Writer’s Block With Catherine Ryan Howard

SOPHIE GRENHAM talks to author CATHERINE RYAN HOWARD about her favourite writing space, her LATEST NOVEL and THE INSPIRATION PROJECT

Photograph by Eoin Rafferty

Since the release of Catherine Ryan Howard’s debut thriller Distress Signals in 2016, it’s been nothing but plain sailing for the Cork native. The runaway hit was an Irish Times and USA Today bestseller, and was short-listed for the CWA John Creasey/New Blood Dagger 2017, as well as an Irish Book Award in 2016. Centred around the chilling disappearance of a young woman on a cruise ship, the novel’s popularity only continues to grow internationally. Liz Nugent has called Distress Signals ‘pacey, suspenseful, and intriguing… [A] top-class, page-turning read. Catherine Ryan Howard is an astonishing new voice in thriller writing.’

Prior to becoming a full-time author, Catherine was best known for her self-published prose – Mousetrapped (2010) and Backpacked (2012). Renowned for her expertise, Catherine has given talks about self-publishing at Faber Academy, the Irish Writers Centre and Guardian Masterclasses. Self-Printed (2014, 3rd edition) is her definitive guide. Catherine has also worked as a campsite courier in France, a travel administrator in the Netherlands, and a front desk agent at a hotel in Walt Disney World, Florida.

The Liar’s Girl, Catherine’s new novel, is one of this year’s most eagerly-awaited releases. Readers can look forward to devouring more of her signature suspense, as we meet a notorious Dublin canal killer, a suspected copycat, and a young woman forced to face the past she escaped. Gillian McAllister has called it ‘an absolute belter of a book…Real and sympathetic characters, a flawlessly paced plot and a genuinely original premise.’

The hard-working scribe has recently collaborated with fellow bestselling authors Carmel Harrington and Hazel Gaynor. Together, they have established The Inspiration Project, a luxurious weekend writing retreat with a difference. The twenty places at this January’s inaugural event sold out in just 72 hours.

Catherine Ryan Howard lives in Dublin. She is currently finishing a BA in English Literature at Trinity College Dublin and writing her next novel.

The Liar’s Girl (€17.99) is published by Atlantic Books and available nationwide.

On home

I live in Dublin near the Grand Canal, so a lot of what I think of as my neighbourhood is actually the city centre. I love being so close to the action, but it’s also nice that on the weekends all the office workers are missing and it gets really quiet and peaceful around here. The canal can be so beautiful on a sunny day. There’s so much within walking distance of my door – the beach at Sandymount, the restaurants and cafés in Ranelagh, the shops on Grafton Street – and as both the Luas and the Dart are close by, I feel spoiled for choice.

I call my Dublin apartment ‘The Shoebox’ because it’s about a third of the size of the one I lived in back in Cork, despite them being the same monthly rent. It is technically a studio, but the kitchen is separate and thankfully there’s a storage room that’s big enough to take all my junk and double as a walk-in wardrobe. It feels spacious and gets lots of natural light, and after living here for nearly four years I’ve got the décor just the way I like it. My bed comes down from the wall which everyone thinks is a great novelty, but I miss investing in pretty bed linen, sumptuous throws and cute cushions, because there’s no point when it’s hidden away almost all the time. I’ve spent a lot of time creating the perfect desk, because writing a book necessitates that I sit at it for hours on end. I like to be surrounded by my favourite things and reminders of happy times. I have a pink typewriter that is mainly used for gazing at adoringly and a framed picture of little me working on the manual one Santa brought me for Christmas when I was eight. My top-of-the-range coffee machine is within easy reach. I find I can’t really work as well anywhere else.

I didn’t so much chose to live here as I spent a whole summer desperately searching for somewhere to live that wasn’t twice my budget and/or could double as a grotty drug den, and got lucky with this place. Now I wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else. I’ve been studying English at Trinity as a mature student since September 2014 (I’m in the last few weeks of it now!) so I spend most of my time going in and out of there. During breaks, I tend to re-caffeinate at Bestseller on Dawson Street, easily the nicest bookish café in Dublin, and buy books I don’t really have time to read in Hodges Figgis.

