I read something recently about how many readers will only buy books from an author they already know, and how much harder that makes it for people like myself who are just starting off. There are so many books available, and some of them are so poor, that you do need some assurance that your hard-earned money and space on your shelf aren’t both going to be wasted. I do it too. It’s understandable.
I’m just seeing a faint glimmer of hope, however, after years of plugging away, speaking to groups of readers in out of the way places, sometimes no more than half a dozen at a time, and getting occasional mention of my books into the local media. The new book seems to be selling more quickly than any of the previous ones. There could be all sorts of reasons for this. It’s the first attempt at crime fiction, and we know how popular that genre is. Even my daughter, who was vaguely interested in my previous books, greeted the new one with more enthusiasm and said she might actually read it! And we’re learning about how to promote the book ahead of time, on FB, on Twitter, in the local press, and by contacting people who’ve bought books from us before. Incidentally, we had a curt email from Amazon recently, saying that on no account could we ever contact anyone who’d used their website to buy from us. Fortunately the number of hard copy Amazon sales is low. I wish we could do without using Amazon altogether, but the Kindle sales are too good to miss and that still seems to be the most popular route to the ebook market.
I wonder if the main reason for more of the books being sold so far is that more people actually recognise my name on the cover. It’s possible: not a radical change but a gradual seepage into the local consciousness and the word-of-mouth network. And the cover itself may be helping too. It’s certainly striking.
I called one of the local papers last week just to tell them that I had a new book out. They’d run stories about the books before and I thought they might do so again. The initial response was pretty bland, but an hour or two later a young woman from the paper called me back, introduced herself and asked for an interview. We had a good long chat: I quickly realised how important it was to clarify that the content of the book was not drawn from local events, but from the enquiry into child abuse at a boys’ home in Belfast forty years ago. It had been through reading the report of the Kincora Boys’ Home enquiry that I’d begun to understand how institutional abuse could begin, develop and continue even though key people were in a position to know – and to stop – what was happening. I didn’t realise how much of that knowledge stayed with me until I began to write. Some of it, and what I have learned since, was horrifying and I had to tone it down. I wanted my readers to be clear about how the children and young people had suffered, but too graphic an account would be like abusing them all over again.
The other thing we talked about was how young women just like the young reporter I was talking to, and the WPC in the book, had struggled with their treatment in the workplace in the 1960s. There may be many things wrong with our lives in 2015, but as a woman I’m glad I’ve seen things change during my lifetime.
I’ve yet to hear how readers of the new book respond to its fairly dark message, which provides both the context and part of the plot. I’m afraid some of the male characters don’t come out well, but so be it. Two of the young female characters have been badly affected by behaviour which these days might put the perpetrators in the dock. Some of the previous themes in my trilogy also reflected their times and the place of women in society, but perhaps not quite as starkly as this. ‘Cruel Tide’ is not meant to be a polemic, and I hope it won’t be read as such. If the community it represents is deeply flawed, that’s just the way it was, and I hope my readers aren’t disappointed by that. They can’t be expecting a happy ending, as they haven’t had one yet, and the ambivalence is still there in the last chapter. Maybe I should have tied up more of the ends in a neat bow. Let’s see what reactions I get this time. I’ll let you know.