CORK city resident Denis Cronin had a long and busy career in business, but always had an interest in writing.
Now, after a steep learning curve on the work involved in preparing a manuscript for publication, that grá for creative writing has blossomed into his recently-published first novel – The Stain.
It is a proud moment for Denis, and one that is a long time coming.
“Although I’ve worked in international business for most of my professional life, I have always been interested in writing, mostly poetry, pieces of prose, short stories but always for my own pleasure,” he tells The Echo.
“A few years ago, I assembled a collection of poetry but never made the leap to having it published.”
What helped make the leap possible was a scene that wouldn’t let go. Denis hit upon an initial idea that refused to leave him until it was down on paper. Once that scene was written, the bones of his plot quickly took shape.
“I had this small scene in my head - my head is generally full of random stuff, the mad and the mundane, always competing to get my attention,” he explains. “I’m hyperactive - and over a few weeks the scene kept reappearing, until eventually I got a little quiet time to myself and I put in on a page.
“Before long I was at four or five chapters. The scene was about a guy who meets someone from his past and who imparts something, a secret, which causes him a serious dilemma, knocks him from his comfortable orbit, and forces him to confront it and himself in order to resolve it.”
The novel opens in Dublin. While two busy businessmen share a meal during a work trip, an unexpected encounter leads to a revelation from the past of Irishman Jack.
Separately, his American colleague Anthony is also soon thrown a curve ball in his personal life.
The men grapple with the upheaval in their lives while a daily counter tells the reader the narrative is ticking inexorably to its climax.
In an ambitious move for a debut novelist, Denis merges his fictional plot with very real events of recent years – something which he admits was challenging. He says careful research was key.
“The story is in three parts and the first part, which forms about half the book, is about fictional characters and events,” he says.
“In writing fiction, I was limited only by my imagination and not very many restraints, except the obvious ones like plot or character believability.
“Part two begins to introduce real people who become central to an actual event which plays out in part three of the drama.”
The story unfolds over a four-week period in the spring of 2017. Scenes in the U.S are set against the background of Donald Trump’s presidency, while on this side of the Atlantic, the UK and Europe wrestle with Brexit.
“When I was writing about a relatively recent actual situation, I was governed by the event details and characters, and therefore it required solid research to ensure that I was being true to those people and that situation,” Denis says.
“The real challenge came when I needed to insert fictional characters into a real event and real people’s lives.”
Of course, once he had dealt with the challenge of research and writing, the next step was publication.
In self-publishing his novel, in many ways Denis took a step back into the business world.
“I read somewhere recently that self-publishing is like setting up a little business and there’s a certain amount of truth in that, particularly when you’re doing it for the first time,” he says.
“When I approached the printing house with my manuscript, their first words were: ‘OK, now the pain starts’.
“I laughed; they didn’t!”
Denis says he has learned a vast amount in a short space of time.
“The process of self-publishing – the professional editing, formatting, developing the art work, agreeing the print - was a really great experience,” he says. “I knew nothing beforehand; I at least know the process now.
“And, of course, self-publishing has to be self-funded, so you need to be careful that you’re not putting your money solely into a vanity project and that you’ll at the very least recoup your costs.”
From editing and publication, Denis moved to promotion.
“The first thing I had to decide was how to sell it and I found the Irish book selling platform buythebook.ie,” he says.
“In relation to promotion, I discovered that you can get so far by word of mouth, your friends and family, and their friends, but it’s only as wide as the circle goes and then it dries up.”
The platform of social media has become increasingly important in book promotion in recent times, but Denis is focusing on other methods for now.
“I know that social media is a significant promotional medium but I’m not really in that space, so I’ve work to do there,” he says.
“And then there’s putting myself in front of book clubs, which I really enjoy because you get very honest and immediate feedback!”
As part of his promotional efforts Denis was a recent guest at a meeting of the Frank O’Connor Book Club in Mayfield.
In addition to feedback from impartial readers, Denis admits he was also nervous about the reaction from within his family.
“The book deals with adult themes, some quite explicit and I waited until I had printed copies to show it to the kids, and although they’re all in their thirties, I was still especially nervous about their reaction,” he explains.
“But they read it and gave me a thumbs-up which was a relief, although they did joke that they read one or two passages with one hand over their eyes. At least I think it was a joke!”
While work continues on promoting The Stain, Denis tells is also back at his writing desk.
“I have the concept for a second novel and I’ve already started to put pen to paper,” he says.
“It too will require a level of research but if all goes well I’m hoping to have a manuscript by late spring.”
Whether its researching, plotting, writing or promotion – Denis is bringing all his drive from the business world to his new creative career.
The Stain, by Denis Cronin, is available on Irish book platform buythebook.ie and is also available as an ebook on Kindle and from Amazon.