Dervla McTiernan sprang on to the popular crime fiction scene a year ago with her first novel, The Ruin. The Perth-based lawyer’s path to success came with a personal hurdle — the diagnosis of a brain tumour, on the very same day her debut draft was first demanded by an agent before she landed with HarperCollins Australia. The health scare now behind her, McTiernan is back with her new release The Scholar — like The Ruin, set in her native Ireland and featuring Detective Cormac Reilly. Today she takes the Book Club Ten.
1. Give us the elevator pitch for your new book The Scholar
Emma Sweeney, a research scientist, is visiting her lab late one evening when she stumbles across the body of a young woman who has been the victim of a hit and run. Emma is distraught and calls her partner, Cormac Reilly, a detective sergeant in the Irish police force. Cormac takes the case and steps straight into a quagmire of corruption, politics and a pattern of evidence that brings the case full circle, and far too close to home.
2. Do readers need to have read your first book, The Rúin, before reading your new one?
No, definitely not. I wrote the books so that they can be read as stand alones. Having said that, I think a reader would get the most out of them when reading them together, starting with The Rúin.
3. Which writers and books have inspired your own writing the most?
I’m so inspired by Stephen King, a writer whose love of story never seems to dim over so many years and so many books. And I recently read Lethal White, the fourth in the Robert Galbraith crime series (EDITOR’S NOTE: for those unaware, Robert Galbraith is a pen-name used by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling when she writes crime). It’s an utterly brilliant book, and I loved spending time with Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacot so much that I hated to finish it. It reminded me of the particular joy that a well-written series can bring.
4. You’re originally from Ireland but you’ve been living in Perth for eight years. Is it difficult writing about Ireland when you’re living so far away from it? Do you think you’ll ever set one of your novels in Australia?
Some day! I think I’m getting a bit closer to it. Before now I wasn’t confident enough in my understanding of Australian culture and language, but I’ve noticed that I’ve started to listen to conversations in a different way lately. I was with a group of Australian friends recently when the men in the group started to argue about music, Australian music in particular, and I took a few quiet notes — it would make such a great scene!
5. Why do you think crime fiction is such a popular genre?
I like to steal Sophie Hannah’s answer to this one — she said that readers of crime fiction can be sure that the writer will put the readers’ enjoyment ahead of whatever the writer is getting out of the process! I think there’s some truth to that — the genre of crime fiction is so very broad, but I think it’s fair to say that almost without exception crime fiction is primarily written to entertain.
6. True crime is a and growing sector. Do you have any interest in the real-life side?
Less so than other writers I know. I don’t read true crime as a general rule — I’m probably more interested in narrative driven podcasts like Serial.
7. Tell us more about podcasts; and do you watch crime shows?
I watch crime shows (hanging out for the next Line of Duty at the moment!). When it comes to podcasts I’m most interested in listening to writers talking about writing. I’ve spent most of my listening time over the past year catching up on back episodes of Scriptnotes, which is aimed at screenwriters, but has lots of interesting things to say about story.
8. How do you conduct your research around policing and crime?
In a sporadic and slapdash fashion! For me it’s story first, and research second. I do want to get the details right as much as possible, because errors can throw a reader out of the story, but I think the sense of authenticity comes from how characters act and relate to each other more than lots of detail about process and procedure.
9. If you were to leave the crime genre behind … where would you head next?
I think I’d be tempted to try my hand at fantasy for younger readers. I grew up reading fantasy, and still have a very soft spot for it.
10. Away from books and crime, what’s a day in the life of Dervla?
My kids are still young (nine and seven) so apart from writing my day is structured around school drop and pick up and homework and activities and play dates … all the usual stuff!
The Scholar, by Dervla McTiernan and published by HarperCollins Australia, is available in all good bookshops and online.
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WHAT wouldn’t you do to save a child? That’s the question posed by Cassie Hamer’s After The Party.
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