1 week ago

Writer’s Block with Andrea Mara

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Andrea Mara is one of Irish crime fiction’s rising stars, with three critically-acclaimed novels published so far. Before she began writing full-time, she worked in the funds industry until redundancy closed her office door – and another one opened.

Along with her career as a novelist, Mara is known for her popular parenting blog, www.officemum.ie, which has been a three-time Gold Winner at the Blog Awards Ireland, among other nods and accolades. Office Mum has proved invaluable to legions of Irish parents who juggle the many aspects of modern life. The author has also made waves with her short fiction. ‘Into The Forest’ won first place at the BookersCorner.co.uk September/October competition 2016, and was a finalist at the Colm Toíbín International Short Story Competition at the Wexford Literary Festival.

By contrast to her sunnier blogging style, Mara’s imagination throws us into the darkest depths of the human psyche with her mysteries. Her debut, The Other Side of the Wall (2017), was inspired by the tricks that the night can play on one’s eyes. The domestic noir was shortlisted for the Kate O’Brien Award. Her second book, One Click, was shortlisted for Crime Novel of the Year at the An Post Irish Book Awards in 2018.

Mara’s new work, The Sleeper Lies, couldn’t be more timely if it tried. Set during the big snow of early 2018, the narrative follows protagonist Marianne McShane as she navigates a hard winter, small town grudges, and the ghosts of her past. A self-confessed armchair detective, she spends her free time combing through stories online, comparing notes with members of her true crime Facebook group. As someone living alone in an isolated Wicklow bungalow, Marianne is particularly vulnerable to the elements. When she wakes one morning to find a face at her bedroom window and footsteps in the snow leading up to it, a chilling journey begins. With flashbacks to her childhood and the mid-00s, which include a visit to Denmark, three lies are told: in just 24 days it will all come to a head.

The Sleeper Lies is a compulsive read that will have you on tenterhooks, even when you’re not alone in the house. Michelle Sacks has called the book “deliciously suspenseful” while Roz Watkins called it “creepy, twisty and unsettling.”

Andrea Mara lives in Dublin with her family. She is working on her next novel.
The Sleeper Lies (€10.00) is published by Poolbeg Press and available from all good bookshops. 

On home

We moved house in May last year, and all these months later, the novelty has still not worn off. It took a long time to find the house, so perhaps that’s part of why I love it so much. The house is in the Deansgrange-Cornelscourt-Foxrock area, depending on what kind of mood Google Maps is in. It’s a 1960s house with high ceilings and huge windows and a big back garden. It’s also freezing cold, especially when I’m stoically working from home, wearing my giant cardigan, resisting switching on the heat. But you can’t have everything, and I’m getting used to wearing a hat and scarf indoors. The really lovely change for all of us – I live with my husband and three children – is that we can walk everywhere. We walk to school and to the local shops and for the first time, we have a restaurant in walking distance – gorgeous Fellini’s pizzeria in Deansgrange. It’s very freeing to be able to leave the car at home, and all the walking helps keep us warm!

On roots

I grew up in Carrigaline, Co Cork. My kids insist I must soon (finally) decide if I’m a Dub or a Corkonian, but I’m holding out. I’m sticking with both. My childhood memories are very green – playing in the field behind our house, cycling around the green in our estate, going to Currabinny Woods for picnics. We had plenty of beaches nearby too, and of course, in my memory, every summer’s day was sunny, and every sunny day was spent on Myrtleville Beach, Ringabella, or Rocky Bay. I remember eating ham salad sandwiches (a particular chopped up mix my mum used to make) with King crisps, and drinking diluted orange or TK red lemonade. It may have rained at some point during the 1980s, but if it did, I can’t remember.

On early reading

When we were small, my dad used to tell us a bedtime story every night, one that he made up himself. They were epic, episodic stories, with cliffhangers – I remember we couldn’t wait for the next night and the next instalment. There was one about a cuckoo clock and a time machine he told when I was six, and I still remember it. When I went on to read for myself, I started with every Enid Blyton book ever, and continued Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, then on to Christopher Pike and Lois Duncan. As for memorable books – the one that stands out most is The Catcher in the Rye. I came across it the library and gave it a go, without knowing anything about it. I remember I was blown away by it, it made me think more than any other book at that time, and I love that that happened in pre-internet, pre-book club age when to me it was just a random book from the library.

