Writer and Author

Tag: Lying Eyes (Page 2 of 4)

A More Fictional Kind of Murder

Today I realised one of my characters has to die.  It’s a surprising realisation to come to, so late in the editing process but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense.  It’s a sad conclusion to come to though, as this character is one of the few who’s survived since the earliest incarnation of this story.  There’s even a picture of him, drawn by a family friend, an illustrator, on the back of the earliest draft of the germ of an idea back when I was only 11 or so.

All the characters feel as real as distant friends.  I know their likes and dislikes, their moods, their faults.  In the early days of planning I would pick out their favourite music, favourite books, favourite films.  It was the same process as new friends or lovers go through…except that I was providing both answer and question.  It sounds nuts, certifiable maybe, but I don’t know any other way of getting to know a character as if they are real.  When it works then, once the story starts rolling, it can feel as if the characters take control and guide what direction a scene takes.  Those are the days when the writing really flows.

But the axe has to be swung.  It works for the plot, gives other characters more passion and is generally a good idea.  I’ll miss this one but the time has come so now I’m going to have to play at murder.

The problem with the day job is that murder is something I’m rather familiar with.  I’ve sat next to quite a few people who’ve killed, over the past couple of years, even spoken to a couple.  As I prepare for my fictional murder a wealth of details present themselves.  Do I use blunt object trauma? Strangulation? A weapon – knife, axe, slash hook?

It sounds callous, ghoulish even, but when you spend a lot of time listening to evidence in murder trials it can be difficult not to sift through the details like a connoisseur looking for the juiciest chunks.  You become desensitised to the horror of forensic details.  As a journalist you look at evidence in terms of the hook that will snare your reader down past the first paragraph.  As a writer you look at the details, the relics of someone’s life and death as components to be filed away for future reference.

So now I’m planning my own murder from the pick n’ mix of details, real and fictional.  It’s impossible to think of a knife attack without memories of dozens of post mortem accounts, the length of the blade, the angle of thrust, the difference in slicing or stabbing gestures.

If poisoning is the option do I go with historical methods – take inspiration from the Borgias perhaps – or do I tread a more familiar path – look into the poisons mentioned in the emails between the Devil in the Red Dress herself, Sharon Collins, and her Internet “hitman” Essam Eid?

I’m fond of this particular character.  It’s a long and interesting association.  I want the death to be a fitting one…the sacrifice will make a better book.  I’ll plan the murder carefully so that it satisfies both the journalist in me and the storyteller.  And then I’ll raise a glass to the fallen character and get on with the rest of the book.

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Devil in the Red Dress Steps Out Into the World

My book, Devil in the Red Dress is now officially available in the UK.  It’s the first time it’s been available outside Ireland and I’m interested to see how the story will translate somewhere that hasn’t been so familiar with the whole Lying Eyes, Tony Luciano affair.

One of the reasons I was attracted to writing the book was the fact that the story reads like a thriller and could have happened anywhere.  Even the barristers made references to the Coen Brothers and film noir.  To be honest you simply don’t get cases like this cropping up in Ireland and it was simply too good a tale to pass by.

I was aware while I was covering the trial and later researching the book over last summer that the story had gone truly global.  I did a lot of research on line (fittingly enough) and every time I searched people involved in the story I got hits from further and further afield.  Even doing a search now you can find accounts from the Telegraph, The Guardian and the Daily Record in the UK and CNN in the States. I’m not surprised particularly, it is a great story.

What did amaze me though was how far the coverage extended, there’s coverage from Spain, Hungary and even Vietnam. Now my Spanish, Hungarian and Vietnamese aren’t great, so I’m not sure what spin they were taking but it’s the first time I’ve covered a story that has become such an international talking point.

When you work in a country the size of Ireland it’s easy to get caught up in the local aspect of news…there’s frequently little else but the odd time, when a story arrives with a truly international dimension, that spans from the west of Ireland to the casinos of Las Vegas with a pitstop in Spain, it’s difficult not to get excited.

