Monday, 21 October 2019

Poolbeg Crimson Exclusive: Nicola Cassidy, Jane Ryan, Andrea Mara and Maria Hoey on writing crime fiction in the past and present.

Poolbeg Crimson: Irish Crime Fiction in the Past and Present 

Malahide Library, Co. Dublin

Wed 23 Oct 2019 6PM

In preparation for this week's Crimson Crime Event, I have a little exclusive for Bleach House Library followers. Each of the featured Crimson Crime authors have shared nuggets of their writing process and what it is like to write Contemporary Crime vs. Historical Crime Fiction. Come along to Malahide Library on Wednesday 23rd October to hear more from Andrea Mara, Nicola Cassidy, Jane Ryan and Maria Hoey. Free event and, having hosted Crimson Crime before, I can guarantee a lot of laughs.

Andrea Mara on writing  Contemporary Crime

‘Chatting to UK author at a festival last year, she told me she always sets her books in the past, because smart phones have "ruined everything". If  a character gets lost, they can just use Google Maps to find their way home. If they're in trouble, they call the police - they can do that without call credit or PIN codes, and there's only so often readers will believe a phone is out of coverage. GPS makes it easier to track and trace missing characters, and the internet in general makes it very simple to research and find people.

However, you can flip that on its head - for every element of plot that becomes more challenging in the digital age, there's another that becomes more interesting. There's an ever-widening scope of storylines linked to smart phones, social media, and the internet. Characters can spy on one another using apps and in-built cameras. They can record calls and conversations. They can catch each other out by checking fitness tracker routes - wearable fitness devices have even been used in real life cases to break alibis. Characters can set up fake social media accounts or have two on the go at the same time to keep foes (and readers) guessing. 

In my book, One Click, the main character, Lauren, does what many Instagram users do – she posts a photo of a crowded beach scene. Only there's a woman in the photo, one who is identifiable to an anonymous troll who begins sending increasingly threatening messages. Lauren has no idea why the sender is so interested in the woman on the beach - she deletes the photo but of course as we all know, you can't ever really delete anything from the internet! ‘

Nicola Cassidy on writing Historical Crime Fiction

‘While taking part in a walking tour of my home town of Drogheda, Co. Louth, I first heard about the high rates of infanticide – the act of killing newborn babies, in 19th century Ireland. Intrigued by a local story of a baby’s body found in a suitcase, I  began to research the crime and found there were numerous cases of infanticide, where mothers murdered their own babies, recorded. Coroners of the time noted the crime as common. The baby in the suitcase story inspired the opening of The Nanny atNumber 43.
I’ve always been fascinated by the 19th century. Our parents liked to bring us to visit old houses and historic sites, and I think that’s where the interest began. I loved the fashion, the toys, the upstairs, downstairs effect – I’ve been living Downton Abbey in my head since about the age of eight!

“Setting a crime story in late 19th century Ireland was natural for me, as I’m so familiar with the time period. If you think about books like Sherlock Holmes, you can see how detective work as know it nowadays was just beginning. Chemical testing and crime scene photography were introduced. We still remember great crimes from the 19th century, like Jack the Ripper. The Nanny at Number 43, was inspired by 19th century serial killers Mary Ann Cotton, known as The Black Widow, who murdered her husbands and their children for the inheritance and Amelia Dyer, who was a prolific baby killer, thought to have done away with hundreds of small babies.
“My book covers elements of all these crimes. The research was fascinating, although a little macabre. I studied books on various 19th century crimes, learning about police procedures of the time, how autopsies worked, how coroners worked and the effects of various types of poisoning. I wanted to explore what could possibly drive these women to do the things they did.’

Jane Ryan on writing Contemporary Crime

‘The question could just as easily be why do I write crime? Like most writers I am a voracious reader and started reading crime (in my case the secret seven, progressing to Agatha Christie at nine) very early on. I was so taken with the upending of reader expectations that perhaps I haven’t outgrown it. I am a fan of plot and intricately developed characters and that is the main reason I write crime, I am fixated with the ‘solving’ of puzzles within stories and crime lends itself to this.

