Last week I met crime writer Claire McGowan at the National Library’s fabulous Cafe Joly, a favourite haunt of Dublin’s writers and the perfect place for literary chat.
Paula McGuire, McGowan’s protagonist, is part of a cross border Missing Persons Review team based in the fictional town of Ballyterrin. Claire revealed that she doesn’t quite know at the start of a novel what is going to happen – often she knows the end, and the core themes – in the next book one of these is hunger. “I know what’s going to happen to Paula and what happens to the sub characters, and the various threads that are going to run through the book, so that gives it a structure. But when I’m starting writing I have no idea what happens, it evolves organically. I trust the process.”
Working in bursts, writing 30,000 words taking a break and then writing the next 30,000, and so on until she gets to the final 10,000 words. Claire tries to write 1000 words a day when she’s putting together her first draft – and she doesn’t look back over it until she’s finished. Finding the online world a major distraction, Claire prefers to write long-hand in beautiful notebooks (apologies for dodgy photography, I didn’t have Ger Holland with me this time!) . “I get a really rough first draft, it’s almost like sketching, building a picture.”
Claire is also very particular that she needs a black Bic biro with the lid on the end in order to do that. Without the lid she can’t write! Many writers have rituals that help them write, and another of Claire’s involve drinking LOTS of leaf tea.
Once Claire has a substantial part of her draft written, she’ll type it up, going over the story as she does so.
The Dead Ground has a brilliantly grim opening with a flashback to the early 1990s and the abduction of a man and the savage beating of his heavily pregnant wife – who then performs her own caesarean on the kitchen floor. It leaves no doubt that Claire is a true crime writer, although she didn’t set out to write in any particular genre.
The Dead Ground blurb is as gripping as the book itself: A stolen baby. A murdered woman. A decades-old atrocity. Something connects them all…
A month before Christmas, and Ballyterrin on the Irish border lies under a thick pall of snow. When a newborn baby goes missing from hospital, it’s all too close to home for forensic psychologist Paula Maguire, who’s wrestling with the hardest decision of her life.
Then a woman is found in a stone circle with her stomach cut open and it’s clear a brutal killer is on the loose.