A lot of the Irish press focused once again on the local angle, the fact that the scheming femme fatale behind the internet plot to kill her millionaire boyfriend was a County Clare housewife from an old Ennis family.  Certainly this is a case that has gone down in Clare legend and it’ll be a long time before it’s forgotten in Ireland as a whole.

But there is another side to the story.  The so-called hitman Sharon Collins hired to do her dirty work was an Egyptian poker dealer in Las Vegas.  His story and his conquests had travelled through Ohio, Michigan & Illinois.  Much of the plotting took place while Sharon was staying with her partner PJ Howard at his apartment in Feungirola in Malaga.  This was a dimension that lifted things out of the parochial into the international.

I was fascinated by the international dimension and explored the American angle in far more detail the majority of my colleagues.  I’m not saying clever me, simply that this was the bit of the story that interested me.  It’s not often the bright lights of Vegas shine on an Irish court case after all.

It remains to be seen how my account of the whole twisted mess does on it’s first foray abroad but I wish it well.  It’s a story that should reach a wider audience.  But we’ll just have to wait and see.

A Collins in the News Again…

When Sharon Collins decided to hire Essam Eid to kill her partner PJ Howard and his sons Robert and Niall she ensured that anyone connected with the case would become a honey pot for the Irish media for months, if not years, afterwards.

Sharon herself can guarantee the column inches for merely catching a cold while the intensely private Howard family have complained that they can no longer conduct their property business in Ennis, Co Clare without being constantly aware of prying eyes and smutty jokes.

Well today Lying Eyes effect can be seen again.  Sharon’s former husband, Noel, the father of her two sons and a familiar face to anyone who attended her trial, has appeared in Dublin Circuit Civil Court in an employment law scuffle.

It appears that Noel, when working as a security company manager, had allowed a security manager to sleep on the job and had got the sack as a result.  The full story is here.

It’s the kind of story that runs through the courts all the time without comment.  What makes it suddenly news is Mr Collins proximity to the notorious Devil in the Red Dress.  I can’t help feel sorry for the man.  All he did was stand by the mother of his children and give support to his sons, now he will be in the deflected spotlight for a very long time to come.

That’s the thing with high profile trials…the story keeps running long after the verdict has been announced.  For all those connected with the Ennis femme fatale this means that their lives are now flagged on the paparazzi antenna.  They might not have done anything but they too will pay some of the price.  That’s just the way things are – but that’s unlikely to be of any comfort to Noel Collins as he suddenly steps into the limelight.

A little bit of housekeeping…

I’ll post properly later on but I wanted to post the interview I did for Devil in the Red Dress on John Cooke’s show on Clare FM back at the beginning of December that I was ranting about yesterday.  I was totally befuddled with a cold at the time and then got overtaken by the festive mayhem and since New Years I’ve been confounded at every turn by gaps in my knowledge of all things Internet.

I’ve been trying to upload it for days now, ever since we had the post festive clear out, and yesterday it had me driven to distraction but finally everything is talking to everything else and we’re cooking with gas.

For the record the combination that worked the charm was Total Recorder for the encoding (I bought it ages ago for recording streamed radio interviews but stupidly didn’t realise it’s also quite a nifty MP3 encoder) then a fair amount of fumbling with WordPress 2.7’s new interface and working out which plug ins were messing the whole this up (never did work out exactly which I will post when I find out).

I also used Cool Edit Pro to top and tail it.  I’m not going to link to that since it’s a really old programme I’ve had ever since I used to work in radio many years ago and it’s not even supposed to work with XP.  The programme was bought by Adobe and now costs lots.  I like it though.  It works for me and I;m familiar with the interface and can use it to top and tail and normalize with no hassle.

Anyway back to the interview. It’s not a great recording, the husband thoughfully did it for me from home but I had all the sound recording software with me on my laptop so a rather precarious network of Y cables linking the computer to my Zoom,  not the most elegant set up but it’s audible.