In my opinion the detective novel is the pinnacle of this, you can bring the reader on a journey – I would always differentiate between plot and story – plot being the way the writer presents the story to the reader and story being the journey you are bringing your characters on. One of the reasons I enjoy police procedurals is that you have one central character, in my case Detective Garda Bridget Harney, that can be developed novel by novel. This allows events to have to your character in parallel, like life, rather than sequentially which can feel staged and could keep a character superficial.

Modern police procedurals tend to hang fiction on a skeleton of fact, this is another area of huge interest to me, actual policing work. My main character is based in the Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau in Dublin and AGS are a complex and fascinating organisation – for me at least – I have a passion for research and have delved into policing strategies in many forces, the London Met, AGS, the West Midlands, complete with the myriad of information put out by the EU on drug trafficking and organised crime. In an age of social media, camera phones and the human desire to catalogue our lives working as a police officer has never been so challenging. I try to bake in some of this conflict into the life of my character.’

Maria Hoey on writing Historical Crime Fiction

‘I admit it, the past has an almost irresistible tug on me when it comes to writing my novels. In the case of my debut, The Last Lost Girl, I knew from the outset that it would be set in the heatwave summer of 1976. For my second book, On Bone Bridge, the seminal incident of the book takes place in 1984.  My forthcoming book has its heart in 1996. 
To a certain extent, and I admit it, there is a freedom about writing crimes of the past – a freedom from the restraints imposed by technology, mobile phones, social media etc. Crimes were crimes then and detection was a different ballgame. 
But mostly, I suspect, it is down to my love of writing child characters and then following them through to adulthood where the shadow of their past sins (whether big or small) finally catch them up.  Because I like to write ‘bad’ children or children who might be perceived as such. The subject of child killers, by which I mean children who kill, has always fascinated me.  I want to know why? I want to know how it gets to that point. I want to know – are they intrinsically bad or were they (and if so, at what point) themselves failed?
But, in all my books, I move between a past setting to a contemporary one. I suppose I find a joy and a challenge in interweaving those timelines and, as it were, seeing my characters through to maturity.  Seeing what life has done to them, if you like. I like to watch them change and develop, I am fascinated to see whether their badness is ingrained or if there is a possibility of redemption. 
And ultimately, such is the mystery of writing anyway, it is my characters who lead me and not the other way around, and so far, invariably, they have led me into the shadowy, intriguing, inescapable past.’

Poolbeg Crimson titles are available in all good bookshops and on

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Book Review: The Flight of the Wren by Orla McAlinden

**Review originally appeared in Irish Times May 4th, 2019**

The Flight of the Wren by Orla McAlinden

Tasmania, 1919. Sally glimpses her face in the mirror and knows she is dying: “the dusky hue of the crêpey skin . . . so different from the fine pale skin of healthy old age . . . I am drowning slowly, drowning blackly in my own dark fluids.” The Spanish influenza - or Black Death - has hitched a ride with returning soldiers, spreading like wildfire. As the disease takes hold, the memories flood back and seep out into the world she has created in Australasia; a world far away from the Great Hunger of Ireland.
King’s County, 1848. Fourteen-year-old Sally lies on the mound of her parent’s grave. Famine has decimated the country and she has nowhere to go. As she wanders the roads and fields, searching for food, she enters the world of the Curragh Wrens: women who have made lives in the bushes surrounding the army barracks, servicing soldiers in order to survive. This life is extremely harsh and dangerous and Sally sees transportation as the only option. McAlinden delivers historical fiction with a lyrical and haunting touch, bringing these forgotten Irish women back to life. 
The Flight of the Wren is published by red Stag Mentor and is available in PB and ebook format.
I was lucky enough to catch up with the author, when she dropped into Bleach House for a chat about The Flight of the Wren.  You can watch our discussion below: 

