THIS time three years ago, I got up, put on a dress and heels, and drove to my office in Dublin’s Financial Services Centre to look at my long to-do list.
I know this not because it stands out in any way, but because back then it’s what I did every day.
Today, I’m sitting at my kitchen table in jeans and flats, looking at an equally long but very different to-do list, and getting set to launch my first book, a psychological thriller about a woman who sees something strange in her next-door neighbour’s garden.
How I got from spreadsheets to suburban murder is a story with more than one sub-plot, but if I had to pinpoint a catalyst, it started with a blog.
I began blogging when I went back to work after my third maternity leave — I wanted to connect with other parents who were struggling with balancing work and home.
I had so many thoughts about it rumbling around in my head, I needed to get them down on paper. And while at first I was only interested in the working parent struggle, I soon found myself writing about anything and everything that came into my head, and enjoying it far more than anything I’d tried before.
Four years later, I still find that even on my busiest days when I should be writing articles or book chapters, sometimes I just need to write a blog post.
Because it’s freeing, it’s mine — there are no specified word counts, no deadlines, no characters, no plots. It’s just whatever is in my head.
But blogging is more than an outlet — it also teaches you about writing. And although blog posts and fiction are two very different things, all writing is practice and all of it strengthens the muscle.
It builds the confidence needed to put words on paper and to make the transition from writing about that crazy thing that happened with the kids — now aged nine, eight and five —to writing about the fictional character who saw something in her next-door neighbour’s garden.
Other bloggers have paved the way for this transition. Hazel Gaynor, bestselling author of The Girl From The Savoy, began her writing career with a parenting blog too.
“Blogging as Hot Cross Mum was my first step into writing,” she says.
“Over five years, my blog became the perfect place to hone my skills and engage with readers. Without that experience, I doubt I’d have had the confidence to tackle a novel. My first attempt is in the bottom drawer, my second, The Girl Who Came Home became a New York Times bestseller with HarperCollins after originally being self-published.
"I’m now working on my sixth novel for HarperCollins, and still blog occasionally about the writing life. It’s a great way to share experiences, and to let off steam!”
Bestselling Irish author Carmel Harrington also started out with a parenting blog before securing a publishing deal with HarperCollins.
Her fifth book The Woman at 72 Derry Lane has just been published and she’s now writing an original novel in conjunction with Mike Bullen, the creator of ITV’s Cold Feet — Cold Feet The Lost Years, due out in September 2017.
In Britain, author Rachael Lucas began by blogging about parenting before going on to write four bestselling novels, including her current book for young adults, The State of Grace.
Clare Mackintosh also started her writing career with parenting blog More than just a Mother, and her first book I Let You Go sold over a million copies, while her second book, I See You, is topping the UK bestseller lists.
For Sadhbh Devlin, blogging also led to writing — in her case, it’s an Irish language children’s book called Bí ag Spraoi Liom.
“Some years ago I discovered blogs, fell in love with the concept of people writing about their lives, and eventually decided to give writing one a go myself. I suppose blogging regularly started the ‘habit’ of writing for me. Also, the immediate feedback and discussion it generates helps to build your confidence and encourages you to keep going.”
Blogging inspired Sadhbh () to do some creative writing courses, then an opportunity for an Irish language mentorship scheme came up.
“ I leapt at it. Irish is my second language and I had never even attempted writing for children before — but with a wealth of inspiration from my own children and a very patient mentor, I soon found that I really enjoyed the genre.
"I’m thrilled that my first Irish language picture book for children, published by Futa Fata, will be hitting shelves later this year. I honestly believe that if I hadn’t started blogging all those years ago I wouldn’t be at this point in my life.”
While blogging certainly helps with a move to writing fiction, is it critical to blog? I don’t think so. Many, many successful authors don’t blog at all, and some would argue that it’s a waste of time — time that would be better spent on fiction. But it’s only a waste if it’s a chore.
If on the other hand it’s something enjoyable, an outlet, a place to vent, to connect with other people, then that can only be a good thing. And you never know where it might lead.
I doubt I’d have had the confidence to try writing a novel without blogging first, but there was a very tangible link between blogging and a book deal too.
I shared a blog post on my Facebook page one evening three years ago, and a reader called Margaret Scott commented that I should try writing a book. I took her advice, and started writing the next day.
An author herself, of bestseller The Fallout, she gave me great guidance when I was starting out, and two years later, she messaged one morning to say her publisher Poolbeg Press were looking for books like mine — grip lit — so I sent mine in. And now I (literally) have the book in my hand.
- Andrea Mara’s The Other Side of the Wall will be published by Poolbeg Press on June 6, and is available to pre-order on Amazon.
Tips for writing a bestseller:
“Write what you know” is advice often given, but that can be limiting. Give your imagination free rein.
Don’t choose a particular genre because it’s in fashion. Fashions change. Instead, write what you love to read — if you love crime, then write crime.
Inspiration not imitation is the key to success.
Don’t try to fit into a certain publisher’s favourite formula. Instead, find a publisher that fits you.
Do your research. Plots have been built only to collapse because the core facts are wrong.
Plot out your story in advance, even planning each chapter. This ensures your book doesn’t ramble aimlessly — which can be the kiss of death.
However, sometimes a book insists on taking its own direction and the characters begin to dictate how they should develop, in which case, allow them to.
Be aware of pace. Don’t let your book flag at any point. And, towards the end, it is important to increase the pace.
Make sure your manuscript is in good shape before submitting it. However, it won’t sink or swim on your use of semi-colons. Your voice, your characters, your plot are what will win the day.