Welcome to my new website/blog.  First off , I wish to say a huge thank you to the creative and gifted Colleen Sheehan for her work on this site and for giving it its professional gloss.  Anyone who would like support in starting up a new website, or have their Facebook or Twitter pages redesigned, their ebooks formatted or any one of a number of excellent services, click on this link.  You will not regret it.  write.DREAM.repeat Book Design

Friday, 24 June 2016



Writing is writing, whether it is about crime or romance. Everything I have been saying applies. But maybe there are one or two other things I might mention.

But first, let me make a confession. When I started my first crime novel, The Doom Murders   I had no idea what I was doing. Any connection I had to crime and criminality boiled down to the one occasion when I had to explain to a cop on the Warrenpoint Road why I was doing 76 miles per hour. Other than that, my connection with crime was nil. I had no idea how to go about writing a murder mystery or how the book should be plotted. I didn’t know how I should leave clues, how to drop in red herrings. I knew nothing of police procedure, police ranks, police stations, investigation procedures, or anything about the kinds of briefings that go on in what are called ‘Incident Rooms’. Yet….The Doom Murders has, to date, garnered over 55 reviews in the USA (most of them 4 and 5 stars), and has won three awards, and I have a number of communications from screen writers and novelists on the USA side, congratulating me on the accuracy and detail of my detective’s investigation procedures. For example, a review from American female crime writer contained this sentence: "The author knows the methodology of a police investigation, as I understand it to be handled in the UK. While I am no expert in law and procedure on the other side of the Atlantic, I am something of an expert on American police procedure, and I found the procedures here believable and enjoyable to read."

As the Americans would say, “Go figure!”

Now all of this might sound like bragging…uh…well...that’s probably because it is bragging. But I need to make an important point. How did all this happen? How could I have gone from abysmal ignorance to this … apparent ... level of expertise? I think you’ll find my answer encouraging. I did only two things and was able to rely heavily on a third.

1.I BOUGHT A LITTLE BOOK barely 150 pages, by Michael O’Byrne (an ex-police officer) called, ‘The Crime Writer’s Guide to Police Practice and Procedure’

2. I PHONED A VERY PLEASANT AND INFORMATIVE WOMAN DETECTIVE SERGEANT at the Newry Police Station who was on duty during a quiet and uneventful evening and who happy to spend an hour on the phone with me answering every question I could think of.

Armed with her answers and O’Byrne’s book, I set off into the unknown with only my imagination, my annoyance at certain religious anomalies that were afflicting the society in which I live, and whatever there was in my head after years of reading crime and thriller novels and watching murder shows on television.


I think there’s never been a better time to become a crime writer. With the world of the internet at your beck and call, you can find the answer to hundreds of issues and ensure complete authenticity in all that you write…provided that you check your sources and don’t start making stuff up.


Crime is one of the most popular genres and thus a good area to be writing in…except that the competition is fierce. I have just time to make a couple of points from what I have learned through actually writing a few novels.

1. READ AS MANY CRIME NOVELS AS YOU CAN. Reading bestsellers is the best way to understand what makes a good crime novel. You’ll see how to introduce seeming random groups of events and people who finally come together as part of a coherent whole.

Know and understand his every thought, feeling, motives for killing, how he would go about it. He has to be a real person if he is to be a convincing killer. Be the killer. Live in his head. Otherwise you won’t know what he’s going to do next. It would help if you are psychopathic, a person who nurses all kinds of grievances and animosities, hates everybody around you, and are constantly devising horrible ways to kill half the people you work with. But, most of us will simply have to extrapolate these feelings from our imagination or from tv and books we read.

and make each one of them a real living person. This will also help with plotting because the characters can only behave in accordance with the traits you give them and so much of the action will have to run along lines that are natural for the characters. Plot will develop to a very large degree out of this interaction. So, you need to know all of your characters intimately, how they think and feel. Know their every thought. That will help to ensure real interaction between them and will also ensure that what happens follows logically from the type of people who are involved in the action. Most of the reviews of my books refer to the characters. Norma Miles, a reviewer, said recently about Thje 11.05 Murders   "This is only the second of Brian O'Hare's Belfast set detective mysteries, but already Chief Inspector Sheehan and his team are becoming old friends as they investigate another murder in their city, so well does the author portray his characters." And Max Tomlinson, an American writer, says, "But it’s the richness of the characters that really gives this book its authenticity."


