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Today we travel to County Roscommon in Ireland to chat with Eoghan Egan about how Southern Italy, sitting on his Dad’s knee, Irish Mythology, asking “What if” questions, AC/DC, the spontaneity of youth, Def Leppard, being a book hoarder, being an introvert, and visiting Manhattan come together as part of Eoghan’s current and past life.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born in County Roscommon, the 12th largest county in Ireland. At college, I studied Computer Programming and now work in Field Sales Management & Marketing, but I’ve always had a passion for reading and writing. (I wrote my first short story aged 9).
I’m a graduate of Maynooth University’s Creative Writing Curriculum, and Curtis Brown’s Edit & Pitch Your Novel Course. I’ve had pieces shortlisted for the 2018 Bridport Short Story Prize, and Listowel’s 2019 Bryan McMahon Short Story Award Competition and my novel was a contender in U.K. literary agent David Headley’s opening chapter Pitch Competition. In March 2019, my submission was included in another U.K. based contest, which I’ll tell you more about anon.
Hiding in Plain Sight is the first in a trilogy, and it was released in January 2020. I divide my time between Roscommon, Dublin and Southern Italy.
In which genre do you write?
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer, and what ignited your author’s flame?
My earliest memory is sitting on Dad’s knee, listening to him read me bedtime stories. The characters in one of my favourites, ‘Three Boys in a Tree,’ had great names: Dead-Eyed Dick, The Shadow and Fierce Fred.
Dad was an avid reader, mostly crime fiction, true crime and westerns, but he read everything.
When Dad’s uncle, a National School teacher in Co. Monaghan retired, he returned to Roscommon and lived close to our home. Every day, ‘The Master,’ as he became known locally, called to our house for morning coffee, read the daily paper and taught me words. Later, he introduced me to Emily and Charlotte Brontë, Mark Twain, Jane Austen, etc. and he got me to transcribe lines from these books.
Dad also loved playing cards. Every Sunday night during the winter months our house became a hub for 6-7 seasoned players. So, between my bedtime adventure stories, ‘The Master’ starting me off on a steady diet of diverse reading material, plus listening to old men reminisce around the card table, it was inevitable one day I’d write something.
I don’t recall anybody reading me any Enid Blyton books, although I’m sure her Faraway Tree series or Noddy collection must have been. I do remember my first Famous Five, though, ‘Five on a Treasure Island,’ a hardback with its dust cover missing. Not sure at what age I read my first crime novel, but it was Agatha Christie’s The Body in the Library.
My National School teacher, Brian Mullooly, played a crucial role in widening, developing and nurturing my reading skills. The County library van called to our school every few months and swapped out library books – that’s how I met The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and Richmal Crompton’s Just William – but Master Mullooly also had a personal archive he’d built up over the years, and we could read this rich corpus of Irish mythology once a week. It opened my eyes to Irish Folklore: Fionn MacCumhaill, Oisin, Diarmuid & Grainne, Cuchulainn, Ferdia and The children of Lir. He also implanted a love of poetry. I still have great memories of a tome containing verses by Patrick Joseph Hartigan, who wrote under the pen name John O’Brien, Oscar Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Goal, Song of the Brook by Alfred Lord Tennyson and Oliver Goldsmith’s The Deserted Village. My favoured picks were The Ballad of Shamus O’Brien by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, and decades on, I can still recite (most of) ‘O’Rourke’s Request,’ by T. D. Sullivan – about O’Rourke of Breffni, County Sligo, who, in 1588 helped rescue sailors when the Spanish Armada sank off the Donegal coast. The images these poems and stories evoked, coupled with my home experience, started my lifelong adventure of reading and writing.
What does your ideal writing space look like?
Well, you asked, so here’s a current snapshot from my desk, as is … in all its glory.
What are you currently reading?
Dead Wrong by Noelle Holten. It’s my Book Club read for June. Yep, even Coronavirus can’t stop us; we’re continuing our book discussions courtesy of Zoom.
Where did the idea for your most recent book come from?
In 2012, I read a newspaper article about a spate of disappearances and wondered how people could vanish, literally, in broad daylight, so I wrote the story, with a lot of “What if” questions in mind.
