“Declan Burke is his own genre. The Lammisters dazzles, beguiles and transcends. Virtuoso from start to finish.” – Eoin McNamee “This bourbon-smooth riot of jazz-age excess, high satire and Wodehouse flamboyance is a pitch-perfect bullseye of comic brilliance.” – Irish Independent Books of the Year 2019 “This rapid-fire novel deserves a place on any bookshelf that grants asylum to PG Wodehouse, Flann O’Brien or Kyril Bonfiglioli.” – Eoin Colfer, Guardian Best Books of the Year 2019 “The funniest book of the year.” – Sunday Independent “Declan Burke is one funny bastard. The Lammisters ... conducts a forensic analysis on the anatomy of a story.” – Liz Nugent “Burke’s exuberant prose takes centre stage … He plays with language like a jazz soloist stretching the boundaries of musical theory.” – Totally Dublin “A mega-meta smorgasbord of inventive language ... linguistic verve not just on every page but every line.Irish Times “Above all, The Lammisters gives the impression of a writer enjoying himself. And so, dear reader, should you.” – Sunday Times “A triumph of absurdity, which burlesques the literary canon from Shakespeare, Pope and Austen to Flann O’Brien … The Lammisters is very clever indeed.” – The Guardian

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Woe Is Me, Etc: A Failing Writer Writes

It’s taken me a while, but I’ve started to realise that the thrust of Crime Always Pays has changed. Yes, it was always intended to be a blog in support of Irish crime writing and writers, but as all three regular readers will be aware, it also doubled as a platform for my own experience of being published. For the last while, though, it’s been more of a platform for my experience of not being published.
  In theory, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the experience of not being published can just as easily be as interesting as that of being published (for the reader, if not the writer), depending on how well it’s written, not that I make any grand claims in that department.
  Anyway, for those of you who aren’t the three regular readers, the situation is as follows: I’ve had two books published to date, EIGHTBALL BOOGIE and THE BIG O, both of which were decently reviewed and both of which sold like cheese-graters at a leper convention. Which isn’t to complain too bitterly: neither book was a life-changing read, and I’ll always be delighted that I’ve had two books published, even if I never publish another. Right now, I have two more books out under consideration. One is a sequel to EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, the other is a standalone novel about a hospital porter who decides to blow up ‘his’ hospital. At least, I think they’re still under consideration: both have been abroad in the world for some months now, and for all I know, they’ve both been roundly rejected and my agent is simply sparing my feelings. Which might well be the case, he’s a nice bloke.
  Naturally, I’d like both books to be picked up, although I’d be more than happy if only one was published. Whatever reason(s) you have to write, the ultimate goal is to have the story published, so that the maximum possible number of readers get to read it. Hopefully, they’ll even like it. Hopefully, they’ll like it so much they’ll want to read more. And so I’ll get to write another book, etc.
  That’s the natural way of things, but lately I’ve started to hear a little voice in the back of my head suggesting that it might not be the best thing for me right now were either book to be published. That’s because, barring a miracle, what will happen is this: an offer will be made that will amount, in practical terms, to no more than a couple of months’ worth of mortgage payments. Following acceptance, edits and rewrites will follow (a good thing, by the way, because I like both stories and their characters, and I wouldn’t mind at all getting back into the stories, especially if doing so is going to improve them). Then the pre-publication promotion will begin, which is very time-consuming; then the publication promotion; and then the post-publication promotion. Most of this will be conducted via the web, given that I am (a) not wealthy enough nor remunerated enough to do it in person; (b) married with a small child, of whom I don’t see enough of as it is; (c) a freelance journalist who works a minimum of 70 hours per week at the job, and can’t afford to take time off, let alone spend good mortgage money on hauling my ass around the world at a time when house repossessions are starting to climb at an alarming rate back home.
  It really is becoming as stark as that. I decided over the weekend, after interviewing James Ellroy, that it is actually immoral of me to steal time to write fiction when I could be writing freelance material that will actually earn real money. And that’s not even factoring in the time I steal away from my family on the ‘writing’, a catch-all word which includes, these days, reading and blogging too. Someone who liked my books asked me over the weekend, rather facetiously, how come I haven’t sold a million books. I said, rather facetiously, that it was because no one put a million dollars worth of advertising spend behind them. It’s not quite that simple, of course, but there’s a significant element of truth in that.
  As it stands, and given the straitened economic circumstances we all live in, my priorities these days, in order of importance, are family, work and writing. There are, sadly, only 168 hours in any week, roughly a third of which are spent asleep. Factor in such necessities as eating and washing, etc., and that leaves me with about 100 hours to play with. Take away 70 of those hours for work, including the commute, and you’re left with roughly four hours a day for family, which includes basic chores and upkeep of house. That works out at about four hours per day, two in the morning and two in the evening, most of which I choose and prefer to waste in what I like to call ‘Lily-time’.
  I could sleep less than seven hours per night, of course, and frequently do. I could eat and wash less often. I could cut out the morning or evening hours with Lily, and let the house go to hell in a handcart. I could cut back on my work schedule and earn less money. With the time clawed back, I could write a new novel, in the quixotic hope that somewhere out there is an editor who (a) likes my stuff enough to take it forward and (b) has the juice to push it through all the way to publication, all of which would take roughly two years and earn me roughly three months’ worth of mortgage.
  I could do all that. Except, were this any other kind of business, I would be classified insane for even contemplating that kind of return on investment.
  I’d love to finish up with some kind of gloriously noble declaration about how writing isn’t just a business, it’s a vocation, a passion, an obsession, and come hell or high water, I’ll write the next novel and let the chips fall where they may, etc. But I can’t. Not only would such a decision be immoral, it would be foolhardy verging on insanity. Because the publishing business is a business, and I don’t have the time or the chops to make it work for me. Yes, I understand that making it in any business means making sacrifices, but in this particular business, what ‘making sacrifices’ actually means is asking others to make sacrifices on your behalf. Maybe if I was a genius I’d feel comfortable with that, or I simply wouldn’t care. But I’m not. The books I write are (at best) an enjoyable diversion, a pleasant waste of time. They’re not important enough, vital enough or relevant enough to be worth anyone else’s sacrifice, and while there was once a time when I was selfish and ruthless enough to not care about the sacrifices I was asking others to make on my behalf, that time is long gone, and good riddance.
  It’s possible, of course, that one of those books out under consideration might come good, and that an offer will be made that will earn me the kind of time I need to write over the next couple of years. Hey, in a theoretically infinite universe, anything is possible. But it’s unlikely, highly unlikely, and the longer said books spend under consideration, the less likely it becomes. It’s a great pity for me, because I do love to write, but needs must, and the most pressing need these days is the need to be practical. So be it.
  In the meantime, feel free, those of you who are struggling writers gasping for a few molecules of publicity oxygen, to get in touch with this blog. My admiration for your dedication increases by the day, and whatever little I can do to help, I’ll do.


