Eagle-eyed readers may have spotted one or two mentions of Cork literary salon Fiction at the Friary on this blog in the past. Among the many interesting people I’ve met there is Cork-based writer Catherine Kirwan. The very first time we spoke, Catherine had just had some interesting news about a manuscript she had tentatively sent out into the world. And now here we are, at the end of a journey that has seen the release of her debut novel.
Darkest Truth is a thriller set, rather unusually, in Cork. It follows solicitor Finn Fitzpatrick, who is approached one stormy evening by a grieving father asking that she look into his daughter’s apparent suicide. He believes there’s more to her death than meets the eye. The case draws Finn into a world of glamour and secrets, with unsavoury ties to Ireland’s most successful film director.
Given the snowballing #MeToo movement, the book’s power-abusing undertones couldn’t be more timely. And advance word has been very positive, with Darkest Truth featuring on lists of the books to watch out for this year in The Irish Times, the Independent and Her.ie.
Catherine, your publishing contract came about as a result of a novel competition. Can you tell us a bit about that? And has the publishing deal helped you to find an agent?
Back in 2016, I read about the Penguin Random House Daily Mail First Novel Competition on Paul McVeigh’s Facebook page. It was free to enter and I sent in an application because I hoped it might lead to someone who knew about publishing reading the book and giving me feedback – I had the first draft done and was wondering what to do next.
Several months later, I got a call from one of the judges, literary agent Luigi Bonomi, to tell me that I was in the top ten of 5,000 entries. And then, a few weeks later, I found out that I’d been shortlisted (the winner was The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd, which went on to be a Richard and Judy Book Club choice in 2018).
Luigi said he’d like to read the rest of my book, and after that he asked to take me on as a client with his literary agency LBA Books. And now Darkest Truth is published, which is amazing. [You can read more about the process on Writing.ie]
You have a background in law. Has that knowledge played a large part in your book?
Finn Fitzpatrick is a solicitor, so my day job definitely had a big part to play. In reality, though, Finn acts way more like an amateur sleuth or private detective and the story was probably far more influenced by the crateloads of crime fiction I’ve read throughout my life, as can be seen from the tottering piles of books all over my house (that I plan to organise properly as soon as I have a spare week… or two).
I know nothing about how to approach thriller writing – did you decide whodunnit first and work your way back, or did you have an idea for a crime and move forward as a reader would? And how much plotting did you do before writing?
I started off with nothing except a character and a situation – on a Friday evening in November, around the time of the Cork Film Festival, Finn leaves her office after work and, on the dark street outside, meets a man who tells her about a past crime gone unpunished. I made it up as I went along for the first few chapters and then, when I had a sense of what the story might be, I did a one page bullet-pointed outline (which changed somewhat over time) and worked on the book during weekends and holidays. It took me about a year to write the first draft.
By the way, if you’re new to crime, try reading these (after Darkest Truth, obviously!): Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard, Skin Deep by Liz Nugent and Death at Whitewater Church by Andrea Carter.
Was it an easy decision to base your story in the mean streets of Cork or did you dabble with the idea of setting it elsewhere?
It was always going to be Cork. I started writing the book in November 2014. The Film Festival had just finished so I decided to have a Cork Film Festival background (it’s definitely more ‘a’ Cork Film Festival than ‘the’ Cork Film Festival in the book).
Also, one of the things I love as a crime reader is being an armchair traveller and getting to know Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh or Michael Connelly’s LA as an extra character in their (amazing) books. So I had the ambition of making Cork a character in my book. I’m not originally from Cork, but I’ve lived here for years. I love the city, but I retain some residual feelings of being an outsider or an observer and that probably helped the book.
The other thing that helped me know and get a feel for the city is being involved with the Corcadorca Theatre Company and the many Corcadorca shows I’ve seen in numerous Cork locations over the years.
How tricky has it been having a UK publisher while you’re based in Ireland?
It’s been a good experience for me – everyone has been really supportive.
Where do you write?
I write in a small narrow room with, at one end, a tiny corner desk (on which there’s a desktop computer) and, at the other end, an armchair (with a laptop beside it and a window), and an obstacle course of loose paper, notepads, post-its and books in between.
Top five books, if you please.
This is an impossible question as the answer probably changes daily – but today’s top five (in alphabetical order) are: A Perfect Spy by John le Carré, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod, The Beat Goes On (The Complete Rebus Short Stories) by Ian Rankin and The Gathering by Anne Enright.
What are your pet hates in a book?
I avoid any book with the word ‘picaresque’ in the blurb. It’s never a good sign.
You were recently mentored by 2018 Frank O’Connor Fellow Carys Davies – has it changed any aspect of your writing?
Carys is a superb writer and a wonderful person, and the mentorship was an important and enriching experience for me, but it’s too soon to say what’s changed – it’s all still marinating.
So what’s next for you? Will Finn Fitzpatrick return?
She will – and next time… (but that would be telling!).
Last but by no means least, Hula Hoops or jellybeans? [the snacks of choice served at Fiction at the Friary]
A packet of Scampi Fries, please, Mike (i.e. Mike Darcy of The Friary Pub, North Mall, Cork).
The official book launch for Darkest Truth will be held in Waterstones Cork on January 17 at 6pm. All welcome.
Photos: Kieran O’Connor; Pixabay