Fancy a Change of Scene? Switching Genres

Introducing my book, A Posy of Promises has been so lovely. You scribble away in your hidey-hole, making up all sorts of stuff and then when you emerge, bleary-eyed to the world, you are never sure if anyone is actually interested in what you have created.

My first novel Little Bird was a crime novel, a police procedural with a forensic psychologist angle. I love writing crime and I am currently finishing my follow up. In between these two books I wrote A Posy of Promises, which comes out in June. It falls within the commercial women’s fiction branding.



Isn’t she pretty? Bombshell has produced a beautiful cover for Posy.

I read across genre – literary fiction, lots of crime in all its sub-genres, science fiction, and young adult. Thankfully, there’s no rule to say you have to be loyal to only one genre. It isn’t dishonest or cheating if you read something different.


Publishers are more open to genre blending now – the crossover YA market shows that a book can have huge potential if it appeals to more than one style of readers. Commercial fiction blended with crime works really well. Just look at the success of Liane Moriarty’s work. There is a rise in science fiction writers setting murders in all kinds of fantastical settings. I loved Hugh Howey’s Wool.  Any author who pushes the boundaries of a particular genre is really exciting. Writers like John Connolly have been blending crime writing with supernatural elements. That’s something I’d love to explore. I definitely have a Gothic horror aesthetic novel within me, demanding to be written.

It’s interesting and exciting to challenge yourself as a writer. Crime and thriller writers can bring a greater sense of pace to other genres. Every book teaches something new about who you are as a writer.

On another note, I was delighted to have the fabulous Claire Allan support A Posy of Promises. She was generous enough to read the manuscript and then say some really lovely things about it. Writer Fionnuala Cassidy encouraged me in the early stages, a good while ago. I’ve said it before, the writing life can be lonely if you let, but when you reach out to fellow writers they are always kind and generous with their advice.

A Posy of Promises tells the story of three generations of women in one family. Set in Belfast, it has warmth and humour. I hope readers like it.  Publication day is set for 13th of June and I am taking part in the Belfast Book Festival Lit Crawl, A Story in Two Parts where actress Aimee McGoldrick will do a reading from Posy, accompanied, by Lára Mulgrew on the harp. Come along and check us out. I will also do readings from Little Bird and Alfie and Stevie will provide musical entertainment, playing songs which were important to me while writing it.

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Alfie and Stevie

Book Hunting in the Wild


There’s a rule – if I’m in town I seek out bookshops, to buy more books of course, but also to see if they are carrying Little Bird. It is such a brilliant buzz to find copies of it, in real life bookshops, as opposed to on Amazon.

All would-be writers dream of the day their book is in an actual bookshop. It’s one of those special book moments, up there with writing The End, and securing the all important publishing deal. So, to walk into Waterstones in Belfast city centre, and find Little Bird on a table with books by other writers I’ve admired for years, was a pinch me moment.


Thankfully, my daughter Sarah was present to be humiliated by me squeaking with excitement, and demanding that I’m photographed immediately. Sorry Sarah.  IMG_2994.jpg

Superman vs Spiderman or Story vs Plot

Plot is the biggest worry for fledging writers. In my workshops, I am often told that new writers find the concept of plot the hardest to grasp. The problem often lies in the confusion between what constitutes as story and what is plot.

Listen up, the basic rule is: story is the summation of the novel and plot is how that happens. Plot is the device we use to tell the story. When we tell someone the story of our day we don’t recount the events in a linear way. It would be boring to hear how we woke up, went to the loo, brushed our teeth etc. No, instead we grasp the ‘story’ of our experience and recount it, in a way that is entertaining and telling. Telling in the sense that it highlights exactly what we are wanting to put across.

Get it? Ok, let’s take it further.

Plot is the where, when, how, who. It is the details of the narrative – how the story moves from A to B.

The narrative structure of events, is the architecture of the story. Story is the sequence of events, and the order in which the narrative is described and told is the plot.

Plot is the sum of the events, told not necessarily in a consecutive order, but generally consistent with the story and often considered as being at one with the narrative — the building of the story itself.


Think of it as an equation. I know, we are writers, we don’t do math and we certainly don’t do hard math, but look at it this way:

             Premise + Character + Conflict =Action


Plot is not only the sequence of events, but is really the difference between the progression of events in a story’s structure, and the order in which these are revealed to the reader and to the characters. Therefore, we should think of plot as being both a sequencing of events and the revelation of these events. It is all about the exposition. Not all plots are logical, or merely an arrangement of incidents. There is an authorial construct to help formulate the narrative – this is what plot is. Plot is the arrangement of events as decided by you the writer, whereas story is the sequence of events as they happen in time – not as they are presented. We, as the writer, get to decide what the characters know and when they know it, and subsequently, what the reader knows and when they know it.         

If you read the previous feature in this series, you will know I like to turn to the theorists and find a good academic take on things.

gustav freytag

Gustav Freytag was a Nineteenth Century German novelist who saw common patterns in the plots of stories and novels and developed a diagram to analyse them.