I sound rather like a cross between a frog and Marlene Dietrich due to the cold but I’ll leave you to decide for yourselves.

Enough procrastinating… here it is…



Back From the West…

I got back from Ennis yesterday.  It was a pretty quick turn around just long enough for another round of signings and an interview with John Cooke on Clare FM.  I’ll post the interview when I get the chance.

I stayed the night with the sister of an old friend, who’s now a new friend and her lovely daughter Rachel.  It was a great night, just good food, nice wine and interesting conversation.  8-year-old Rachel paid me a massive compliment, using the presence of a real life author in the house (by which she meant me) as an excuse to stay up late.

It really made me think, talking to her about writing.  She writes stories herself and I was telling her how I had done the same when I was her age, in fact I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer.  I may have been a journalist for a decade but it’s only now I can really call myself a writer as well.

I’ve spent so long, over the years of being an aspiring writer, reading interviews with published authors talking about how they were always writing stories as children and knowing I had done the same gave me hope.  Seeing the same hope on Rachel’s face was a weird feeling, knowing that somehow over the last couple of months I’ve gone from aspiring to actual writer.

Now granted, Devil in the Red Dress is not a novel.  It might tell a fantastic story but it is one hundred per cent true.  But a story like that is easy to tell and I’ve tried to make the book the lively read it should be.  It’ll be a while yet before I turn to fiction although it’s something I have been interested in for a while.

My apologies if this post is completely all over the place.  I’ve had a raging cold for the last few days and my brain is still in a bit of a heap.  Hopefully normal service will be resumed in the next couple of days.  I’m getting a bit fed up with coughing and sniffling my way around and anyway, there’s work to be done!

Christmas Windows and Travel Plans…

I’m off to Ennis tomorrow as part of the Devil in the Red Dress push…more book signing and interviews in a quick round trip.  Last time I was there I was researching the book, this time it’s published and on the shelves.

There’s less pressure this time round but it’s still a busy enough schedule…why the train trip needs two changes I will never understand!  Plenty of people want to go to Ennis, why do they make it so awkward to get there?

Still I’m looking forward to it.  It’s a pretty little town, not to mention the fact it’s the setting for my action…I’m also taking the opportunity to catch up with some friends so it’ll be fun.

In between interviews this week I’ve been trying to make some headway into the whole Christmas palaver.  The Christmas windows have been up for the last couple of weeks and as usual they’re light years away from the fairytale visions that used to make a trip in to go Christmas shopping so much fun years ago.  It’s something that bugs me every year.

Back then you could go and look at the windows for Brown Thomas, Clerys or the Daddy of them all, Switzers and see moving puppets telling a Christmas story.  These days it’s all about making a stylish buck.  The shop owners won’t give the hard sell a rest for a couple of weeks during a season when people will always go shopping regardless.

It all changed several years ago when Switzers closed down and Brown Thomas took over.  The Switzers window used to be famous.  It would be unveiled without much pomp at around the same time as the Christmas lights went up on Grafton Street.

First look would always be at night.  I can remember stopping on my way home from a night out when I was in my twenties and the window was there in all it’s glory.  There were a few of us there and we all stopped and listened to the Christmas tunes belting out across the icy street and walked slowly along the length of the shop watching the animated story unfold in each successive window.

There were dozens of people there by the time we got to the last window.  Everyone was smiling and talking and laughing and it was suddenly just that little bit closer to Christmas and a little bit of cynicism had melted away.

Those days are long gone now though.  In these times of economic uncertainty I notice that even the more ornate displays carry price tags (once banished for the festive period).  Arnotts on Henry St has probably made the best effort with a miniature city glowing around the designer clad dummies.

Brown Thomas, where the Switzers windows used to be is this  year just a celebration of consumerism.  Maybe I’m being needlessly nostalgic but I think it’s sad that those windows are consigned to an Ireland long gone.  The Celtic Tiger has died or is at least in serious decline, it would have been nice to see shop owners do something just for the fun of it…something to make the kids happy and make it seem a little more like Christmas.

