Writer’s Block With Jane Casey

SOPHIE GRENHAM talks to JANE CASEY about finding character names in cemeteries and why she reads more than CRIME NOVELS …

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Crime queen Jane Casey reigns supreme in the world of gritty fiction, thanks to her spellbinding plotlines and razor sharp detail. The accomplished Dubliner’s eerily lifelike depictions of murderous offenders not only carry an enormous fan base, but have gripped critics on both sides of the pond. Married to a criminal barrister, Jane’s understanding of society’s lawless underworld has given her craft a distinctive edge. Sure enough, her phenomenal series with DS Maeve Kerrigan has rapidly become one of the genre’s most popular, collecting many awards. In 2015 Jane’s work was bestowed with the Mary Higgins Clark Award for The Stranger You Know and the Irish Crime Novel of the Year accolade for After the Fire (both Penguin).

Jane’s latest novel Let the Dead Speak is Maeve Kerrigan’s seventh outing, with praise already pouring in. Lee Child called the book ‘Astute, complex, layered’, while the Irish Independent has said it ‘delivers more twists than a corkscrew’.

Jane Casey lives in southwest London with her husband and two children. She is working on her next novel.

Let the Dead Speak (€18.19) is published by HarperCollins and available now from booksellers nationwide.

On home

I live in Earlsfield, a quiet little part of southwest London that’s known as Nappy Valley because of the high birth rate. Every second person you pass in the street seems to be pushing a pram! I live just down the hill from Wandsworth Common, a great place to celeb-spot. The Skylark Café usually has at least one TV presenter or ex-popstar sitting outside having a coffee. I get lots of ideas while walking on the common and I’ve found hundreds of character names in the large and surprisingly pretty Victorian cemetery. Earlsfield is brilliant because it’s a twelve-minute train journey into the centre of London, so I can zip in for a trip to an exhibition, the theatre or shopping. My absolute favourite trip is one that involves a visit to Waterstones Piccadilly – six floors of booklover heaven in an art deco building – and a wander around the Royal Academy of Art opposite it. Earlsfield is a well-kept secret. It’s just across the river from Fulham and Chelsea, and right between Clapham and Wimbledon, but it’s far more affordable and down-to-earth than those areas.

On roots

I grew up in Castleknock. I miss Dublin enormously – I go home every month or two to see my family and I keep in touch as much as I can via Twitter, the online newspapers and RTÉ Player. I love the size of the city, its energy and its location. Dubliners have a real enjoyment of life and culture. It feels very relaxed and friendly compared to London, where everyone is in a rush and a bad mood!

On artistic migration

I think London is a draw for Irish creatives because there are huge opportunities to reach a global audience. There’s an assumption that your ambition is to achieve that international success and everything is set up to that end. When I moved to London in 2003, it was for love because I’d been in a long-distance relationship with my then-boyfriend (now husband) for several years, but it was also for work. I’d been a book editor in Dublin but I found a job in children’s books in London, which required a complete change of approach. Ireland is a tremendously nurturing environment for creatives, particularly in the field of literature, but I think it helps to spend some time outside it to expand your horizons and ambitions and make international contacts in your chosen industry.

On creating

I’m very flexible about where I work. I’ve trained myself to be able to concentrate in just about any environment because when I had very young children I had to write wherever and whenever I could. I often work in my local library with my headphones on because at home I get distracted more easily. I have a desk in the loft of my house though, overlooking the gardens and trees of the common in the distance, and it’s an inspiring place to work. I don’t go in for big wall charts to plan out my books but I do tear out pictures for inspiration when I’m describing characters or locations. I also make playlists for books and particular characters to get myself into the mood to write. My desk is surrounded by books that I use for research, the previous books in the series so I can check I’m being consistent with names and dates, and a few souvenirs from home.

On bookshops

I absolutely love the Gutter Bookshop in Temple Bar – it’s a brilliant shop and a great venue for launches. Booksellers play such an important role in sharing books with their readers and Bob Johnston, the Gutter Bookshop’s owner, knows all there is to know about what’s being published and what people should be reading.

On her nightstand

I’ve got a huge stack of books on the go! I’m very lucky to get a lot of crime novels before they publish so I have the new Paula Hawkins book, Into the Water, which is going to be a huge seller, and See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt, a fantastic novel about Lizzie Borden. I’ve also just finished reading Sinéad Crowley’s forthcoming One Bad Turn, which was totally gripping. I’m re-reading Joan Didion’s essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem and Mary Roach’s Gulp, a very clever and funny take on the digestive tract and what scientists have done to learn about it. I try to read more than just crime novels – you never know what will spark an idea for a story or a book.

On escapes

I’m the sort of person who is quite happy to go to the same place time and time again on holiday. I particularly love the Western Cape in South Africa because it’s beautiful and unspoilt and the people are wonderfully welcoming. You really feel you’ve got away from it all when the next landmass is Antarctica! Closer to home I love to take the family to the west. Mayo is a fantastic place to turn the children loose.

On crime

I think crime is one of those genres that has broad appeal across ages and types of people. There’s a definite fascination for us in the dark side – what makes people do terrible things? How can they be stopped? I think people want to be gripped by what they’re reading, and challenged, and for there to be an element of unpredictability to the way the story unfolds. Crime does all that and more. As a genre it’s become more respectable, and there are some very fine writers producing crime fiction at the moment, but I think it will still be a long time before a crime novel wins a major literary award.

On what’s next

I’m working on the eighth in the Maeve Kerrigan series. I never get tired of writing these characters and seeing how they react to new situations. I am quite mean to them though. Someone recently asked me to make sure Maeve gets a decent meal in the next book!

SOPHIE GRENHAM @SophieGrenham

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