Tony Bailie's A Verse to Murder

The Belfast-based poet and crime writer ventures away from Lagan Press to dip his toe into self-publishing

Read a review of A Verse to Murder on Literary Belfast.

When Tony Bailie, author of the novels ecopunks (2010) and The Lost Chord (2006), and two poetry collections entitled Coill (2005) and Tranquility of Stone (2010), hit a creative wall whilst editing his upcoming novel – 'I just couldn't see the way through' – he decided to take a break, do something else and come back to it with fresh eyes.

So off he went and, ten days later, found himself staring at a 25,000 word crime novella, which Bailie would call A Verse to Murder, and in which the protagonist, tabloid reporter Barry Crowe, gets caught up investigating the scandalous death of a prominent poet.

Bailie laughs and shrugs the accomplishment away, explaining that he enjoys writing 'just for the sake of writing', particularly fiction, he says, which affords him the freedom to spew out whatever is on his mind at the time. Poetry is different, he argues, 'it just happens one line at a time and whenever it feels like turning up'.

Besides, the 25,000 words that form A Verse to Murder were originally meant to be a very rough draft. ‘I wrote it with the intention of expanding it into a full novel,’ Bailie explains. ‘Once I’d finished it, however, I liked it the way it read. A Verse to Murder is packed, pacy and there’s a great cliff-hanger.’

With a background in print publication – as both a journalist, author and poet – Bailie vowed to continue with the experimental thread that had given birth to the novella and bypass traditional print publication for an e-format.

With a little help from a cover design artist, and some editorial assistance from a colleague at Lagan Press, which has published most of his work thus far, Bailie was able to keep creative control, though he argues that he would not have been able to e-publish alone. ‘I’m good at catching mistakes,’ admits Bailie, who also works as a sub-editor at The Irish News, 'if they are other people's. Not so much when they’re my own.’

Bailie is, however, managing the promotion of the novella himself. As a journalist he has a head start on getting good coverage in the press – he knows who to call. And the subject matter of A Verse of Murder doesn’t hurt either. ‘It’s about a dodgy Sunday tabloid reporter,’ Bailie says, grinning, keenly aware that most journalists operate at the whims of their substantial egos.

So far Bailie has had a few anxious calls from colleagues worried that he might have gotten his inspiration a little too close to home. Bailie though promises that Crowe, his anti-hero, is not based on anyone he knows. In fact, he adds, nothing he has written has been inspired by his day job. ‘It isn’t really a good source of ideas, to be honest.’

Crowe started his life as a minor character in a short story written for the award-winning Requiems for the Departed crime anthology, which featured stories by a host of Irish authors and was published in 2011.

When the character stuck around in Bailie's head, the Belfast-based writer decided to do so something more substantial with him. Having fleshed out the character, Bailie introduced a drug-fuelled, auto-erotic asphyxiation scandal involving a famous, though unproductive, poet, and let the story go from there.

‘It’s all a bit salacious,’ Bailie says, cheerfully. ‘It’s nothing like my other novels, which were more serious. It’s just supposed to be sex, drugs, rock and roll and fun. I know I had fun writing it.’

So what does he think of the ebook market now that he’s dipped his toe in with A Verse to Murder? For Bailie, it’s still a work in progress. So far, A Verse to Murder has sold well, although, surprisingly, the best market so far has been the American one. That was unexpected, but Bailie theorises that American readers are just that bit more accustomed to the idea of an electronic versus print publication.

Still, Bailie has no plans to abandon ink and paper just yet. And when he finally manages to break through that creative wall and finish off the edit of his next novel, it's highly likely you will see it climbing the charts at your nearest, and dearest, booksellers.

A Verse to Murder is available via Amazon now.