Alan Griffiths said...

Hi Dec,

I’m not sure what I can say in response to your post, which left me feeling a little melancholy.

I’m not a writer, although I’ve produced a few amateurish short stories, which give me great enjoyment to write and a real buzz to see published on various sites scattered around the blogosphere.

First and foremost I’m a fan of books and in particular the crime genre. I’ve read and immensely enjoyed your two published books and, thanks to your generosity, was fortunate to get an early peek at TBE. All three are great reads and, in my opinion, have your unique writing stamp on them and give a twist to two traditional crime fiction themes – the PI story and the crime caper.

You have obviously given this a lot of thought and I totally agree that your family and paying career are your top priorities – they both go hand in hand. However, I hope you are not too downhearted and are not considering completely stopping the fiction writing. I know you will miss it and fans of the genre like me will miss your work. I hope you will continue and also keep up with the blogging albeit if you have to cut back on the time you spend on them.

I’ll end by quoting your recent comment to GB over at CSNI – “Chin up, squire. Keep punching and lead with your left. Don't let the bastards grind you down.” And the last bit from me – talent will overcome!

Colm Keegan said...

I so, fucking, hear you Declan. Feel free to email me a good ol' slap in the face for posting this, but I can't think of anything else to offer.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Donna said...

Dec - I agree with Alan - your post made me feel melancholy too. You know that I absolutely love your writing. If I could have one wish right now, it would be that both the books you have out for consideration (and both of which I LOVE) sell for huge amounts of dosh. Not just so that I can selfishly have them on my bookshelves, but also so that it would give you the freedom to spend time with those you love, and the ability to write more. You might think your books are but "an enjoyable diversion, a pleasant waste of time" but I can assure you that to me (and probably your other 2 readers also) they ARE important, vital and relevant. Your books (and you) have the ability to brighten a day and raise a smile. And if that isn't important and vital, then I don't know what is.

I hope that you will continue to write fiction for us to enjoy. You're a top bloke and a top writer. But most of all a top bloke.

and now shut up Donna, you soppy tart.

Sarah Glenn said...

I hate your conclusion, but I can't fault your logic. Please make this a hiatus, not an ending, to your pursuit for success with your novels. Circumstances and the market may turn in your favor at some future time.

Be there for your family. I know I would not be the person I am without my father's influence. Raising a good human being is a great accomplishment in and of itself.

Corey Wilde said...

If I feel crushed at reading your decision, I am sure it is nothing to what you must feel at surrendering the hopes and dreams of a lifetime.

Your books give me great pleasure. I think you're the wittiest guy in print.

I admire your courage in the face of harsh economic reality, and I'm delighted that Lily will never have cause to doubt where she stands with you.

And I'll never stop hoping for your success as a novelist.

Donna said...

Oh and PS - when Lily grows up and reads your post, she is going to realise she is a very lucky girl but something tells me she will already know that :o)

And I also meant to say - best of luck in whatever you do (but I'm still keeping my fingers crossed that writing fiction will be part of it!)