Try to add something to the murders that lifts them out of the mundane…check out the biblically inspired killings in The Doom Murders

5.DON'T CHEAT THE READER; plant plenty of red herrings but also plant genuine clues. (I read a mybook recently in which a character who spoke briefly with the investigator at the very beginning of the book, who was never mentioned again, but who turned out to be the killer. No one could ever have guessed that and, of course, there would have plenty of annoyed readers throwing that book down.

6.ENSURE THAT THERE ARE AT LEAST THREE OR FOUR VIABLE SUSPECTS. It’s a mystery book; you have to keep your readers guessing

If you choose a contemporary setting for your novel there are high-tech detection procedures and forensic techniques to get your head around. Fortunately, the internet makes researching the facts of crime detection relatively easy. There are lots of websites you can use to find out the basics of how an investigation works and how a forensic investigation proceeds.

Make sure you keep careful notes on who has done what and when so that your writing doesn’t suffer from continuity errors. Some people use a detailed plan to do this, something they can keep referring back to. Others, including myself, are not great about plans. But the very least you should do is have a calendar of events so that there is a very clear progression When you say something like the following morning, you should be sure that this follows exactly from the Saturday night of the 21st of May or whatever and not actually a week later, a week during which three other important events have taken place.. One of the early drafts of my first novel was full of errors of this kind. I was lucky to spot one…and that led me to check the whole thing for general continuity of dates, times and events. I couldn’t believe how far out I was with a whole lot of them. I am now a great advocate of the event calendar…with each event slotted into its time and date.. This way you can refer back to the calendar if you become unsure of when a particular event is actually taking place in the novel.

... to ensure that the early part of the book has enough information in it to justify additional stuff that you want to bring in later. I always have. I had to keep going back to the murders to add in extra stuff as I progress through the writing. For example, there were times when I needed certain things to happen later in the story but they would not have made sense unless the seeds for them had been sown earlier on and that meant, often, that I had to go back and change, or add to, what I had written before, to plant those seeds. There was a lot of that backing and fro-ing…indeed, it continues to be a significant feature of my writing, even today.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016


Note:  To read the earlier posts, you will have to scroll down this page.

So, how do you become a writer?
To write you will definitely need the building bricks…grammar, vocabulary, grammar, an awareness of structure…. character, plot, dialogue, adjectives, adverbs, dialogue attribution…I can’t go into any of that here. There is just so much of it. I simply wouldn’t have the time. I’d need a year of classes. All can be learned in writing or even ordinary English language classes…

but for me the building bricks are best learned from the experts...from great writers. So, read everything you can get your hands on…read stuff by established writers, writers with credibility.

Where does the talent to write come from?
My belief is that talent pretty much develops itself. When I was a kid we studied Latin at school. We came across all sorts of saying and idioms. One comes to mind now: Poeta nascitur, non fit. A poet is born, not made. I suppose that applies equally to writers. There has to be a certain built-in instinct there that cannot be manufactured. Am I saying that these skills are already there and inherent and that if they aren’t, forget about writing? No, I’m not. BUT… the skills have to be learned and, to me, there are TWO ways learn them


... from great writers. Read, read, read… Read everything you can get your hands on…read stuff by established writers, writers with credibility. Experience of great writing will influence the way we think and write in later life.
When I was a teenager, a boarding school student with nothing much better to do, I read all the classics I could get my hands on. I loved them, devoured them, I re-read many of them over and over. I read Austen, the Brontes, Dickens, Thackery, Wells, Twain, Defoe, Swift, Stevens, Trollope, Melville, Buchan, Baroness Orkzy, Alexander Dumas…and many more. All of these were the constant companions of my adolescence. I loved reading! But all the time I was reading I never gave any thought to being a writer. I suppose that my history of reading everything great that I could get my hands on made me feel that it would be idiotic of me to even contemplate trying to emulate these great writers. But unknown to me, while I was reading. I was absorbing so much more than just the stories. By some form of literary osmosis rather that by any deliberate intent I was picking up something of the wonder of imagination, an unconscious understanding of plotting, of character development, of structure, of dialogue. I was picking up a sense of writing techniques and styles …just even the way to use words, to make them my servants on paper, as it were.

