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My Research for The Vanishing Triangle by Claire McGowan

Writing.ie | Magazine | Interviews | Non-Fiction
The Vanishing Triangle

By Claire McGowan

I’ve been a novelist now for eleven years, writing crime novels as well as women’s fiction and literary. I also write scripts for radio and TV. So I know how to do research, up to a point – some of the topics I have covered include cults, eating disorders, memory loss, brain tumours, and the finer points of criminal law. When I write crime fiction, I get it checked by a police contact and read lots of books about the topic. Once it’s written, I will also check as many facts as I can online. However, I’ve never tied myself up too much with trying to be 100% accurate. I feel the story is what matters, and sometimes we have to bend the facts to create entertainment. The actual daily life of a police officer would probably be very dull to read about if we wrote it that way – lots of paperwork!

But when I got a commission to write something non-fiction, it was a whole new world for me. Asked to think of true-crime ideas, I immediately knew what to write about – the cases of missing women around Dublin in the mid-nineties, known as the ‘vanishing triangle’ disappearances. Although I had grown up in Ireland during this time, I don’t recall hearing about the cases when they happened. Instead, I learned about them while researching my series of Northern-Ireland set crime novels, and was shocked that I hadn’t known of them before. So I had my story – but no idea how to write or research a non-fiction book.

A big resource for me was online newspaper archives, which provided me with many useful details, although I did discover they were often inaccurate on things like dates and ages, so you have to use multiple sources. I paid for a subscription that let me read back through decades of news stories, and I read whatever books I could find on the cases, though there weren’t very many, since they weren’t widely known outside of Ireland. Newspaper coverage also allowed me to see the evolution of thinking about the cases, as one by one women disappeared over that period of five years. I found that social media also provided useful links, though you have to be very careful because people will often post allegations that amount to libel. My publishers and I were very conscious of the legal considerations around unsolved cases, if there are suspects who’ve never been convicted. One very useful website for historical context was the CAIN archive, which documents every incident that took place during the Troubles, day by day. Although I’d lived through this it was shocking to recall just how frequent the violence was, every day sometimes even well into in the nineties.

The part I was most nervous about was contacting people in real life– I felt a lot of imposter syndrome about writing something non-fiction, since I’m not a journalist and usually make things up. I was nervous too about reaching out to people who had lost loved ones, and didn’t know how to go about making contact – I’m not the type who can ferret out phone numbers and ring people up on the off-chance. Luckily I was able to track down several police officers who had worked on the cases, who kindly agreed to speak to me. LinkedIn was actually quite useful for this, as well as social media again. Many people never replied to me, however, and I found that in Ireland, fewer people seemed to be online or have social media profiles than in England. Since publishing the book, I’ve been contacted by quite a few people who knew the victims, or who had chilling experiences around the same time that may be connected.

Through the charity missing.ie, I got the opportunity to attend the National Day of Missing Persons, an annual ceremony held in Dublin in December. After arranging my attendance via the government department that organises it, I flew over and was able to speak to several people with missing family members, which was very moving. I also learned a lot about the procedures around someone going missing, and how patchy the support can be depending on where you’re based, or where the person disappears. I’m sure someone with more investigative skills would have been able to find more in-person interviewees, but I wanted to approach the story from a reflective angle, looking at the historical and social context, as I knew there was likely no more evidence to be found. Even renewed searches in the last year, after the book came out, have sadly yielded nothing. My goal was to raise awareness of the cases with more people, and I hope that this has been achieved. After all, it’s always possible that someone will come forward, years after the fact, with a vital piece of information that could change everything.

(c) Claire McGowan

About The Vanishing Triangle:

From the bestselling author of What You Did comes a true-crime investigation that cast a dark shadow over the Ireland of her childhood.

Ireland in the 1990s seemed a safe place for women. With the news dominated by the Troubles, it was easy to ignore non-political murders and sexual violence, to trust that you weren’t going to be dragged into the shadows and killed. But beneath the surface, a far darker reality had taken hold.

Through questioning the society and circumstances that allowed eight young women to vanish without a trace―no conclusion or conviction, no resolution for their loved ones―bestselling crime novelist Claire McGowan delivers a candid investigation into the culture of secrecy, victim-blaming and shame that left these women’s bodies unfound, their fates unknown, their assailants unpunished.

McGowan reveals an Ireland not of leprechauns and craic but of outdated social and sexual mores, where women and their bodies were of secondary importance to perceived propriety and misguided politics—a place of well-buttoned lips and stony silence, inadequate police and paramilitary threat.

Was an unknown serial killer at large or was there something even more insidious at work? In this insightful, sensitively drawn account, McGowan exposes a system that failed these eight women—and continues to fail women to this day.

The Vanishing Triangle by Claire McGowan is published by Little A. Order your copy online here.

About the author

Claire McGowan grew up in a small village in Northern Ireland, and now lives in London. She also writes women’s fiction under the name Eva Woods.

You can find out more about Claire and her books at http://www.ink-stains.co.uk

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