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Penguin USA and Penguin Canada to publish Nuala ní Chonchúir’s new novel, Miss Emily

I’ve been trying most of my life to become an overnight sensation.

It started when I was about seven. I had read a series of books by an irritating twelve-year-old prodigy whose name I no longer remember. (One of her characters was Penelope Pomegranate – ring a bell with anyone?). Her photo was on the back of each book. She was a serious-looking girl with long, straight hair and a sensible woolly jumper. My seven-year-old self, who had previously entertained airy notions of writing books one day, was stung into action.

I began writing like a thing possessed. I had to outdo Miss Sensible Jumper before I hit twelve.

You can guess the rest. I slowly came to learn that overnight success can take a very long time.

I was prompted to reflect on all this last week by a brilliant piece of literary news. Irish writer Nuala ní Chonchúir has just signed a book deal with Penguin USA and Penguin Canada for her third novel, Miss Emily. Nuala got to write on her blog last week the words that every writer longs to type: “I am living my fantasy just now – Penguin USA and Penguin Canada are going to publish my third novel, Miss Emily…”

Nuala ní Chonchúir

Nuala ní Chonchúir

Nuala has certainly earned the joy of writing those lines. She is one of those talented, hard-working writers who puts in the hours, day after day, year after year. She is a familiar and much-loved name to anyone involved in the Irish literary scene, but up to now, she has not been a household name. Now, readers all over the US and Canada are soon to enjoy the work of a new overnight literary sensation.

I have written elsewhere on this blog about the cultural phenomenon of overnight success. Let’s look at Nuala’s case a little more closely. Her first work was published in 2003. Factor in a very conservative estimate of at least five years of serious, committed daily writing graft before that, and you’ve got a minimum sixteen-year lead-in to the Penguin deal.

I remember attending a workshop with Nuala three or four years ago. The topic was self-promotion for writers. Nuala told us that her income as a writer was small; I think the phrase she used was “laughably small”. This, from a working writer with several published works under her belt, as well as a steady stream of workshop gigs and appearances at literary festivals in Ireland and abroad.

I, for one, greatly appreciated Nuala’s disarming honesty about her income. It helped me to realise the magnitude of the mountain that writers have to climb.

So what can aspiring published writers learn from all this?

Before the gravy, comes the graft. The bad news is that in most cases, the graft takes a painfully long time. The good news is, when the gravy starts pouring, it tastes so, so sweet. And you get to write sentences like: “I am living my fantasy just now.”

Miss Emily, which is about Emily Dickinson and her Irish maid, sounds like a great read. Enjoy the gravy, Nuala.


Guest blog post:

The lovely folks over at, the fantastic new tourism website run by Waterford County Local Authorities, have invited me to guest blog for them this week. Visit me there!

Author interview: Maria Moulton, author of "Mammy Diaries"

Maria Moulton is the author of the just-published Mammy Diaries, a fascinating, in-depth look at pregnancy and motherhood in modern Ireland based on almost three years’ worth of interviews with Irish mothers. Published at the end of March, Mammy Diaries has already received a level of publicity in both old and new media that is remarkable for a self-published work.

I recently caught up with Maria at the Waterford launch of Mammy Diaries and asked her for her insights into self-publishing and self-promotion.

Mammy Diaries

OS: Maria, first of all, congratulations on your remarkable book, Mammy Diaries. It’s the first book that I’m aware of that really lifts the lid on what motherhood in 21st-century Ireland is like. How are you finding life as a published author so far?

MM: Thanks Orla! Well, to be perfectly honest, I’ve just swapped the busy-ness of being a stay at home mother trying to squish in time to research, write and compile a book, for the busy-ness of being a stay at home mother trying to squish in time to promote, sell and publicize a book! It’s been great fun though. I still can’t believe that it’s “out there.”

OS: Mammy Diaries is a self-published work. Did you decide to self-publish from the word go or did you consider approaching traditional print publishers first?

