The Murk Beneath – A Synopsis

More difficult than writing a substantial work of 89,000 words is actually synopising it. Getting 350+ pages into 1. I have been rubbish at it to date, and it is a necessity when trying to sell your work to an agent or publisher (well, 2 agents and 1 publisher so far in my case, and I’ve yet to hear back from anyone). Here is my latest attempt, which is undoubtedly my best effort so far, but I’m not sure whether I am happy with it…

It’s 2010 in post-Celtic Tiger Cork. Mickey Bosco is a disgraced Guard, thrown out of the Gardaí two years prior when he choked a child killer into a coma. Now it seems like trouble is a blood relative, inviting itself around like the uncle nobody respects; the one who turns up at your child’s christening uninvited, reeking of alcohol; the same uncle whose funeral you go to anyway, because the sick bastard shared some part of you.

Mickey isn’t in the best of health. Trouble has been taking its toll and working the graveyard shift isn’t helping. It’s while working that graveyard shift, minding a distribution centre on Cork’s north-side, that a precision robbery kicks off a chain of events that leads to Mickey entering into the employ of a supposedly-retired ex-crime-lord by the name of Jim The Gentleman Jordan. The chain of events includes brushes with corrupt Guards, an attempted hit, buying a gun from a fixer called The Eel, kidnapping a mercenary and his girlfriend, being kidnapped himself by mercenaries, being fitted up for a serious of vigilante-like stranglings, and other events.

Mickey Bosco starts the novel in a bad place. He is depressed and lacking in confidence. He hasn’t been intimate with a woman for years. When he meets the daughter of The Gentleman, however, a side to him he thought was lost reawakens. A slow-burner of a romance blossoms, but not with the blessing of The Gentleman.

Mickey has to contend emotionally with the mysterious death of his father, Michael Senior, a crusading newspaperman who shifted along the razor’s edge of official society and the murk beneath and was cut down. He also has a difficult relationship with a devout Catholic mother who, despite being seventy-six, five-feet tall and obese, is mobile enough to drive to the farmers’ market twice a week and mass every morning at eight. He doesn’t see eye to eye with his mother when it comes to The Man Upstairs. There’s no doubt Mickey has sins to confess, but he’s damned if he’s going to confess them to a priest.

As the novel unfolds, we learn about Mickey’s penchant for Clonakilty black pudding, his love of artisan food (purchased in the English Market, of course), his preference for chillout music and his love of Melville, Vonnegut and Bradbury.

The novel ends with unfinished business for Mickey. But that’s for the next Mickey Bosco novel.

I suppose the trick is to give an idea of the novel without giving the plot away. Even agents and publishers probably want to read the novel and be surprised by it as they read. So I suppose I outline the framework / context of the novel and then bulletpoint some of the main events.

My Novel

Yes … a novel. My novel. The Murk Beneath. 89,000 words of gritty (literary) crime noir, set in my native Cork. First in the Mickey Bosco series. It’s strange to write that. Me, an author … a novelist. But it’s true. And one way or another, The Murk Beneath will see the light of day, at the very least finding its way onto Amazon.com, and ideally in a few bookshops around Cork and beyond.

I find myself impatient. This project began in late 2009 when I started a masters in creative writing at University of Edinburgh. I wrote a few bits and pieces, almost throwaway pages of ramblings. Then, somewhere amongst so much detritus, Mickey Bosco was born. Funny that a character that is so ingrained in Cork culture has his beginnings in Edinburgh, itself famous for some of the greatest characters in crime writing, Rebus and Sherlock, for instance.

I was preparing some sample writing for review by one of the creative writing lecturers, Robert Alan Jamieson. There was a range of fiction excerpts in that portfolio. Mickey Bosco was in there, though I don’t think I had named him at that point. There was some American police procedural stuff and an “out there” short horror story in there too. The Mickey Bosco excerpt is what Jamieson zoned in on and the rest is history. I wrote 10,000 words containing the start of what would become The Murk Beneath and submitted it as my assessable Christmas portfolio. I followed this up in the second semester with the next 10,000 words. For my creative dissertation over the summer, I decided initially to write something else, but soon returned to Mickey, though in a different novel, one that may never see the light of day, though I scavenged some of the better sections from that 20,000 words and they found themselves in The Murk Beneath. Over the following months, the word count reached 40,000. Then I gave up. I did almost nothing on the novel for more than 3 years. My confidence in my ability to finish a novel had taken a knock.

Then last summer, I had a revelation. One way or another I didn’t want to leave this Earth without having completed a novel. In the space of a very short few weeks, I wrote another 50,000 words and wrote the final, cathartic line of the novel on 22nd August 2014. I actually wrote the last 40,000 words in just 3 1/2 weeks.

Back to my impatience … I want to see my book in print. I sent a sample to an agent in July 2014 (I know … I had not actually finished by then, but it may have spurred me on) and was supposed to hear back in 90 days. I heard nothing. I sat on the novel for another few months, barely tinkering with it. Again, confidence a little low wondering if the novel was fit for publication.

Impatience pushed me to get the damed thing out in the world. Just over a week ago, I resolved to self-publish if I heard nothing back from two final queries – one to an agent, the other direct to a publisher. So, in two months if I hear nothing or get rejections, I will proceed with self-publication under my own imprint, Whitegate Press. If I have to, I will spend the time over the summer promoting the hell out of it, getting myself on radio, convincing local bookshops that it is worthy of their precious shelf space. I have the tools – InDesign, Photoshop, etc., and I have spent a lot of time researching print-on-demand. I have a professional-looking inside of the novel in 5.5″ x 8.5″ trade paperback novel format. All I need to do is order a batch of ISBN numbers and design the cover and I’ll be ready to roll. Unless I hear back from my queries …

I’m happy now with the book. I like it. I actually enjoy reading it. I think others will like reading it too, though who knows if it will be to everyone’s taste. At this stage, it is the novel I have had the most repeated reads of. I’m sure at some point I’ll get sick of reading it, but I’m not there yet. I still find the occasional sentence to rephrase, or whatever, but once the time comes, I’ll have to let go, finally.

Scrivener + Zotero for Thesis Writing

I really like the writing tool, Scrivener. I finished my first novel, The Murk Beneath (not published… yet!), using it and it was just fantastic. I only used a fraction of its features, but one of the big ones is being able to organise chapters and the scenes within chapters. Others include the performance as the overall word count ticks over 50,000 – Word just creaks and finding your way around from chapter to chapter is a pain; not an issue with Scrivener, which treats a book / thesis like it’s a filesystem.

My thoughts are turning to the larger thesis writing part of my PhD. It’s very early days, but I can at times be a prolific writer, so why not get some drafts down on virtual paper even at this stage? My main worry was citations and the bibliography. There is no native integration between Scrivener and my preferred bibliography management tool, Zotero. Help was at hand from this blog post. Zotero’s RTF (and ODT) scan tool works, plain and simple. The only minor drawback is not being able to click on a little icon and start typing a name or a title, like you can with the LibreOffice and Word plugins. Otherwise, though, the “Scannable Cite” works very well; it’s very straightforward to add a minus in front of the author to suppress it, and also to add some custom text (e.g. adding the word “see” before the citation within the brackets).

I think over the course of my PhD, the combination of Scrivener and Zotero will save me weeks of effort.