Writer and Author

Tag: Lying Eyes (Page 3 of 4)

The Reality of Being a Published Writer!

So Devil has been on the shelves a grand total of two days.  Most of those two days I’ve spent signing copies of it.  We are not talking about the glamorous author signings you hear the stars of the literary world talking about.  What I am referring to is standing in a crowded bookshop scrawling my signature in dozens of copies of my book while the bemused public work around me.

Now before I go any further let me make it one hundred per cent clear that I am not complaining.  I’ve been signing my copies of my first book today.  I’ve actually fantasised about the sheer mundanity of that kind of signing (the kind that doesn’t involve the general public but results in those “signed by the author” stickers you see in bookshops.

I might have writers cramp tonight, after signing several hundred copies but I honestly couldn’t think of anything I’d rather be doing.

Anyway, now that’s clear, back to my day.  Today I did the M50 circuit of Dublin shopping centres.  My brother-in-law was kind enough to ferry me around The Square in Tallaght, Liffey Valley and Blanchardstown shopping centres.  After a while, I couldn’t tell what shopping centre I was in.

The drill was simple.  We’d park.  Go into the centre and find the local branch of Easons.  I would then go and find a member of staff and explain the situation (this is something they don’t tell you when you’re an aspirant writer – that at some stage you would have to walk up to a complete stranger and ask if you can give them your autograph…lots of times).

Actually it turned out not to be as awkward as I had thought.  This is completely normal writerly behaviour apparently.  I suppose I should have worked that out after seeing all those “signed by the author” stickers over the years.

At one point, after the second or third centre, the brother-in-law commented that we should really have had a reality tv crew following us around.  Personally I’m really glad we didn’t.  Apart from wandering around several almost identical shopping centres looking for the obligatory Easons, the signing itself is a bizarre experience to say the least.  I must have looked like a kamikaze vandal going up to a pile of books in the middle of a display with my pen brandished at the ready.

One thing that surprised me about today was the warm reception I received in all of the shops.  Even though it was a Saturday afternoon a few weeks before Christmas people made time to accommodate me and put the little green stickers on my books. At this stage there must be barely a book in Dublin that doesn’t have my signature on the front piece.

It was particularly surreal today because Sharon had made the front page of the Herald (again).  So I was walking past her picture every time I past the newspapers on my way to the copies of Devil.  The news was rather unsurprising…she’s lodged her appeal.  So the story will have yet another chapter.

All in all today I’ve been to five shopping centres.  Tallaght, Liffy Valley, Blanchardstown, Dundrum and Stephens Green.  Finally I’m beginning to feel like a bona fide writer.  I could get used to this!

Finally Launched!

Devil in the Red Dress was launched to the world last night.  Arriving at the venue it was the first time I had seen more than one copy and could hardly contain my excitement!  Pamela and Silvana from my publishers made a lovely display…

A Pile of Devils

A Pile of Devils

My local Labour TD Joe Costello was kind enough to do the honours and gave the book a fantastic send off.  I was absolutely blushing by the time he’d finished saying nice things about it.  You can see me grinning in the picture below.



I was really touched by how many people turned up.  It was a lovely crowd and the celebrations went on well into the evening…I’ve been nursing a rather fuzzy head all day!

I think a good night was had by all…I spent the first few hours signing copies.  I’ve spent today going round bookshops signing more copies to go with that “signed by the author” sticker.  At this stage I’ve got a bad case of writers cramp (something I avoided through the whole process of writing Devil!)  In the picture below is myself, Joe Costello and his wife, Councillor Emer Costello.  Note the pretty poster behind me and the rictus in the hand gripping the pen!

Launch - Book signing.

Launch – Book signing.


The evening passed in an absolute blur (I think the only day that was that much of a whirl was my wedding day – thank god I have photographic evidence both events took place!)

I’m exhausted today.  As I said, I spent most of the day going around bookshops in Dublin city centre signing copies of Devil.  By the end of the day I think my signature had developed a certain flow to it (rather than the scrawl I use on official forms and cheques).  Mind you that could be purely subjective…in reality the signatures had started sloping sadly off toward the bottom right hand corner of the front piece.