Dana King said...

Damn. I posted this before, but it looks like it was eaten. I'm glad I had some posting issues, so I made a copy. Apologies in advance if it appears twice.

I have the same conversation with myself twice a year. I teeter between working harder, or quitting. What has evolved for me is a state where the writing has been put into perspective. I still plan to write every day, but if my daughter wants to stop by and watch hockey some evening or some friends ask me out for a pint or three after work, I chuck the writing. I've published nothing but short stories so far, so my accommodation is that I'll write as much as I have time for, and enjoy. If something sells, we'll see, though how much of my time can be bought will depend on how much someone is willing to pay for it.

My daughter is grown and in college, so I don't have the same time concerns you have with Lily. I used to, and I applaud your desire to make special all the time you can get with her. She'll be grown in what will seem like no more than a few months when it comes. Think what you will about your writing career; to be a good father is always the better, and more rewarding, choice.

Now about this failed writer business. As they say on your side of the Pond, bollocks. You've published two well-received books; sales are beyond any writer's ability to control. You've done what you can. For what it's worth, at the end of 2008, I listed on my blog the five best reads I had last year. Alphabetically, by author, they were:

Mark Billingham, In the Dark
Jimmy Breslin, The Good Rat
Declan Burke, The Big O
Sean Chercover, Trigger City
John Connolly, The Reapers

Take the source for what it's worth, but that's pretty fast company, sir.

Ellen Clair Lamb said...

Oy, Declan, this hurts to read. I hear every word of this, and it makes sense to me — but it makes sense to me right here and right now, on November 11, 2009.

November 11, 2010 is going to look a lot different. November 11, 2011 will look different still. Hell, even December 11, 2009 will be different.

Many things can and will change, from the possibility of your winning the lottery to the likelihood that Lily will be too embarrassed to hang out with you in a dozen years, to the high probability that a story idea will hit you at some point with a force that you can't ignore or deny.

When any or all of those things happen, you'll go back to fiction. I look forward to it.


John McFetridge said...

Sorry, I got a little lost after, "...the other is a standalone novel about a hospital porter who decides to blow up ‘his’ hospital."

Okay, self-deprecation as a defense mechanism, we've all been there, but come on, even you have to admit describing a novel that good, that inventive and with that much depth as being about, "a hospital porter who decides to blow up 'his' hospital," is funny.

It's not your fault you wrote a book that's too good.

Ali Karim said...

Declan - A lot of what we do in life [if we were to examine it in the cold light of reality] would not make sense or appear logical. A lot of what we do in life is made possible because we dream.

We do these things because we're passionate, other things we do because we got to support our families.

I had dinner with my editor Mike Stotter of Shots last week, and we both had felt a little like you are currently. We've been working on Shots for a decade online. And what have we to show for it in money terms? A big fat minus sign, as the site has only started to pay for itself [sort of] recently, but the money we've ploughed into it we'll never get back. Then sorting out problems when the site gets hacked, chasing reviewers, email deluge. Then the time we spend away from our families which we can never get back.

My wife often moans about my time away from home, and says 'even when you're home, you're either reading, writing or you mind is elsewhere..' At times I feel like a deliquent father, other times when I read something really good, I feel amazing - I feel the fire in my belly and want to write like that.

I said to Mike Stotter, listen, what the hell would we do if we didn't work the 'book beat' - I know i'd end up regreting things -

Declan, you can write, your blog is read by far more folk than you can credit, you have a family - just crack on, try and balance things a little [Sorry I can hear my wife say 'Ali, talking about balance....geee that's great...']

To quote the famous philosopher and friend of Ken Bruen -

"Don't give up on us baby...."

I know the economy in Ireland is cackier than in the UK, and there is this oppressive feeling of gloom each day thanks to the media, and the economy - especially freelancers being more precarious than ever.

Heck, I'm in Dublin over Christmas / New Year - and insist on talking you for a beer where we can talk.

You are not alone, but your words in your fiction and your blog are important to us all.

I'm hanging in at Shots, Rap Sheet and my own fiction, because I have a dream, and without a dream - life is shit.

Best regards - see you in Dublin in December

Shots will continue and we will continue to dream about the writers & publishers we support, and one day, you may read something from me that is not non-fiction....but then I'm a dreamer I guess


Sophie Littlefield said...

My heart goes out to you. I wonder if I could share one little thing...I didn't really get serious about writing (round-the-clock, 7 days a week serious) until my kids were 12 and 14. Since then, my kids still come first but there's lots of time for everything else. I have the luxury of not having a day job and I know how lucky I am and I would never claim to know the stress that you feel as a provider, but I just wanted to let you know that this is not a forever thing.

For what it's worth, I've met lots of writers who put their kids second during those early years, and I commend you for not doing the same. I will never, ever regret a single second that I spent with my kids, even if in those days entire months went by without new words being written. They are now 14 and 17 and I have a wonderful close relationship with them that is better than any writing success I'll ever achieve.

