Today we’re delighted to be joined by internationally bestselling crime writer Catherine Ryan Howard, whose new novel The Trap has shot straight to No. 2 in the Irish charts.
Did you always have a burning ambition to become a novelist?
Always. I work with a picture on my desk taken on Christmas morning 1989 of me, aged eight and a half, typing with two fingers on the Petite children’s typewriter Santa has just delivered while Barbie’s Magic Van sits ignored off to one side.
Reading Jurassic Park for the first time, aged 11, was also a big moment for me. I just couldn’t believe that someone had taken blank paper and turned it into that – and that was his job?! I desperately wanted it to be my job too.
In 2010, you successfully self-published a memoir about your time working in Walt Disney World, Florida. What was the most important thing you learned from the self-publishing process?
That it was never going to achieve my goals. Self-publishing can be a viable option for certain types of books and authors but it has practically nothing in common with being published by a major publishing house.
Anyone who thinks an individual can recreate what a major publishing house does either has no idea what a major publishing house does or is comparing it to being published badly.
Can you tell us how the book deal for your debut thriller Distress Signals came about in 2015? What did it mean to you?
It was very simple: I wrote a novel, I drew up a list of agents based on who represented the authors I loved, I submitted to them by following the instructions on their websites to the absolute letter and two of them offered to represent me. I met with both and chose one.
The agency had an in-house editor who worked on another draft of the book with me and when it went out on submission six months later, I had a two-book deal within five days.
I was 32 and had desperately wanted one thing my entire adult life, so my overriding feeling was one of relief.
For a number of years, you worked with a major publisher as a freelance social media marketer. How did this experience help when the time came to promote your own novels?
It didn’t because it was the other way around: a major publisher saw how I was promoting my self-published titles online and asked me to try and do the same for some of their titles.
This was over ten years ago now, before publishers actively hired people who were social media savvy.
You’re represented by Sara O’Keeffe of Aevitas Creative Management. How did this come about and how has Sara helped you with your writing career?
Sara was my first editor; it was her who offered me my first book deal for Distress Signals and The Liar’s Girl back in 2015.
2021 was a big year in my career – 56 Days was what you might call my break-out book – and I had spent a lot of time thinking about the next phase of my career and how I wanted to go, and what I needed to make my goals happen.
Teaming up with Sara was the obvious way forward and luckily she felt the same way. In her first week as my agent, we had a six-way auction for my next two thrillers, so even though it was a big decision to make and was very stressful and scary at the time, I was immediately assured it had been the right one.
How much time do you spend planning your novels? How important is structure to you?
There’s really no set time for me to spend on anything; it varies with each book. I love structure because structure is where I like to have my fun.
Every story has already been told and every idea has (probably) been done so you have to find other ways of being original, and for me that’s how I tell my stories.
Do you have any rituals that help to inspire your writing? Do you have a strict writing routine?
I couldn’t write without coffee but at this point that’s a psychological crutch more than anything. (Decaf, I’ve discovered, works just as well – and more often than not I’ll make a cup of coffee and discover an hour later that half of it is still in the cup, stone cold.)
I don’t have any kind of writing routine. I do what needs to be done, which might mean not writing anything at all for several weeks or writing every day for ten hours a day for three weeks straight. It just depends on deadlines, schedules, etc.
Are there any books on the craft of creative writing/storytelling that you’ve used and would recommend to other writers?
I love The Forest for the Trees: an editor’s advice to writers by Betsy Lerner, Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott and How Not To Write a Novel: 200 mistakes to avoid at all costs if you ever want to get published by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman.
I reread them often and always feel better for it.
Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring authors trying to crack the world of publishing, but who might be getting disheartened?
Keep going! There are no guarantees of success but if you stop, it’s 100% guaranteed not to happen.
Catherine Ryan Howard’s latest novel The Trap was released earlier this month, becoming an instant bestseller. The Trap is available to buy here.