In, we have a breakdown of what plot is doing for us as the writer. Remember plot is a device we employ, as writers, to tell the story in a better way. Yes, plot is your friend. It exists in order for us as writers to tell the story as we wish, not necessarily as it exists.

Old Gustav above 

Let’s get practical  

If you are struggling with plot there are a few handy exercises you can use to help you make sense of what you want the plot to do.

First of all, make a timeline for the events of the novel. This will give your novel structure – the bare bones of your skeleton or the tent poles for your tent, if you like. Then consider your emotional beats – the places in your story where your character is feeling a rush of emotion, whether it be fear, love, hate. Where these emotional beats spike is usually where characters are dealing with conflict. Utilise these episodes to help move the narrative along and to make your reader feel invested.

So, remember plot is not your story’s arch nemesis. They co-exists just like Superman and Spiderman.  spiderman vs superman image

Good luck with your writing projects in 2018 and let me know what you are working on. Personally I still like to think of September as my new school year, and that’s when I begin big, proper, work. I am still working on the follow up to Little Bird, and while I’m really excited by the story, I’m finding it hard to get the word count up. But, hey, that’s the way it goes sometimes.

Remember if you are finding January gloomy and hard…19748503_10213750487580343_1255374335601469541_n

This post about plot first appeared on the fabulous website :

Make the Stone Stony

Story Craft

If you are lucky, every now and then you get a light bulb moment while writing. Suddenly the murky waters clear, and you can see clearly what you are trying to achieve. Most of the time we stumble onwards, feeling about in the darkness. For me, one such lightbulb moment came half way through the writing by novel Little Bird. I knew what the storyline was, who my characters were, how the plot had to work to achieve what I wanted, but what I didn’t know, was how it would all come together to make sense of what I was trying to express. Story is never just about story. There is always something else going on below the surface.

Confession: I’m a closet academic. I love nothing more than reading research papers, writing essays and discussing technique and theory. It was while prepping for one of the writing workshops I teach at Queen’s University Open Learning, that I remembered my old favourite, Viktor Shklovsky. He wrote an essay in 1917, entitled Art as Technique, in which he reasoned that the purpose of art is to make the familiar unfamiliar: defamiliarization or estrangement. He asserts that by presenting something familiar as if it the writer is witnessing it and describing it for the first time, it heightens and lengthens our sense of perception.

Shklovsky asserts that “art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony.” Crucially the purpose is not just aesthetic, but rather to draw out the sensations that things inspire or arouse, “as they are perceived and not as they are known”.

Call me a nerd, but I love this stuff!

It was with Shklovsky in mind, that I realised what I was trying to do with my novel. My protagonist, Anna Cole, was on secondment to Belfast from Cardiff. Through Anna’s fresh eyes I was able to show Belfast and Northern Ireland anew, to myself and to my readers. Anna’s character enabled me “to make the stone stony.”

An example of this occurs in chapter five:

Anna looked over to the girl with hair dyed a blue-black colour cut in a razor-sharp bob, giving her a hard look, as if she was trying to be intimidating. She wore stylised make up, a cat’s eye flick of dense ebony eyeliner, precise and clean and a ruby red matt lipstick. It was a uniform of sorts. Anna wished she could have enough interest in herself to devise a style, but she had never been good with make-up, preferring to rely on a quick smudge of mascara and a sweep of coral blusher to warm her pale complexion.

 ‘Don’t mind him,’ Holly said, without taking her eyes off her computer screen. ‘He’s a gobshite.’

Anna looked perplexed, unsure of the colloquialism.

‘Full of shit? Comprehendy vous?’

‘Yeah, I get it.’ Anna said staring at her.

‘We’re all under a lot of stress. Murder of Declan Wells’ daughter has everyone on edge.’

‘I’m sure. One of your own always hurts the most,’ Anna offered.

‘Nah she isn’t one of us,’ Holly said finally taking her eyes of the screen giving Anna a once over look. ‘Not that we think that way these days,’ Holly added.

‘I thought Declan Wells worked with the force?’

‘Yeah, he used to – forensics section, psychologist. He’s a doctor, not a real cop. Never got his hands dirty on the job.’

Anna absorbed the conversation realising she had considered the murder of Dr Wells’ daughter to be more personal to the force. She found it unsettling when ‘one of your own’ didn’t include your work colleague.

Anna is experiencing her first insight into how the police service of Northern Ireland is different. She is experiencing her job as a detective afresh, discovering her familiar job as something alien and new. By transporting Anna from Cardiff, the place she has grown up and worked in, to Belfast, she helps me as the writer to see the people and the place I know so well, afresh. Or as our old friend Viktor Shklovsky says to defamiliarise the place to myself and in doing so I can allow the reader to experience a heightened perception of it.

The old adage ‘write what you know’, is limiting. Sometimes you have to experience the place and people you know intimately anew in order to inspire that sense of heighten perception in your reader. Really what we want as readers is to feel, to feel something deeply, and to be made see something we have always been familiar with in a new, fresh way. This is what makes writing exciting and interesting. So, if you find yourself struggling with your work-in-progress, ask yourself, how can I make the stone stony?