Book Review: Rules of the Road by Ciara Geraghty

**Originally appeared in Irish Times July 13th 2019**

Rules of the Road by Ciara Geraghty

Terry is worried about her best friend, Iris. It’s her 58th birthday and she is missing. Breaking into her friend’s house, Terry finds an envelope addressed to herself and is devastated to learn that her friend intends to end her own life. Iris has progressive MS and has booked into a clinic in Switzerland. Panicking, Terry packs her father – who suffers with dementia – into the car, managing to locate Iris as she is about to board a ferry at Dublin Port. Refusing to let her travel alone, Terry and her father join Iris on her road trip across Europe (not an easy task, with an elderly man who is in a permanent state of confusion, a seriously ill woman who can barely walk and a driver who is afraid of motorways).
Geraghty combines sadness with humour, handling the delicate balance very cleverly. MS and dementia are both addressed in a gentle way, allowing for a lighter read, with the power of friendship and love leading the narrative. A delightful mix of characters and a wonderfully warm read.

Rules of the Road is published by Harper Collins and is available in TPB and ebook format. 

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Book Giveaway - The Nanny at Number 43 by Nicola Cassidy.

It is with great delight that I break my own blog-tour rules and hop on this one, for the wonderful new novel from Nicola Cassidy. The Nanny at Number 43 is officially launched into the world today and I have the honour of hosting a Q&A session with the author, in Waterstones, Drogheda, later this evening. Feel free to drop in and say 'Hi', from 6.30pm. But, as we are on the East Coast of Ireland and you may be in sunnier climes, I have a signed copy to giveaway to one lucky reader. Just enter via the rafflecopter link at the end of the page. Open INT and closes 26th July. Good Luck!

The Blurb

Wanted, a respectable woman to care for a motherless child.

When William D. Thomas’s wife dies in childbirth, he places an advertisement in his local newspaper seeking a nanny for his newborn child.

He is thankful when an experienced nanny arrives at 43 Laurence Street and takes over from his frazzled housekeeper Mrs McHugh.

Mrs McHugh confides in her bedridden friend Betty, who has a bird’s-eye view of all the happenings on Laurence Street, that the Nanny is not all she seems. Betty begins her own investigation into the mysterious woman.

When the bodies of twin babies are discovered buried in a back garden, by a family who have moved from their tenement home into a country cottage, a police investigation begins.

But it is Betty who holds the key to discovering who the Nanny really is … and the reason she came to 43 Laurence Street.

About the Author

Nicola Cassidy is a writer and blogger from Co. Louth, Ireland. She started her writing career early, entering short story competitions as a child and became an avid reader. Encouraged by her English teachers, she chose to study journalism at Dublin City University and while working in political PR and marketing, studied a series of advanced creative writing courses at the Irish Writers’ Centre.

Later she set up a lifestyle and literary blog, which was shortlisted in the Ireland Blog Awards in 2015 and 2016 and finalist in 2017 and 2018. She signed with Trace Literary Agency in 2016. December Girl is Nicola’s debut historical fiction novel and is set in the mystical and ancient Boyne Valley, Co. Meath, famed for its stone age passage tombs. Elements of the story are inspired by true events. Her second novel The Nanny at Number 43 is published by Poolbeg Press. She lives with her husband and two young daughters in Termonfeckin, Co. Louth. Follow her at, on Twitter @ladynicci or

The Nanny at Number 43 is published by Poolbeg Crimson and is available in Paperback and ebook format. You can order your copy online HERE or pick up in any good bookshop. Remember, we would love you to join us at the official launch, in Waterstones, Drogheda, at 6.30pm, July 11th!

Enter the giveaway raffle to win a signed copy of The Nanny at Number 43...

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Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Her Kind by Niamh Boyce. Extract and Giveaway.

The folks at Penguin Random House Ireland heard a rumour that I was a huge fan of Niamh Boyce and have kindly allowed me to share an excerpt from her latest novel, Her Kind. They have also offered up three copies of the book for three lucky readers. To enter the giveaway, just click on the rafflecopter link at the end of this post. Open INT and ends 10th May. Good luck! 
My Review can be heard on the LMFM #LateLunchBookclub podcast (45m13 into clip). If you love historical fiction, then this is for you!