MM: From the start, I really liked the idea of self-publishing. Aside from the obvious benefits of working at my own pace (essential with small kids!) and having complete control over content, I also knew that the book I was putting together had a very specific audience and as such would be a lot easier to publicise then if say, I’d written a work of general fiction.
My husband was a bit nervous about the idea at the start, so for his sake I did send out a few letters of enquiry to a few traditional publishers. I never even got past the proposal stage with them, so in the end, it was self-publishing all the way! I decided to go with a company in Dublin called Original Writing and they’ve been absolutely amazing. A real pleasure to work with and very efficient, every step of the way.

OS: The publicity around the book has already been fantastic – radio slots, newspaper pieces, online PR, and your ongoing nationwide book tour. The book is also on the shelf in Easons’s, which is rare for a self-published work. How have you gone about generating publicity for the book?

MM: As you said yourself, self published works don’t tend to get into the larger, mainstream book shops, so my main goal when Mammy Diaries was published was to generate as much publicity in as short a space of time as humanly possible. The ide was to make it that much more attractive to the bigger retailers. This meant contacting journalists who I thought would be interested in the project, getting exposure in both local and national media and once I’d gathered enough clippings and podcasts, my publishers in Dublin contacted the bigger shops and “Voila!”.
The Internet has definitely been my biggest and most effective tool. Without it, the book probably wouldn’t have been written and I’d never have even considered self-publishing without it. You can do anything online. allows you to contact the nation’s media in seconds and social networking sites like Twitter, Blogspot and Facebook have just opened up so many doors. It’s amazing really how far we’ve come in the last 10 or 15 years.

OS: Which channels are you finding the most effective so far for promoting your book?

MM: Well, the press coverage at the start was a huge boost . That definitely brought the book to the public’s attention. Having it in Eason’s is great because it means that it’s easily and constantly available to people. The book tour allows me to help keep the book current and to continue to introduce it to people who may not have heard about it yet. Obviously though, as I said above, it’s the internet that’s making it all happen.

OS: Mammy Diaries is currently out in print format. E-reader platforms like Kindle can bring self-published books to a much wider audience. Have you any plans to also publish Mammy Diaries for e-readers?

MM: My husband is working on it at the moment! Touch wood, it should be available in Kindle format in the next week or so.

OS: Self-publishing used to be the Cinderella of the book world. Some sources now say it’s the next big thing. What is your view of self-publishing versus the more traditional route of submitting your work to established publishers and hoping for the best?

MM: Honestly? I love it. I think that if you have the drive to get out there and put in the work to promote your book, it’s definitely worth considering. No one is going to work as hard for your book as you are. I know I’m probably sounding like a bit of a broken record, but the internet really has opened up so many doors and possibilities.
That being said, it’s called self-publishing for a reason. You are your own editor, critic, agent and publicist, and that can get a little tiring. You’re not going to feel one hundred per cent all the time and there are going to be days when you wish to God that there was a team of people behind you organizing everything for you and telling you exactly what to do next. You are going to have moments of self doubt where you wonder “Is it really any good at all? What have I done?!”
At the end of the day though, you get to put out exactly what you want to put out and not someone else’s version of what you started off writing. Hopefully, with a little luck and a lot of work, you’ll find a group of readers who connect with what you’ve written and who will look forward to hearing more from you.

OS: For many writers, their work is a labour of love. But money is key to being able to continue as a writer. Can you talk to us a little about the financial side of a venture like Mammy Diaries – did you have to invest much of your own money into getting it published and to publicise it? Do you expect to make a profit on the book?

