Here’s what we had a chance to chat about:
Keith: Firstly, I’d like to say that I really enjoyed the book.
Tana: Thank you very much :-)
I realise that a large percentage of crime fiction readers are women, but wondered if that is more often the case with your books as there is such a strong family story constructed and with backstory, rather than a standard more linear book based solely on the crime event that would probably appeal more to male readers?
I don’t have any way to get an accurate idea of the numbers, but as far as I can tell from the e-mails I get, my readers are about evenly split between men and women – a few more women, but the gap isn’t a big one. I’m not too surprised by that, actually. After all, men read literary fiction, which is built on character, on complex relationships, on layered narrative with strong thematic underpinnings. I think it would be a bit patronising of me to assume that they can’t handle anything more complicated than a simple linear narrative.
I thought the first person character of Frank Mackey was great – have you ever considered using a pseudonym or initials to potentially increase sales to male readers of your books?
God, no. I know there are men out there who won’t read books by women, presumably in case the author goes into labour in mid-chapter – but I’m sure there are also white people out there who won’t read books by black authors, and if I were black, I sure as hell wouldn’t use a jacket photo of a white person. Catering to prejudice is sometimes expedient, but I don’t think it does anyone any good in the long run.
Do you research police procedure during the writing, or do you get the book written first and then get any details checked?
A little of both. I’m lucky enough to know a wonderful retired detective who’s answered a wild variety of questions for me, over the last few years. Mostly I ask him major things as I go along (‘How long could my detective hold this suspect in custody?’) and then ask him small stuff when I’m done (‘What do you call this form?’). I don’t always stick to what he says, though. Sometimes what the story needs doesn’t match the reality. Just for example, there’s no Murder Squad in Ireland, but In the Woods needed that tight-knit, elite, hothouse feeling, so I made one up.
The books work great as a ‘non-series’, despite the character links that exist. Would you ever consider a straight ‘series’ of novels in the future, or are you planning on building their fictional world in the same way in the future?
I seem to have ended up writing a chain of linked books, which wasn’t the original plan (I seldom have a plan), but I’m happy with it. I like writing about the crucial moment in a narrator’s life, the turning point where the borderline between his personal and professional life is breached and he’s forced into choices that will change the rest of his life. The thing is that most of us only have a few of those moments in a lifetime – and that doesn’t really leave room for a series that follows one character through multiple books.
Who would be your greatest influence/s as a novelist?
I can’t pick just one! The Wind in the Willows was the book that first made me realise what amazing things language can do, The Once and Future King was the one that gave me my first glimpse of how complex characterisation can be, I got my first sense of world-building from Watership Down…
And who would you most closely compare your work to?
I’m probably the last person who could give a non-silly answer to this question. It’s almost impossible to have perspective on your own work. A writer friend of mine once told me, ‘You haven’t read your book. You’ll never read your book.’
Is there a classic, or otherwise, novel that you wish you had written?
To Kill a Mockingbird. I can understand exactly why Harper Lee never wrote another book. Once you’ve written something perfect, where do you go from there?
Do you have a particular favourite crime author or fictional crime character?
I love Josephine Tey. She wrote detective novels that stretch all the conventions of the genre. In The Daughter of Time, the detective spends the whole book in a hospital bed, and the mystery is over four centuries old, but it’s still a gripping whodunit; in The Franchise Affair, the villain is obvious almost from the start and the most serious crime in the book is perjury, but it’s still a terrifying portrait of a psychopath and the devastation they can wreak on everyone in their orbit.
What’s the best single piece of writing advice you’ve received? And who was that from?
‘It isn’t about how you feel.’ It wasn’t actually writing advice, it was acting advice from my acting teacher back in drama school, but it works for writing too. What you’re doing as a writer, or an actor, isn’t about how you feel; it’s about how your audience feels. You can be emoting yourself silly, feeling all the appropriate emotions passionately and having a wonderful time, but if that isn’t reaching the audience and evoking something in them, it’s meaningless.
Where do you write? And can you write anywhere, or does it have to be at your usual writing base?
I’ve got a little home office, and I write there. I can scribble down drafts of scenes anywhere, but I do my editing and re-editing and polishing and re-polishing on my computer.
Is there any talk of television adaptations of the books?
Not so far, but the film rights to In the Woods and The Likeness have just been optioned by Paramount. Usually options go nowhere, so I’m not holding my breath, but we’ll see…
What can we look forward to next and in the future from you?
I’ve just handed in my fourth book. It’s called Broken Harbour, and Scorcher Kennedy – Frank’s old friend/rival from Faithful Place – is the narrator this time. He’s investigating a brutal attack on a young family in one of the half-abandoned ghost estates that litter Ireland – but did the danger come from outside the house or inside?