I set the first (bad) outline of 150,000 words in the U.S. somewhere near Greenville, South Carolina. In my novel, I called the town Gainsville but realised I didn’t have enough geographical knowledge of that area, so I moved the next draft (still bad) to the U.K. between Manchester and York, and my fictitious hamlet became Gainstown. That worked better, but it didn’t feel right. Only after the third draft where I relocated the setting to the Irish Midlands, and the town became Ganestown that everything clicked into place. (I had to change the spelling because there’s a real Gainstown near Mullingar, County Westmeath). Adding in an actual January date and heavy snowfalls, making the weather another character, gave me a perfect panorama for a crime novel.
If you could have a fantasy tea or coffee date with an author or famous person from the past or present, who would it be, and what would you ask them?
That’s an interesting question, Camilla. I would love to meet Bon Scott, the late lamented lead singer with AC/DC. I remember their first song I ever heard, was the live version of High Voltage from the album If You Want Blood… You’ve Got It. His voice blew me away, and as I got to know more about him, I realised Bon wasn’t just a brilliant, charismatic frontman with a unique voice; he had the soul of a poet as well. I’ve seen the band live dozens of times, but regret never seeing Bon perform. On second thoughts, I don’t think we’d be having tea or coffee, more likely a bottle or two of J.D.
Author-wise, I’ve so many favourites I’d love to shoot the breeze with. Ed McBain, (deceased, unfortunately) or Edward Stratemeyer (the man who championed irresistible juvenile fiction adventure and mystery stories including The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, The Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift etc.). Andrew Vachss is a favourite author of mine, very dark writing, but would be an interesting man to have a coffee with. The one author who stands out for me is John Sandford. I still remember the ‘maddog’ character in ‘Rules of Prey’ and have been an avid fan of the Prey series since way back. What would I ask him?
I’d thank him for the many hours of pleasure he’s given me. (I know, I’m gushing).
As a writer, I’m always interested in other author’s writing process, so I’d ask him about that.
Also, what are the common traps for aspiring writers?
What was the best money he ever spent as a writer?
What was his hardest scene to write?
Does he prefer writing about Lucas Davenport, or Virgil Flowers?
Is creating new storylines the most challenging part of his writing process?
Will you read my next novel, Mr Stanford, and endorse it? Please? Or introduce me to your agent? Or all three? (I know, I’m begging).
In reality, I’d probably spill coffee all over him and be tongue-tied, and he’d get up and leave…
AC/DC fan here! I saw them in concert in the late 1980’s and in the 1990’s. What are the most enjoyable things you’ve found through writing?
So many. The great community spirit among writers. Nowadays, with Social Media, getting to know authors is an e-connection away. Case in point: A few months ago, I wrote a blog about taglines, and I reached out to 15 authors, asking if I could include their book slogans from particular works. Twelve of them got back to me immediately saying yes.
One of them, Belinda Bauer, https://www.facebook.com/BelindaBauerBooks/, who is another incredible crime writer, messaged me and we e-chatted back and forth. She was also good enough to include the piece on her blog page, which was a lovely gesture from an extremely busy lady. I’ve e-connected with lots more since, so it’s wonderful to know that most authors are accessible.
I never realised the incredible work that book bloggers do for writers. They build costly websites at their own expense and then spend hours writing blogs and reviewing books, purely for the love of literature, with little or no financial reward – and sometimes with zero thanks. So, a big shout-out to all bloggers and reviewers. You’re much appreciated. All of you. And I’m really enjoying connecting with you.
Something else that’s really gratifying is the unpredictability of readers. Most readers either like, love or hate a book, and once it’s read, they put it on the shelf or pass it on. They don’t understand the importance a review is to a writer, and I totally get that; until recently, I never bothered either. It’s an unnecessary hassle that the reader gets no benefit from, but for a writer, reviews are pure gold dust.
