Friday, 20 January 2012

It's All About Me

As the title suggests, I thought for a change I'd write a little about my own publishing journey. It's just over a year now since my first book, Belfast Girls was published; and possibly some of you know very little about me and would be interested in finding out a little more. (And if you really don't want to, then skip this and check out the blog next time when I intend to write about Jane Austen – yes, wow, all you JA fans!).

Halfway through my all girls primary school (I'm not sure what the American equivalent is, but I was about 8) I was put into a 'house' called Charlotte. The headmistress explained when 'houses' were introduced that she had picked the names of 4 famous women who would be good role models, and talked a little about each of them – Florence (Nightingale), Elizabeth (Fry), Octavia (Hill) and Charlotte (Bronte.) All great women. You should look them up if you haven't heard of them.

She explained that everyone in Charlotte need not necessarily aim to be a great writer. Charlotte Bronte's determination to 'do something worthy of fame' was in itself a good attitude to follow. Nevertheless, that was probably what first made me want to be a great writer – someone not only popular and best selling, but also looked up to as a good, classic, literary writer. And, of course, a woman!

I should explain, here, that for a good part of my life I didn't consider that being a woman was a disadvantage. My home, and my schools, treated me as in every way equal to boys – if not rather superior. It was only as an adult that I came across the strange idea that women were less intelligent and inferior in lots of ways to men. I still didn't believe it, of course, but it was certainly annoying.

I wrote lots of things for years, seeing little success in terms of published work. A few poems, quite a few articles – all of them unpaid. This wasn't what I was aiming for. I wanted my fiction to be both published and paid for – I needed to be a professional. Meanwhile, I married twice (my first husband died very young) and had 4 children – 2 per husband, which seemed reasonable, I used to joke. When my youngest child was ready for school, I took on a full time job, working in the Civil Service. Writing was still very important to me, but time was at a premium.

Finally came success. About 10 years ago, an Irish magazine, Ireland's Own, accepted one of my stories and paid for it! Moreover, they expressed an interest in seeing any others I cared to send them! Wow! I couldn't believe it at first when I opened the envelope.

That was the first Old Seamus story, The Tale of a Teacup. I still have a great love for it. Since then, Ireland's Own has published over 30 of these Old Seamus stories, the tales of an Irish rogue who lives by poaching and tells stories going back to his own childhood or youth, full of humour, nostalgia, and sentiment. The first 12 have now been published by Precious Oil Publications, at a deliberately low price, around a dollar or 77p, so that anyone interested can easily buy them on Kindle. This is my most recent book. It went straight into the Amazon top 100 for 'romance – short stories', which was nice.

But back tracking slightly, I was very happy to have stories published in a magazine, but my aim was still a full length fiction book. Some of the signposts on the way, which confirmed my belief that my writing wasn't too bad, were winning the Cuirt International Award for New Fiction for my short story Primroses, and being short listed, runner-up, and commended in a number of other literary competitions for short stories.  Around 20 of these more literary short stories have also been published by now.

In 2007 I was taken on by a local Literary Agent, Bill Jeffrey. He suggested that I put Belfast Girls up on, the HarperCollins website. Once there, Belfast Girls reached the top 5 in six months (quite good going) and had so many positive comments that I began to believe that my writing must, in fact, be okay.

Well, Harper Collins wanted a lot of changes before they would consider publishing Belfast Girls, which doesn't fit neatly into just one of their genres. But meanwhile, a number of much smaller publishers had expressed interest in the book. Among these was Night Publishing, run at that time by Bruce Esler (who later dropped out) and Tim Roux. Bruce was enthusiastic about my book, and so, in July 2010, out of the several offers made to me, I accepted a publishing deal for Belfast Girls with Night Publishing.  By the end of the year, the book was out. Now, just over a year later, it's sold well over 2,000 copies and is on its way to 3,000. It entered the top 100 for its genre in March 2011, was picked as Book of the Month by the Ulster Tatler in the same month, won the Night Publishing Book of the Year Award in April, and continued to climb the best seller lists. Usually it has been in the top 100 on 3 genres in Amazon UK; Women's Literary Fiction, Literary Fiction, and Contemporary Romance. It has climbed as high as #2 in Women's Lit. Fict – my ambition, of course, is to reach #1. For the last two months it's been consistently in the top 10.

By now, my confidence in my writing had grown, built up not only by the sales but by the lovely 5 star reviews left on the Amazon site by readers. I would not, previously, have thought of self publishing. A real publisher or nothing, had been my aim. But now, for the first time, I seriously considered allowing my husband to publish my next books, through his fledgling Publishing Company Precious Oil Publications.