Declan, is it ok if I use some of your thoughts in a workshop I'm doing called "Finish That Book" - you say some things eloquently that I think could help others. I'll try to dig up your email address and ask you that way, but thanks for a lovely post and take heart.

mybillcrider said...

As someone who much enjoyed THE BIG O, I hate to think you're leaving fiction behind. You've got the goods.

But I can certainly understand the need to make money and be with your family. Can't fault you there. My wish for you is that both those books you have out there looking for a home find spots, get published, and make you a tub of money.

No matter what happens, I wish you the best.

Dana King said...

I meant to include this before, but it got eaten. Since John McFetridge reminded me of it (indirectly), it's only fair to point out that anyone who could write a line that described anything as selling "like cheese-graters at a leper convention" needs to keep his hand in a little.

Lewis Peters said...

Blimey, I started reading your blog a fortnight ago because (a) I liked The Big O and (b) I thought it might provide me with encouragement. like you, I have always tended to prioritise in the order of family first, work second and me last. One consequence has been 25 years of stifled creativity. I feel the need to at least give it a try before I become completely stale. Don't let the same happen to you.

Best wishes for whatever you do.

Mark Coggins said...

I was at a reading with a bunch of writers and rather than introduce everyone with the usual long-winded bio, the moderator required us to provide a six word summation of our lives. Mine was, "What? And give up show business?"

I understand exactly where you are coming from, man.

Dave Zeltserman said...

Declan, just about every writer struggles (often) with these same issues and decision, especially once the cold brutal reality of the publishing world sets in. I also suspect this is going to be more of a hiatus for you--hell, I've gone on several multiple year hiatuses myself and am probably not done yet with them. Take care of business for now, enjoy life and family, and keep the door open for the future, and always remember that you've already achieved more than most writers dream of.

Uriah Robinson said...

The idea that we won't be entertained by another Declan Burke book is difficult to take.
You are a good writer with the ability to make people laugh, a very important talent, as well as create memorable characters. I still remember Frank the crap plastic surgeon and his daughters, which is good for me because I usually forget everything the next day.
But I agree time with Lily while she is a child is more important than keeping your fans amused. Children grow up so fast you don't want to miss those good years.
I hope you eventually get the break you deserve and the very best of luck for the future.

Unknown said...

Somebody famous said that he writes (I'm paraphrasing, cos I've a memory like a hen sat in a sieve) because he's feck all use for anything else.
I'm guessing you'll have a break and if you want to you'll find your way back.
Meantime, enjoy the wee yin.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I see you have a lot more than three regular readers and I am one of them. Consider the futility of trying to write a novel at age 61. But after a bunch of short stories, I have to go for it. I could be spending the time learning to knit and do grandmotherly things, or devote myself to my dull job, but it would be a lot less fun-at least on some days. Thanks for a brave, soul-searing post.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Ouch. Your post was painful to read. I am still hanging in, but it's tough to justify. I too have a small child. I stopped writing from the time he was born until he was three and I never regretted that for a minute. Not one. I got back into writing when he was older and now I only write when he's in school or in bed (pretending to be asleep but reading under the covers some of the time I suspect).

The money return on the time invested is insanely puny for most of us. I watched "Dorothy Parker and the Vicious Circle" and was struck by how many writers could earn a living on short stories and poety back in the day. Not any more.

It's a tough decision to have to make to take time off, but take heart in knowing that it's not forever.

Good luck!

Declan Burke said...

Crikey. To paraphrase someone famous, nothing became my 'writing career' like the leaving of it ...

First thing to say, folks, is you're all incredibly generous. I really appreciate the good vibes. It's a pity there isn't a million of you. I'd be able to make a go of writing, and the world would be a million times nicer.

I guess I'd be a complete moron if I didn't take on board the words of writers older and wiser than myself; it feels like I'm calling it a day now, for sure, but there's every chance that that will prove to be a hiatus. Lily won't be the age she is forever (one of the reasons I want to make the most of it now) and I guess that more time will come available as the years go by.

Anyway, thanks to you all, again, for all the kind words. You've cheered me up no end, and made my month. Maybe, if so many people out there (a goodly few of whom I don't know) wish me that well, then maybe, just maybe, karma will end up working its oracle. Only time, that notoriously doity rat, will tell ...

Cheers, Dec

Clea Simon said...

I'm so sorry you're going through this, but, boy, do I understand. For what it's worth,your blog cheered me up - reminded me that I'm not alone in all this.

For whatever reason, though, I'm still writing. I think I'd go mad if I didn't. I hope the economy picks up, but I think less about it if at least I'm writing. I wonder if you'll find this is true for you, too, at least once time loosens up a bit.

Good luck. Do what feels right.

Kieran Shea said...

Just FYI...you may be getting even more pats on the back as I blogged this today. Stay groovy, bro.

Dorte H said...

I haven´t even read your debut yet (it´s on my TBR), but this post made me really sad.

