Today we’re delighted to feature bestselling novelist and renowned TV journalist Sinéad Crowley, who talks to us about getting her first book deal, fitting writing into a busy life, and the thrill of getting nominated for the Irish Book Awards…
Did you always have a burning ambition to become a novelist? (I’ve read you got your first typewriter when you were seven!) Did you pursue a career in journalism as a route into fiction writing?
Yes, I wanted to write books as soon as I could read them which was pretty early on!
I didn’t know how to become a novelist though so I applied for Communication Studies in DCU which led me into journalism and I ended up working very happily as a journalist for almost 30 years.
The urge to write never went away though.
Did you experience much rejection before getting your debut novel Can Anybody Help Me? published? If so, was there anything in particular that helped you to stay motivated?
I experimented with a number of genres, including children’s fiction and commercial fiction before moving into crime and getting my first deal.
What really helped were positive comments from agents and publishers.
I had two books rejected but on both occasions received comments like ‘not for me, but you can write’ and that really inspired me to keep going.
Can you tell us how your 2013 book deal with London publisher Quercus came about? How did you feel when you realised you were going to be a published author (especially after interviewing so many authors over the years!)? What did it mean to you?
I had been writing for years but Can Anybody Help Me was the first book to secure me an agent. She worked with me on the novel so it was in pretty good shape when we finally sent it out.
The funny thing was though, I’d spent a decade waiting for this ‘big moment’ and when it came I had something else on my mind, I was pregnant with my second child!
So in the gap between sending out the novel and getting the deal, I had a baby and definitely wasn’t waiting around for the phone to ring.
I got a call from the editor when he was six weeks old and had my first conversation with her while striding up and down the kitchen trying to keep him quiet!
How do you fit writing into your life with the demands of your career as RTÉ Arts and Media Correspondent and family life?
It’s not easy, it’s really just a case of trying to find a spare half hour in every day.
I write in cars, at the side of GAA pitches, early in the morning and late at night.
I’ve actually just left my job with RTE and start a new position with Coimisiún na Meán at the end of August, so I’ll have to see how it goes but the plan is to keep writing fiction as well.
Do you have any rituals that help to inspire your writing?
I wish! Honestly it’s so hard working full time and writing that every half hour you get to yourself is a luxury.
I do like to start each writing session with coffee and cake though, and if I’m writing in a café I’ll treat myself to something lovely.
I’ve read that you wrote your latest novel The Belladonna Maze while out of contract, so you didn’t know if it would be published, and you found that very freeing. Can you tell us a little about that?
The Belladonna Maze was a story that had been floating around in my head for a while, but it didn’t fit into my original detective series which featured Sergeant Claire Boyle.
‘Belladonna’ is essentially a ghost story, so it needed to be a standalone book and it’s probably the book I most enjoyed writing.
In 2021, you signed a deal with Head of Zeus for The Belladonna Maze and a second book. How is the next book coming along?
Great, thank you!
It’s another dual time line mystery, this time set in 1920s New York and 2020s Kerry. It’s called A Maid on Fifth Avenue and will be out in early 2024.
You’re represented by Sara O’Keeffe, a literary agent originally from Waterford who now lives in London and works for Aevitas Creative Management. How did this come about and how has Sara helped you with your writing career?
Sara and I were introduced by a mutual friend.
I think when it comes to a second or subsequent agent or publisher you tend to have a writing network built up so it’s not unusual to know of each other before a formal introduction.
Sara is based in London but has lots of Irish clients and we all meet regularly which is lovely.
What has been the highlight of your career as a novelist so far?
I was thrilled when my first three books were nominated for Irish Book Awards.
I had been covering the awards for years as a journalist so it was really special to be there as a nominee, and to get to spend the whole night at the party instead of rushing off to edit for the 9pm news.
Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring authors trying to crack the world of publishing, but who might be getting disheartened?
I’m sorry if it’s what everyone says but you have to keep going. And listen to advice!
All authors work with editors and it is their job to help you make your book better. So don’t get offended if a professional editor gives you their opinion, try and work with them and you’ll hopefully see a much better end product.
The Belladonna Maze is available for purchase here