Writer’s Block With Dervla McTiernan

SOPHIE GRENHAM talks to author DERVLA McTIERNAN about RELOCATING TO PERTH, IRISH AUTHORS on her reading list and ESCAPING TO WRITE

Photograph by Julia Dunin

Rousing new talent Dervla McTiernan’s debut novel The Rúin sparked such demand that it became the subject of a fierce international bidding war.

The first in a tantalising new crime series, Dervla’s work is tipped to quickly climb the ranks and join Ireland’s top names in the genre. While the glowing support keeps rolling in, Alex Gray has said, “There are not many books that will keep me reading from start to finish but The Rúin did just that…An excellent story, very well written.”

In the blood-curdling opening scene, we meet DS Cormac Reilly in his first week on the beat. As he gingerly navigates a case that will linger in his consciousness two decades later, the reader is thrown through the ringer in this unpredictable, complex drama.

Dervla McTiernan originally hails from Cork, where she was born into a family of seven. The clan later lived in Dublin, Limerick and Galway. Prior to catching the writing bug, she studied corporate law at the National University of Ireland in Galway and the Law Society of Ireland, before practicing in the field for twelve years. When the global financial crisis took hold, Dervla relocated her family to Western Australia, where she works for the Mental Health Commission.

Dervla McTiernan lives in Perth, Australia, with her husband and two children. She is currently working on her second novel.

The Rúin (€13.99) is published by Little, Brown and available now from bookshops nationwide.

Dervla has two Irish book launches coming up:

Friday March 9 at 6.30pm – Dubray Books, Blackrock

Monday March 12 at 7pm – Longford Library

On home

We lived in a big country house in Roevehagh, near Clarinbridge in County Galway, before we moved to Australia in 2011. Roevehagh was our dream home…it was going to be our forever home, but things just didn’t work out that way.

I live in Yokine, a family-friendly, much overlooked little suburb about fifteen minutes from the city. We have the benefit of a beautiful park where off-lead dog walking is allowed. I walk our retriever there every morning at six a.m. and it’s always full of people. When time permits I walk the children to school across the same park. It’s so lovely, and so Australian to see them chasing along on their scooters, in their uniforms and school hats in the early morning sunshine. We live about ten minutes from the café strips at Mount Lawley and Mount Hawthorn, which is so nice, but my favourite café is our little local one on Blythe Avenue. It’s just changed hands and been renamed as Lot Six Zero, but the fundamentals that make it attractive haven’t changed – dog-friendly outside (is there a theme here?), great food and close to home.

Perth was a shock to the system in many ways. You expect the heat, but I didn’t expect how bright it would be. The intensity of that light all day every day was overwhelming for the first couple of years. Moving from a country house with a big garden to a little city house was a bit of a shock to the system too initially, and I did miss the space, as well as my early morning walks in the woods at Kilcornan. But the beaches here are spectacular – miles and miles of white sand, much of it all but deserted most of the time. It’s not hard to find space to be alone, to stretch out and think.

On childhood

We lived in Cork until I was about six, when we moved to Dublin, then later to Limerick and on to Galway. My Dad worked for Bank of Ireland, so moving a lot was part of the package. I have a handful of dim and distant memories of Cork. Our first pet, a big, friendly-clumsy yellow lab named Fionn. A vast front garden, which Dad would reluctantly mow every month or so. We’d all have to help to rake the loose grass into piles, which would generally be left there until it all blew away again. I distinctly remember learning to read. I used to beg for stories, from my parents, my older siblings, from whoever could spare me a few minutes. I was fairly relentless – Mum taught me to read before I started school, as a form of self-defense I think.

On creating

I work in a little study off our kitchen in Perth. The wall behind my chair is covered with the kids’ art, and their swimming certificates and bits and pieces. Every now and again I make a big push to tidy up my study – usually when I’m starting a new book, or a new edit, but most of the time the desk is covered with little offerings from the children, and scattered with paper, half-heartedly gathered into messy bundles. I blame Dad and the grass-raking for that.

I’ve tried to work away from time to time but mostly I prefer to be at home. If I’m under pressure and the kids are rampaging around the house I use headphones with ambient sound like rain, or a noisy café playing. That little trick has been a godsend when it comes to getting work done.

On bookshops

Dubray Books in Galway was my usual haunt. When I worked in Dublin I used to wander down to Hodges Figgis and just get lost in there. My sister lives in Blackrock and they are lucky enough to have an amazing bookshop in Blackrock Shopping Centre – I picked up some brilliant books there last time I was back. But the really lovely thing is discovering new bookshops – that’s a special joy. I found, or was introduced to, two absolute beauties this year – the Gutter Bookshop, in Dublin, which I can’t wait to get back to, and Stefan’s Bookshop, in Perth, which stocks mostly crime, science-fiction and fantasy (my favourites!).

On her nightstand

I’m currently reading Sara Foster’s back-list, as I came to her late and have only read her recent books. Her debut is a joy, beautifully written with a hook that keeps me reading even after a long day. But there are so many Irish writers I’m keen to catch up on! I know Liz Nugent has a new book coming out which I’m hoping to pick up when I’m back, if the timing is right. And I know I’m embarrassingly late to the party on this, but I haven’t read any of Louise O’Neill’s books yet. Her books have been so well received, and she seems so smart, so switched on and funny that I desperately want to read her books. I’ve heard great things about The Liar’s Girl, by Catherine Ryan Howard, so I’ll have to get that one too. I’ve been promising myself a long bookshop browse when I’m back and I’m going to stock up.

On escapes

If I’m really under pressure with a structural edit then I might need to get away for a few days to focus completely on the story. For that sort of work it’s best to have hours and hours together without interruption. I go to Fremantle, south of Perth, and stay in one of Callan’s apartments there. There’s one apartment, right in the middle of Fremantle, where the sun streams in at just the right angle through the window. I can hop on a train and be in Fremantle in about forty minutes, walk from the station to the apartment, pull out my laptop, and start work. There’s an amazing restaurant called Bread-in-Common, just around the corner. It’s great motivation if I promise myself dinner and a glass of wine there at the end of the day…but only if the work is done!

On writing

I always, always wanted to write. But writing felt like it was a dream, far beyond my reach. When I was in my teens and twenties I was the kind of person who did what was expected of them, I would take the safe and conservative next step, rather than rock the boat. It took me many years and a move to Australia to fully grow out of that! I think I needed to grow up fully before I could seriously pursue writing. What has surprised me most about being published is how deeply rewarding the whole process has been. I loved the editing process. I love working with everyone at my publishers from my editors to my publicists. Everyone is there because they love books, after all, so we have a lot in common.

On the past

Very few of us can leave an unresolved thing firmly behind us. Most of us, whether we’re aware of it or not, will turn towards that unresolved thing, poke and it and prod at it, whether or not it causes us pain, until we find answers.

On what’s next

I’ve delivered the second book in the series which will be published in March 2020. And I’ll be starting work on the third later this year. After that, we’ll have to wait and see!

@SophieGrenham

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