I am not a published author, but have tried sending two manuscripts off to several Danish publishers. Two years ago I thought I was nearly there; no standard rejections and often a kind letter with a number of strong points plus useful advice on how to make my work better.

But then the crisis hit us - and today they won´t even send it back unless I am willing to pay for the postage. Back to zero.

Not sure this helps YOU much, but you are not the only one, and this blasted crisis must end some day ...

Unknown said...


Come on, let's be sensible here! Go have a pint or a six pack with Ali this Christmas. It'll be good therapy. Didn't Stephen King's wife retrieve his Carrie from the garbage after he'd given up? My professor at college once admonished me by saying 'the writer will write, the dancer will dance'. My third and fourth have been with my agent for a year now - and I'm scribbling my fifth. No big publishing deals - maybe never - but I must write, I have no choice. Years ago, when I had tons of kids, tons of responsibility, tons of work, tons of commutes, no money - I scribbled always and put it in the drawer with the socks. It was therapy. Therapy for my writing disease. There is no vaccination. You must know that. There's no cure.

So - family's number one, the rest is secondary, but you must write (even if it's only scribbling on the toilet roll as you wait in that room of contemplation).

Now, let's not hear any more of this. Where the hell would we be if you stopped this marvellous blog!

Jay Stringer said...

Hey Dec,

Best thing about the writing it doesn't have to go away. If you can't find the time right now -and who can fault your priorities?- there will be another time when you can.

The economy will change. Demand in publishing will shift. When you do have a little more time to spare, the ideas will still be there. And i look forward to reading them.


adrian mckinty said...

I'd say the success of a novel depends on the following factors in these proportions

1. aggressive marketing 65%
2. connections (do you have friends in New York or London media who can help) 15%
3. the author's story (do you come from an interesting and sexy deomographic) 10%
4. the plot of the book 5%
5. the actual quality of the writing 5%

adrian mckinty said...

oops meant demographic not deomographic which would really be asking for the Olympian perspective.

Mike Knowles said...


Never met you, but I think you got skills.

This sums up my feelings about what should be done (while you watch it consider yourself Rocky):


Ray said...

Ah, shaddap, Burke. You'll be back.

Anonymous said...


I was sad and happy to read your post today.

Sad to think that we may not get any more of your excellent books to read. Sad that things didn't work out better for you. Sad that other people didn't get the chance they might have gotten to read and enjoy your books.

Happy that your family will get to see more of you. Happy that you've been able to come to what must have been an agonizing decision. Happy that I got to read three of your books which I will always remember as being great fun.

I wish you all the best in whatever you do in the future. If that should someday find its way back to writing fiction, that would be wonderful.

Thanks for the great ride we've all been able to share with you.


Unknown said...

I'll say it straight up, Dec (and, yeah, it's gonna sound corny as Hell, but screw it.) you're born into this. You don't get a choice. I quit writing for four years, cold turkey and thought I'd never look back.
It didn't happen.
It won't happen to you either.
Go ahead, take a vacation.
But mark my words, you'll get bored.

seana graham said...

Oddly, I think you should totally take a break from breaking your heart in the publishing realm. Something about this whole writing business has to sort itself out for you and make sense for you. Personally, my guess is that you'll get a certain satisfaction from your freelance work, but it won't quite satisfy the itch, and you'll be giving fiction another stab before too long.

By the way, you very generously offered to send me a word document of the latest if I emailed. I haven't, not because I don't want to read it, I do, but because of this weird computer configuration I'm using where I can't save any word documents, not even my own. The whole situation has dragged out to the point of absurdity, but please do know that I love your writing, and I'll email you and see if the offer still stands once I have some place to download it to.

Bill said...

As a fellow writer and father (I have two very young kids), I well know the anxiety you're describing. Just wanted to wish you good luck.

Unknown said...

Sad, sad, sad...
If you stick to your guns, you will be sorely missed, Declan

Lots of sense in many of the responses but also in your confession.

Much of it familiar.

You have the talent. Sometimes the sales don't come because of lack of luck or promo, but you never know when the situation might change.

If you do give up, there will be a voice inside you that will ache for hours every day, you know.

A hiatus is good, however long it is. Mine lasted nearly 15 years or so, after family and publishing jobs came along (try writing fiction when you're editing other people and feeling vastly inferior to so many of them...)

Don't renounce that night and weekend job up totally , we'd all be diminished if you did.

Unknown said...

Declan, there's nothing to fault in your logic except that it takes no account of your talent.
I've been one of the lucky ones, all the more so because yes, I would be feck all use at anything else, and I still wrestle with making enough quality time for my kid. The time you're devoting to Lily is the bread cast on the waters, and when she's grown into a life where there's less room for her dad in the day-to-day, you'll harvest the richness you're storing up now.
So make the most of the hiatus. You're a writer, and that doesn't go away.

Anonymous said...

Listen to Ray!

As for any other advice, however good it is, it may not suit you.