MM: The cost of publishing varies from company to company and package to package. With the different self-publishing companies that are out there (and there are more popping up every day) you can look at paying anywhere from 1000 euro for your basic, no-frills option to several thousand euro which will buy you editorial services, consultation on cover design, and so on.
Not being made of money myself, we went for something on the more basic end of the scale publishing-wise. Aside from the cost of petrol, all of our publicity has been free, so for us there really wasn’t that much of an investment to be made.
Aside from that, we’ve just worked really hard to do as much of the grunt work as we could do ourselves. My husband learned how to do web design so he could do my website and we also designed the cover ourselves. I have a regular (if currently neglected!) blog of the same name, a Facebook group for Mammy Diaries as well as a Twitter account that I’m getting better at using. Whenever we go anywhere to do signings, I let the local media know in case it’s something they’d be interested in covering. None of this costs money, just a bit of time and effort.
I’m also lucky enough to be surrounded by a large group of friends and family who are unbelievably supportive of Mammy Diaries and do their best to promote the heck out of it, for which I’m eternally grateful!

OS: You’re currently on a nationwide book tour. How are you finding the tour? Would you recommend a book tour to other writers as part of the PR campaign for a self-published work?

MM: Definitely. It’s a great oppurtunity to meet the people who will be reading your book as well as to make contacts with book shops and libraries. Also, every launch gives you the potential for local media coverage, which is great for keeping your book in the public eye.

OS: I’ve been told that self-promotion can take as much time as writing itself, if not more. How do you go about making the time for promotion work for Mammy Diaries? Do you have any tips for other writers in this regard?

MM: Do your best to do the kind of promotion that works for you. As a mother of two small children, traditional evening champagne launch events didn’t work for me (or for that matter, for the majority of my audience!). Instead, we hold our signings in play centers where my girls can run around and play with other children and the mothers who are coming along can do the same and not have to worry about babysitters and such. The same goes with radio and print interviews – most of mine were done on the phone so I could do them from anywhere. I spoke with The Irish Times from the car while we drove around the countryside putting the girls to sleep and I did an interview with a Waterford radio station live from my kitchen in my pyjamas!
My husband was made redundant last year, which ended up being a blessing in disguise as it was his being home that gave me the freedom to really buckle down and get the last of the book finished. He’s also my chauffeur/graphic designer/web master and general go-to guy.
Aside from that, I fully admit that there was a LOT of procrastrination in the way of Facebooking, tweeting and emailing going on while I was writing Mammy Diaries. Nowadays, I use that same time to do the same things, but with a purpose. Instead of a way to procrastinate, I’m using them for promotion instead.

OS: Many thanks Maria!


Find Maria at,, on Facebook at Mammy Diaries Ireland and on Twitter at @mammydiaries.

(c) Curmumgeon 2011

Guest blog post: Friends of Breastfeeding

Check out my latest guest blog article, this time for Friends of Breastfeeding:

A miscellany of magic

Even in this internet age – or maybe especially in this internet age – the printed word is still loaded with magic.

I’m beyond honoured to be included in the new RTÉ Sunday Miscellany Anthology 2008-2011, edited by Clíodhna Ní Anluain and published by New Island. Sincere thanks to Clíodhna, editor of RTÉ’s Sunday Miscellany, for finding a slot for my piece, A Tribute to Mick Lally.

I also had a completely magical evening on April 7th at the launch of the book in the National Concert Hall, Dublin. It was great to meet Clíodhna and Miriam O’Callaghan, who launched the book and said some very nice things about it. It was also really special to chat to Padraig O’Neill, award-winning production designer, who was a close friend and colleague of Mick Lally’s (including on Mick’s last screen turn in the recently-released Snap) and has some wonderful stories from their times together.

The launch was followed by a wonderful Easter Sunday Miscellany concert, with readings from the book by Kevin McAleer, Mary Molloy, Grace Wells, and Kevin Barry, among others, interspersed with music from artists including Altan, Eimear Quinn and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. The concert was broadcast in the Sunday Miscellany slot on RTÉ Radio One over the last two weekends. Here are Part One and Part Two.

The text of my piece in the book, A Tribute to Mick Lally, is here.

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