When I began writing crime novels – including the two gathering dust in the bottom drawer – there was only one location I was going to pick for their setting – Ireland, where I’m from. I’m not alone as we have quite the impressive crop of Irish crime writers setting their novels on the auld sod. Most recently the massive international hit, Strange Sally Diamond by Liz Nugent is set largely in Co. Roscommon. I am willing to stand corrected, but I suspect there isn’t a massive swathe of crime novels set around the villages and fields of Roscommon. It was refreshing. Far more common in crime literature we visit the mean streets of New York or London. If we’re talking small towns, it’ll be a sleepy rust belt community in the American Midwest or a cream tea pretty English village. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! But sometimes you want to recognise the beach the body washes up on or have walked the dark streets the unlucky victim runs down, screaming and terrified.
But a funny thing happened when I began my research. Instead of immortalising familiar streets and sights by writing about Dublin – Temple Bar say, or Stephen’s Green; or setting my fictional crimes in the stunning natural beauty of West Cork, or arty Galway city, places I know so well – I dived deeper. Exploring the novel ideas that came to me, I became a tourist in my own country. I discovered hidden gems I have never realised existed.
Take the location for my second novel, The Party. The story is about a blended family who come together for the marriage of characters Claire and George. It begins as the couple and their adult children head to George’s country estate for the weekend to celebrate the wedding. (It won’t surprise you to hear, things don’t go quite to plan.) The inspiration for George’s country home is a real location. Specifically, Moore Hall in Co. Mayo.
This was a location I had no knowledge of before a friend shared an aerial photograph of the ruined Moore Hall on Facebook. This image is striking. Taken by a drone I suspect, it shows this grand house – burnt down over a hundred years ago around the time of the civil war – a ghostly shell in the middle of a vast forest, trees stretching out for miles around it. It’s beautiful and unsettling at the same time. I was immediately fascinated. I dived in, learnt all about the Moore family who had owned the house. They were a rare Catholic landlord family in that era. I read a moving fact that during the famine, no tenant died on their estate. George Moore, owner at the time, spent money won gambling on grain to keep his tenants fed.
Once I dragged myself out of the riveting historical rabbit hole, I knew I had the perfect inspiration for a fictional version of the house for my new novel. What if the house had been rebuilt and the new residents weren’t quite as nice or altruistic as the real people from the real house? What if it was still isolated and remote, nestled in the middle of a wild, untended forest? It had all the ingredients I needed, and The Party was born.
But this wasn’t the first time I had discovered an eerie and compelling location on this wonderful island of ours that I hadn’t been familiar with before. In my first crime novel – The Snowstorm – a significant event in the story happens at the Pol na bPéist – aka the Wormhole, aka the Serpent’s Lair. Located on Inis Mór, the largest of the Aran Islands, this geological phenomenon – a rectangular pool at the foot of cliffs, formed entirely without the intervention of human hands, is a spectacular sight. Water from the Atlantic Ocean churns through underground channels to feed the pool, crashing and wild on stormy days, placid and tranquil during those glorious summer days out there on the edge of the world.
Even though dramatic cliff diving competitions take place there, and its growing popularity as a tourist spot on Inis Mór, it was only for a photograph by the artist Dorothy Cross that I learnt of its existence. The image by Cross, shows a person, entirely alone, floating with arms outstretched in this body of water surround by the straight edges of the limestone rock. It was an arresting image. And, as only a crime writer can, I pondered what if the person floating wasn’t a swimmer enjoying a dip in a most unusual pool? Instead, what if it was a body, thrown from the cliffs above? Another novel was born.
It was wonderful to hear back from readers of The Snowstorm at how delighted they were to discover – like me – that the Serpent’s Lair was real. They’d enjoyed googling images of it, and all the other locations of the historical island mentioned in the book. I am hoping that readers of The Party will have as much fun searching up Moore Hall and imagining the action taking place there. Perhaps people might end up visiting the locations too!
I’m in the middle of developing new story ideas now. Will I go back to the original plan to set my stories in Dublin or Cork or Galway? Go and spend some time having fun with my characters hanging out where I’ve hung out, which is what I always wanted? Definitely, I still want to do that. But if I keep stumbling over these intriguing gems I never knew were there, we might just be taking the long route back to the more familiar.
(c) Tríona Walsh
About The Party:
It was only supposed to be a small wedding. Intimate and perfect. But my blood turns to ice when I see someone I know wasn’t invited. My first husband – who I thought was dead.
My world shattered when Declan disappeared five years ago. My grown-up children fell apart without their father, and it was up to me to pick up the pieces of our broken lives.
I never thought I’d get married again but then I met George. Some people might think we’re moving too fast. But as I look round on our wedding day at our little family, the sounds of laughter and clinking glasses ringing out, I know that I’ve made the right decision.
Until Declan steps out the shadows. He says he still loves me, and now he’s back for good. But where has he been all this time?
My legs shake so much that I can barely stand… Even though he lied to me so many times, as I stare into Declan’s sparkling blue eyes I realise that my new husband can’t compare to the love we once shared. But at least I can trust George. Can’t I?
Before I even have a chance to decide, Declan is found murdered. A chill races down my spine as I realise – his killer must be one of our wedding party. Did Declan bring back secrets that should have stayed buried?
Now, we’re trapped in this house in the middle of nowhere and my heart pounds as I realise there’s no escape. Why is Declan dead? And can I get me and my children out of here before one of us is next…?
A totally gripping psychological thriller, packed with secrets and gasp-inducing twists. Fans of Lucy Foley,K.L. Slater and Shalini Boland won’t be able to put this down.
Order your copy online here.