You'll write some more when you've become an embarrassment to Lily and have time on your hands. And if you don't deal with that shirtsleeve, that time will come sooner than you think.

Abigail Rieley said...

Hi Declan,
I'm so sorry you've come to your decision but completely understand why. It's easy to try to be a writer with no returns when you've no responsibilities but yourself but once life brings it's normal complications dreams can't be followed quite so lightly.
In this day and age I've thought the same often enough, and I don't have children to consider yet. I hope things get better and you find a way round but thank you for sharing your reasoning. The reality of this job is a harsh one and decisions like yours are never easily come to.
I'm waffling now but good luck. You have a very lucky daughter. I hope it works out for you.

Andrew said...

It's a hard choice all right and I'm not sure most people realise how paltry the money from a '2 book deal' can be. They think big bucks, the reality is as you say - if it covers a couple of mortgage payments you're doing well.

Probably most frustrating though is the money that publishers seem to find for certain genres, while others are farted into the world without so much as a fanfare. I'm not saying one type of book is better than another, it's all personal taste after all, but it doesn't make it any less frustrating.

Good luck.

Eolai said...

It's impossible to say anything without sounding patronising, but anyway...there are times when I've deliberately let painting slip because for my son's sake I never wanted parenthood to be less than full on - but, and without wanting to sound precious about it, I had to question if I was the best parent I could be when I denied myself painting.

Best of luck with it all.

Emerging Writer said...

Sorry you're so down. You've shattered some of my dreams. not so much shattered I suppose as broken off some of the edges.
But I'm going to go and buy the Big-O now and perhaps some of your other blog-readers could do the same.

Paul D Brazill said...

You're clearly very, very good at what you do and make a lot of people very happy by what you do. Take a break from it maybe. It rarely has to be all or nothing at all.

Martin Edwards said...

Dec, I too was very sorry to read your post. Whether to give up or battle on is an intensely personal decision that only the individual in question can take. But the great support you have from the crime writing community, illustrated by the comments of Ali and many others, will at least, I hope, convince you that your work so far has been greatly appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Damn and blast Dec, you're a terrific writer and I will be very very sorry not to have a copy of your next book to go with the two on my shelf.
Arlene X

Emerging Writer said...

Me again. Where can I buy your books? Easons don't have them. Amazon has it for lots of money...cheaper in the US?

Declan Burke said...

Eolai - "I had to question if I was the best parent I could be when I denied myself painting." Very interesting thought, and one worth bearing in mind. Ta.

Emerging Writer - Appreciate the interest, I really do. I'd say try Amazon.com for copies of the books - last I heard, there were selling at pretty low prices. Of course, then you'll have the P&P to worry about ...

I'd love to reply to all the comments, folks, but I'm a bit overwhelmed to be honest. Many thanks to everyone who left a few words. This is going to cost me a fortune in free booze if I ever travel to another B'con ... I may have to write another novel to pay for it all.

Cheers, Dec

Naomi Johnson said...

If you can make it to Bcon 2011, Dec, I'll buy the first round.

marco said...

I hope you'll reconsider your decision, Dec.

Eoin said...

Hey Declan,

Your post reached the Twitterverse, where I found it. I've never read your work; I'm sure it's terrific, but that's not why I'm commenting. I'm a much less successful freelance journalist than you are, and given I haven't been published, a fairly rubbish novelist.

I do have (small) kids though, and a mortgage, and I've spent (and continue to) almost nine years doing any job I can in order to feed and clothe them and myself. I haven't learned much in that time, but I'm fairy certain about a few things:

1. You only have one life.

2. Your kids only have one dad.

3. If you defaulted on your mortgage, it would indeed be a sad day.

4. And yet, you would still have your kids and your life.

5. Things can always get worse. Equally, there's no reason why they won't get better.

I'm familiar with your working week. It's even less fun when those hours are done on spec. I don't know if that comes across as unnecessarily harsh - but doing what you want is hard most of the time. Finding time for your kids is hard too. Earning a living doing what you always wanted to do isn't as easy as Press Gang led me to believe either.

But I have been - and many times during the week am - where you are right now in your head. It's not much fun. But you are already more successful than most writers ever become. I suspect that these days, what you describe is more than most can hope for. It doesn't mean it's much fun - just that it may not be for you.

That said "The books I write are (at best) an enjoyable diversion, a pleasant waste of time." Graham Greene described much of his work as 'entertainments'. Kenneth Grahame and AA Milne, respected, serious writers in their day, are remembered (loved) for Wind In The Willows and Toad of Toad Hall. Most people read to escape. It's hardly a justification for stopping.

Besides, writing 'enjoyable diversions' never stopped Dan Brown.

(Enjoyable being a highly subjective term here).

Good luck and take care.


Declan Burke said...

Naomi? It's a date, ma'am.

Marco - Anything's possible, squire. I will keep you posted ...