The Blurb


The eagerly awaited new novel from the award-winning author of No 1 bestseller, The Herbalist

1324, Kilkennie
A woman seeks refuge for herself and her daughter in the household of a childhood friend.
The friend, Alice Kytler, gives her former companion a new name, Petronelle, a job as a servant, and warns her to hide their old connection.
Before long Petronelle comes to understand that in the city pride, greed and envy are as dangerous as the wolves that prowl the savage countryside. And she realizes that Alice's household is no place of safety.
Once again, Petronelle decides to flee. But this time she confronts forces greater than she could ever have imagined and she finds herself fighting for more than her freedom ...
Tense, moving and atmospheric, Her Kind is a vivid re-imagining of the events leading up to the Kilkenny Witch Trial.

Excerpt from Her Kind

Kilkennie Castle
All Hallows’, 1324
By first bell, a crowd had gathered beneath the trees. They wore cloaks lined with rabbit or vair, according to their rank. Despite the snow, they waited, watching the castle gates. They argued constantly – of the witches locked inside the Castle Gaol, which would be the first to confess? Which, if any, was innocent?
‘These are serious proceedings, not a play,’ Friar Bede told them. ‘Go home until the cry is raised.’ They went hungry, but they would not go home.
As prime was rung, figures appeared at the top of the hill. The prisoners had left the confines of the gaol, but no one could say afterwards how, or by which door. Had everyone looked away, to the sky, or to their feet, at the same time? The women moved slowly. Heretics’ crosses had been stitched to their chests. Weighed down by their trailing gowns, the ladies were last. The maids, less burdened, led. One was unveiled, her hair straggling past her waist. As they neared, people blessed themselves.
It was a strange sight, the bent figures, dark against the snow, the yellow crosses on their gowns, the bright cold sky above. The crowd muttered their names, as if counting children who had been lost. Helene, Esme, Lady Cristine, her sister, Beatrice . . . but where was the one they had waited for, where was the maid of Dame Alice Kytler?

Her Kind is published by Penguin Random House Ireland and is available in all good bookshops now.

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Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Book Review: The Truth and Triumphs of Grace Atherton by Anstey Harris

Grace Atherton is madly in love with David. He is her life and soul; the person who completes her. A trip to Paris and a random heroic deed results in an unforeseen shift in their relationship. Grace is suddenly alone and wondering why she bothers getting up everyday.

Matthew Sharp on cello
 She spends all her time in her niche violin shop, restoring instruments to their former glory and creating something magical. String instruments are in her blood. She gently carves and chisels into the core of violins, cellos and violas. Regular customers are entranced by her talent and her shop assistant, teenage Nadia, keeps Grace on her toes. Eighty-year-old Mr. Williams brings a very special instrument into Grace's shop, for restoration, and a quiet friendship forms between the troubled pair. Grace begins to see hope and the magic of music guides her to a brighter future. 

Anstey Harris has written a novel that creeps into your mind and won't let go. Grace's travels to Paris to spend glorious times with David are dripping with atmosphere and her love for him is palpable. Her pain is also very real. But the inspirational part of the story is the creation of instruments and the power of music. The reader can feel the vibrations of the cello as Libertango is played. The delicate tones of viola and violin can be heard as the characters lose themselves in their performances. The strings of the instruments can be felt as strings attached to friendship. 

This is a beautiful tale that will captivate even the hardest heart. The music seems to flow from the page and envelopes the reader. Whilst many pick the wrong partner - often for the wrong reasons - music is a universal love that rarely disappoints. Harris has managed to create a bridge from classical music to modern day life; showing how friendship across generations can enrich our lives. A novel that pulls at the heartstrings and opens your mind to the magic of music.

The Truth and Triumphs of Grace Atherton is published by Simon and Schuster and is available in Hardback and ebook format. Available in all good book shops.

Anstey Harris at London Book Fair 2018

I was lucky enough to attend London Book Fair in 2018 and was witness to a fantastic event at the Simon and Schuster stand. We were treated to beautiful performance of Piazzolla's Libertango which is featured in The Truth and Triumphs of Grace Atherton. You can watch a version of this stunning piece of music HERE.

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