Diary of a Debut Author by Andrea Carter
The Famous Five, the Five Find-Outers and Dog, the Bobbsey twins and Trixie Belden: I spent my Irish midlands childhood with gangs of child detectives, both English and American. Reading my library books under the covers, hoping the sliver of light wouldn’t be noticed under my bedroom door as my parents made their way up the stairs. Desperate to be one of those kids who raced up and down country lanes on their bikes, busting smuggling rings, tripping up jewel thieves, rescuing kidnap victims.
I grew up in a Victorian schoolhouse that my brother and I were convinced was haunted. I still have no idea whether the boy who appeared regularly at the end of my brother’s bed or the girl I could see watching me from the eaves were real, or simply the products of two avid readers’ over-active imaginations. But what I am sure about is that the old house gave me my first real sense of place; it was while I was living there that I came to believe that a building could hold on to the memories of what had occurred within its walls, marking it out as a place of happiness or sadness, or of fear.
When I was eleven, and had read most of the books in the children’s section of the library, I was allowed to graduate to the adults’ section, and I discovered a whole new world of adult detective fiction waiting for me. Agatha Christie, PD James and Ruth Rendell were all such wonderfully prolific writers that I was able to spend much of my teenaged years in the company of their detectives: Poirot and Miss Marple, Adam Dalgleish, and Inspector Wexford. Trinity College Dublin and a degree in law did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm for the genre, and by the time I had moved to the Inishowen peninsula, in Donegal, to practise as a solicitor I had discovered many more English and American writers. I had also begun to read translations of European crime writers.
I lived in Donegal for over ten years. For a midlander like myself who grew up in Laois – the only county in Ireland not to touch a county that touches the sea – the Inishowen peninsula, with its towering headlands, windswept beaches and ruined forts was drama in itself. And it was there that I decided to try to write a crime novel of my own. I knew that the kind of crime novel that I wanted to write was a mystery, a classic detective novel with a murder at the beginning, a limited cast of suspects and a solution at the end. And if I could, I wanted to write a series. I wanted to create a world not unlike those I had lost myself in as a child – a place that both readers and I would want to return to again and again. But I was sure the series would not be a police procedural; I did not possess the knowledge to do that effectively. I wanted an amateur detective.
I created a fictional town called Glendara, set on the Inishowen peninsula, and I populated it with characters that I hoped would recur. And it seems that my craving to be one of the detectives in my childhood books had never entirely left me because I made my amateur detective a solicitor! Benedicta O’Keeffe, known as Ben, (my own friends and family call me Andy) runs the most northerly solicitor’s practice in Ireland just as I did (at the time).
When I started to write her, Ben was little more than a braver (or more reckless!) version of myself. But as I continued, I found that she separated herself from me; she developed her own characteristics and her own flaws, and a back story that was not mine. And I began to like her. When I moved to Dublin to transfer to the bar and began working as a barrister, she followed me, and I continued to write about the world I had created in Inishowen.
The books that I love to read swallow me up, be they crime or otherwise. The sensation I had as a child – that of immersing myself completely in another world – is one that I still seek as an adult. And that’s what I love about writing; I can lose myself in a world that I have created. I suspect this is the reason why I write the first draft straight through. I am driving along a foggy road at night and there are times when the road stretches clearly ahead and other times when it is barely visible; either way, I can never see further than the next bend. I write as I like to read, because for me it is about story: that age-old human need to relate and to hear stories. So the first draft is rough, like a piece of stone I need to sculpt; there are times when I need to construct scaffolding which I remove later. And it is followed by much editing. But my story begins with setting – always. It was Robert Louis Stevenson who said ‘Some places speak distinctly. Certain dank gardens cry aloud for a murder; certain old houses demand to be haunted; certain coasts are set apart for shipwrecks.’ I have completed two Inishowen mysteries so far but I hope that I’ll be able to return to Glendara many times. I’m already looking forward to losing myself in that world again. Death at Whitewater Church will be published on 3rd September 2015, and the second in the series, Treacherous Strand, will follow next year.
ANDREA CARTER graduated in law from Trinity College, Dublin. She qualified as a solicitor and moved to the Inishowen peninsula in Co. Donegal where she lived and worked for a number of years. In 2005 she transferred to the Bar and moved to Dublin to practice as a barrister. ‘Death at Whitewater Church’ is her first novel.