Eoin - Wind in the Willows is a great, great book. As for my being more successful than most writers - if you'd told me when I was a 14-year-old kid that I'd have two novels published, and that I'd earn a living from writing (freelance or otherwise), I would have thought you were insane.

A career guidance counsellor once told me that I'd never make it as a journalist because I wasn't 'sneaky' enough ...

Cheers, Dec

Mike Dennis said...

Family is always first. Dedicating yourself to it and making the necessary sacrifices are what make you a man.

One day, and that day is sooner than you care to think, Lily will come to you and say, "Daddy, there's a boy outside." So spend the time with her now, man.

Pat McArdle said...

Sorry Squire, but you're bang out of order on this one. We're not having any of it. Six month break is all you're getting.

In these recessionary times we need every man out front and the right men in the right jobs. Any more of this kind of talk and I might have to point you in the direction of Adam Smith's Theory of Absolute Advantage. Pint shortly? Or even a coffee?

Bag17 said...


Another outrage perpetrated by the bankers, politicians and property developers of this country! Don’t laugh yet. If a consequence of this recession is that an artist of your caliber and integrity has been forced into silence, then things are a lot worse than I thought.
For my part, your success and struggles have long been a guiding light, the unwavering power, quality, resilience, wit and wisdom that informs your work (published or pending) has been more than ‘a diversion’, it has been a motivation. The reasons for your decision is understandable and I admire your conscience and courage in making it. If I were to suggest something to you however I’d say that rather than end this chapter with a full stop, do what they did in EightBall and use three of them … ! Either that or just take longer to write something shorter. Remember too that we need your sort more out on the frontline now more than ever.


Anonymous said...

Sorry I'm so late to this, Dec. Hope it's just a brief hiatus from writing that you're taking. Emerging Writer, I saw The Big O on sale last week in Chapters on Parnell Street.

Michelle Gagnon said...

You've expressed very well what a lot of us are currently grappling with, Declan. Advances have been slashed even when books are picked up (and fewer and fewer seem to be). Most of us are puttering along for far less than minimum wage, when all is said and done. If you're a midlist writer, chances are you still work a full time job, and this has become your "hobby." I have a small child at home too, and it does become increasingly difficult to justify the time spent away from my family in service to building a career as a writer. Especially when I made a heck of a lot more money writing travel and lifestyle pieces for magazines.
That being said, I love your work and would hate to lose it.

Anonymous said...

That was the post of a prizefighter, hungry but battered,weary yet determined, sitting at the turnbuckle debating whether the next round is worth fighting.

Well, as a long time reader of your blog (and yes a fan of The Big O to boot) I personally think the bell has yet to ring for you.

As a long time journalist (or should I say lapsed scribe) and yet to be discovered author, I can appreciate the sobering reality.

All I can do is evoke the sentiments of other commentators, take a breather and please don't think about quitting on us. To family, life and health.

Brian McGilloway said...

Sorry to hear this, Dec; especially as the book still out there that I've read is a corker. I understand the pressures - I also think you don;t get a choice -I suspect you'll have to write, whether you like it or not...

Good luck with whatever you're doing - I just hope it includes fiction.

Declan Burke said...

Crikey. Much more of this and I'll be on to Papa Duce looking for a sainthood.

Maybe you're all right. Maybe I just need to duck out for a while and get a big lungful of fresh air. I feel pretty relieved about the decision now, but that could well change in six months, or even less.

I have to say, the reaction to this post has given me real food for thought, so thanks to everyone who took the time to comment and get in touch.

By the way, a couple of things ... Firstly, I'm reliably informed by my ever-helpful agent that THE BIG EMPTY hasn't get gone out for consideration, which is good news in its own way; it means that, once it does go out, I'll be, theoretically at least, still in the game until next summer or thereabouts, and anything can happen between now and then.

Also - a couple of emails I got referred to 'best-sellers'. I'm not talking about becoming a best-seller when I talk about a return on investment (although that's not for the want of ambition); I'm simply talking about enough return on time spent to keep me, the bank manager, the agent and the publisher happy. That's a tricky one to negotiate, of course. And I'm aware, too, that there's better writers than I in the same fix.

Thinking on it over the last few days, and taking on board what everyone has had to say, I'm coming to the conclusion that the writing / not writing thing will resolve itself. I'll get to the point where I'm so happy or unhappy not writing that the decision will make itself. Or circumstances will overtake us, or change, or ... I don't know. Nothing stays the same for very long. Either way, I'm looking forward to not writing for the foreseeable future, which is not something I thought I'd ever say. For now it feels good, though.

It's only now just occurred to me - what if I'd written that post, and no one even mentioned it. Some slap in the cobblers that'd have been ...

Cheers, Dec

bowerbird said...

> I'm simply talking about
> enough return on time spent
> to keep me, the bank manager,
> the agent and the publisher happy.

maybe there are too many fingers
in that pie to keep everyone happy.

before you give up entirely (if even
temporarily) you should attempt
some digital publication instead.

if the two books you have out now
do not sell to publishers, put them
on the kindle to see what happens.

you might be pleasantly surprised.

you might even find that you can
give up the freelance grind and
concentrate on your true calling...

and lily might end up with a father
who's much happier than he is now.


seana graham said...