On roots

I grew up in Grange, a suburb on the southside of Cork City. My parents still live there and haven’t managed to get rid of my brother or sister yet. The main thing that comes to mind when I think of it is hills – you can’t go out and come back without having to climb up one. I used to walk home from school which involved trekking from the lowest point to the highest, and I used to hate it. I think that’s partly why I love Dublin so much – it’s flat!

On bookshops

Dubray Books on Grafton Street is full of happy memories for me, because I’ve been to the book launches of so many good friends in there and it’s also where I had my own. I love that shop and didn’t think it could be improved upon, but then they added caffeine and proved me wrong! I’m looking forward to launching The Liar’s Girl in there on March 8. I love discovering English bookshops in non-English speaking countries, because the selection is always small and you’re on holiday and desperate for reading material, so you’re forced to pick up something you mightn’t normally. It’s a great way to discover new books. Nice in the south of France is one of my favourite destinations, and there’s a gorgeous little bookshop in Antibes that does new and second-hand books. It’s called, simply, Antibes Books. The woman who owned it used to work in the much larger English bookshop that was around the corner, so it was great to see a replacement pop up when that business sadly closed. I love getting on the train to just go and have a browse in there.

On her nightstand

I bought myself a special, limited edition of The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton from Goldsboro Books, which I started reading in a digital proof and then decided it was such a memorable book that I needed to stop and wait until I could curl up with a hardcover with sprayed red edges and intricate maps printed inside. I’m mid-way through The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, which I have to read for college; I’m taking a class in 19th century detective fiction. And I have a copy of The Rúin by Dervla McTiernan, an Irish writer living in Australia, which I’m sure is about to set Irish crime fiction alight. Everyone seems to be talking about it and they’re only saying incredibly good things. I’m saving that for the day I’ll spend on the couch in my PJs recovering from having two launches in one week for my own book!

On escapes

I’m not sure I ever feel more relaxed than I do when I’m in Villefranche-sur-mer, a little village just outside of Nice, France. There’s a little harbour there with lots of cafés and restaurants lining the water’s edge and a gorgeous view out into the bay. I have a favourite café and a favourite seat there. I can sit there for hours. There’s no sound but the gentle rocking of the boats in the water. It’s blissful.

On The Inspiration Project

We came up with the idea for The Inspiration Project over gin – like all good ideas! Carmel Harrington had the idea to hold a kind of writing retreat with a difference, and invited Hazel Gaynor and I to join her. I wanted to do it because I was sick to the teeth of hearing about how Irish writers are all impoverished. All three of us make a living as full-time writers, so we know it’s not impossible. It takes a huge amount of hard work, yes, but it can happen. We like to think of The Inspiration Project as a safe space where dreams, however unlikely they may seem, can grow, and where writers at all stages of their career can get the tools and time they need to make their dreams a reality. Plus there’s gin.

On success

I think the best things about being published are the things you never even thought to hope for. Just last week, Waterstone’s Cork, where I’m doing an event next week to mark the launch of The Liar’s Girl, printed details for the event on the end of their till receipts. Who would even think about since a thing? I was tickled pink when I saw it. And then I did an event at the London Irish Centre in Camden, walked into the ladies’ bathroom and saw… my own face. There were posters advertising the event in the bathroom. I also take a perverse pleasure in the fact that I applied to study English at Trinity as a mature student because I’d started to fear my writing dreams were never going to happen, and now, since TCD is Ireland’s legal depository, copies of my book sit in their library. Hashtag smug on that front, I have to admit.

On crime

As a reader, crime fiction will always be popular because no other genre offers such deliciously dark puzzles for the reader to work out.

On what’s next

In about six weeks’ time I’ll (finally!) finish college and I can’t wait, as I’ve never actually just written a book and done nothing else. I wrote Distress Signals while working in a B&B in Cork and I wrote The Liar’s Girl while studying at TCD. I’ve signed new deals for two more books with both my American and UK/Ireland publishers, so I’m currently writing the first draft of what will be my third thriller. It’s got what I hope will prove to be a really interesting structure, and I’m excited to get to THE END.

@SophieGrenham

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