You will need to write a lot if you want to become a writer. When you get to the state of being enthusiastic about expressing your thoughts, when you have a picture in your mind that you want others to see, when you become concerned about reporting that idea, about painting that vision, about bringing it to some kind of clarity… you will turn to writing. And when you write something, you want you first draft to be good. BUT when you re-read the first words you write, you will suffer disappointment because they’re nowhere nearly as good as you though they would be. Ernest Hemingway once said: ‘The first draft is always shit.’ So, once you have a crappy first draft, you improve on it, keeping in all the good bits and dumping the rubbish. Then you rewrite again. You read it aloud to see how it sounds…how it flows. Elmore Leonard said, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” (It’s a bit like the difference between good acting and obvious acting.)
So you work on it. You leave it. You go back to it and make more changes. And in doing this you begin to learn the craft because writing, like any skill is learned through practice and the best practice…and the best writing… comes in rewriting. You learn to recognise, too, when you are being pedantic or trying to impress. So,   write to be understood, not to impress.

1. write every day;
2. always carry a notebook (short-term memory lasts only three minutes. Without the notebook you will lose loads of good ideas.)
3.  have your own writing space. (You need private uninterrupted time and space in which to write.)

Of course there’s more to writing than style and the vocabulary you use. You’re offering a view life as you see it from your point of view. That’s all you can do. It’s just the way you see the world. And you’ll reveal these views through the eyes and mouths of your characters. Characters speak, feel, act…and they way they speak or act will reveal something about them and something about you and your view of the world. People interact with each other in real life; your characters will also have to interact with exch other in your writing.So, relationships should be at the centre of your stories. They will make you think about your own life, the people that you know, and what each of them might encounter in their day-to-day lives…and your writing will gravitate more and more towards truth. Actually, this had never even entered my head until a little while ago when another writer reviewed one of my books. He said something that had me scratching my head in puzzlement. He said:        "Murder investigations must be like this in real life: the discovery of layers of complications and interwoven situations which tell the reader things worth knowing about the human condition, regardless of the mysteries being unravelled."

I had to go back over the book to see what he was talking about because I had not deliberately set out to include this element in what I had been writing about. Me? Pontificating about the human condition? I wouldn’t dare. Yet, according to this critic, somehow I did.

So, much can be said on the subject of writing style, plotting, etc., but what’s most important is that you keep writing. The more you write, the better you will get.

Ultimately, writing success boils down to hard work, imagination and passion, or, to coin a phrase from something Thomas Edison once said, writing is about ten per cent inspiration and ninety per cent perspiration. And the perspiration is in the rewriting as much as in the research, the preparation, the first laborious drafts.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016



When I was a young lecturer I became involved in writing academic reports of various kinds for the Department of Education in Northern Ireland. I was chatting with a senior staff inspector at a course one time and I said, “Why did you pick me to write these reports?”
I was initially upset, almost insulted, by the answer. “We have had reports written by other people but much of it is jargonistic and confusing. Your stuff is dead easy to read.”

Dead easy to read? Did that mean that my writing was superficial? That it was simplistic? That it lacked depth? To be honest, for quite a while I felt genuinely aggrieved by his comment. ‘Dead easy to read’ seemed to me to detract for the depth of argument, the subtleties of meaning, that I knew were there. I wondered if people reading my stuff were missing the good that was in it. I said as much to the inspector and he laughed at my concerns. “Anyone,” he told me, “can discuss complex issues in complex terms, particularly using the jargon of the topic. It looks and sounds great but more often than not is confusing and confused. Sometimes it degenerates into gobbledegook. Your skill lies in the fact that you can deal with complex issues in a jargon free way that allows your reader to follow your arguments and still be with you when you arrive at your conclusions.”

I thought about it for a day or two and finally arrived at two conclusions.