My aunt, 83, who’s a teacher and a nun, decided she wanted to read my novel. Now, I certainly didn’t have her in mind while writing it, so I was surprised when she sent me an email on 11th April last:
I hope your book sales are going well. Not long ago, I asked one of the teachers who was ordering from Amazon to include your book for me. It came on Friday, she called me and said she would throw it in at the gate at 6 p.m. I am glad I had asked her to order it, as we have not had mail since mid-March. Of course, we are unable to send out letters/cards. Anyhow, now that we are in isolation, I have plenty of time to read. I will let you know my evaluation of your story when I write again.
My “evaluation??” Ouch.
Fast forward to 30th April, I received my “evaluation.” The email subject line was:
I HAVE FINISHED READING YOUR BOOK!
I must say the novel is a profoundly riveting story. A novel of continued non-stop action. It surely is a moving meditation, about the best and the worst of human beings. Your story is bursting with unforgettable characters, vividly etched, Adam Styne = power gone mad, Madeline, a type of martyr, as she comes to her senses, and reminisces on all she had endured under Adam.
Madeline’s letter in itself, Eoghan, is a prize-winning piece of prose!
The theme is skillfully handled and developed.
Over time, many similes we use in everyday language, have become clichés – ‘They fought like cats and dogs,’ ‘he is as strong as an ox’ etc. – but, you have used unique and novel similes (and sometimes metaphors) throughout the story, I just loved your creativity! The sweeping dialogue used throughout, is typically Irish.
What I did not like, were the many curse words (and horror of horrors, God’s name used in vain, in anger).
You are a talented author. I am proud of you and thrilled to have read your debut novel. Congratulations!
Hopefully, you will continue writing. I look forward to your next masterpiece.
Phew. That was a relief and a pleasant surprise. Looks like there could be a new book reviewer in town, y’all, and her name is Aunt Ethna. And I didn’t even know she read crime fiction! Hmm, I must find out more about what goes on behind convent doors. Perhaps there’s another book waiting to be written! But seriously, it’s wonderful when something unexpected like that happens.
You are about to speak publicly to a group and read from your latest book. What song do you listen to before speaking? What do you do to prepare yourself?
No music. I prefer to be on my own, going through notes, thinking about what I want to say and trying to find ways to make it interesting. Before any public speaking situation, my brain is whirling too much to be fit company for anyone.
What do you miss about being a kid?
1. The Spontaneity of youth. Life makes you cynical and forces you to question yourself.
2. The endless opportunities of where life could take you. Everything is possible. A fireman today, a pilot tomorrow. (I always hankered to be a librarian).
3. The build-up to, and the excitement of Christmas morning.
List 3 interesting facts about yourself.
I once spend a weekend on a rock ‘n’ roll tour in Italy with Def Leppard. (Thanks, Joe Elliot). Motörhead and Whitesnake were also on the card. Having access to backstage and watching band members being interviewed was unreal.
I’m a book hoarder. A few years back, I converted a garage into a library. (see pic for a glimpse) Definitely one of my better decisions! It’s not that I’d too many books, I didn’t have enough shelves.
I enjoy cooking.
At this stage in your life, what advice would your young self give to your more mature self?
Don’t second guess yourself. If there’s something you want to do, don’t think you’re too old to do it. Just … start the process. Want to write a novel? A memoir? A short story? Always wished you could swim or knit? Do it. If it doesn’t work out initially, so what? You’ve learned throughout life not to worry about what others may think about you or your plans; you know that can lead to a cycle of despair. So, begin your pursuit again. Now. Today. Try harder. Keep persevering. This time next year you’ll be glad you did.
Do you believe things happen for a reason? Do you have an example from your own life to share why you believe this?
Oh yes. I truly believe everything happens for a reason… but you’ve gotta keep your eyes open for breaks and be prepared to go with them. (Sometimes opportunities don’t knock, they tap very softly). For example, answering Camilla’s thought-provoking questions will take me a while: write, edit, delete, change, edit again… you get the picture. This is time I could be adding words to my next novel, or writing a short story, or… whatever. However, when I saw Camilla’s post on Book Connectors, https://www.facebook.com/groups/1466353170351020/, asking for writers to contact her, I jumped at the chance, because I’ve no idea where this post might lead. A publisher or agent might read it, like my writing style and look me up. Or, a reader may consider buying the book or audio or perhaps connect with me on Social Media. I see this as an opportunity, and the possibilities are endless. And if nothing happens, so what? I’m having fun here. (Now, if John Sandford reads this and contacts me to meet him for coffee, I’ll let you know).
