Cruel Acts by Jane Casey: An Interview with Mairead Hearne
Irish writer Jane Casey has just released her latest novel Cruel Acts with Harper Collins, featuring the formidable DS Maeve Kerrigan. We were delighted that Jane was able to spend time with us recently, giving us the opportunity to have a fascinating chat about her writing and, of course, about her recent publication. Jane Casey has been the recipient of many awards and accolades, including Irish Crime Novel of the Year for one of earlier novels, After the Fire. Now living in the UK, she has always felt strongly that the Irish readership is very important to her.
‘The Irish readership is hugely important – more than ever! I’ve always found Irish readers pick up on elements of the story that other readers might miss, like the tension between an Irish upbringing and an English way of life. I’m very lucky to have such great support in Ireland. Winning Irish Crime Novel of the Year was absolutely a career highlight!’
Jane has been quoted as saying that ‘All my criminal elements have some basis in reality, no matter how awful they may be. Nothing is completely farfetched.’ We were very keen to know how Jane manages to maintain this authenticity in her writing and the answer is very simple: research.
‘I do a lot of research; I check and double-check my facts. I sometimes have to cut corners with procedure for the sake of the story, but the police officers who read my books for fun have assured me the process is mostly accurate! My husband is a big help with research; he’s worked in the criminal justice system for over twenty years. He wouldn’t let me get away with being unrealistic. I really hate getting things wrong. There’s one small mistake in a book in the series (I’m not going to say which one) and I can’t fix it without rewriting a few chapters, so I’ve got to live with it – but it drives me mad!’
The main protagonist in this crime fiction series of books is Maeve Kerrigan. The Irishness was a very crucial factor for Jane Casey when she was creating her main character.
‘I always wanted to write about young women because I think they’re faced with some extremely daunting decisions early on in their adulthood. The career they choose, the relationships they pursue, the lifestyle they lead – all these decisions can have a huge and permanent effect on their future. Maeve is moving towards the point where she has to decide if she wants to pursue promotion or whether she’d prefer to become a mother. There are very few male characters who have to make any kind of critical choice between their career and their personal lives. Maeve has an extremely Irish name because I wanted to write about the children of the diaspora. Living outside Ireland, I’m really conscious of trying to share the culture and way of life with my own children, and I think Maeve’s parents would have tried to bring her up as a little Irish girl even though they were in the heart of London. I think it makes her something of an outsider, and that her choice to become a Metropolitan police officer might have been quite a hard thing for her parents to accept on many levels.’
Maeve Kerrigan’s character is quite young, yet she seems to have faced some extremely traumatic experiences in her job. We were curious to discover what makes Maeve tick? What keeps her strong?
‘She’s very hard on herself (and I’m hard on her!). Police work is so vocational – the police do a job that most of us would hate, in difficult circumstances, for very little money. They really believe in the importance of what they do. Maeve is always driven by the desire to serve justice, whatever that requires of her.’
Cruel Acts is the eighth book in the series since The Burning was first published in 2010. There is always the possibility that a writer can struggle to keep the content fresh at all times, to hold the attention of the reader, in particular the loyal fans, but not so for Jane Casey…
‘Absolutely not! I always have a story in the back of my mind, waiting to be written. The joy of a series is that you return to the same characters, and it’s like revisiting old friends. They develop over time, with new challenges to face, and it all happens quite organically. Life moves on, naturally, so I get to drop in and see where it’s left them this time. Cruel Acts sees Maeve finally come to terms with a very difficult time in her personal life, because it felt like the right time for her to move on.’
In Cruel Acts, Maeve is faced with some very unpleasant folk. Jane Casey looks to the familiar in human behaviour when creating these personalities, adding the intensity as the situation develops.
‘I have come across people who were prepared to do bad things (in small ways) – liars, cheaters, manipulators and the like. So much of writing crime is about magnifying that familiar behaviour and depicting the effect it has on those around them, just as so much of the fear in a crime novel is familiar to anyone who has hurried down a dark alley late at night – it’s just more intense. But I think the bad characters in Cruel Acts have a particularly strong resonance, and I’m not sure why. They felt very real to me when I was writing them, as did the victims.’
The sexual tension is palpable between Maeve Kerrigan and her work colleague DI Josh Derwent. In Cruel Acts there is one particular scene involving the washing of hair that could go either way (we’ll say no more) The attraction is there but yet…
‘Their relationship is really at the heart of the series and I’m very much enjoying how it changes over time. It’s important to me that Maeve changes herself, that her confidence develops and her understanding of herself increases. She’s good at thinking about why other people do what they do, but she has a massive blind spot about how people behave around her. Her relationship with Josh Derwent operates on many levels. In some ways they’re equals, in others not. They challenge each other, and stand up for each other, but they’re also harsh critics of each other’s behaviour. I love writing such a close and complicated relationship. And I do love putting them in close proximity to one another to see what happens…’
With a family it can be very tough to split one’s time between work and play. We asked Jane Casey how she manages to achieve this balance, and if she would share some tips for any aspiring writers out there.
‘I probably have more time now for writing than at any time before – I had a newborn when I was writing the first book in this series, on maternity leave, and I still have no idea how I did it! Having said that, I’ve got slower as time has gone on. I write during term time and try to fit in some exercise where I can, but I’m still working on the perfect writing routine. I do think that anyone who has family and work commitments can feel overwhelmed and unable to write, but the best thing you can do for yourself is to commit to even a half hour every day. It’s amazing how the word count goes up if you’re consistent, even if you only have a small amount of time to yourself – but you have to guard that time with your life! I wrote my first book by getting up an hour earlier every day for about a year, but that was before children. You need to adapt to the circumstances but if you’re really determined there’ll be a half-hour somewhere in the day where you can write a few sentences.’
Of course we just could not part company with Jane without enquiring about the next book in this fantastic series and we were extremely excited with this little nugget of gold….you saw it here first!
‘I’m just doing the last few tweaks to the next book before it goes to the copy editor! It takes place a few months after the end of Cruel Acts and centres on the death of a journalist who was investigating a particularly nasty group of over-privileged men. Both Maeve and Derwent have some huge challenges to overcome – I think by the end neither of them will ever be the same…’
(c) Mairead Hearne
About Cruel Acts:
From award-winning author Jane Casey comes a powerful Maeve Kerrigan crime thriller which will keep you on the edge of your seat until the final page!
How can you spot a murderer?
Leo Stone is a ruthless killer – or the victim of a miscarriage of justice. A year ago, he was convicted of the murder of two women and sentenced to life in prison. But now he’s free, and according to him, he’s innocent.
DS Maeve Kerrigan and DI Josh Derwent are determined to put Stone back behind bars where he belongs, but the more Maeve finds out, the less convinced she is of his guilt.
Then another woman disappears in similar circumstances. Is there a copycat killer, or have they been wrong about Stone from the start?
Order your copy online here.