Sounds like you're being quite sensible about all this. Burn out and the general climate could be a factor.

Thanks for posting back your reactions. And do take a break too what degree you can. It will let some things filter out.

Mark Arsenault said...

Hey Declan, I just ordered your damn book. Now, seriously, to hell with this talk, and go write another novel.
I don't want to see anyone quit. Because that would make it easier for me to quit.

PB said...

I don't know you, but I am a pastor, and I am going to include a bit of your story in a sermon entitled "a waste of time". I am also a writer and a reader, and at times both have been considered by me and others as a waste of time, but they and I would be wrong, it is a passion.

Declan Burke said...

PB - A Pastor? A sermon? Crikey. I do appreciate the sentiment, but it'll be midnight vigils next ...

I would never consider reading a waste of time, unless it was a bad book, and I rarely read more than 10 pages of those. As for the time, I don't have it to waste, but I'd never consider time spent on writing a waste either. Not financially profitable, perhaps, but that's not the same thing.

Cheers, Dec

Harry said...

Such a heartbreaking time to be creative, share in your sad realization although haven't quite bailed yet. My daughter is more important of course, but still want to write. I think. Sort of...

Crystal said...

Hi Declan -- Just found your blog (and you) tonight and felt I needed to leave a comment on this excellent (but heartbreaking) post. I quit my job in May of this year to start writing fiction full time. I'm almost done with the first drafts of both my books and have made a lot of financial sacrifices to spend all my time writing. (All this while knowing the ridiculously high failure rate to "make it" as an author.) My sacrifices, though, pale in comparison to the responsibilities you have with your little daughter, etc. I question whether I'd still do what I'm doing if I had dependent mouths to feed. Probably not.

Though I *want* to disagree with what you said about quitting, you make valid arguments all the way through. Even though I'm rooting for you to succeed. :)

Mark Richardson said...

Great post. I feel the need to buy one of your books. I am in the exact same family position, but haven't published a book.

Quit bitching. Keep writing. Make art!

Kelli Stanley said...

Dec, I just discovered your post. My heart's breaking. You're not only an amazing writer with a unique voice who should be on every crime fiction shelf, imo, you're a damn good guy with a huge sense of responsibility. And I understand your conclusion and respect it.

I'd make the same decision and may have to in the future, because investments, eventually, have to pay off, and the psychic burden of making others sacrifice for your compulsion can get too heavy to bear.

But ... what is life without passion? Rational decisions about an irrational passion, a subconscious act of creation, aren't always applicable.

I hope first that those two books sell for enough to keep you going. And secondly, that the writer within you--who is as much of you as anything--will prevail beyond this temporary hiatus.

Much love and hope from across the pond!


Nancy Moser said...

Your words scream across the sea, reaching me in Kansas City, USA. I too am a writer (with a Lily of my own, though my dear one is a granddaughter.) I read your words and nod and understand every one, for I have felt them all--and some others too. I spend far too much time looking at sales numbers, praying they are enough to get me the next contract. And the next. I keep at it because I love to write--and hate it too. But isn't that the way with most passions? One thing I've learned is: "To everything there is a season." Enjoy the season with your daughter now. There will be time to write. I didn't have my first book published until I was 40, with three kids all but grown and gone. And now, 24 books later, I see it was right to order my life as you do, with family first, then work, then writing. One of these days a story will burst from you unannounced, and then you will know it is time to begin again. www.nancymoser.com

Richard Mabry said...

I found your blog through that of the International Thriller Writers. I was saddened to read your well-reasoned post. Without going into details (this is, after all, your story and not mine), let me say that I can identify with much of what causes you distress.In my judgement, gained over seventy-plus years, I can say you've got your priorities right. Spend time with your family, and publication will or won't come. But I hope you won't totally give up on those next novels.

Kevin McCarthy said...


This is the second time I've tried to post this. (There is a reason why I don't blog and it's not all down to time issues!) Anyway, for what it's worth, your two novels were great reads. You were there first, as far as this new wave of Irish crime writing goes and are still there, far as I'm concerned. This blog is the best written thing on the web re crime writing.

What you need is a break. Take some winter downtime. Read NON-fiction and watch shite TV. Drink and go for walks with your daughter and better half. Ignore that voice in your head telling you you should be doing something, and do nothing instead.

When you're not working (freelancing), just chill. Pretty soon you'll start seeing things in that way again... You know how it is. And the voice will kick up a ruckus again only this time it will sound like a slightly drunk but much loved friend, saying, 'Hey, that would make a cool novel if some eejit would only sit down and write it...'

Take it easy, and be easy on yourself. I think Lemmy (and one of the posters above) said it best: 'Don't let the bastards grind you down.' Of course he also inquired of a lady would she 'Love me like a Reptile...'


Kevin McCarthy