So, here’s a real-life example.
Remember I mentioned earlier that in March 2019, my submission was included in another U.K. based contest? U.K. Literary agent, Peter Cox, runs a Pop-Up Submission broadcast every Sunday, through his website https://litopia.com/
This is a window into how Peter assesses and deals with the manuscripts that writers submit. Book blurbs and the opening 700 words are read and reviewed by Peter and two other skilled “Litopians,” while other members comment and offer feedback from an online chat room. For writers, receiving instant manuscript reaction and appraisal is priceless, and every Sunday, I find it compulsive viewing. Over the past year, I’ve learned so much from watching this broadcast. (This, by the way, is not a plug, I’m not affiliated with Litopia at all.).
Past shows are accessible through Litopia’s website, or on YouTube, https://twitter.com/Litopia and any writer, or anyone interested in seeing how the submission works through the eyes of a literary agent, they’re definitely worth a view. If and when you’re ready to submit – and you’ve got the courage – go for it. My piece was read on 10th March 2019:
If anyone’s interested in watching, I’d suggest skipping the first 6 minutes of introductions, and cut straight to the reading and the reviews.
The fascinating part of this preamble is that just after the panel had reviewed my work, the lady panellist, (Emily) mentioned that her brother, had actually worked with a serial killer some years previously when they were both employed as construction workers. Well, long story short, I found out Emily lived about 80 miles from me, and when I contacted her, she agreed to ask her brother if he’d meet up. I met Michael and Emily one evening, and Michael gave me some excellent background on his real-life observations of a serial killer. Also, I learned that Emily narrates novels, and I asked if she’d narrate mine, and readers, she said yes. This has been a bit longwinded, I know, but there’s an example of being open to grasping opportunities. I submitted a story, which led to conversations with someone who knew a real serial killer, and I got a brilliant narrator too. (Oh, and my entry may or may not have won the competition on the day. (Hint… it did).
I’m also one who keeps her eyes open for breaks. It’s fun to see where they lead! You’ve self-published Hiding in Plain Sight. Was that your choice, or did you try the traditional route first? What differences, if any, did you encounter?
As I mentioned, I began writing this novel back in 2012 and, after a lot of mentoring, writing courses, and…. writing, I believed it was ready to submit to agents in 2017. An Irish editor requested the whole script and liked it enough to pass it onto her submissions department. It didn’t get any further. The shortlist in a Novel Pitch Competition? I met with David Headley, but ultimately he decided it wasn’t for him, as he’d just taken on another author with a similar writing style. I continued sending out my work, and in 2018 another agency requested the full copy. The reply? Another positive “no.”
Rejection is a bitter pill that makes staying motivated much harder, but you’ve got to believe in yourself and your work. Writing is subjective. One person’s dismissal is someone else’s masterpiece, so I kept submitting to agents – I’ve lost count of the number, but only a handful bothered to mail me back. I learned that in literary circles, no reply means we’re not interested. Personally, I still can’t fathom that, but there you go.
On the other hand, it’s impossible to publish every manuscript, so literary agents look for reasons to justify a rejection. However, agents aren’t infallible. They don’t always get it right, and I can quantify that in two words: Harry Potter. J. K. Rowling’s first book was passed, as they say in the trade, 12 times, and while the publishing landscape has changed utterly in the past decade, this trait hasn’t altered. Back in 1974, Stephen King’s novel ‘Carrie’ became a bestseller, after being rejected 30 times, and ‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding has sold many millions of copies despite 20 publishers declining it before its publication in 1954. Even earlier, Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 classic ‘Gone with the Wind’ was rejected 38 times before Macmillan published it. It then won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction the following year. In 1902 Beatrix Potter couldn’t get a publisher, so she self-published ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit.’ To date, it has sold 45 million+ copies. The moral of the story is: If you’re writing, don’t give up on your dream. Keep submitting to agents and publishers. Two of my favourite U.K. authors, Mel Sherratt and Caroline Mitchell, had successful self-publishing careers before securing a top literary agent. Listen. Learn. Adapt. Keep reading. Try again. Try harder. Start something new. Don’t. Ever. Give. Up.