It has been strange going into bookshops and seeing stacks of the book…it’s beginning to feel real now.  This is the beginning of a whole new journey and quite frankly, I can’t wait!

Less than 24 Hours to Go

By this time tomorrow night Devil in the Red Dress will be launched and will have officially been sent on it’s way.  As the launch gets closer I’m reminded of the days I spent working backstage in the theatre.

I thought I would be more nervous about tomorrow night but I suppose growing up as a theatre brat has prepared me for first nights.  My folks are both actors and I spent a lot of my teens going to both first and last night bashes.  My first jobs, in my summer holidays, were ASMing (Assistant stage manager if you’re not familiar with the term) for shows they were in.

Actually my title tended to be student ASM but came with the the same duties.  I would organise the props and change the scenery and help the actors with quick changes.

I’ve seen plenty of actors suffering from first night nerves but being back stage just felt the adrenaline rush of knowing that you’ve done all the preparation you can and now it’s in the lap of the gods.

That’s how I feel about tomorrow night.  The book is written and printed.  There’s nothing more I can do about that; the editing is finished and tonight it’s probably already on the shelves in some bookshops.  Now it’s up to me to step into the spotlight and play my part.

As the hours pass and we head towards tomorrow my mind keeps going back to those provincial theatres and the feeling as the audience took their seats when the play was about to start.  It was my job to call the time for the actors; the half, fifteen minutes before curtain up, ten, five and finally three – overture and beginners to the stage.

I remember sitting staring at the back of flats in the blue light of backstage beside the prop table.  Taped to the back of the flats were the prop lists, marked out scene by scene and the prop table was covered in a sheet of paper, similarly marked with outlines of the props drawn on to make keeping track easier.

There was always a hole somewhere on the flats through which you could peer out into the audience unseen and unblinded by the lights.  This time however I’m going to have to take centre stage.  It’s my name on the cover of the book and it’ll be me doing interviews to publicise it.

But when it comes down to it, this is the bit I recognise.  The waiting for reviews, getting an audience, talking it up.  This might be the first time I’ve had a book published but I feel as if I know where it goes from here.

So tomorrow night I’ll put on the slap put on my costume and step out.  And we’ll see where it goes from here.

Only Two Days to Go!

It’s only two days until Devil in the Red Dress is launched.  It should be on the shelves by the weekend.  Every time I walk into a bookshop I imagine how it’ll look on the shelves.  Now I don’t have long to wait to see if I’m right.

I’m concentrating on the book this week so I won’t be blogging about the current trials in the Four Courts.  I’ll be finding out about what happens in the Dane Pearse trial the same as anyone else – on the news.  It’s rather nice not to have to sit through another lot of post mortem evidence, even though after a while they become just data and facts.

A couple of us on the press bench were talking last week about the effect that following the courts has on you.  There was a general consensus that we’re generally speaking a cynical bunch.  Day after day seeing the worse side of humanity tends to have that effect.

One of the things that attracted me to the story of Sharon Collins and Essam Eid was the fact that with this trial there were no post mortems.  I’m not saying it wasn’t a harrowing experience for those who received a visit from “Tony Luciano” but the fact is that both Sharon Collins’ plot to kill her millionaire partner and his two grown up sons and Essam Eid’s scam to approach the “marks” and demand money to cancel the “hit” ended up miserable failures.

During the closing speeches in their trial, earlier this year, it was pointed out that, even without a body count, people had still been hurt.  Certainly listening to the victim impact statement given by Robert and Niall Howard at the sentence hearing it was clear that they had suffered immensely, living in fear since the incident and their relationship with their father seriously damaged by his refusal to give up on the woman who had plotted to have them killed.

But even taking their pain into account, this was still “light relief” compared to trials involving a violent death.  As I researched Devil the sheer breadth of farce in this plot kept taking me by surprise.  On this blog I have links to the websites that featured in the case…take a look, tell me, do these look like legitimate businesses?

