Jane Casey – The Reckoning
There is something serene about Jane Casey that utterly belies the darkness of the books she writes. Brought up in Dublin, Casey is elegant and cultured, her Irish accent subtle. On meeting her you might guess that she has a degree in English from Oxford, or an MPhil in Anglo Irish Literature from Trinity, that she is married to a criminal barrister, but you would never guess that she is one of Ireland’s and the UK’s leading crime writers whose latest book The Reckoningrevolves around the torture and murder of two convicted paedophiles.
Nominated for a second time for the Irish Book Awards in the Crime Fiction category, The Reckoning is Jane Casey’s third book, a fast paced thriller featuring Detective Constable Maeve Kerrigan. To the public the killer in The Reckoning is a hero who targets criminals who are a menace to society. Even the police don’t regard the cases as a priority. But young and inexperienced, Kerrigan wants to believe that murder is murder no matter what the sins of the victim. Only, as the killer’s violence begins to escalate, is she forced to confront exactly how far she’s prepared to go to ensure justice is served…
Originally working as a senior editor in children’s books, Jane Casey started writing when she had an idea for a story that just wouldn’t go away ‘I had this idea in my head for about eighteen months – what if you have this huge tragedy that everyone had forgotten about: nobody really remembered that your brother went missing, but that it totally affected the course of your life and puts you in a position where you make some really bad choices.’
With a story like that, what stopped Casey from getting stuck straight in to writing The Missing, her first book? Over tea and toast, she told me earnestly, ‘I thought through the whole thing but I was almost reluctant to start as I knew how demanding my job was, and I knew if I started I’d want to finish it.’
For aspiring crime writers reading this take note of Casey’s what if. It’s the very place the best stories start…
Casey explained, ‘I hadn’t written before, I’d done a couple of short stories for work, but in the end I had to get started. I decided I’d try and do an hour a day before work.’ She smiled as she explained that all encompassing feeling writers get with their first book, ‘Then I found when I was at work, I’d think about what I’d done that morning – in every spare moment I’d make notes on the back of work things. It worked really well though, sometimes I’d revise what I’d written that morning in the evening, but I always kept the mornings for the new writing.
‘It took me about ten months to write the whole thing, because I’d already done so much thinking about it. I wrote a chapter plan and it was pretty much what I ended up writing. That hasn’t happened with any of the other books though. I knew exactly what was going to happen in the end of The Missing – the ending was really what came first. Now I give myself a bit more room to manoeuvre. It was surprising actually, in some of the reviews people felt that the ending had been tacked on, but that wasn’t what happened at all!’
This strict planning gave Casey a safety net, as she told me, ‘Although I’d edited so many books, as I writer I didn’t feel like I know what I was doing. That said, I found the writing process helped me hugely in my day to day work.’
Jane laughed when I asked if there were many drafts of that first book, ‘There certainly were!’ My poor husband must have read it about five times. I gave it to some of my colleagues in work and my boss told me the first three chapters really needed to be rewritten, I wasn’t getting to the point fast enough. It was really hard criticism to take, but I knew she was absolutely spot on. I’d made a list of about thirty-five agents and sent it to the top five – some of them never even got back to me, so I realised that it needed a lot more work.’
Jane was very frank too about her submission package, ‘After that first batch of submissions, I did a lot of work on my covering letter. I don’t think you can underestimate how important it is – when it comes to opening your envelope, an editor looks at the covering letter and the first page of the submission, and I know from experience, as an editor, that first impressions really count.
I went back to my covering letter and did a lot of thinking about what I wanted to say and where I wanted to be with my writing. I’d already had an idea for my second book, so I was able to say that in the letter as well. I was able to show that I had something else in my head. I think some first time writers live with this book for so long that they find it hard to let it go; to suddenly say ‘and now I’m going to do another one’ is difficult.’
Focused and dedicated, Casey told me, ‘I set myself challenges the whole time. First I set out to finish the book, then I decided that I was going to try and get an agent. I didn’t think that The Missing was going to be a huge best seller or even that it was going to get a deal, but I wanted to get an agent to give me realistic feedback on my work – I needed someone to give me encouragement and advice. Authors aren’t the best people to be objective – the bits that you like particularly are always the bits that editors say ‘do we really need to know this?’ about. Often when I write something and think ‘ooh that’s nice’ I take it out.
