SOPHIE GRENHAM talks to author CLAIRE ALLAN about her writing space, MARIAN KEYES and WRITING CRIME FICTION …
Former journalist Claire Allan is a bestselling author whose cracker of a crime novel, Her Name Was Rose, is topping reading lists nationwide. Claire previously published eight romantic fiction books with Poolbeg Press, starting with her debut, Rainy Days and Tuesdays (2007). Her other titles include Feels Like Maybe (2008), Jumping in Puddles (2009), It’s Got to Be Perfect (2010), The First Time I Said Goodbye (2013) and Still You (2015).
Claire’s new book is definitely a change of scene, with her audience already delighting in her dark side. Her Name Was Rose is a consuming read that explores hugely topical issues such as social media addiction, obsession and domestic abuse, and the potentially damaging effects of a perfect public veneer. Indeed, as protagonist Emily D’Arcy discovers – nothing is ever as it seems.
Claire’s first contribution to the thriller genre has impressed Marian Keyes, the high priestess of Irish popular fiction, who said of the book – “AMAZING. I read it in one go. I was totally hooked.” In fact, the author has been inundated with praise from her peers. Brian McGilloway has said, “Claire Allan’s transition into crime writing is seamless. A compulsively thrilling read from start to finish”, while C.L. Taylor called Rose “A powerful and emotional psychological thriller that will keep you guessing and leave you breathless.”
Claire has a BA in Humanities and an MA in Newspaper Journalism from the University of Ulster. From 1999 she worked as a staff reporter for the Derry Journal, where her career highlights include covering the Saville Inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday, becoming the paper’s first female columnist in 2002 and covering Derry’s year as the first UK City of Culture. She has been a full-time novelist since 2016.
Claire Allan lives in Derry with her husband Neil and their two children Joseph and Cara. She is currently completing her next novel.
Her Name Was Rose (€9.99) is published by HarperCollins and available from all good bookshops.
I was born and raised in Derry and I don’t think I could ever live anywhere else. To me it’s an amazing city which has come so far out of a very troubled past. It’s also a nice size. I get scared easily by big cities. With Derry I can drive from one end to the other in twenty minutes – and I can also be in Donegal in fifteen minutes.
On a typical day, I take my daughter to school, go to a quiet country park to walk our puppy and then home to work on whatever project I have on the go. If I allow myself some down time, I love to head to the Sandwich Co in Derry’s Diamond. The building it’s in was once one of the old dance halls – so it’s filled with quirky memorabilia.
I lived in Derry’s Creggan and then Rosemount Estates as a child. When I think of home then, I think of either the smell of melting tarmac on a hot summer’s day, or the smell of coal fires and smoke in the winter. We always seemed to be out and about regardless of the weather. Gangs of children playing in the streets! My memories of my childhood are incredibly positive, despite what was happening around us politically at the time. I think that’s why I like to use my imagination so much – we used it a lot to escape reality back then.
I’ve always been a sat-on-the-sofa writer or dining-room-table writer. Recently I’ve come to realise I need more organisation than that, so I’m setting up my first ever proper dedicated writing space. I do need certain things to be in place though. I have inspirational cards and notes from friends dotted around where I write, a lovely scented candle I like to burn to get me in the zone. I have a number of my book covers framed to remind myself how far I’ve come. I ideally need some noise in the background too. But it has to be quiet, not enough to steal my attention. Quite often I write with our dog, Izzy, doing her best to distract me.
On her favourite bookshop
No Alibis in Belfast, which recently welcomed me for my first ever launch outside of Derry. It’s a fabulous place, with really passionate staff. They are also extremely innovative, launching their own publishing house and organising their own book festival. It’s a very welcoming place, one where the love for the books just sings from the shelves. I’d think working there would be a real treat!
On her “TBR” pile
My “TBR” list is in danger of toppling at the moment as I’m so focused on editing my new book, I haven’t had much time to read. I divide my TBR list into three areas:
- Books I’m really excited about and have heard a great deal about, like Liz Nugent’s Skin Deep.
- Proofs or ARCs from publishers that I’m really keen to support. My current read 11 Missed Calls from Elisabeth Carpenter falls into that category and it’s brilliant.
- Books I know will be a gorgeous balm to my soul and which will leave me feeling positive about life, like The Book of Love by Fionnuala Kearney.
We own a mobile home in Donegal, on the coast and just over the sand dunes from a gorgeous beach. It’s quiet and peaceful, and you can lie in bed at night and listen to the waves crash to shore or listen to the rain battering off the windows. I get my greatest sense of peace from simply sitting on the sand of that beach and practicing a little mindfulness. There is something about sitting beside the sea that really grounds me.
I think we always need to be careful what we wish for. Nothing in this world comes without a price, even if that price is just an awful lot of hard work! I think we sometimes see someone enjoy success and think they must have it easy. We’re not as likely to see the hours and hours of hard work, slog, determination and self-doubt that have come first.
The grass can be greener, of course, but you have to tend it to make it so.
On Marian Keyes’s endorsement
Honestly? It was the most humbling, incredible moment of my career. I have been a fan of Marian’s from long before I ever sat down to write a book. I admire her on a professional level but also on a personal level. She is incredibly supportive of other writers, especially fellow Irish women. But I don’t think I ever allowed myself to believe she would endorse my book. I admit I cried when the endorsement came through. It was real validation of what I’ve been working towards for the last twelve years. I am enormously grateful to her.
On going dark
It was a bit of slow burning realisation. I knew I wanted to write something darker, but it took a while for me to decide to write crime and actually to believe I could write crime. I never thought I would be able to – and I did have to do quite a bit of research into different plotting and writing techniques before I sat down to write the book.
At my launch, fellow crime writer Brian McGilloway said he believed crime writing has a timeless appeal because ultimately it’s about righting wrongs and bringing some order and justice to the world. The bad guys invariably get caught and the world is put to rights. I think that sums up why it’s a rewarding genre to read, and to write.
I’m currently in the middle of edits for my next thriller, Apple of My Eye which will be released in January. It’s a book which looks at just how far a mother will go to protect her child and the bond they share. Essentially it’s a very twisted love story.
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