An Interview with Catherine Ryan Howard, author of Distress Signals


I’m so excited to be featuring an interview with Catherine Ryan Howard to celebrate the publication of her debut thriller Distress Signals which is out today May 5th 2016, published by Corvus/Atlantic in Ireland and the UK, and out on June 2nd 2016 in Australia and New Zealand. Distress Signals is available to buy on AmazonFoyles, Waterstones and all good bookshops.

Distress Signals

Did she leave, or was she taken?

The day Adam Dunne’s girlfriend, Sarah, fails to return from a Barcelona business trip, his perfect life begins to fall apart. Days later, the arrival of her passport and a note that reads ‘I’m sorry – S’ sets off real alarm bells. He vows to do whatever it takes to find her.

Adam is puzzled when he connects Sarah to a cruise ship called the Celebrate – and to a woman, Estelle, who disappeared from the same ship in eerily similar circumstances almost exactly a year before. To get the answers, Adam must confront some difficult truths about his relationship with Sarah. He must do things of which he never thought himself capable. And he must try to outwit a predator who seems to have found the perfect hunting ground…


Praise for Distress Signals

“Pacey, suspenseful and intriguing … [A] top class, page turning read. Catherine Ryan Howard is an astonishing new voice in thriller writing.” — Liz Nugent, author of 2014 IBA Crime Novel of the Year Unravelling Oliver

“An exhilarating debut thriller from a hugely talented author. Distress Signals is fast-paced, twisty and an absolute joy to read.” — Mark Edwards, #1 bestselling author of The Magpies and Follow You Home

Read a preview of the first three chapters here.

An Interview with Catherine Ryan Howard

Hi Catherine. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your book  ‘Distress Signals’ which is out today. How does that feel?

Very surreal. I’m still waiting for it to hit me, but at the same time it’s probably a good thing that it hasn’t yet. It’s very, very weird to have wanted something so bad for the best part of three decades – I’ve wanted to be a published novelist since I was eight years old or so – and now for it to be here.

Would you mind telling blog readers a little bit about yourself please?

I’m from Cork in Ireland but I live in Dublin, because I’m currently studying for a BA in English Literature at Trinity College. Over the past few years I’ve self-published non-fiction and been very involved in that side of things, and I’ve also worked freelance for Penguin Ireland, helping their authors with their social media platforms. My great loves are Jurassic Park, coffee, Paris, good TV and shopping for unnecessary stationery. And writing and reading, of course!

How have you managed to balance your studies and your writing?

Everyone is asking me that but the truth is, I haven’t really! My exam results are out in July, so only time will tell.

We’ll keep our fingers crossed for you!

When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?

One of my earliest memories is being in Senior Infants (age 6) and the teacher sitting up on her desk reading aloud to us from a book, holding the book towards us so we could see the pictures. I used to go home and line up all my teddy-bears and Barbie dolls on my bed, hoist myself up onto my dressing table, open a book and “read” to them in the same way. I think I was on the path to becoming a writer before I even realised what that was.

If you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?

I used to make and sell handmade cards, so probably something like that. I love a bit of crafting, not least because before you do it, you have to do some stationery shopping…

I think we all like a bit of stationery!

How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?

I think the advice to “write what you know” is great, but I don’t interpret it as “if you’re a lawyer, write a legal thriller”. I think you should use as much of what you know as you can in your book. So although I never worked on a cruise ship, I was a housekeeping supervisor in a 2,000 room resort hotel, and the principles of cleaning rooms and cleaning cabins and running both those housekeeping departments are the same. I’d also spent a lot of time in Nice, France, and so that’s where the cruise ship has a port day. As for all the maritime law stuff, I fell down a rabbit hole online – much like my main character, Adam, does in the book.

Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?

Easiest: plotting. I love plotting. (I use Post-Its, so again with the stationery shopping!) Difficult: writing the first draft. You have 400 or so blank virtual pages and you have to murder them all one by one. The pressure’s on.

What a fabulous description of writing – murdering your pages!

What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?

I have no routine really; I tend to write in binges. I almost always write at home, at my desk.


When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?

I read widely, but mostly crime/thrillers and non-fiction. Right now at the top of my TBR pile are Liz Nugent’s new book (out July), Lying in Wait, and Into the Black: The Extraordinary Untold Story of the First Flight of the Space Shuttle and the Men Who Flew Her by Rowland White. (After all the stuff I’ve to re-read for my exams, of course!)

