29th November saw a sizable proportion of the Irish Book-writing population, and many UK based agents and publishers – not to mention a few fabulous writing.ie contributors – converge on the Dublin’s Double Tree Hilton Hotel for the Bord Gáis Book of the Year Awards. Books were nominated in thirteen categories but, as they say, there could be one (in each category) winner. And the winner of the Crime Book of the Year was writing.ie’s very own Louise Phillips. And once she had a chance to let it settle in, I sat down with Louise for a chat about the award, the novel and a little bit about her writing process.
I started by asking Louise what it meant to her to win the Crime Book of the Year.
“Well, last year I was also nominated for best crime novel of the year [for Red Ribbons], which was tremendous because it’s unusual for a debut novel to get nominated in that category. So that was fantastic. This year, it was less of a shock so I got to think about it more, what did it actually mean to me. And it meant an awful lot to me to win. I’m sure, if it hadn’t gone that way, I would have dusted myself down and started all over again. But it was huge – when I heard my name on Tuesday night, I couldn’t believe it. I literally jumped out of the seat in shock. And anyone who saw the televised version on Saturday night will have realised that there was nothing prepared in my speech and I was probably a bit of a blubbering idiot. I was just so happy.”
I was keen to find out what compelled Louise to write this particular story.
“I had this idea about this character with dark secrets in her past, who ended up being Clodagh Hamilton,” Louise told me. “For me it was a way for me to unlock those secrets – the whole story asked the questions ‘Who can you trust?’ and ‘What if you can’t even trust yourself, your own memory?’. Because I knew she was going to be someone who would have disassociated as a child and therefore had suppressed memories. And then I was listening to somebody talking about hypnosis, how they were so scared by the whole idea and I realised it was a good idea for a story.
“When I went and researched it, I found out that people used hypnosis to regress memories. And I realised that this is going to be fantastic, to be able to have a story where the protagonist Clodagh is with a hypnotist, regressing her memories. And the child-self Clodagh is there as well. And that was just fascinating to me.”
The Doll’s House is a follow up to the critically acclaimed Red Ribbons but Louise was keen to point out that it’s not a sequel, but a completely stand-alone story.
“The criminal psychologist Kate Pearson and the detective O’Connor are in both novels,” she said. “But I would look at it the same way as an episode of Frost or Morse, whereby each of the episodes has a completely separate story in its own right. Kate Pearson, as the criminal psychologist, is essentially the tool used to unlock what is happening, what the killer is thinking. She also gives the reader guidance into the other characters as well. Herself and O’Connor open doors in different ways but they’re opening doors to a particular story.
“So you don’t need to read Red Ribbons before The Doll’s House. And if Kate is still there on novel number six, you can pick up that and go backwards from there or read them in any order.”
With Kate Pearson being so central to The Doll’s House, I asked Louise what it was like to be writing about her again.
“I think that it’s good to have a character that grows in each of the novels,” Louise told me. “And Kate is certainly developing as each novel goes on. As a writer, you’re conscious that you’re working with a character who is going to progress through the story. That you’re nearly following their life-path. I’m not a writer who plots and plans and knows everything that’s going to happen – mine is, primarily, organic writing. So it’s nearly as much as surprise to me as it is to the reader what happens to Kate. A lot of people have talked about the relationship between her and O’Connor and what’s going to happen next. And the answer is, until I write it, I don’t know.
“It might depend on what Kate decides to say one particular afternoon or what O’Connor does. But in the third novel, the stakes will be higher both professionally and in both their personally lives, which is the back-drop to the principle story.”
One of the most enjoyable aspects of a series with a recurring hero is that we get to see that character change and evolve as an overall arc develops. I asked Louise if Kate has changed much over the course of the Red Ribbons and The Dolls House.
“Yeah, I think she has. But I feel that in the next novel, which has the working title Last Kiss, which I’m writing at the moment, the stakes are going to get a lot higher. When you write, you want to test your characters. Things have to move on. So I’m hoping to fire some emotional traumas in there.”
The Doll’s House being Louise’s second novel, I asked her if she found it easier to write than Red Ribbons or if it was a case of ‘putting the trip back to zero’ and starting again?
“Well, what I recognised about myself is that, although I don’t plot, I tend to think about novels quite a lot in advance. Before I started Red Ribbons, I had the idea for The Dolls’ House. And when I started it, I was thinking about the story for Last Kiss. I’m in the middle of that now and I already know the idea I want to use for the fourth novel. So they tend to germinate in my mind for a while. And by the time I get to write I know the general theme and I pretty well know the types of characters as well.
“I didn’t find the second novel any more difficult than the first novel – I worry about lots of things but I told myself that I can’t worry about this. Everyone says to me that, after a great first novel, the second can be a bit of a let-down for readers. But I put that out of my head. When you’re writing, you enter a fictional world so have to leave the real world behind, all the baggage and uncertainty. And that fictional world is a place of escape for the writer and, hopefully, the reader too. So that’s how I get over that particular worry.”
I finished up my brilliant chat with Louise by asking her if she could give us a taste of her next book, Last Kiss, which will be hitting the bookshelves in 2014.
“It’s going to more of Femme Fatale kind of novel. There’s a very strong female character who’s also the killer. You don’t know her identity but, in each of my novels, I introduce the killer’s voice, I feel that’s important. This one actually opens in 1982 in and around the Ann Lovett ‘Kerry Babies’ scandal. The prologue introduces a woman who has a child and the woman died during childbirth. But the child survives and she falls into the hands of someone who, let’s say, does not have good parenting skills. So that child then becomes one of the central characters. It’ll be the first time I’ve introduced a character before they’ve been born. It goes with the idea that nobody is born pure evil but because of circumstance, they might end up that way. So a baby born in a dysfunctional environment will end up in twenty or thirty years in a complete different place than that same person brought up in a loving environment.”
Louise’s books Red Ribbons and The Doll’s House are available in bookshops and online in Paperback and eBook. Louise’s new book will be in the shops next summer.
(c) Paul FitzSimons
Paul FitzSimons is a screenwriter and novelist and has written the novel ‘Burning Matches’ and a number of scripts for film and TV. He has worked as a storyline writer on RTE’s ‘Fair City’. His short stories are published in ‘Who Brought The Biscuits’ by The Naas Harbour Writers. Paul likes crime thrillers, good coffee and Cadbury’s chocolate. He doesn’t like country-and-western music or people who don’t indicate on roundabouts.
Paul also runs the Script Editing service Paul | The | Editor.