(c) Sharon Dempsey

Bookish Events

So, this week has been a bit mad. Lots going on with the family and WiP totally being neglected, even though it calls to me daily.
I had a lovely evening at Malone Book Group. They had selected Little Bird as their summer read, and invited me along to discuss the book, and talk about my writing process. They were such a lovely, engaged and switched on group. Maria, our host, served delicious pumpkin soup. I discovered you must make your soup with edible pumpkins, not the ones we carve for lanterns. Who knew? Have a look at the pics and see Maria’s beautifully set table.


Last weekend saw the launch of the amazing Noireland festival, held in the Europa Hotel. I was lucky enough to attend a few events including a panel discussion on identity featuring Adrian McKinty, Stella Duffy, Abir Mukherjee and Louise Welsh. I asked Adrian what his protagonist Sean Duffy would make of modern day Northern Ireland, and he said Duffy would most definitely approve. We’ve come along way from the bombs and bullets.

I also manage to meet Line of Duty actor, Adrian Dunbar.


Young Scribblers Author Visit

Our Young Scribblers were thrilled to have the fantastic Kelly McCaughrain visit us recently. Kelly charmed everyone with an exclusive extract from her soon to be published book, ‘Flying Tips for Flightless Birds’. The book is set in a travelling circus, and has a cast of wonderful characters like Finch and Hector. Kelly talked to us about her creative process and inspired our young writers to write about stories they feel passionate about.

We can’t wait to get our hands on the actual book, when Walkers publish it in March.

Congratulations Kelly and please come for another visit soon!

The Tour Bus

I’ve always wanted to go on tour – to stay on the tour bus, arrive at a different venue every night, to hear the screaming fans, see the hot rockstars.
Sometimes, what you wish for is slightly different, from what you get. My ‘on tour’ dream came true in the form of a blog tour, and I didn’t even need to stay on the sweaty tour bus with the rockstars. Drat!
My blog tour consisted of some wonderful book bloggers reading ‘Little Bird,’ and delving behind the pages to discover a bit more about me.

The reviews were fantastic. My editor, Emma Mitchell, was even reduced to tears on one occasion.

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I want to thank all of the bloggers who helped to promote my book. Your support is so important to me.

Check out my favourite post – thank you Stacey Armand!


Blog Tour & Review – Little Bird by Sharon Dempsey

Thanks Jessica for the great review. x

Jessicamap Reviews

Hello everyone! I’m excited to be a stop today on the LITTLE BIRD blog tour!

Big thanks to Bloodhound Books and author, Sharon Dempsey, for the advanced ebook copy in exchange for my honest review.

LittleBird alegra sans + ancona cd FINAL

Book Description:

Some secrets are best kept quiet.

Declan Wells, a forensic psychologist, has a lot on his plate. He has been struggling with the aftermath of a car bomb, which has left him in a wheelchair, his wife has been dutiful but Declan is certain she is having an affair, and his eldest daughter Lara’s new property developer husband, has dubious business practices.

Meanwhile, Anna Cole is running away from her mother’s death and a stale relationship. On secondment to the Police Service of Northern Ireland from Wales, Anna hopes that she can throw herself into work to distract herself from her guilt.

Then the murders begin and the killer leaves behind some very…

View original post 575 more words

Launch Night

The launch night was amazing. I finally stopped stressing and enjoyed the moment. Whoever organised rent a crowd did a brilliant job. Seriously, I can’t believe so many people came out to support me and my little book. We were packed to full capacity and the books sold out in ten minutes.
The Crescent Arts Centre hosted the evening. We had beautiful atmospheric lighting, candle lit tables, with a scattering of darkest green and black feathers (thank you Gareth and Nathan for technical support). My talented uncle Alfie, and my cousin's fiancee Stevie, provided the musical entertainment. I told them both weeks ago I needed them here to help me not feel so lonely up on the stage- I was always meant to be in band never a solo artist. I got to say 'I’m with the band'. Yay! But I resisted saying hello Wembley. Seriously, they helped create an atmosphere for the launch with the set list being based on bands or songs that were referenced in the Little Bird. Songs included It's all over Now Baby Blue by Dylan, Moondance by Van Morrison, Needle and the Damage Done by Neil Young, among others.
Damian Smyth from the Arts Council gave a wonderful speech – I was overwhelmed by all the wonderful things he said about my writing. Then I took to the stage said a little bit about the book, and thanked everyone who has helped me along the way before reading an extract. I was so nervous, but sure, they were a supportive crowd, so who cares?
It’s been a mad week. I found out I had made it on to the Guardian’s Not the Booker long long list. I haven’t a hope in hell of making it to the next stage but sure it’s great to be on a list, any list will do, as long as it’s not a hit list.
Thank you to all who came to the launch and bought my book. The reviews have been fantastic which is thrilling and such a relief.
Enjoy the photographs taken on the night by the talented Oliver Corr.

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