Thursday 19 April 2018


Cormac O'Keeffe's "5 STAR READ" Black Water appeared on the blog the other day - here.

Cormac was kind enough to submit to a bit of questioning on his reading and writing habits...

I’m guessing the book writing’s maybe not full time? If not, what’s the day job? Can you give us a quick biography of yourself?

I'm a journalist, working as security correspondent in the Irish Examiner, a national daily. I've been working in journalism full-time since I left with a Masters in Journalism in 1996. From the very start I covered the drugs area and expanded to the wider crime, policing and justice areas when I started in the Irish Examiner in 2000.

Do you have a typical writing schedule?

Ah, no. I wish I was more structured in terms of writing. I have a very demanding day job, with long and unpredictable hours. And, I have young kids. When I was writing Black Water I got up early several days a week and wrote as much as I could. Several times a year, I took three or four days off and went home to my mother's house and did large chunks of writing and subsequently rewriting and editing.

Do you insert family, friends, and colleagues into your characters?

Family no, nor friends, but to some extent, people that I have met or come into contact through work. There are certain characters - but not any of my main characters - that this would be a factor. But in the main, they are creations of my imagination and they develop their own characteristics.

When you have an idea and you sit down to construct your story – do you know what the end result is roughly going to look like? Are you a plotter, or do you make it up as you go along?

I had no idea whatsoever where I was going. I had no construct or plot, which came much later, literally years later. In hindsight, it would have been a big advantage if I had more of a plan or plot, as I spent huge amounts of time and effort (and pain) hammering and stitching my novel into shape. But, I'm not sure how you do that, plot to a high degree, when characters and plots take on their own life as you write.

Are there any subjects off limits?

Not in terms of subjects. I have some fairly graphic scenes of violence, and exposure of violence to children, and one scene of a violent sexual nature. I think they need to be true to the context of the novel.

How important is setting to your work? I do like a Dublin setting in my reading, having originally hailed from there many years ago.

Setting was hugely important to me. I consider my setting - that along an evocative stretch of the Grand Canal in Dublin - as a main character. My novel begins and ends there and is a constant companion throughout. It forms the bones of the novel itself.

Is Black Water your debut novel?

Yes, it is. Hopefully the first of many!

How long from conception to completion did Black Water take? Was it a smooth process or were there many bumps in the road along the way?

In all, it took about eight years. I started in 2010, initially taking notes of scenes and setting and descriptions of what I saw in my area. It certainly was not a smooth process. Anything but. It was uneven, with ups and down, with self-doubt being a constant companion. Completing the novel took a very long time, and that in itself involved many stages of completion, which really continues during the editing process with the publisher. Getting an agent was a long and difficult journey as was finding a publisher.

Did the end result mirror your expectations at the start of the process, or is it a very different book to what you imagined?

I really had very little picture on an end result. I knew from other writers that the whole process was very difficult and getting published a very long shot. I am happy that the end result regarding my main characters is true to my conception, for want of a better world, of them.

How difficult was it to find a publisher for your book?

It was difficult, as everything else was in the process. As a debut writer I had little idea how it worked. I got a good reaction from a number of publishers, and some very complementary assessments. But getting it across the line is a different story. This is a major commercial decision for them - is there a market for this novel? My novel is not a psychological thriller, it's not a domestic noir and might not readible fit in with the dominant sub-genres at the moment. So it was a bit of a punt for a publisher, one who, not just saw something in the novel, but was willing to take the risk.

What’s been the highlight of your writing career so far?

At the moment, I would say getting my personal delivery of ten copies of the finished book, which happened the other day. It was very moving and almost overwhelming. But I suppose the biggest moment is getting an email from my agent Ger Nichol that Black and White had made an offer. That was special.

Any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?

There are all in my head, swimming around!

What’s the current project in progress?

Ah, that am slow to go into. But really things are just mad busy at the moment.

What’s the best thing about writing?

I suppose seeing the finished book in my hands is really extraordinary. It still hasn't sunk in. During the process of writing/rewriting, that realisation that you are creating something of real quality (not that it's brilliant, just that you have unearthed something pure) is special.

The worst?

Self-doubt has to be up there. For me, and really for most writers I'd say, it's a constant, either just simmering away in the background and hollaring in your head.

What are the last five books you’ve read?

I'm just finishing Donal Ryan's A Slanting of the Sun, his collection of short stories. His work is just sublime. I also do some reviews for the Irish Examiner, mainly non-fiction. So last one was Good Cop, Bad War by former British undercover cop Neil Woods. It was an excellent insight into the 'war on drugs'. Before than was The Cartel by Stephen Breen and Owen Conlon on the Kinahan crime cartel. Before that was Trouble Is Our Business edited by crime author Declan Burke. It's a collection of short stories by Irish crime writers. Top drawer stuff. The fifth most recent was Solar Bones by Mike McCormack, an utterly beautiful, moving and stunning novel.

Who do you read and enjoy?

Donal Ryan is probably top of my list. He is a truly gifted writer, but one with plenty of bite. He writes about the ordinary man and woman, and those on the margins of society, and perfectly captures the rural underbelly of Ireland.

Is there any one book you wish you had written?

Hmm, that's a tricky one. Before I ever read crime or literary fiction I was a big fantasy reader in my youth. So maybe Lord of the Rings. The imagination, the characters, the setting and the mind-numbing detail in that is simply extraordinary. 

Favourite activity when not working or writing?

Football. I still play every week, five-a-side that is. And in recent years, I co-manage a boys' team.

What’s the last film you watched that rocked you?

Wow, probably many I could say this about. I'm a big sci-fi/fantasy fan, so the likes of BladeRunner 2049 would be there. But one that 'rocked' me? One that has stuck in my mind in recent years is The Prisoners (director Denis Villeneuve), which I came to late. I've seen it a couple of times and it is just such a powerful film, with great performances, good characters and a thrilling climax.

TV addict or not? What’s the must watch show in the O’Keeffe household?

Yes, time permitting. We have loads of series on the go - from Stranger Things to Homeland, and with the tenth anniversary of the end of The Wire I'm tempted to go back. But in terms of the family as a whole, it would be the likes of Masterchef or Grand Designs...or Horrible Histories!

In a couple of years’ time…

Who knows. Living by the sea, writing novels, having a newspaper column, eating fish and hanging out with my family!

Many thanks to Cormac O'Keeffe for his time.


Black Water is published by Black and White Publishing and is available here - AM UK - AM US


  1. I know the feeling of getting your delivery copies of your book. It is a fabulous feeling, isn't it? Great interview, for which thanks, both. I wish you much success.

  2. Thanks for posting this interview. Good questions and very honest responses.

    1. Elgin, I did enjoy Cormac's responses. I'll be interested in what he writes next.