ONE: that he had actually paid me a compliment and,

TWO: that I was going to have to radically examine my writing style and try to understand what it was that I had been doing so that I could do it as a deliberate process. And I determined that above all things, clarity would be the hallmark of anything I would write in the future.


and if people wanted to call it ‘easy’ or ‘simple’, then I would accept that as a compliment.

So it is now my belief that writing styles can fall into 4 categories:


described using COMPLEX LANGUAGE (to impress, to blind, and ultimately to confuse … frequently degenerates into gobbledegook).

using COMPLEX LANGUAGE (to give the ideas a veneer of intellectual worth that they do not have).

3. SUPERFICIAL IDEAS using simple or NAIVE LANGUAGE (the writing of the immature)


4. COMPLEX IDEAS, something with some depth to it expressed in CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS  LANGUAGE  (Dead easy to read.)

NB: Always aim for Number 4.

Monday, 20 June 2016


I delivered a talk recently on writing and getting published. I intend to post bits of the talk over the next while. here is the first instalment.

A teacher of English Literature was lecturing a class of adolescents on one of the syllabus’s prescribed modern novels. She selected a short passage which included the following sentence:

“Vanessa’s passage was impeded by a blue door at the side of the building”

She read the sentence aloud and said to the class, “What did the author mean when he said the door was blue?”

Heads went down and none of the students would meet her eye. So the teacher went on, “What we have here is a clear metaphor for the angst, the anxiety, I might even say the Weltschmerz, that can afflict modern youth as they seek answers to life’s most basic questions. There is a specific significance in the use of the word ‘impeded’ here, with all its implications of psychological conflict, especially as it is linked to the unmistakeable nuance of melancholia so strikingly impressed upon the inner consciousness by the deliberate choice of the colour blue.”

It so happened that, a couple of weeks later, the writer of this book was doing a book-signing at the local bookshop. One of the students, a studious young male, went along to have the famous author sign his copy of the book. As the author was writing his signature, the boy said, “Do you remember that bit in the book where Vanessa was impeded by a front door and you said, ‘The door was blue.’”

The writer thought for a moment and said, “Oh, yes! I do.”

“What did you mean when you said the door was blue?”

The writer eyed the boy up and down, mystified by his question. “I meant the door was blue. What else could I have meant?”

Literary Deconstruction
Sometimes I wonder if literature teachers, in their enthusiasm for literary deconstruction, that is, reading hidden meanings into an author’s text and coming up with a host of hypotheses about intent, do so at the cost of creating a mystique around the nature of writing that can confuse young would-be writers and distract them from the essential need for clarity in writing. I had a literature teacher once whose outlandish explanations of what authors meant easily rivalled that of the teacher in this anecdote. It got to the stage where I could scarcely understand anything I was reading, so convinced was I that I was missing all sorts of significant underlying messages. And, of course, I always assumed that there was no point in me ever trying to be a writer because I would never be able to write anything that contained hidden depths, that contained meaning other than the obvious. But sometimes interpretation is nothing more subtle than accepting the meaning that is there. There may be, often will be, subtlety in a line or a phrase, but you will need support from the context before letting your minds run riot about it.

For me, interpretation of intent is nothing more subtle than accepting the meaning that is there. BUT, of course, writers do use words, ideas, characters, with specific nuances in order to manipulate the reader.  That’s what writers do.  It’s built in to their DNA. These subtleties are there to be seen by the astute reader.

 Other subtleties come almost unconsciously from the innate values, principles, and the attitudes that drive the writer’s normal existence We are all born into a certain kind of life – we have parents, siblings, peers, an neighbourhood with a specific environment, teachers, social circles… and we assimilate, unknowingly, attitudes and values from the milieu in which we have lived and grown up. These values will emerge in your writing and, until you are a very experienced writer, very aware of what you are writing and what you are saying, there will be all sorts of messages underpinning your writing without you realising that they are there. So, don’t worry too much about hidden meanings and symbolisms.  Future critics of your work will find loads of meaning that you didn’t know was there.  It’s there because any writers who writes honestly…who writes his or her truth… will inevitably leave parts of themselves in the pages.