Flying High: Three Little Birds by Sam Blake

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Three Little Birds by Sam Blake

By Sam Blake

Sam Blake’s new book Three Little Birds was inspired by a photograph but takes readers to the world of forensics and facial reconstruction.

For me the start of a new year is all about possibility – my favourite quote is from Febvre:

“there are no necessities, but everywhere possibilities; and man, as the master of these possibilities, is the judge of their use”.

Every new book offers possibilities – for Sam Blake to reach new readers, and for readers to find me. Three Little Birds is my tenth book (which still feels incredible, and a landmark) – it’s officially out today, but it flew the nest early and has landed in bookshops and the windows in Dubray Books. And on the first day of the New Year it was No 2 in Dubray Books in Grafton Street 😊

In Steven Bartlett’s book The Diary of a CEO, he says:

“If you don’t care about tiny details, you’ll produce bad work because good work is the culmination of hundreds of tiny details. The world’s most successful people all sweat the small stuff.”

Three Little Birds is all about detail. Detail gives a story authenticity and research can be revelatory in terms of guiding a story. In my mind, the tiniest details count hugely in making the story live – more importantly if I read something that doesn’t ring true, I’m jerked out of the story, and my job as a writer is to keep you utterly immersed.

The joy of a book is that it doesn’t have to be perfect first time – in fact that first draft is all about finding out what you need to know so that you can go back and check the details. It’s very tempting to disappear down a research rabbit hole, but realistically you’re only likely to use a tiny bit, perhaps 10% of the research you do, so it’s more important to spend your valuable time actually writing, rather than getting lost online!

I make sure the scaffolding is correct before I write so I don’t make any horrendous mistakes that might derail the plot, but in recent books I’ve plotted a lot less, so I don’t know what’s going to happen until it does. That means going back to check those details, to find details that will add authenticity, to make the characters and action feel real.

Three Little Birds started with a photo that gave me the inspiration for my protagonist Carla Steele – it was a character writing prompt in a Writers Ink challenge (there’s one coming up in January – join us, you never know what might happen!) Writers Ink is the online writing group that I run with Maria McHale and we run challenges a few times a year to help writers kick start their writing. When I saw this photo I wanted to take the first impressions you have when you see it, and turn them on their head. This is exactly what Carla looks like in Three Little Birds, and it’s the tattoo on the inside of her wrist that gives the book its title.

I’d been researching missing persons online and a branch of forensics that absolutely fascinated me – facial reconstruction. Absorbed in the possibilities and the cases that had been successfully solved as a result of the process, I started to think about that photograph. In my head she was already Carla Steele and she was highly qualified – facial reconstruction was a perfect fit for her.

Having photographs of my characters helps hugely when I’m at the plotting stage of a book. I create a pictorial storyboard for each book, and I move them around before I stick them down, to get a feel for their relationships and interactions. I do a deep dive on each character before I start writing, looking at how old they are, where they went to school, and what their house looks like. I want to know what music they listen to, what their favourite drink is, whether they are a tea or a coffee person. This detail can change as I write, but it trickles through and makes them feel real to me (you can see lots of the photographs that informed the characters in Three Little Birds on my Facebook and Instagram pages – you’ll find me everywhere @SamBlakeBooks)

In Three Little Birds, Carla sets up and runs the Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement department, affectionately known as FACE, in Ireland’s Garda headquarters. Grace, Carla’s partner is a forensic psychologist who the eagle eyed amongst you will notice had a walk on part in The Mystery of Four (she was fronting the TV series about cold cases) She’s a perfectionist with a fearsome reputation who is a complete contrast to Carla.

In Three Little Birds we also meet, DS Jack Maguire, who comes from a legal family – his brother is a barrister living in Dublin. Jack’s living in Coyne’s Cross in County Mayo now, but is a regular visitor to his brother to help out with his nephews and niece, Scarlett, Ollie and Leo – and Buster the dog. Jack’s sister-in-law Orla is an accountant, but confined to a wheelchair as her MS worsens.

Once I had my cast, I started to think story. I needed to get under Carla’s skin, to understand her process. I watched lots of documentaries about facial reconstruction, and then I found an online facial reconstruction course run by the University of Sheffield which gave me all the tools I needed to bring Carla truly to the page.

I love to learn something new when I read a book, and I love the authenticity details brings. BUT as a writer it’s really important not to dump all this fascinating new found information on the reader, I need to give you enough to move the plot forwards and create an authentic world, but not over-do it.

When I’m researching, I read a lot of academic research papers around the subject I need information on – they are invaluable because the nature of a PhD is to answer a specific scientific question, so they are perfect for very focused details. In The Mystery of Four I needed to know the half life of aconite, in my next teen book I wanted to find out details about catatonic states, and in Three Little Birds I took a deep dive into forensics, looking at everything from head trauma to the gestation of the blue bottle. I needed to know about DNA recovery from bones, the decomposition rate of a body in water (which is impacted by all sorts of factors from temperature to bacterial activity to whether it’s salt water or fresh water) and forensic dentistry –  the enamel rod patterns in teeth are similar to fingerprints, and unique to each individual.

The devil is definitely in the detail in Three Little Birds, but at the core of the story is a cold case mystery, but one that becomes very hot when Carla and Grace go to Lough Coyne to see the recovery site of the skull that’s been found in its waters. I hope you enjoy it!

(c) Sam Blake 2024

About Three Little Birds:
Three Little Birds by Sam Blake

Two decades of secrets. One shocking discovery…

When a skull is found in Lough Coyne, facial reconstruction expert Dr Carla Steele is drawn into a fourteen-year-old case – but not all cases are cold, as Carla discovers when she and DS Jack Maguire find the brutally murdered body of a local woman close to the water’s edge.

Together with Carla’s partner, criminal psychologist Grace Franciosi, Carla and Jack uncover a tragic story with very dangerous and current implications.

Since the disappearance of her best friend, Carla has dedicated her career to bringing the dead home, but this time it’s the living who are counting on her. In a race to save another woman, will they be able to stop the killer in time?

‘Griptastic!’ Liz Nugent
‘Immersive and chilling’ Jane Casey
‘Sam Blake at her masterful best’ Andrea Mara
‘Gripping and fascinating’ Catherine Kirwan

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Sam Blake has been writing fiction since her husband set sail across the Atlantic for eight weeks and she had an idea for a book.
Sam has had a string of No. 1 bestsellers with her runaway bestselling debut, Little Bones, the first in the Cat Connolly trilogy, shortlisted for Irish Crime Novel of the Year. Switching to psychological thrillers, Keep Your Eyes on Me was a No. 1 bestseller, and her next book, The Dark Room was shortlisted for Irish Crime Novel of the Year. Her last thriller, Remember My Name, went straight to No. 1 in January 2022 and was shortlisted for Irish Crime Novel of the Year.
Sam is one of the best-connected people in crime writing, the founder of Europe’s biggest online writer’s magazine, Writing.ie, she relaunched National Crime Reading Month for the CWA in 2022.
Originally from St. Albans in Hertfordshire, Sam now lives at the foot of the Wicklow Mountains, near Dublin in Ireland.
Follow her on social @samblakebooks. Visit www.samblakebooks.com for news and events and get a bonus free thriller when you subscribe to her newsletter.

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