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First book for free

Emily Mazzara chats to Belfast writer Martin Turley about his decision to make his first novel free to the public

Every new author has one goal in mind when they have finally completed their first novel—get it published. Most would say the bigger the publishing house, the better. Martin Turley is one of the lucky few who nailed down an offer from a notable publishing company in London with his first few submission letters. Before any contracts were officially signed, though, the COVID-19 global pandemic came sweeping in, closing businesses in its wake. In light of everything that was happening, Turley made a major decision—he chose to turn down the publication offer to instead release his novel to the public for free.

‘It was simple, really,’ Turley said when asked how he came to this decision. ‘I couldn’t do anything to help people from a health perspective during lockdown. And everyone was being told to stay indoors. It seemed to me that I needed to do my part to help alleviate the situation, even a little.’

He had received the offer from the publishing house in mid-April, detailing a contract for his début novel The Lads. Having only sent the manuscript out six weeks before, he was pretty pleased to be given an offer.

‘Having discussed the matter with my wife and “having slept on it”, I decided that this was my opportunity to do my bit during the lockdown; I would release the work free of charge to anyone who would request it.’ Turley did outline one stipulation: “It was not [to be] available to children. The book was written in the “Belfast vernacular” but that said, it is by no means “iffy” (if you get my drift).’

Turley started by contacting a few friends on Facebook to let them know, and, shortly after, The Irish News picked up the story. It was after a short interview with them that the requests for his novel started flooding in. With how quickly these decisions were made, the past few months were quite the whirlwind for Turley and his family and friends.

‘While I received congrats from friends and family, some, quite frankly, thought I was mad not to accept the contract. But, I think the most interesting reaction came from my youngest son (he’s 24). When he found out about the offer and my subsequent decision to release it for free, and that The Irish News was going to cover it, he commented, “Why, what did you do?” Back to Earth with a bump!’

This may be Turley’s début novel, but he is by no means a new writer. ‘I began to write about five years or so ago. Just some short stories based on local characters. I never submitted them to a publisher as I never saw myself as a writer; I was just doodling using words instead of shapes or squiggles.’

His novel The Lads takes the plot of a traditional heist novel and turns it on its side. The story starts after the robbery already happened—a group of teenage boys finds a missing chunk of the stolen money and decide to attempt to find a way to spend the notes, which are no longer legal tender. Turley explained that the backstory of the novel is loosely based on a real robbery that happened at the Northern Bank in Belfast back in December of 2004.

‘Everyone seemed to have their own theory on who carried it out and very little of the money was ever found. Eight weeks after the robbery, the Northern Bank withdrew all their notes from circulation and printed new ones. I thought, “what if” a group of friends stumbled across a large quantity of the stolen money? And then, “what if” this particular portion of the stolen cash had been hidden away for someone’s personal use and when it goes on the missin’ list, they go looking for it? What would happen then?’

If you are interested in reading Martin Turley’s début novel The Lads, it is available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/author/martinturley. He will also still be sending it out for free to anyone who contacts him directly during the lockdown at martinturl1234@gmail.com.


Emily Mazzara is an American university student pursuing a degree in Publishing and Editing. Her love of books is only matched by her love of traveling, dogs, and a good cup of tea. She completed an internship with Books Ireland in Fall 2019 and still occasionally contributes to the magazine.