At another writing course led by a well-known Irish publisher, I was told to consider self-publishing because “it’s another way for agents to notice your work.” That really was the catalyst that veered me onto the self-publishing track. Also, as I learned more about publishing, I realised that while agents are a superb addition, it’s a myth that they do everything for their authors. Yes, they negotiate with publishers who have the clout to execute a lot of the heavy lifting with regard marketing muscle and distribution before, during and immediately after a book launch, but authors have to promote themselves, now more than ever. When the book launch euphoria dies down, they must keep the momentum going by becoming their own agent, publisher and marketeer, while simultaneously growing their writer platform … and deliver the next book on deadline.
What I like about self-publishing, is that it gives writers creative control, but it requires several extra skill sets. The options are:
1. Do everything yourself.
2. Continue writing, and project manage the operation by delegating social media, book cover design, copy editor, formatting, audio narration, advertising, publicity and promotional activity.
3. A mixture of A & B. It’s an exceptional person who has a flair for every phase of the procedure, so C is the preference for most indie authors. Each writer has to do the best they can with their own talents, and then buy in the services of professionals to cover the rest. Today, freelancers can deliver any piece of the process writers aren’t comfortable doing.
Another alternative – which I didn’t opt for – is hybrid publishing, also called “author-assisted,” “partnership” or “co-publishing.” This model allows writers to find high-quality publishing services within one company. In some cases, the publisher will carry a portion of the financial burden for editing, printing or marketing since both author and publisher will share in profits from the book sales. That’s what differentiates this standard from vanity presses.
What advice would you give people who want to write but don’t know where to begin, or writers who may have a book ready to publish, but can’t find an agent?
To anyone who wants to fulfil their writing dream?:
1. Think about the story you want to write.
2. Plan out the location and add shape to characters.
3. Don’t feel you need to know everything. You’ll learn on the fly. If you wait around to figure out every detail, you’ll never progress.
4. Start writing and write every day. I repeat: Write. Every. Day. Success rarely occurs from what you do occasionally; it comes from what you do consistently.
5. Start developing your social media base, and at the same time, attend some literary courses. I guess there’ll be more online now, thanks to Covid-19.
6. Ask your peers to read and critique your work – you’ll never improve if you don’t benchmark yourself against other writers. Listen to their feedback, but remember, they’re telling you how they write and what works for them, so use this advice as a foundation to build your own style.
7. When your manuscript is ready, submit to agents, or self-publish. Acquiring a literary agent is most writer’s popular route to market, and even if you decide to self-publish, I’d recommend submitting to agents. Any feedback you get will improve your manuscript.
There are no short-cuts. Writing is like climbing a mountain covered in mist; the way forward is obscure, yet every step takes you closer to the summit. Then, you reach the top, the fog clears … and that’s when you see the struggle has been worthwhile.
For writers with a book ready, you can upload your manuscript on Amazon in less than an hour, and it won’t cost you a dime. Amazon formats your work, and supplies an ISBN number – plus a book cover if you wish. However, I’m not proposing being that hasty. It’s worth spending money on an editor to proofread your work before uploading, (you don’t want reviews saying “book was fine, but full of typos”) and it’s also worth getting a good cover designer to create the best book cover possible.
Think about your own trips to bookstores. You scan the shelf. Your eyes drift past a dozen books before you pick up one. Why choose that one? Did you recognise the author? Maybe. Was it because you liked the title and cover? Absolutely. Book covers are a writer’s first chance to interact with a reader, so unless you’re a graphic designer or a book cover specialist, I’d suggest getting a few quotes and picking the most suitable.
Perhaps I’ll secure a traditional publishing deal at some stage, which would be great for foreign rights, pushing books into new territories, potential film deals etc. I’m also curious to see what life is like at that end of the scale, but for now, self-publication has been – and continues to be – scary and at times an overwhelming, but ultimately rewarding practice. And just when I think I’m getting a handle on things regarding editing, along comes a new batch of processes to manage: Q.R. codes, trim sizes, bleed lines, digital rights management, copyright registration, eBook formatting… and once you publish, there’s marketing, Facebook advertising, Amazon advertising, SMO (Social Media Optimisation) – don’t ask, because, I’m only getting to grips with it now – but isn’t life great? There’s still so much to learn.
