Too Close to Breathe by Olivia Kiernan
In October a couple of years ago, I met a writer friend in a café. I had finished a writing project a few months previous and was itching to start something new. Both of us seeking motivation decided to attempt National Novel Writing Month to see if the self-inflicted deadline would succeed in making us turn out 50,000 words of fiction in the four weeks of November.
I’ve been writing fiction in some format since I was about seven but as is the case for many writers, it never felt like something that could be pursued as a career. I grew up in the 80s, in a rural community, where the goal was to get through education and get a stable job. No one said as much but writing and the arts seemed off the table. Saying that, I’m lucky that Ireland has such a rich culture in creativity. There were certainly no shortage of poets, script-writers and novelists to inspire. I remember studying Sean O’Casey’s play The Plough and the Stars and then moving on to Juno and the Paycock and marvelling over how such brevity in the text could illustrate a scene so well. How a whole world could be scratched out and feel so vivid in so few lines. I still go back to these two plays often to remind myself how sometimes less can be more.
I’d written a few different novels prior to settling down to write what would become my publishing debut, Too Close to Breathe. The first idea came with a vision of my protagonist who at the time had no name but within a few pages I’d decided on Frankie. I could see Frankie emerging from an autopsy and walking out onto the streets of Dublin. I could sense that she was traumatised by this autopsy. Not because she was squeamish or that the postmortem had been particularly gruesome but because the death of this woman, Eleanor Costello, had triggered a personal reaction. I saw my female detective leave the autopsy, turn a corner and throw up in a side street. As I wrote these opening pages, I paused to think about the victim and a theme began to emerge.
I wanted to explore our perception of predator and victim. What a predator might look like as a person, what a victim looks like? I became increasingly interested in this thought. I wanted to explore our perception of women as victims. Why sometimes it feels as if our sympathies are doled out according to the way a victim has lived their lives. The beautiful female victim, perfect in all ways in death is immediately pitied but what about those who are perceived to have lived less than perfect lives, whether it be the case that the victim was a drug-addict, or a prostitute, how do we feel about those victims? So Eleanor felt like a great way into this theme. She is a respected professional, has a handsome husband, is beautiful and seemingly has lived her life cleanly but as Frankie investigates, slowly cracks begin to appear in Eleanor’s life. My aim was to ensure that the victims in this novel stood out on their own, that we, through Frankie, really saw them and one of the most satisfying aspects of being published is to hear people talk about Eleanor Costello, the novel’s first victim, as if she were live on the page.
For many years I’d wanted to write a crime thriller. All my stories drew me towards the darker side of fiction but up until this time I hadn’t quite embraced this side of my writing. When I began to write Too Close to Breathe, I wanted the novel to give me chills like a psychological thriller would but also had a complex murder investigation at its centre. It’s easier for me to see now but the months and years leading up to this point had helped me out greatly. I’d listened to a documentary on the dark web some time prior to writing Too Close to Breathe and as I sat down to the novel, I realised the dark web was the perfect playground for many of my characters. Some for sinister reasons, others because they felt they could explore darker urges in what they believed to be a more tolerant platform. On a writing level, I was eager to push myself, to attempt some devices in craft I hadn’t tried at novel length before. And of course, I wanted to put a high-ranking female detective at the centre of my plot.
When I finished that month of November, I’d half of Too Close to Breathe down. I sent it to a few of my critique partners, many of whom are big crime fiction readers. They loved it and that really gave me a boost. I continued to work on the plot over the next few months then set it aside over the summer to work on something else. In September the following year, I took it out again and began the editing process. I really enjoyed this. Some time away from the manuscript had given me a clearer vision of the shape of the book and also helped me hear the tone that I’d set out in the opening chapters, to ensure it chimed with the rest of the novel.
Once I’d finished editing, I set to work on a cover letter and sent it out to twelve or so agents. If you’ve ever submitted work to a literary agent, you know you may be in for a long wait to hear back and maybe this was the biggest indicator to me that this novel might just make it on to a shelf one day. Within a couple of days I started to get requests to see the full manuscript and then from there an offer of representation. And then more. It’s hard to know why exactly or what it was I’d done right this time, only to say I tried to put out my best work, I kept going but maybe it was simply the right time for my novel.
I signed with my agent, Susan Armstrong at Conville and Walsh in the December of that year and in March my novel was sent out to publishers where it was sold in a pre-empt to riverrun, an imprint of Quercus. It also sold in many other territories including Germany, France and the US (Dutton, PRH).
Presently, I’m editing the second book in the series, The Killer In Me with the odd break to attend author events and chat to readers about Too Close to Breathe. I feel very lucky that I finally embraced the darker side of my fiction writing because look where it’s taken me!
(c) Olivia Kiernan
Olivia Kiernan is an Irish writer living in the UK and author of crime thriller, TOO CLOSE TO BREATHE. She was born and raised in County Meath, near the famed heritage town of Kells and holds an MA in Creative Writing awarded by the University of Sussex.
About Too Close to Breathe:
TOO SOON TO SEE
Polished. Professional. Perfect. Dead. Respected scientist Dr Eleanor Costello is found hanged in her immaculate home: the scene the very picture of a suicide.
TOO LATE TO HIDE
DCS Frankie Sheehan is handed the case, and almost immediately spots foul play. Sheehan, a trained profiler, is seeking a murderer with a talent for death.
TOO CLOSE TO BREATHE
As Frankie strives to paint a picture of the killer, and their victim, she starts to sense they are part of a larger, darker canvas, on which the lines between the two blur.
Olivia Kiernan’s debut is a bold, brilliant thriller that will keep you guessing and leave you breathless.
Order your copy online here.