed feature re-writes for Propaganda Italia in Rome, Bee Holder Productions in Los Angeles, and is currently developing a slate of spec genre thrillers.

Impressive work, Niall. So, when did you first begin to write for screen?

Six years ago. My initial forays were a total disaster. I wrote two scripts without knowing a thing about the craft, thought they were gold, and paid a professional screenwriter to critique them. To say he hated them would be putting it mildly. That said, he was very understanding and gave me some really solid advice. Three months later I still felt like it was something I wanted to do, so I started over, read pro screenplays and began to study the craft. The learning continues and I can’t imagine it ever ending.

Did anyone, famous or otherwise, inspire you?

Well, they’re famous in our house, but my father always made up stories when we were kids and it was time to shut us up for the night, and my mother got me hooked on mystery novels, so I imagine the seed was planted there. But it wasn’t until I saw ‘Catch Me If You Can’ that I knew I wanted to write screenplays. Something about that film really captured my imagination and in that case, for whatever reason, I quickly came to the conclusion that the magic had started on the page. From then on the desire has been to write something that will ultimately result in an audience being as engrossed and involved in a story as I had been that evening. So, I suppose you could credit Jeff Nathanson, and also – shocker – Steven Spielberg.

Do you write every day?

When I’m working on something new I write every day. I believe that it’s important to keep your head in the same space while plotting and writing the first draft. If I’m between things or planning to re-write I’ll leave it alone, or work on something else, and let the subconscious mull over whatever it needs to, which I find productive in the long run… plot holes, inconsistencies and bad dialogue always seem to spring to mind during down time. I don’t have a specific daily structure, but I tend to write a lot at night and into the small hours.

Do you have a preferred genre?

I usually write thrillers, be they crime, conspiracy, supernatural etc. I just love being in that headspace, where there’s a sense of mystery, danger or intrigue, and working out how to assemble the pieces of the story into a compelling read.

How long does it take you to complete a script?

Usually somewhere between three and four months to outline it and get a solid first draft down.

And on your first production break? How involved in the process were you?

I’ve had just one film produced, an indie crime thriller called ‘The Hit Producer’, which had a very limited Irish release a few weeks ago. I met the director at a pitching event set up by the writers’ and directors’ guilds, and after swapping scripts/ideas he sent me his treatment for it. We unsuccessfully pitched it as a Storyland project, but by then had come up with enough material for a feature so I wrote the script. The budget (€18,000) came from a lot of blood, sweat and tears on the crowdfunding campaign, which I was heavily involved in, and after that I was on set as and when bodies were needed to chip in during the shoot. I sat in on the edit for a time during post-production and once that was done so was I. So, very much a DIY break, but it has led to other opportunities and was absolutely worth the effort. Big thanks again to all who backed the campaign and in fact gave us that break!

Do you have an agent, or think one is necessary?

I don’t have an agent, but as of very recently I have a manager! I think when you’re an unknown you have to prove yourself, which means writing strong spec scripts, completing assignments and getting your name out there. I expect that once work generates positive word of mouth, and assuming there’s a demand for the writer, an agent gets involved. I think if a writer was in serious demand an agent would absolutely be necessary. The contractual/negotiation side of things alone is a headache that I’m sure few writers want to spend their time dealing with, but want to make sure their best interests are served, so an informed manager/agent is likely vital in ensuring things get done right.

Thoughts on social media and marketing for filmmakers?

It’s absolutely necessary where you’ve made an independent film or you’re looking for backers for your crowdfunding project, nobody else is going to talk you up, but with hashtags and viral marketing tactics it’s possible to build buzz. That aside, when writing, or developing ideas etc., the less time spent on social media the better… it’s a total time suck unless you’re incorporating social media into the progress of your project in order to engage.

And do you contribute to the marketing of your own work?

I use a few social media platforms like Stage32, Twitter and LinkedIn, and post updates if I feel like something is worth sharing, but outside of that I don’t really “market” myself. To be honest, I’d rather be writing, but if there’s a project I’m involved in out there then I’ll absolutely help the team get the word out.

What’s your opinion of the current world of film? National? International? Indie Film?