Raymond is an excellent writer as well as a publisher – I've mentioned his books, The Whore and her Mother and A Wee Taste of Craic on this blog previously – and he had set up the publishing company for this purpose. So I agreed that he would publish my next book, a more straightforward romantic thriller, Danger Danger, and in October, it was out.  I was sorry not to continue with the marvellous Tim Roux and Night Publishing; and Tim very kindly said that If I ever changed my mind he would be very happy to publish any of my future books. But the die was cast.

Danger Danger has had some great 5 star reviews. But it's like juggling plates – it's hard to handle publicity for two books at once. I know I haven't done enough to push it yet. It went straight into the top 100 bestsellers list for romance suspense, which was more than Belfast Girls did at that stage; and I personally believe that it's a better written book than my first. We'll see how it does.

And now, as I mentioned above, the first 12 of my Tales of Old Seamus has been published, just last week, with the title The Seanachie.

A Seanachie is an Irish storyteller. Irish short stories, broadly speaking, fall into two categories – serious, possibly melancholy stories, like my Primroses, or like The Dead by James Joyce (to whom some of my more serious stories have been compared); or the stories of Sean O'Faolain; and lighter stories like The Irish RM by Somerville and Ross or Lynn Doyle's stories.  These Tales of Old Seamus fall into the second category, being light, funny, and sometimes sentimental – but I believe they are none the worse for that.

I'm pleased to see these stories out in book form at last. I have a sentimental affection for them, as my first actual success, The Tale of a Teapot, is the first story in the collection. Lots of people have enjoyed these stories in magazine form, and in the podcasts I made of the first 5. I hope they'll buy it on Kindle – the same price as a bar of chocolate, and not even fattening, as the publicity says.

Now I've 3 plates to keep spinning, and I'm working on a fourth. This is a huge revision of the first book I wrote as an adult. I still think it's got something, but I can see the faults now very clearly. If I can make a good job of it, it will be out later this year. It's another romantic thriller, set between Belfast and Greece, with the new title Angel in Flight (unless I change that, too!).

Time I stopped this very long post, I think. A belated Happy New Year to you all!  And you can buy my 3 books at the links below. 2 of them are ridiculously cheap, and Danger Danger is  extremely reasonably priced. Hope you'll get them and enjoy them as much as others have done.

See you soon (in a manner of speaking!)


  1. Lovely to know a little more about your literary life, Gerry! Wonderful how you've managed to mould your dream over the years and finally reached it. I wish you many more sales and many more books.

  2. All power to your pen Gerry. Not to mention a whole load of luck and best wishes too. :)

  3. Thanks for your kind encouragement, Hannah and Jack! I wasn't too sure if writing just about myself was a good idea – but I'm really glad you both enjoyed it.

  4. Great blog Gerry and a further insight into your background. Astounding comes to mind.
    Good luck with your talk.
    Tee xxx

  5. Thanks a lot, Tee! Just got back from the talk. Sold quite a few books, which was nice, but now I'm completely wiped out – going to retire to bed with a good book!

  6. Fascinating, Gerry!

    Love the Seanachie cover!

    As per my latest post over at MWi we're now in a position to help you get into the major UK ebook stores like Waterstone's, Foyles, Tesco, etc, and may well have an in-road to Easons ebook store too very shortly.

    1. Thanks, Mark! Glad you like the Seanachie cover – it was painted by a friend who is a part time professional artist; and it seemed very appropriate for the West Ireland setting of the stories.

      Thanks for the info – I'll follow it up and be in touch.

  7. I enjoyed reading about your journey, Gerry. I got my first break as a fiction writer with Ireland's Own. My story was published in the recent Hallowe'en edition. I've been trying to get a copy of your Belfast Girls where I am, it's not too easy. I think I'll have to get a Kindle, then it would be straightforward.

  8. I enjoyed reading about your journey Gerry. I got my first piece of fiction accepted by Ireland's Own recently, in the Halloween edition. They accepted my work first but the second acceptance appeared slightly earlier, but still!

    I'm trying to get a copy of Belfast Girls although it's not so easy in my neck of the woods.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Maria. Congratulations on getting your story accepted – it's such a thrill, isn't it? All the very best with your future writing. I'll be looking out for you in the pages of Ireland's Own as well as elsewhere.

      You can buy my first two books in paperback on Amazon – since you clearly have access to a computer this shouldn't be a problem. The Seanachie isn't in paperback yet, but should be before too long. Hope you can get hold of them, and that you really enjoy them!

      Here are the links to the paperbacks for Belfast Girls:

  9. And the paperback links for Danger Danger: