Writer's Block with Sam Blake - The Gloss Magazine

Writer’s Block with Sam Blake

SAM BLAKE, also known as VANESSA FOX O’LOUGHLIN, the writing talent scout and founder of both Inkwell Group and Writing.ie, talks writing in the land of DAPHNE DU MAURIER‘s Rebecca and scouting places to hide bodies in THE DUBLIN MOUNTAINS …

Vanessa-Fox-O'Loughlin
Sam Blake is Irish crime fiction’s exciting new talent. Her debut novel Little Bones, an instant bestseller, takes us on our first adventure with feisty kick-boxing heroine Cathy Connolly. A highly compulsive read, this book promises to be one of the hits of the summer.

Sam Blake is a pseudonym for Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin, who already has a bustling career as the founder of the Inkwell Group publishing consultancy, along with the immensely popular writing resources website Writing.ie. She is Ireland’s leading talent scout who has guided many award-winning authors to publication. A true powerhouse behind the scenes, it is now Vanessa’s turn in the spotlight.

Vanessa lives in Wicklow with her husband and their son and daughter. She is currently working on her next novel.

On home

We live in an old post office in a village just south of Bray on the edge of the Wicklow Mountains – we have the Sugar Loaf mountain in front, fields and the Little Sugar Loaf behind – but we’re only 30 minutes from Dublin (at 2 o’clock in the morning when there’s no traffic). It’s a fabulous spot and handily very close to the gorgeous Avoca Handweavers, emporium of all things lovely! The house really was a post office from (I’m told) about the 1830s to the 1940s. It’s a two storey cottage with walls two feet thick but we’ve added a huge extension on the back so now it’s more like two houses, one old and one new. I have a lovely old photo of it with a donkey and cart tethered outside.

On creating

I write wherever I can – I plug in my earphones to silence my busy mind and slip into Cathy Connolly’s world. I write on trains, in coffee shops, at the Glenview Hotel down the road, anywhere I can grab a few minutes. But my office is a real writer’s room. It’s in the old part of the house and accessed in two ways – through a door from the tiny hall or through a secret door hidden in the bookshelves in the living room. It’s the room that was originally the post office proper and I love to think of all the stories that came in and out of here in the letters people sent, or the gossip exchanged as people came in. Like all rural post offices it was a shop as well and my neighbours remember it with huge jars of boiled sweets and newspaper on the counter to tie into twists.

On bookshops

I adore the Gutter Bookshop. I love their Temple Bar store which is funky and airy and with the very best curated selection of books, but I really love their Dalkey shop. It’s tiny and quaint and the perfect place to dive into on a wet day – there’s often a fire burning in the stove. It really is the sort of magical bookstore that appears in children’s books. They have a fabulous selection of books and the loveliest staff. My husband worked just across the road in the Garda Station for twenty something years so Dalkey feels like a second home – Finnegan’s Pub is his local.

On literature

My favourite book of all time is Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. It’s everything I would aspire to write – literary and multi-layered while maintaining a gripping crime plot with masses of romance thrown in. It has a twist you absolutely never see coming and so many clever nuances. It’s one of the few books ever written where we never know the name of the protagonist – only her nemesis, Rebecca. It’s the perfect book – you can re-read it and find something new every time.

On escapes

Helford Passage in Cornwall is where I go to switch off and usually notch up my word count at the same time. It’s a tiny hamlet on the banks of a tidal river – you can see the sea from the beach. The mobile phone reception is terrible which means my phone is quiet, and located in the heart of Daphne du Maurier country, it is a fabulous place to write. In medieval times Helford Village was an important port with a water ferry connecting the banks of the river and the ferry still runs today, so there is always something happening. The writer Liz Fenwick lives on the other side and I catch the ferry across the river to visit her in The Shipwrights Arms. On our side of the river, The Ferryboat Inn serves fabulous food all day which keeps the family happy while I tap away. It feels strange writing crime in such an idyllic location, but as with everywhere I go, snippets of conversation, and the people I meet, inform the plot and provide constant inspiration …

On publishing

Editing and working on other people’s books is totally different from working on my own. I often find myself telling people that they have the story in their head but they haven’t brought it all to the page – as an author you can see the images so clearly when you read over something it’s impossible to tell whether the words are painting the picture for the reader or not. My agent, Simon Trewin, is actually someone I worked with long before he realised I wrote – it came up by accident over coffee one day and as soon as I told him about Cathy Connolly he wanted to see the book. It was the worst pitch I’ve ever given because I’d been busy doing other things since I finished it and I couldn’t quite remember what happened. Putting a book away for a period of time is brilliant as it means you go back to it with a reader’s eyes – I’d completely forgotten the last chapter and after I’d read it over, sent it with an email that said, ‘if you can bear to get to the end the last chapter is the best bit.’

On Writing.ie

I’ve had massive help building Writing.ie – I couldn’t have done it without the fabulous Irish writing community. It’s a place for people to share what they’ve learned, and Irish writers are incredibly generous. The reward for me is the benefits people get from using Writing.ie. I know as a writer I could have saved years if I’d had resources to refer to that helped me with technique – and told me what literary events were on or which competitions I could enter to try and get my work noticed. Much of what I do is about connecting people – writers with information and then with agents or publishers, journalists with authors, festivals with the public, readers with great books, I love it.

On what’s next

More books! I’m writing the second in the Cathy Connolly trilogy at the moment, and loving developing her character and the characters around her. She’s taking me to all sorts of places I never thought I’d go – I’ve learned to kick box so I understand what it feels like to be in the ring, and I’ve spent hours trudging around the Dublin mountains looking for places to dump bodies. I love writing more than anything and having a book on the shelf and being able to share Cathy’s world is an incredible privilege.

Little Bones (€14.99) is published by Twenty7 and available from bookshops nationwide.  

Image by Eoin Rafferty, taken at the Royal St George Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire 

Sophie Grenham

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