Which of your personality traits has been most useful, and why?
Deep down, I’m an introvert, which sounds daft for someone working in sales, but there are massive parallels between writing and sales management. Both skills require long periods alone in an office or at a desk, followed by spells of frenzied activity where presentations get delivered, i.e. a story gets told, and products are launched and placed in the public domain.
Thankfully, another of my traits is that I genuinely enjoy meeting and chatting people and learning about their lives (or as much as they want to tell me). Books are a fantastic way to bond and connect.
Describe the perfect solo date you’d take yourself on … where, time of day, weather, place, etc.
Manhattan is my favourite city. I’ve been on several trips to the Big Apple – and I’d fly there again in a heartbeat, if I wasn’t self-isolating. I love the bustle and pace of the city. The weather doesn’t matter … because what I really go for are the bookshops. And it would have to be for a weekend because there’s a lot to pack in.
Fly into JFK early afternoon. Taxi to a hotel somewhere around Time Square. Check my bearings, book a Broadway show, grab something from the street vendors and stroll down to Barnes and Noble on Union Square (the best B&N in my opinion) and after an hour or so, take a taxi ride to Warren Street, the home of Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop. For a crime reader and writer, this place is my idea of heaven. Then a taxi back to the hotel, change, go to the show, followed by some decent food. Late to bed.
Breakfast in one of the cafes. Visit Macy’s and buy some clothes, before crossing over to Barnes and Noble on 5th Avenue. (Some years back I’d wander up to Murder Inc. on the Upper West Side, and Borders near Lexington Avenue, but sadly, both those great book shops are now closed).
Early lunch in Saks restaurant on 5th Avenue. (Starter and lunch. No dessert). I think the restaurant is on the 8th floor – I know you have to go through a shoe department to get to it.
Then, a walk back to Union Square and a visit to Max Brenner’s for coffee and delicious desserts. From there, it’s a short hop across to Strand Book Store, where I could easily spend the whole weekend. The Strand remains open late so I’ll stay there until 8-30 or 9p.m and then get a taxi to Congee Village Chinese Restaurant and meet up with friends. If there are no friends allowed on this date, no worries, I’ve got a book to read. Either way, it’ll be another late night.
Rise early, and walk from Times Square all the way to Wall Street. It’s a long walk, but I love it, passing through the Soho, Tribeca, Little Italy and stopping off at the World Trade Centre to reflect and remember 9/11.
Taxi back to the hotel and head to JFK.
I know that’s a dull weekend for some people, but for me, it’s heaven. Each to their own, eh?
What are you currently working on?
I’ve finished the first draft of book #2 in this trilogy and working on an outline for #3. I’m also writing two short stories that have to be completed by the end of May, and I’m halfway through putting a presentation together. (Hence the state of my writing space above)
Tell us about your most recent book.
Hiding in Plain Sight is set in the Irish Midlands and tells the story of a successful businessman who has found the perfect recipe for getting away with murder. No bodies. No evidence. No suspects. When graduate Sharona Waters discovers a multi-million euro art scam in play, high art and low morals collide. She delves in, unwittingly putting herself on a direct trajectory with danger as the killer accelerates his murder spree. When Sharona gets drawn into the killer’s orbit, she peels away his public persona and exposes the psychopath underneath. Suddenly, the small rural town has no hiding place…
This had been thoroughly enjoyable, Camilla. Many thanks for interviewing me for Meet the Author. Wishing you continued success and best wishes and happy reading to you, yours and all your readers. Stay safe, everybody. Oh, and please consider reviewing any book or Ebook you read, or audiobook you listen to. Even a one liner would be really beneficial to the author. Thanks for reading.
It was great to have you on MTA, Eoghan. I really enjoyed learning more about you. Wishing you all the best and here’s to much success! – Camilla
Where to find the book:
It’s available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle and audio (through Audible)