 

On family

We moved house five times when I was a child. I’m conscious that sounds as though we were on the run or in some kind of witness protection programme, but it was for no such exciting reasons. We moved – as so many families used to do – for my dad’s job. So I’ve lived in a countryside bungalow and in a small village and in a regional town and in a huge housing estate, and then finally, we settled in a quiet cul-de-sac in south Dublin. My parents were both from farming backgrounds, so we spent many holidays visiting our grandparents’ farms. Perhaps as a result, I’m endlessly fascinated by location and neighbourhoods and how we interact with neighbours – all three of my books are about neighbours – how well we know them, how neighbourhood feuds can escalate, and how much our neighbours know about us…

On creating

For my first four years as a writer, I wrote at my kitchen table while my kids were at school. Each afternoon, I packed my notebooks and pens into a box, and put the box away. Then we moved house, and for the first time ever, I had my own office. I can’t explain the excitement seeing my desk for the first time, deciding what would go where, sitting there that first morning. I have a big floor-to-ceiling window in my home office, perfect for daydreaming. It looks out onto our front garden, so my current view is of a cherry blossom tree in full bloom.

On my desk, I keep copies of crime books I love – books by Kate Atkinson, Gillian Flynn, and Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. I keep copies of my own books too, to remind myself to keep going when I get distracted. I plot out all my books by hand, one chapter at a time, in notebooks, and I keep all of the old notebooks on my desk. And I keep my blog awards there – because if you can’t keep your awards on your own desk, where can you keep them!

On bookshops

My favourite local bookshop is Dubray Books in Blackrock. It’s the bookshop we visit most frequently (though we also love Raven Books in Blackrock) and there’s plenty of space for the kids to find their own shelves and nooks, while I browse the grown-up section. I love that we meet the same booksellers there every time we go in, and I love how great they are at giving recommendations to my kids. They also sell beautiful Peter Pauper Press notebooks, and I buy a new one every time I start a new book.

On her “To Be Read” pile

I’m currently reading and very much enjoying Jo Spain’s Six Wicked Reasons, and waiting at the top of my TBR pile, I have Sam Blake’s Keep Your Eyes on Me and Louise PhillipsThe Hiding Game. I recently bought Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce on my Kindle – I’ve heard it’s very good. On Audible, I’ve just finished Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls, which was incredible – my favourite Audible book ever. Next up is American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. I’ve recently joined a book club, so that will dictate my TBR to some extent. It’s my turn to choose in April, and unless someone nabs it before me, I’m picking Our Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent.

Crime fiction gives us a way of living out our fears without literally living them.

On escapes

I want to tell you I escape to a beautiful writing retreat or a remote cottage by the sea or an Italian villa, but my only real escape is the annual holiday with my husband and kids – an escape from daily domesticity, but not a chance to write. When I need a change of scenery, school run obligations dictate how far I can go, so it’s usually one of two places – The Mellow Fig, a gorgeous café in Blackrock, or dlr Lexicon library, where I can gaze out at Dublin Bay while I’m supposed to be writing.

On The Sleeper Lies

The idea for The Sleeper Lies came to me during the big snow of March 2018. I was fascinated by the way the snow transformed my neighbourhood – it was beautiful, but a little eerie and sinister too. Once the thaw began, we visited my dad and he showed us strange footprints across his back garden. I thought how creepy it would be if you lived in the middle of nowhere, with no neighbours for miles around, and found footprints in your garden. Not long after that, I read a review of the book I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara. She was an amateur sleuth or armchair detective, trying to identify a man she named the Golden State Killer. I decided that Marianne, my character in The Sleeper Lies, would be an armchair detective, and that she might wonder if the footprints in her garden were in some way linked to the true crime cases she was researching.

The part I found most rewarding was plotting. I love the task of carefully planting seeds and leaving trails of breadcrumbs so that the reader is guessing and second-guessing at every turn. The most challenging part is writing. Coming up with ideas, plotting, tweaking, planning, editing – that’s all fun, but writing is hard work!

On crime

Crime fiction gives us a way of living out our fears without literally living them. And the recent surge in true crime content is an extension of that. There’s a kind of magical thinking that it offers protection. If we’re watching true crime or talking about it, we’re warding it off, or at the very least, informing ourselves so we’re better prepared if something happens. Podcasts like the excellent Creep Dive and My Favorite Murder are very good for taking a light-ish view of true crime and helping listeners feel prepared for the worst! The 24-hour-news cycle contributes to the rise in interest in true crime too. We literally know about real crimes in a way that wasn’t possible in the past, and with the advent of the internet, anybody can research an unsolved mystery, write a blog, or record a podcast. It’s also a way of experiencing fear in a controlled way – like taking a rollercoaster or watching a horror film. It’s awful, but it’s intriguing too, trying to understand what makes a serial killer tick, and best of all, it’s over in an hour, and we can go back to our normal, safe worlds.

On what’s next

Next up for me is more writing. This is what I want to keep doing, and now that I have my own desk in my own home office with my own distracting cherry blossom, I’m staying happily put!

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