Where indie film is concerned, I expect that there are tonnes of gems going undiscovered that word of mouth and cult status in their respective countries will eventually bring to a wider audience. Indie film in the US seems to be defaulting toward a Sundance style formula but there’s still plenty of really interesting stuff being made. In the mainstream, I’m a bit tired of the superhero films because they all play out in the same way – more or less – and few risks are taken. Similarly, everything these days seems to be based on book franchises, or is inspired by true events, and it feels like spec scripts are for writing sample purposes only, which is borderline a crime. Where Ireland is concerned, I wouldn’t be surprised if the 2020’s prove to be our golden age. A widespread confidence in craft is emerging on all levels, which is very exciting, and will hopefully result in greater funding for the respective bodies and lead to more opportunities for Irish writers and filmmakers.

Having just won a PAGE Award – and mighty congratulations on that – what is your opinion on the importance of screenplay competitions?

I think they’re a useful way to judge where your writing is at, and if you win, or place, or make the finals, it definitely justifies contacting producers/managers/agents – or will see them contact you. That said, I think a lot of aspiring screenwriters make the same mistakes I made before and submit scripts that just aren’t ready, in hope of magically hitting the jackpot. Even if you’re confident that the basics of the story work, I would suggest taking additional time to be brutal with your dialogue, and to work the hell out of the descriptive passages. There are tonnes of ways to describe a room, but maybe only a couple that fit the tone of your story, so print it out, red pen it, grab a dictionary and don’t just settle for the easy option before you shell out your hard-earned cash.

And since you have been heavily involved in crowdfunding – what has that experience been like?

I’ve worked on two crowdfunding campaigns, the first was for ‘The Hit Producer’, and the second was for a short film called ‘Butterfly’ – both were hosted by Fund It and, fortunately, both were successful. Crowdfunding is tough, though, and while my experiences of it were ultimately worthwhile, they were extremely time-consuming and exhausting. Engaging your audience on a personal level and putting in the time to talk about their projects is just as important as promoting your own, and it’ll pay dividends when you’re looking for likes/shares/re-tweets. What’s even more key is beginning the process of building your audience a long time in advance of the campaign launch. Trying to get people to notice you when the clock is already ticking is a stress you don’t need, so my advice to anyone considering it down the road is to set up your Twitter/Facebook pages now and start communicating. Talk about the development process, ask opinions, basically involve people so that they’re invested in its progress. I’ve a lot of admiration and respect for those who stick their necks out and decide to crowdfund, and even more respect for those who pledge and green light aspiring creatives. It’s a huge leap of faith and the hope for those who get to move forward is that your backers will ultimately be proud of the work.

Any advice for aspiring film writers, Niall?

Well, I’m still one of them, but from my limited experience I think writers should write the ideas that they personally connect with and can’t stop thinking about, as opposed to writing what people tell them is more suitable for the market/funding bodies. Getting to the end of a script is hard enough, but if you’re not engaged in it, or just doing it for the sake of it, then that’s what will come across on the page. Also, trust your instincts. If something’s bothering you in the script and you just can’t shake it, then cut it or re-write it. For me, re-writing is the best part of writing screenplays… it’s like being given back a test paper and getting to change the answers to something “correct” or at least closer to it, with the benefit of perspective and hindsight.

Is there a film script by another writer that you wish you had written?

There are hundreds. ‘Taxi Driver’ by Paul Schrader, ‘Once Upon A Time in the West’ by Sergio Leone & Sergio Donati, ‘The Usual Suspects’ by Chris McQuarrie, ‘Catch Me If You Can’ by Jeff Nathanson … those are the first that come to mind.

Can you share with us what you are working on now?

I’ve written a very rough first draft of a psychological thriller which I’ve been working on with the assistance of script editor appointed by the Irish Film Board as part of their emerging screenwriter talent development initiative. I’m also developing a high-concept single location thriller that I’m very excited about, and a handful of other genre ideas.

Would you consider directing your own work?

Yes, at some point, but I think before trying I’d like to shadow someone else just to get a better idea of what to expect, and maybe make a really cheap short or two, just so it’s not all new. Even at that, I’d definitely be dependent on the crew’s technical expertise, but I love the idea of working collaboratively with a creative team to achieve a particular vision with a view to ending up with something unique that holds up over time.

And just for fun…six people, living or not, that you would like to share your favourite beverage with?!

For the sake of seeing just how crazy things would get… Charles Bukowski, Oliver Reed, Jack Nicholson, Richard Pryor, Elizabeth Taylor and Chris Farley – all while at the height of their infamy.

 

You can find Niall on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Stage32