Whoever happened upon hitmanforhire.net and thought they’d found the answer to all their problems was at best gullible, at worst deluded.  The fact that Sharon Collins admitted to buying a Mexican proxy marriage certificate from proxymarriages.com, even after receiving an email from the Mexican embassy telling her that double proxy marriages did not in fact exist in Mexico, is rather a strong indicator that her radar for a good Internet buy is a bit skewed.

I feel for the Howard brothers, as well as Sharon’s own two sons Gary and David Collins.  Even Eid and his co-conspirator Teresa Engle have children who do not deserve the humiliation of a connection with a case as ridiculous as this.  Sharon’s partner, P.J. Howard had to put up with the shame of having lurid sexual allegations made about him in court, allegation that he has since strongly denied.

But for an outsider’s point of view it’s an incredible story and despite all that humiliation, a comparatively victimless crime. Ricin may have featured but it was never actually called into play – if it had been we may have had a completely different story.

It might be a rather bleak and black comedy but it’s easy to see it as a comedy none the less.  Many have compared the plot to the Cohen brothers and it certainly would make a good companion piece to Fargo.  I hope that anyone who reads my book will get a sense of the story that reads like a movie plot.

It remains to be seen if it ever ends up on the silver screen but if it does, they won’t have to change a thing!

The Devil in the Red Dress has arrived!

Devil will hit the shelves at the end of the week.  I got my first copy on Friday and it feels strange to finally hold it in my hands complete with glossy cover and new book smell!  Seeing it sitting on the bookcase it somehow looks as if it’s not my book anymore – it gets to go out without me and have a life of it’s own now.

It’s been a very intense couple of months with first the trial then researching and writing the book.  Now I have to start the next bit…selling it.  On Thursday, the book will be officially launched then it’s due to hit the shops on Friday.  All the digging and prodding and frantic typing are at an end.

It’s hard to believe that Sharon Collins and Essam Eid were only sentenced two weeks ago.  It was an extraordinary end to an even more extraordinary story and I’m glad that I waited to give Devil in the Red Dress that final chapter but it has meant a flurry of activity since that day to get everything out on time.

But now the writing’s done and all that’s left is the marketing.  I’ll be promoting Devil the traditional way but am also keen to explore the new opportunities offered by the Internet.  The story of Collins and Eid is so much a story of our time and every part of this story has been firmly rooted on the Net.

The initial hook was the Hitmanforhire website, the email correspondence between Sharon and the fictional “Tony Luciano” that cooked up the plot, the ingredients for ricin were allegedly bought online for the recipe that had been sourced there and the conspirators finally met their downfall due a garda investigation that relied on technical evidence to solve the case.

Even my research for Devil was largely conducted online.  I was able to research the American side of the story from my laptop and found out more than I could ever which to know about the toxic properties of castor beans in some of the less salubrious chatrooms out in cyberspace.

If ever there was a trial that was rooted in the world we live in today it was this one…it would be nice if Devil gets it’s own life online.

Almost Time to Get off the Rollercoaster…

The Devil in the Red Dress is almost ready.  The first copies should arrive back from the printers this evening.  I’ve spent the day getting ready for the launch.

It’s a very odd feeling to invite people to my own book launch.  I’ve dreamed of having one, but now the one for Devil is only a week away it’s feeling all very real.  I’ve seen all the layouts for the cover and the text and the picture section but actually seeing it in a real book, actually holding it in my hands and seeing on the shelves.  That’s exciting.

Now all I have to do is find something to wear…maybe not red though…

Some Excellent Advice!

I’ve been taking a little bit of a hiatus from this blog over the past couple of days.  We’re nearing the end game with the book and it’ll be soon enough when I have to sell The Devil in the Red Dress all over town and beyond.  There’s been a bit of a hiatus personally too so I’m dealing with that but I’ve been reading up on line.

One piece of excellent advice I read from was Moonrat, at her blog Editorial Ass. With a book so close to publication it’s hard not to start thinking about cold hard figures and with the global economic situation, well it’s enough to give a first time author a bit of a wobble.

