Monday 4 August 2008

An Interview - Eugene McEldowney

Eugene McEldowney is a former journalist, now retired, with plenty of time to do what he enjoys most, which is writing. He grew up in the Ardoyne area of Belfast but spent all his career in Dublin on the staff of The Irish Times. He now spends his time between Dublin and Spain.

Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

I’m writing a mainstream novel which looks at how the past has a way of catching up with the present. It is coming along quite well but it keeps changing which I regard as a good thing because it means the characters are coming to life. So I don’t know how it will turn out in the end.

Q2. Can you give us an idea of Eugene McEldowney’s typical up-to-the-armpits-in-ideas-and-time writing day?

When I’m writing, I set myself a target of 1000 words a day. Some days when a novel is going well, I can write much more but other days it might be less. When I’m engaged on a novel I try to spend four or five hours at the word processor, preferably in the morning when my mind is fresh but any time will do.

My method of working is to get the novel finished in a hard spurt and then go back and retune and refine. My novels tend to be around 100,000 words long which means I should get a first draft completed in 100 days ie about 3-4 months. The rewriting is less enjoyable than the initial draft when the creative ideas are flowing.

Often when I’m working on a project, ideas for other novels will come to me. So I may be working on one novel and thinking about another one and taking notes and doing research.

Q3. What do you do when you’re not writing?

I read a lot and watch cop dramas. I also go for long walks which gives me an opportunity to think about plot and character development. I have a wide circle of friends and try to keep in touch with them all. My other big interest is traditional singing and I am a member of several singing clubs which meet in Dublin. I get to a singing club at least once a week. I’m kept busy, believe me.

Q4. Any advice for a greenhorn trying to break into the crime fiction scene?

The best advice for any aspiring writer is to sit down and write. The other advice is to read widely. If an author impresses you with a novel, ask yourself how he/she managed to do it. Study a book from a technical point of view. Writers tell stories and everybody has experiences which is what a writer draws on. But you can also borrow ideas from other writers. There is nothing wrong with this. All writers including William Shakespeare have done it.

Be prepared for rejection. Most writers get turned down at the beginning unless they are either geniuses or extremely lucky. So be prepared for the long haul. Listen to good advice. Plot and pace are very important in crime fiction and these can be learned. But for me, character is supreme. If you can manage to create interesting characters, your reader will care about them and get drawn into the book.

Work hard and set targets and deadlines. A thousand words a day may sound like a lot but it can be achieved. Some writers manage much more. Writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.

Q5. Which crime writers have impressed you this year?

There is a crop of Northern Ireland writers who are producing very good work – Sam Millar, Adrian McKinty and Brian McGilloway. I read widely from Martina Cole to James Lee Burke to Graham Greene. My favourite crime writer is James Ellroy and Agatha Christie is always worth returning to particularly for plot construction.

This year I reread Peter Hoeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow which is one of my all-time favourite crime novels.

Q6. What are you reading right now?

I usually have several books going at once. I’m reading Antony Beevor’s The Battle for Spain which is a history of the Spanish Civil War and Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks. I also have In the Woods by Tana French waiting to get started.

Q7. Plans for the future?

Keep writing. I have several plot ideas swirling around in my head.

Q8. With regards to your writing career to date, would you do anything differently?

I would take my time. I think some of my books could have done with more refinement but I’m told that all writers think this. Publishers’ deadlines are fine for getting your ass in gear but I think a finished novel will always benefit by being left aside for a few months before final editing. It’s a balancing act.

Q9. Anything you want to say that I haven’t asked you about?

There is a massive market for crime fiction so sit down and get started… there are a thousand stories…….

Thank you, Eugene McEldowney!


adrian mckinty said...


Thanks for the review in the Independent. I really appreciate it man.

I thought I was nice to Belfast, it's certainly a lot prettier than it was in the 80's. Ask Ger, he's driving in every day.

Anyway cheers mate,


Gerard Brennan said...

Adrian - Do you have a link to the review or anything? I'd like to read it.


adrian mckinty said...


Here it is (sorry I dont know how to do hypertext in a comment)


Gerard Brennan said...

Adrian - Thanks for the link. I thought this was a particularly nice line, "Heads are blown off, necks broken and guts spilled in as much time as it would take to wipe the bar counter in a back-street shebeen."

To many more.


adrian mckinty said...

Gene's a terrific writer, as you'd expect with his history.

Gerard Brennan said...

Adrian - Mr McEldowney is on the ever expanding wish list. I'll get to him some day.