Bringing ‘Sisters and Lies’ to the Shelf by Bernice Barrington
I have been writing all my life. At school I wrote long, rambling essays that no doubt drove my teachers batty and I even ‘published’ a school magazine aged eleven. It was called The White Elephant and targeted itself at the discerning 8-12 year old north Longford demographic. It was a modest success and I thought I would make my fortune.
I did not. Instead went to secondary school.
After that I went to Trinity College Dublin where I studied English and German, then spent nearly a year interning in a woman’s fashion publication – rekindling my early passion for all things magazine-y.
During that year I also participated in an evening course in creative writing, which is where the real magic happened. The course was taught by an amazing woman called Helen Bovaird-Ryan* and every Tuesday night I would haul myself off to Dun Laoghaire College of Further Education where a bunch of lovely people (one particularly nice boy, Brian, more on him later) would read my work and give me feedback and generally be very kind and complimentary towards me. By the end of the course one of my writer pals quipped that I had “found my voice” and, yes, it did feel like that. But it was more besides: it was like I’d discovered a whole new way of life.
Such was my enthusiasm that I went on to complete a master’s degree in Writing at NUI Galway, which was immensely creative and fun. But I was still only twenty-five and had the life experience of a gnat. I couldn’t just become a writer. All my heroes (Marian Keyes, Helen Fielding, Maeve Binchy) had had proper jobs for years before they became writers full time. And anyway wasn’t it rather arrogant to think I could just sit around communing with the muse instead of going out and earning a wage? Wasn’t there the minor issue of paying my rent?
So, next stop was a two-year stint at my local newspaper, The Longford Leader, where I got a job as a regional journalist. It was exhausting and often stressful, but also hugely interesting. I met characters from every walk of life, wrote thousands of words every day and reported on everything from factories burning down to Anglo-Irish aristocrats to a man who kept a bird in his pocket. It was life in minutiae and it meant writing fast. It was the most fabulous training ground I could ever have wished for.
Next was a six-year stint in a publishing company in Dublin. I started off as a sub-editor (honing in on the detail of things) and eventually wound up as the editor of a parenting magazine. Again, it involved researching, writing and editing every day to deadline. In the background, I was also chipping away at a novel – finding it difficult to find the time but working away at it sporadically nonetheless.
But finally, about four years after I had started it, the book was finished. It was a lopsided unbeautiful thing, but it was my lopsided unbeautiful thing and it was done. A friend of mine put me in touch with her agent in Curtis Brown who referred my manuscript to the legendary Sheila Crowley – an Irishwoman who has nurtured the careers of JoJo Moyes, Melissa Hill and Emma Hannigan to name just a few.
She felt the book wasn’t quite right for the market but suggested we meet for a ‘cuppa’ and a chat. At that meeting she said I could definitely write, and suggested I start something new, thrusting a copy of Gone Girl into my hands before I left.
I devoured it, and booked myself into Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Monaghan to try to encourage inspiration. A week and a half later, I had 20,000 words down on paper and the beginning of a novel. Sisters and Lies was born.
Well, actually I lie – it wasn’t born as much as conceived (always the more fun bit). And the gestation period took a little longer than anticipated.
It would take me another year and a half to find those remaining 80,000 words. I had to search for the truth of the story just as much as my characters did because I didn’t know what was going to happen either.
There were tears, there was gnashing of teeth. There was much, much re-writing and deleting of text. [And cursing, a lot of cursing.]
But by the start of 2015, Sisters and Lies was finally finished. I sent it off to my agent, who responded very quickly. She loved it! We were going to send it out.
And so, the final chapter (for now at least).
I was in Seville on my 36th birthday, and after schlepping around the city for about eight hours in 40° heat, I was lying on the bed of my hotel room trying to recover when my phone rang: it was Sheila, calling from London. Penguin Ireland wanted to buy my book.
And so after all the years and the tears and the doubting I turned to my husband and we hugged silently, impossible to put into words the journey we’d been on with this book – with this life we’d discovered together through writing.
For he was Brian, the boy I’d met all those years earlier in the Dun Laoghaire evening class as I’d taken my first tentative steps into the world of creativity.
And even though I’d just written a dark psychological thriller – our story was more of the romantic variety.
Reader, I’d married him.
(c) Bernice Barrington
*If you too would like to hone your creativity skills and (possibly) meet your life partner, check out Helen Bovaird-Ryan’s classes.
About Sisters and Lies
‘A hugely accomplished thriller, which derives its power from excellent characterisation – they’re all well-rounded, recognisable, believable real people – and a meticulously twisty plot. I honestly had NO idea what the secret at the heart of the book was, until right at the very end. In a market-place crowded with grip-lit, Sisters and Lies is head and shoulders above the rest.’ Marian Keyes
One hot August night, Rachel Darcy gets the call everyone fears. It’s the police. Her younger sister Evie’s had a car crash, she’s in a coma. Can Rachel fly to London right away?
With Evie injured and comatose, Rachel is left to pick up the pieces of her sister’s life. But it’s hard fitting them together, especially when she really doesn’t like what she sees.
Why was Evie driving when she doesn’t even own a licence?
Who is the man living in her flat and claiming Evie is his girlfriend?
How come she has never heard of him?
The more mysteries Rachel uncovers the more she starts asking herself how well she ever really knew her sister. And then she begins to wonder if the crash was really the accident everybody says it is.
Back in hospital, Evie, trapped inside an unresponsive body, is desperately trying to wake up. Because she’s got an urgent message for Rachel – a warning which could just save both their lives . . .
Sisters and Lies is in bookshops now or pick up your copy online here!