So I’ve decided to take Moonrat’s excellent advice tomorrow and I’m going book shopping tomorrow.  Well for purely selfish reasons it makes excellent sense.  Bit apart from that, book shopping is something I love to do.  There’s nothing like the smell of new books or the sound of the pages opening for the first time or the feel of a lovely new somewhat silky paperback cover ready to be opened.

When I was a kid one of my favourite places was a second hand shop in my home town of Wimbledon.  Quite apart from the fact that they had the most amazing collection of vintage clothing from anywhere from the 1890s to the 1950s, my favourite part of the shop was the basement, where they kept the books, the whole place smelt of old paperbacks.

I grew up making sure all my coats and jackets had book sized pockets so I could always have with me whatever I was reading.

Now I write myself, I have an ever growing pile by the bed. It takes me for ever to get round to reading something but one day I will. I still get excited when I find a new book that I really want to read and buy it.  Then I go off about my business and there’s this familiar weight in it’s little paper bag.

Anyway, I’m going to rediscover the pleasure of buying books tomorrow. I have a feeling they’re going to feature highly on our Christmas list this year.  Maybe I’ll even get the chance to fit in some reading as well…

Finally Ready to Roll

So it’s all done bar the shouting.  The Devil in the Red Dress is almost ready to hit the shelves and several months of stress and hard work is finally nearing fruition.  My story of lyingeyes98 and hire_hitman has finally come close to being complete, apart from a last bit of polishing.

The last couple of days, writing an end to the story and composing and epilogue, not to mention giving interviews in the first throws of publicity for The Book, I’m really beginning to appreciate the absurdity of this story.

Now there’s been a lot of discussion around the country about whether the jury were right or not to convict the Clare housewife of plotting to kill her millionaire boyfriend and his two sons.  I’ve heard a lot of arguments about whether Sharon Collins is innocent or guilty and naturally enough the conspiracy theories started flying before she’d even hit the prison yard.

I’ve spent the past couple of months researching the subject.  It comes in handy when you’re writing a book on the subject.  I also sat in court every day of that 32 day trial.  I have read all the emails sent to and from the website hitmanforhire.net, both those from Sharon to the mysterious Tony Luciano or Essam Eid, who may or may not have been a hitman (even a jury couldn’t agree on that one) and the ones from the two hapless guys who contacted the website looking for work (?).

No matter what you think of the hapless Mr Eid, who entered into a life of crime only to be arrested on both outings, the emails sent by “Bernie Lyons”, the woman who kept forgetting not to sign herself Sharon, point in one direction only.

There are a lot of emails.  It makes fascinating reading  – it’s not often you get to read a plot from beginning to end.  But one thing is clear, at least one of these parties was absolutely sure what she wanted.

During the trial both defence teams made a lot of effort to prove that neither Collins nor Eid had actually written those emails.  But when the emails from Tony Luciano are written in the bouncy but broken English that mirrored exactly the language in the statements made to gardai after his arrest in September 2006.  The emails from Lying eyes also have a haunting familiarity for anyone who sat through Sharon Collins trial.

I spoke to her several times during those eight weeks, I watched her give evidence over two days.  I’ve spent months poring over those emails and I’ve come to one inevitable conclusion.  Either the person who wrote them was a Pulitzer worthy author or an Oscar ready method actor or a certain blonde 45-year-old woman from County Clare simply didn’t cover her tracks sufficiently.

I know that it’s easy to look at a story this complex and see some hidden conspiracy but sometimes Occam’s Razor is the way to go.  As the gardai pointed out at Sharon Collins sentencing on Monday, she is the ONLY person who could have sent EVERY email to the wannabe hitman and who was also in the right country to place EVERY phone call to Mr Luciano.

There will no doubt be an appeal at some stage and they will find as they do, but I’ve read a hell of a lot of evidence during the writing of this book and anyone who could have set up Sharon Collins could have commanded a hell of a lot larger prize than the mere €100,000 demanded by Eid when he landed up on her “step-sons” doorstep and demanded money to drop the hit.  We’re talking world class hackers here.

