Writer’s Block with Alex Barclay

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Winner of Best Crime Novel at The Irish Book Awards ALEX BARCLAY tells SOPHIE GRENHAM about the magic of West Cork,  iconic FBI agents and how great crime fiction should ALWAYS HAVE ONE EXTRA TWIST

Alex-Barclay
Crime fiction superstar Alex Barclay was a copywriter and fashion editor with The RTÉ Guide before publishing her sizzling debut Darkhouse in 2006.

It became a Sunday Times Top Ten bestseller, featuring NYPD detective Joe Lucchesi. Her successful sequel, The Caller, followed in 2007; but it was Alex’s next protagonist that catapulted her to the big time.

In 2008 bipolar FBI agent Ren Bryce bounded onto the scene in Blood Runs Cold, earning Alex a Best Crime Novel accolade at the Irish Book Awards and sparking the beginning of a breath-taking series. The Mirror has said of Barclay’s talent, ‘Right now, she’s the rising star of the hard-boiled crime fiction world, combining wild characters, surprising plots and massive backdrops with a touch of dry humour.’

Alex Barclay lives in West Cork. This week, her heroine Ren Bryce returns in explosive sixth instalment The Drowning Child.

On home

I live on the Beara Peninsula, which is one of the most beautiful places on earth in all seasons. Anyone lucky enough to have discovered it wants to tell the whole world… And tell no-one. I love it here because of what I get to see every day from my windows, I love it because it’s quiet, the people are warm and welcoming, and there is creative magic in the air. Eyeries is the perfect tiny village, with great shops, two brilliant pubs, and Rhonwen’s Bistro, which is one of my regular haunts – the food is healthy, delicious, and most of it is locally sourced. Rhonwen’s motto is ‘Be welcome – eat well’ and everyone who works there lives up to it.

On creating

I usually work across three different rooms in the house – my office, the living room, and another upstairs room that I need to come up with a name for – it’s got a low, pitched roof, four Velux windows and you feel a noticeable sense of calm when you walk in. My friend said, “call it The Chapel, and if anyone asks why, tell them ‘we can’t speak of it’.” I always write there on Sunday mornings. My office is where I work the most – it’s really cosy, and doubles as a bedroom for visiting children. It’s got warm lighting, pale sea-green walls, candles, crystals, hearts, stars, and teddy bears. I write at an IKEA desk, which I think is actually a wallpaper pasting table. I’ve got various prints and ceramics featuring hares, and gifts and cards from my godchildren. The living room is where I go when I’m editing or proofing.

On bookshops

I have a huge soft spot for The Book Centre in Waterford city. It’s an art deco building and former cinema, so as a place to showcase books, it’s amazing. It’s not just like being in a book store – it’s like being inside a writer’s imagination. I’ll always associate it with great family trips to nearby Dunmore East, and writing my first book, Darkhouse, which is partially set in the area.

On beloved literature

Rebecca, To Kill A Mockingbird, Plainsong, The Great Gatsby, The Killer Inside Me, Dirty White Boys, The Man Who Fell in Love with The Moon to name but a few.

On relaxing

I live in a place where people come to get away from it all, so sometimes I feel I shouldn’t need to escape. However, I do disappear into a claw-foot bath tub in the bathroom next to my office. This was an accidental planning thing that’s worked out really well.

On crime’s popularity

There’s so much of psychological interest to be found in crime novels: the mindset of a killer, the thought processes of an investigator, the insight of medical examiners and other experts, the effects of crime on victims, their families, and communities. In terms of a reading experience, all good crime novels have a natural element of pace to draw the reader through to the conclusion, with terrible secrets buried like land mines throughout them. Crime novels are exciting reads, and bring you to places you could never safely go in real life.

On iconic FBI agents

Though I’m a huge Gillian Anderson fan, I haven’t watched The X-Files yet. I love Clarice Starling – what an amazing character – and The Silence Of The Lambs definitely boosted my interest in the FBI. But Ren came to me in isolation, fully formed as a beautiful, troubled, bipolar, FBI agent. I also knew that she would be fiery, fun, and deeply flawed. I didn’t want her to be earnest. She’s obsessive about the crimes she works on, but there’s a wild ride to be had along the way. Coincidentally, I’ve referenced Clarice in the new book. Ren makes the quiet local police chief laugh, and he seems surprised by that. Ren thinks: ‘Am I actually funny or do people just laugh because they’re expecting Clarice Starling? I’m intense too, people. No screaming lambs, but lots of fucking voices.’

On what’s next

I have a short story called Roadkill Heart, which is about to come out as part of the Trouble Is Our Business anthology, edited by Declan Burke, published by New Island. The story opens: ‘A roadkill heart is a terrible thing. Soaked in liquor, it sings. And in dead-of-night bars, lonely ladies dance.’ It’s about a killer’s last kill, but with a twist. I’m a twist junkie. In fashion writing, I would have always championed the ‘always take one piece of jewellery off’ before you leave the house advice. In crime, I’m always more inclined to add one more twist.

The Drowning Child (€19) is out today. All of her novels are published by HarperCollins and available nationwide.

Alex Barclay was photographed by Eoin Rafferty at The Library Bar at The Central Hotel, Dublin 2

Sophie Grenham @SophieGrenham

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