Writing your first book is an apprenticeship and there are plenty of ‘long stands’.
I’ve written three books and, although TITO’S DEAD is the third, in my mind, it’s my first.
The ‘first’ was Sinead O’Connor, So Different, an unauthorised biography of the frequently celebrated, never celebrity and often castigated Irish singer. I remember saying it was only a footnote to a career and life that would grow, on and on. It’s long since out of print and original copies trade for as much as $100 on eBay .
The second was Postcard from a Pigeon and Other Stories, a collection of 18 short stories that, I hope, reflect events and changes in Irish life, over 50 years.
The third, but for me, the first, is TITO’S DEAD. This is the description of the novel on Amazon, ‘Tito’s Dead is a fast paced crime mystery set in Sarajevo and Dublin and follows undercover, Europol cop, Bernard Nolan, on a manhunt to find a killer and expose a crime syndicate that stretches across a continent and into high office, against a backdrop of treachery and double dealing, where he can trust no-one and time is running out… ‘
it does, in brief, describe what goes on, but, it’s strange and illuminating, how writing these things can concentrate your mind and even let you see your own work from a different perspective.
For example, after I wrote this description for Amazon, I added, on reflection, ‘Tito’s Dead is the first novel by Irish writer, Dermott Hayes. It tells how a simple human act in this 21st century world, can be misinterpreted as weakness and its meaning, distorted, into a maelstrom of deception, hate and treachery.’
And in the ‘from the author’ section I wrote, ‘TITO’s DEAD began life as a short story, about a young Kosovan refugee, living in Dublin, who befriended an injured pigeon and nursed it back to health. That simple act of kindness for an injured creature, earned him respect, for himself and from those who watched him. It made me wonder why, without that simple act, we couldn’t see he was injured, too? ‘
I gave the manuscript to half a dozen people from different walks of life and points on the global compass and these helped refine, even define, my own understanding of the book. I imagine critical response will have an impact, too.
Writing the book started with a thought and a chance meeting with film maker, actor and screenwriter, Terry McMahon (Charlie Casanova, Patrick’s Day), one day in the bar of the Clarence hotel; so that was the inspiration, then I had to write it…
So, write it, Terry said to me and here I am, ten years later, and I’ve let it go to make its own way in the world. The first thing I did was lock myself away in a farmhouse in County Clare for two weeks. Many headaches, balls of paper tossed in a bin, later, I emerged with 25,000 words written and the feeling there was no going back…
Of course, there have been bumps along the way. An agent from London turned up on my doorstep one day. He said he’d read the first three chapters and wanted to sign me up. ‘You’re the new Harlan Coben,” he said, ” you’re Dublin’s Ian Rankin.” Since they’re two of my favourite crime writers, I was flattered. It was all a load of bollocks.
Two years later and I was rewriting, re-rewriting, and re-re-rewriting so much, I was getting dizzy. Two new hips didn’t help, either. My hot shot agent had acquired a bunch of best selling authors, particularly George Galloway MP, who was brewing up a storm of book sales and my pathetic rewrites were slipping to the bottom of an ever increasing pile. It also occurred to me that an agent’s primary interest is making money for him (or her) self and a best seller is the show, while first time author’s, well, if they don’t put up, they can go…And go, I did, without any hard feelings on either side once I got a letter from his office, refuting any future claim to my publications. Fuck it, if you don’t believe in yourself, who else will?
Disgusted and disenchanted by my initial flirtation with the world of publishing, I put all the manuscripts, the rewrites and the tears, in a box and out of sight, for four years. I didn’t stop writing, although I did pack in journalism.
I started writing short stories and they had a cathartic effect. As news of electronic book publishing chronicled the increasing popularity of the E book, self publishing became an achievable and affordable prospect.
My first foray into that world was ‘Postcard from a Pigeon and Other Stories’, published in 2012 and, happily, I don’t have enough fingers, toes, feet, legs, ears, eyes or balls to quantify its impact on the electronic reading world.
Once you decide to self publish, a whole new can of worms is opened.
Back in the 1980s, the global publishing world began to contract. It didn’t get smaller but the ownership profile of the publishing world did get smaller.
And, as the world of publishing contracted until there were about five main players who controlled the bulk of global publishing, so the number of books being published, annually, began to contract, just as global profits began to rise.
Of course, the nabobs and bead counters claimed this as a triumph of their accounting skills to weed out the unprofitable, give the people what they want and line their shareholders’ pockets.
They had a point, if you believe the world of literature, the act of creative writing, has a quantifiable, currency, value. On the other hand, their actions had an even more profound effect on publishing by usurping the role of the publishing house editors and replacing them with agents.
After that the primary prerogative for a new writer’s publishing potential was how much and how quickly they could make profits for publishers and commission, for the agents.
But enough about agents, because thankfully, there are still great writers among us and I doff my hat here, to Colm Toibin, Sebastian Barry, Roddy Doyle and Colum McCann, to name just a random few.
Global sales of digital books eclipsed the sale of print books, four years ago. And, if we believe all the self help pedalled on the internet, self publishing in this brave new digital world, is the only way forward.
Alas, it’s not quite as simple as that. Because what’s got forgotten in this world of ‘the bottom line’, is that a writer will write. That’s what we ‘do’, to make sense of our world and even our existence.