It’s been almost three years since I started this blog. I started it to help publicise my first book The Devil in the Red Dress, which was due to be come out that November. The idea was to write about the process of being published for the first time as well as to talk about the case that Devil centred on and others that I covered day to day in the courts.
Since then I’ve written two other books and covered many other cases. All the while I’ve written about what I was up to on here. For the past few months though I haven’t been posting much. It’s been a long time since I’ve written a daily post and even longer since I followed an unfolding story over successive posts as I used to with the trials I covered. I’ve felt increasingly tongue tied when I went to post and have recently been considering stopping the blog altogether.
But this isn’t goodbye – just a bit of a change in gears.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking this year. Back in May my agent retired and I was faced with the prospect of having to sell myself from scratch again. I may have a better CV these days but any new agent is going to have to believe in me and in my ability to have a long and hopefully lucrative career. But selling yourself when you’re having doubts about the product yourself isn’t the easiest thing in the world.
I fell into court reporting almost by accident but once I started I grew to love it. I loved the almost academic ritual of the courts and the drama of each individual trial. I’ve written many times here about the stories that can be found in the most brutal cases. The administration of justice fascinates me as a writer – it’s pure human conflict – the raw material of stories since the dawn of time. As long as I could sit quietly in the bench behind the barristers with my notebook and my pens cataloguing what went on before me I was never short of something to write and some of the stories that unfolded in those panelled courtrooms played out as dramatically as any fiction I could dream up at my desk.
I had thought that I had found my niche, somewhere I was happy to work for years to come but there’s the rub…for the past year or so it’s dawned on me that perhaps it wasn’t where I wanted to serve out the rest of my time. It’s an odd thing working as a reporter in an Irish court. I firmly believe that it’s vital that journalists cover the courts. Justice must be done in public and the press bring justice out of the courts and onto the breakfast table where it can be openly discussed by all. That’s not always the way it feels though. The press are viewed as irritants at best, at worst an infestation that in an ideal world would be eradicated just like rats or cockroaches. It’s an attitude you find amongst the legal professions, the gardai and the public. I’m not saying it’s held by everyone but it’s widespread enough to get a bit wearing on a daily basis. There’s a perception that the only reason the courts are covered is to titillate the baser instincts of the masses, a freak show that makes a circus out of the august institution of the Law…and having seen some of the scrums after particularly high profile trials I can see how that perception could have come about.
As a freelancer I’m limited in the kind of trial I can cover. I can’t afford to sit in court for weeks on end when it’s a story I can’t sell. Against the backdrop of the smoking embers of the Irish economy only the sensational trial will stand out with a suitably photogenic cast. Unfortunately for me but fortunately for Ireland these trials are extremely thin on the ground. It might sound cynical but that’s the name of the freelance game and it’s not one I have any chance of changing.
This year the one thing I keep coming back to is that I’m tired. I’m tired of justifying what I do. I’m tired of explaining the difference between a court reporter and a crime reporter (we cover the trials – they cover the crimes). I’m tired of arguing about my right to do my job and I’m tired of people taking exception to me describing things as I see them. I’m tired of the shocked looks when I describe my day in work – especially when it’s a day we’ve heard post mortem results. Most of all I’m tired of people thinking I’m a one-trick pony who only does one thing. I’ll have been working as a court reporter for six years come October and I’m ready for a change.
Now I know it’s not something I can just step away from. I’m the author of two books on memorable trials that still manage to make headlines. I’ve contributed to a couple of shows on true crime that still find their way into late night schedules. I still know what trials are coming up in the new law term and which ones will probably draw me back to court but there’s so much else. For the past three years I’ve written about murder trials here and in the Sunday Independent, on Facebook and on Twitter and jealously guarded the brand I was trying to build. But increasingly that’s not enough. I love the conversations I’ve had late at night on Twitter about 70s British sci-fi and horror films. I’m a total geek when it comes to fountain pens and old Russian cameras and I love French music. I’m currently obsessed with the idea of finding natural alternatives for the various potions I find myself slapping on my face far more earnestly than I did in my 20s and I’m resurrecting my ancient 1913 Singer sewing machine. I’m toying with the idea of starting a blog for fiction where I can post short stories and maybe start to outline another novel. It might mean confusing the Google bots who come to catalogue my daily ramblings but I want to give murder and prisons and social unrest a break for a while and talk about anything and everything else.
After all there’s so much more to life than death!