A gesture like that might even encourage more people into their shops than dangling shiny goods in front of their noses that will just put more strain on the credit card.

Now ok, this Christmas I’d rather people concentrated on buying books (I have a vested interest after all) but I miss the Christmas windows and I’d like to see them back!  Who’s with me?

An Interesting Conversation

I had an interesting conversation last night.  I had been out with friends at the Mont Clare Hotel on Merrion Square in Dublin but had to do a radio interview with Near FM. The folks at reception very kindly allowed me to take the call at the porters desk and everything went off swimmingly.

I was talking for around half an hour…I don’t think I let Pat, the presenter much of a look in, but Devil got a good plug.

It was only afterwards when I got talking to the girl on reception that another trial I have talked about here came up.  No matter what I talk about, the Finn Colclough trial keeps coming back into the frame.

Anyway it turned out that she had known the victim in that trial, Sean Nolan.  Obviously covering a high profile trial where there are a lot of press, there’s not really an opportunity to talk to the people involved…not that they’d want to anyway while the trial is going on.

We were talking about the trial and the eventual manslaughter verdict.  It was interesting to talk to someone with a personal involvement.  It’s easy to be too glib about these things when you cover them as a news story.  If we didn’t have the remove we wouldn’t be able to do our jobs but it does mean you can have too much of a remove sometimes.

I can totally understand how hard it was for the Nolan family to accept the manslaughter verdict.  Even if I might think myself that, given the evidence in the trial it was probably the only verdict the jury were likely to return, for them it’s never going to be any less raw than it was the day they heard the news.

I can’t imagine how any mother could deal with the loss that Charlotte Nolan has had to deal with, the loss of her younger son on the night he finished secondary school.  That’s something you can never forget and that will never get any easier to come to terms with.

It’s always interesting to meet someone who’s been personally touched by a story I’ve written about. Because no matter how much I might empathise, no matter how much compassion I might have the the victim or the accused, I’m always going to be at a remove, standing on the outside of the case observing it as it unfolds.

That’s just the nature of the job, but I can understand that others see the remove as unnatural or perverse in some way.  I might want to understand, to feel something to understand it better, but that will always be from a writer’s point of view and that means being on the outside.

I can see by the number of people who read my coverage of the Colclough trial, how raw a nerve this trial has struck.  It’s understandable, even if I might sometimes wish that more came looking for the book than for Finn Colclough and Sean Nolan.  There was something about that trial that made it different, it’s rare to see such a stark tragedy even amongst the daily litany of tragedies that makes up the day to day business of the Central Criminal Court.

I’m not sure how much I’ll be blogging next week.  I’m off down to Ennis again at the start of the week and I might be out of coverage.  More signings and interviews though…the book needs to be sold!

Just a Quick One Tonight…

I don’t have long to write here this evening so I’ll keep this brief.  I’m due to be on the Book Show on Near FM this evening via a phone link.  It’s nice to be able to do an interview with a community station.

I worked with Anna Livia FM for years while I was in college and it was fantastic experience.  While I was there I had opportunities to interview all kinds of people and cover all kinds of events.  I even got to go to the Eurovision Song Contest the last time it was in Ireland (back in the days…)

Anyway it’s nice covering all the bases.

Another day of Interviews

Today I was in Phantom FM on Phantom Daily with Simon Maher.  I think the interview went well.  It was nice to be able to talk about the websites and the American side of things.

While I was researching Devil in the Red Dress I was fascinated by the more high tech side of the case (as I’ve mentioned here before this was very much a trial of it’s time.)  I’ve linked to the websites mentioned in the trial (and in Devil) and I think you’ll agree they’re not the most convincing scams ever.

In many ways Sharon was a spammers dream…judging by the kind of websites she tried to enter into criminal activity with, she’s the kind of woman who would receive an email from Yasser Arafat’s widow asking for help to get his money out of the country (I know there have been a lot of different one’s since but that was always my favourite and anyway I’ve now got a better spam filter) and fall for it.  After all, she did sent €15,000 to someone behind a website who’d modelled their pitch on a T-shirt shop.

