The First Two Pages: “The Soul of Peg O’Dwyer” by Michael Nethercott

In April 2015, B.K. Stevens debuted the blog series “The First Two Pages,” hosting craft essays by short story writers and novelists analyzing the openings of their own work. The series continued until just after her death in August 2017, and the full archive of those essays can be found at Bonnie’s website. In November 2017, the blog series relocated to my website, and the archive of this second stage of the series can be found here.

From reading both Michael Nethercott’s new story from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and now his essay below on that story, I’m convinced he knows his readers well—at least this reader, and I imagine I’m representative. Two things drew me into his story from the start—well, technically three. First up, the title, “The Soul of Peg O’Dwyer”—which Michael talks about at some length in the opening of his essay. Then, second, the choice to open the story with a transcript, one not immediately related to the next section of the story, and within that opening transcript, a key line with an unexpected twist. And, indeed, in his essay, Michael again pays special attention to both the transcript and that specific line—what he calls “a provocative sentence” that he hoped might “grab the reader and make them want to learn more.”

Consider me grabbed.

It’s a real thrill not only to be in the hands of a master storyteller but also to have that storyteller prove such a gifted guide to his own craft—step by careful step, as you’ll see in the essay below.

Michael Nethercott’s short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and The Magzine of Fantasy and Science Fiction as well as in various anthologies, including Best Crime and Mystery Stories of the Year. Mr. O’Nelligan in “The Soul of Peg O’Dwyer” appears in his O’Nelligan/Plunkett mystery series, which includes two novels—The Séance Society and The Haunting Ballad—in addition to shorter tales, the latter including “O’Nelligan’s Glory,” winner of the Black Orchid Novella Award. You can find out more about Michael and his work at his website here.

Please use the arrows and controls at the bottom of the embedded PDF to navigate through the essay. You can also download the essay to read off-line.