So I revised and revised and then sent it out to another five agents. It was getting very close to Christmas in 2008, and it’s not a good time to send a manuscript out – people don’t have time to read anything with the whirl of Christmas, but I didn’t want to get caught up in the January rush, when a lot of people might be saying ‘this is the year that I’m going to place my manuscript’. One of those five agents was Simon Trewin – I’d put him on the list because he’s such a generous agent who does a lot with unpublished authors – I didn’t think he’d be interested but I really liked his approach.
I sent it on Thursday and Simon’s assistant read it on Saturday. She rang on Saturday afternoon – I was Christmas shopping and it was really one of those amazing phone calls, it was like being in a film! He sold it very quickly – by February I had a contract for two books with Ebury.’
Casey makes it sound easy but she told me, ‘Then the wheels fell off a little bit because Ebury asked to see a synopsis for the second book, and said [she grimaces] ‘No thank you, can you think about a series character?’
I hadn’t thought about a serial character at all but I’m glad now to have moved away from stand alone books with a character who is my character, who is different from any other characters out there. Her problems are something that I’d be familiar with, I feel comfortable writing her.
I asked Casey what she had to consider in creating a character who could carry a series. She said, ‘My editor said to me that people don’t remember author names, or titles, or even character names, but they remember characters. So you want to have someone that the reader will want to come back to revisit.
There are things that have developed with Maeve – initially there wasn’t much information about her family in the story. Now there’s more, but it can be very hard to fit it in and not feel like you’ve derailed the plot, to have that sense of the fullness of the character outside the job but not hold up the plot.’
Casey’s husband, as well as being a prosecution barrister is a special constable and has worked with victim of domestic abuse, with town centre violence and attended horrific traffic accidents. He is a mine of information and gives her a real insight into how the police force works. Casey sees the role of the writer primarily as an entertainer, but insists that every detail is correct – she takes her responsibility as a crime writer very seriously ‘It can really spoil a book if the details are wrong.’ From getting radio call signs right to the culture in different areas of the force, Casey says ‘it’s very different from an ordinary office.’ Her husband has a group of people across different squads who can give advice. ‘The only thing police officers criticise is that Maeve Kerrigan has done too many courses, she very highly trained for someone of her age!’
Discussing the upsurge in violence TV crime shows, and in crime fiction, Casey revealed that she finds excessive violence in crime upsetting. ‘Although my books are quite violent, I try very hard not to be gratuitous. I think motivation is the key, the character has to be credible.’
Now writing full time, but with a two year old at home, Jane finds her writing time is in the evenings, She laughs, ‘I had thought that if I was a writer I’d need my own writing space and writing time, but when I was working I used to carry my book with me on a data stick and use every spare five minutes.’ Through necessity, she has developed an ability to mine time from her day, ‘I think you have to always have your book in the back of your mind, and use your time to the best of your ability.’
The Reckoning is the second book for Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan character, and in this story as well as a horrific double murder to deal with, she has a nightmare DI, a situation that provides for great conflict, at the same time revealing the depths of Kerrigan’s character.
Indeed, Casey has a wonderful eye for character and a talent with words that leave the reader wanting more – she describes eyelashes brittle with mascara, and sums up DI Derwent brilliantly through Kerrigan’s eyes, ‘As far as I could tell he liked fast driving, soft rock and the sound of his own voice.’
Right from the beginning Derwent is obnoxious,
‘I’d have thought you’d have been keen to get in there. See the body.’ He sniffed. ‘Probably won’t be stinking yet even though the weather’s been warm. But the house looks pretty filthy from here. I bet it’s ripe in there.’
I sent up a small silent prayer of gratitude that I had grown up with an older brother who liked to torment me. Presumably I was supposed to respond with girlish horror. Derwent could try all day and he’d never manage to get a reaction like that from me. I smiled instead, as if the DI had made a witty, brilliant joke, and followed him into the blue tent.
Casey says, ‘Derwent developed a lot from where he started, but he’s a great character because he says things no-one else would say. I think everyone struggles with plotting in crime, it’s very difficult to come up with something that readers haven’t read before, but it’s great when your characters take off, when they surprise you, when something happens that you don’t expect.’
Mel Sherrat, book reviewer at High Heels and Book Deals, says of The Reckoning,
‘The storyline is really gripping and so well researched…such attention to detail over police procedure. It’s refreshing to read from a detective constable’s point of view. Maeve takes a lot of stick for being female but she handles it well and gives as good as she gets – even though it lands her in hot water at times.’
Casey well deserves her second nomination for the Irish Book Awards, and is genuinely thrilled, ‘I am quite shocked to be on the Book Awards list twice, there are some incredible writers who could have been there.’
(c) Vanessa O’Loughlin 2011
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