Do you have other interests that give you ideas for writing?

I travel a lot, so that certainly gives rise to lots of ideas about locations, etc.

To what extent did your experience at Penguin Random House prepare you for the realities of getting a book published?

Well, I think I was quite realistic about what was going to happen, what wasn’t going to happen, etc. It really taught me that while you, the author, might be at home clicking Refresh on your Gmail every five minutes waiting for someone in the publishing house to send you some love because you have nothing else on your mind except for your novel which is coming out six months from now, the people at your publisher have about 100 books to worry about and most of them are coming out way before yours, and that’s why they’re not stroking your ego every five minutes – they don’t have time! (And it isn’t time to yet.) It also made me see that really, the ideal set-up, the best chance of a bestseller, is a partnership between the publisher and the author – both sides ready and willing to work hard, and with lots of ideas about how they can reach readers with this book. It also prepared me for what a challenge that is – the average reader has no idea how much work goes into just getting the book on the shelf, let alone trying to promote it.

Which of the characters in ‘Distress Signals’ is most like you?

I’m not like Adam – the main character/narrator – but at the beginning of the book he’s just sold his first screenplay after trying to make it happen for years. He describes this realisation of his dream, this sort of validation of his talent, as having an invisible friend that everyone else can suddenly see. So we do kind of have that in common – for years and years I would tell people I was going to get published, not because I necessarily believed I would but because I couldn’t face having to imagine an alternative – and I know that as more and more time passed, they were probably thinking, “Hmm, okay. But maybe now you should forget the daydreaming and go get a proper job?” I think that’s why, when I got the deal, my biggest emotion was relief.

If  ‘Distress Signals’  became a film, who would you like to play Adam?  

Distress Signals has actually been optioned for TV – they’re hoping to make a miniseries. My pick would be Jamie Dornan. He’d have to let the abs go soft because Adam is NOT a gym-goer (or cover them up, at least – shame, I know!) but stick a pair of glasses on him, and he looks quite like I imagine Adam does. Plus, he did a Cork accent on Jimmy Fallon a while back so we know he can.

My goodness – how exciting – congratulations.

What challenges were there as a female writing from a male perspective?

Well, I wasn’t sure I was doing it right! That’s where your editors come in. But you have to be so careful, because just one little wrong move can give the game away. There is a famous, bestselling thriller written by a man in the voice of a female first person narration, and it is almost perfect – except for one scene in which she puts woollen tights on UNDER a pair of trousers. Now, I can’t speak on behalf of all womankind, but personally I know that what he was describing was essentially a static storm of excruciating discomfort. Clearly he’d never worn wool tights under wool trousers – and that misstep is the detail I remember now, years later.

If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that ‘Distress Signals’ should be their next read, what would you say?

What a challenge! Well, assuming that “Because I will send you loads of chocolate and coffee if you buy it” (which I think is just 13…?) is out, I would say: A gripping thriller with a huge twist exploring the fact there’s no police at sea.

(And it’s all based on real-world law, operations, etc. – there really are no police at sea, essentially. Would you go on holiday to a country with no police?)

(I know that brackets bit is totally cheating – sorry!)

You’re forgiven!

And finally – will you be signing up to the first commercial flights into space?

I’m already saving up.

Thank you so much, Catherine, for your time in answering my questions and the very best of luck with Distress Signals.

About Catherine Ryan Howard

Catherine Ryan Howard

Catherine Ryan Howard by City Headshots Dublin

Catherine Ryan Howard was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1982. Prior to writing full-time, Catherine worked as a campsite courier in France and a front desk agent in Walt Disney World, Florida, and most recently was a social media marketer for a major publisher. She is currently studying for a BA in English at Trinity College Dublin.

You can follow Catherine on Twitter and find her on Facebook. She also has a website.

8 thoughts on “An Interview with Catherine Ryan Howard, author of Distress Signals

  1. What a lovely interview ladies. Love the ‘shopping for unnecessary stationery’ line (we’ve all been there!). I am also a huge post-it note plotter and can get carried away with colour coding my chapters! Good luck with your book, Catherine 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lovely interview. I am another stationery magpie. Interesting to see authors published by mainstream publishers still have to do the hard graft to promote their books as indie authors do.


  3. I find some indie authors are better at promotion than those published traditionally as the publicists are concentrating on a wide range of books rather than just the one too.


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