I suppose I’m just asking the general population to look at the facts before they cry conspiracy.  It’s a complex case, believe me! But the outcome certainly appears pretty straightforward when you look at the evidence given in court.

We’re not talking about an innocent little ingenue here.  We’re talking about a 45-year-old divorcee and mother of two grown up sons who knew what side her bread was buttered on and wanted to secure her position.

Nothing wrong with that…but I wouldn’t recommend you look for the ultimate solution on Yahoo, or Google for that matter.  As Sharon Collins found out, there are an awful lot of fakes on the Internet!

Finally the End Really is in Sight!

So Sharon Collins and Essam Eid woke up this morning knowing how long they’d be looking at the same four walls.  It’s hard to believe that after all this time the story finally has an end.  Now all that’s left was to give my story an end which shouldn’t have been so difficult since they’re one and the same story.

It was a ridiculously busy day yesterday.  The sentence hearing went on most of the day and by the time I finished work it was almost ten o’clock so I was looking forward to a fairly gentle start to the day before settling down to writing.

But some time after 8 the phone rang and there was a voice saying they were calling from the Gerry Ryan Show.  Now Gerry Ryan is one of the top broadcasters in Ireland.  He’s also a pretty integral part of the Sharon Collins story.  One of the most lurid elements of the trial was a certain letter recovered by gardai from the hard drive of one of the computers Sharon had access to.

This letter, only part of which survived, had been written in a fit of pique around April 2006.  It was part of an email to the Gerry Ryan Show and the section that survived was a catalogue of allegations about PJ Howard’s sexual tastes.  Now Sharon has said that these allegations were taken out of context and PJ has said they are just totally untrue but the Gerry Ryan letter is still one of the most distinctive pieces of evidence.

Well today it wasn’t Sharon contacting the show, it was the show contacting me.  I ended up reminiscing with Mr Ryan himself about his appearance in court.  An unexpected start to the day to say the least.  And after the Gerry Ryan Show it was Neil Prendeville on 96FM in Cork to follow up on a piece I did for him before the sentence yesterday…all before 10.30 in the morning.  Then Spin 103 just before 2.  I suppose this is what they mean by publicity – I’m feeling positively over exposed but if it gets The Devil in the Red Dress out to a wider audience then needs must.

But the main work of the day was writing my final chapter.  In fairness this is a story that pretty much tells itself but there was still an awful lot to cover just giving an account of yesterday’s events.

It’s now almost done and now the real work begins.  It’ll be a while yet before I can stop telling this story but I’m beginning to look forward to moving into the next phase of this author business.  Right now though I’m so tired I could fall over so a more in depth post will just have to wait until tomorrow.

An Extraordinary Day

So Sharon Collins and Essam Eid will both be serving six years in jail.  The sentences when they were finally handed down after a long day of evidence and pleas for clemency.  Then there was reaction to gather and copy to file.  It’s been a long day.

So finally the story has an ending – at least until Sharon’s legal team get an appeal underway, as we were informed that they would do by her solicitor Eugene O’Kelly at the obligatory scrum outside the gates of the Four Courts.

The sentence hearing itself was particularly well attended.  It’s hard to believe that in the early days of the trial, when people were still finding it hard to grasp just how extraordinary this trial was going to be, that there was room for any hacks to have their pick of seats.

Today was a different case entirely.  What seemed like half the Bar descended like a flock of black crows, jostling for seats with the grannies that seem to multiply every time you look the other way.  There was a particularly animated crowd of onlookers today, all taking their seats early for what did turn out to be one of the liveliest sentence hearing’s we’ve seen in a while.

Right from the off there was gathering excitement when word got round that PJ Howard, Sharon’s number 1 victim and simultaneously number 1 fan club had left his Spanish hideaway to support her in Court.

He took his seat beside his sons in the space they had occupied in the early days of the trial, two benches behind the barristers for the various parties.  Sharon had also arrived with plentiful support.  Her mother Bernadette was by her side, looking frail and tense.  Her former husband Noel was there as well as he had been before to support the mother of his two sons.