It was a nice relaxed interview and it was good to be able to talk about the more bizarre aspects of the case.

I think I also managed to convince the drivers of the taxis to and from the studios about the book as well…

Anyway, I’m still working on the trailer…I have a script now and an idea for an unusual approach…watch this space anyway…you will see the finished product here first!

After a Flurry of Activity…

The last couple of weeks have been absolutely nuts.  It’s only three weeks ago today that Sharon Collins and Essam Eid were sentenced.  A week after that I was working on the final edit of Devil in the Red Dress and a week and a half later we were celebrating the launch.

It’s only now that I can take time to take stock and suddenly I realise that apart from anything else I haven’t written a single Christmas card!  Tomorrow the first interviews start, first of all it’s out to East Coast Radio in Bray, Co Wicklow for a half hour chat, then on Wednesday it’s over to Phanton FM.  It’s still a bit weird being the interviewee rather than interviewer but I’m beginning to get used to it.

It seems that this is a subject it’s going to take people a long time to get tired of talking about – Sharon Collins managed to get herself into the papers again over the weekend by lodging her appeal through her solicitor.  That’ll be another circus when the time eventually comes around.

As I start looking forward to the interviews I’m suddenly having to think about what’s in the book.  You get to the stage in the last days of writing and editing where you couldn’t see the wood for the trees if you tried…it just becomes all trees and details.  Now I’m thinking about how to sell the story and it’s a whole different ball game.

I’m also thinking again about making a trailer but more of that in a few days.

I’ve written often here about the fact that I think that this is very much a defining trial of our time.  With the elements of sex, celebrity and excess, not to mention the Internet it has everything that seems to make our generation tick.

It fascinates me that I could find out so much about the lives of people I had never met, who live thousands of miles away.  Their past addresses, criminal records, school friends.  Trying to find out about people here in Ireland is a different matter entirely.

For Sharon Collins and Essam Eid the attitude was that whatever you wanted, be it a false marriage, a hitman or a deadly toxin, you could find it in a few clicks of the mouse online.  But there were many points during the trial where the short comings of Ireland’s access to the World Wide Web became all too clear.

When we heard about Sharon’s attempts to contact “Tony Luciano” from her home in Ballybeg House outside Ennis, for example there was always the mention of the appallingly slow dial-up speeds in the house.  Now this wasn’t a case from some time in antiquity, this was 2006 and her partner, PJ Howard was the head of a €60 million property business.  The problem was that broadband was simply not available.

So the most technologically advanced murder conspiracy plot this country has almost certainly ever seen was conducted at dial up speeds or in stolen moments during the working day.  The situation with broadband is a little better here in 2008 and broadband might have reached much further into the heart of Ireland but still there’s a lot further to go with the amount of information available online.

Whether you’re talking about government departments or the judiciary, the information available is general at best.  There are one or two exceptions but even they are firmly rooted in paperwork.  I recently filed my taxes using the Irish Revenues online service ROS.

It was a great service but in order to register I had to go through three different registration procedures, two of which required a secure password to be sent to me by traditional post.  Just to contrast this, I could access court documents in America with a password sent to me in a matter of hours through their secure server.

Collins and Eid might be pretty bad examples of how to use this incredible resource we have access to nowadays (see The Story Behind the Book for more details) but surely it’s time Ireland started making full use of the facilities available to them.  There are Irish companies who use the Internet well but they are still in the minority.

I’ve learnt a lot about what’s possible and what’s fantasy while researching Devil in the Red Dress.  I was surprised by how much possibility the Internet opens up, as a journalist I take Google for granted but there’s a lot more out there.

I’m very excited about the possibilities with the global village you get glimpses of with the Net but the antics of Collins and Eid only go to show that there are still plenty of dark corners out there were dodgy people lurk…and some are more successfully dodgy than others!

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