And of course her boys were there.  Gary and David as stalwart as ever sitting by their mother’s side, although today a prison officer sat between underlining her new status.

Essam Eid was last to take his seat.  He was wearing a brown striped jumper with a lilac shirt, a deviation from his standard court uniform, and a dark suit.  Sharon, in her usual black trouser suit had also chosen a mauve blouse – the first and only time they had coordinated during the long and eventful trial.

She had lost the few pounds that had been added to her birdlike frame at her previous court appearance and her hair looked freshly done, though still longer than it had been before her conviction.  Her face was almost free of makeup and the tension was showing.

We started off with a run through of the well known facts.  Chief Inspector John Scanlon took the stand and guided us through the investigation and the famous plot between Lying Eyes and Tony Luciano (see The Story Behind the Book).

Once we’d gone through the facts it was time for the victim impact statements.  Robert and Niall Howard talked about their trauma and shock at such a plot so close to home and their embarrassment at being irrevocably in the public eye.

Then all the heads in the press benches came up as we discovered that not only was PJ going to take the stand but had hired his own counsel and had come to court with a solicitor.  This could only mean one thing…that whatever he had to say was something that the DPP were not going to be madly happy about.

Sure enough, it wasn’t long before we heard that PJ had prepared a victim impact statement of his own but the DPP weren’t happy about it being read in court as they said it went somewhat beyond the bounds of these kinds of statements, being basically a character reference for the woman he was refusing to give up on.

So we were treated to a spat between PJ and the Gardai, in which PJ said no one had told him he could make a victim impact statement and the gardai said he had known that perfectly well.  PJ took the stand to tell how he had been left out in the cold.  Then Detective Sergeant Michael Moloney took the stand after a brief moment where he passed PJ on his way out of the witness box that showed the businessman’s animosity towards the authorities who had locked his partner away.

As they passed PJ leaned in and growled something under his voice at the Sergeant.  There was obviously no love lost there.

He was eventually allowed to give his statement and read it from the stand.  He sang Sharon’s praises and asked for her to walk free from the court on a suspended sentence.  His pleas would not be successful.

Sharon had a lot of support today, there were character references from the Bishop of Killaloe and the Mayor of Ennis, not to mention an ode to her parenting abilities from her husband Noel.

Ultimately it would all come to nothing though.  She still got six years, only one year less than the infamous Black Widow, Catherine Nevin herself.

Her co-accused Essam Eid, as always somewhat neglected in proceedings in which he had joint billing, had no such support but fared equally.

We heard that the dapper 53-year-old had a serious heart condition and needed long term medical supervision for that and his diabetes.  He was isolated in prison we were told, spending his time alone in his single cell and swapping his poker for Solitaire.

Even so he’s also been given six years, although since he’s been locked up since his arrest in September 2006 he’ll be going home considerably sooner that the Devil in the Red Dress herself.

Sharon was dry eyed when the sentence was handed down but her fingers played with a button on her suit jacket which she held closed protectively over her stomach.  Her bottom lip only began to tremble noticeably while she listened to her co-accused’s fate.

Afterwards there was the usual flurry of reaction and the press pack were rushing around the Four Courts trying to get every piece of the story covered.  A group of use followed PJ to the Law Society photocopier where he provided copies of his statement for our eager hands.

Sharon’s views came through a statement from her solicitor and with them an apology to PJ for the scandalous letter to the Gerry Ryan Show that had been read out in court.  It was incomplete and out of context she said, but stopped short of saying it was a tissue of lies.  PJ for his part had angrily refuted every allegation as part of his statement.

It’s an unfortunate fact that none of that family will ever fade fully into obscurity.  Their proximity to the story has lent them a fascination that will take a long time if ever to dull for the press.  There was a lot of criticism from Sharon’s side about us today.  She pretty much complained that she felt everyone was looking at her – which of course they were today.

So the next thing for me is to finish the book.  It’s nice to see the finishing line in sight at long last, even if I’m going to be contributing to keeping this story alive when the book hits the shelves.  But then – do stories like this ever really die – no matter how much those involved would like them to?

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