Friday, August 22, 2014

9mm interview: Claire McGowan (lost tapes)

As I mentioned a fortnight ago when publishing a 9mm interview with Liza Marklund, two years ago I had the pleasure of attending the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, England. It was a terrific few days, filled with great seminars, events, and social occasions. I caught up with several authors I knew or had interviewed, and met many more.

Recently I've rediscovered some interviews with some of those authors, that were recorded at the time but never published, for a variety of reasons and mishaps. So I now have some 'lost tapes' editions of 9mm spread over the next couple of months. I'm really glad to be able to finally share these with you.

Today's interviewee, the 79th instalment in the series, is Claire McGowan, a talented young Northern Irish crime writer who I met for the first time at the airport on the way to Harrogate (I'd flown to Leeds from Belfast, having attended a Springsteen concert in Dublin in the days before). At the time McGowan had published one crime novel, THE FALL, with more in the pipeline. She's since published two thrillers featuring forensic psychologist Paula Maguire, and has been praised for the lyrical and compelling nature of her storytelling. Of her first Maguire tale, Lee Child said: "Either Tana French and Michael Connelly secretly co-wrote this book, or Claire McGowan is a knockout new talent you should read immediately. I'm betting on the latter."

I have a copy of THE FALL, and am very much looking forward to getting my hands on copies of McGowan's later Paula Maguire novels. It was reported earlier this year that the BBC had snapped up the television rights to the Maguire tales, which are set in a fictional Northern Ireland border town. Before becoming a crime writer, McGowan graduated from Oxford, lived in China and France, and worked in the charity sector in London. And now, she stares down the barrel of 9mm.

9MM: An interview with Claire McGowan

Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Probably the characters in Sophie Hannah’s books, the male and female detectives [Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer] because I think she’s done something very clever, which is to combine the ongoing procedural and a different psychological thriller every time, so she’s got around a lot of the constraints of the genre. She’s also quite cleverly I think not put in a lot of research, and I suspect, though I haven’t asked her, but I suspect she doesn’t do very much. Which I don’t like to do either.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
I was a big reader all the way. I think the first one I finished on my own was MATILDA, my Mum started reading it to me when I was seven and I finished it myself. Like all the bookish little girls that think they are Matilda.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I’d always wanted to write, and I’d write bits and pieces here and there and never finish anything. And then I started writing another book about maybe four years ago, spent a long time writing that, finished it, which was a great moment. Sent it out to a few agents but didn’t get anywhere with it. But that was one of the best moments of my writing life, finishing that.

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I should make up some stuff now to make myself sound cool (laughing). I think it does tend to take over your life, writing and books, then you meet more and more friends who are also into writing and books. I watch a lot of films, I’m interested in story.

I love travelling, I travelled a lot when I was younger. I lived in China for a year - that was interesting, different to going as a tourist. I did a lot of writing while I was there. I felt very alienated, because I couldn’t read the language, couldn’t read the street signs.

What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
They should leave immediately, it’s terrible. I’m from Newry, which is on the border in Northern Ireland. Honestly, it’s just a horrible town. If you go there, I would recommend you leave immediately. Find the bus timetable.

If your life was made into a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Natalie Portman, just to flatter myself a bit.

Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
I’ve published one novel, but I’ve written four and a half now. Probably the one that’s about to come out next year [is my favourite], I’m excited about that. It doesn’t have a title yet, but it’s set in a fictionalised version of my hometown, about a missing person’s unit. It’s quite crime-y, and has a new lead character that is going to be a series character I hope, who’s a young female forensic psychologist. So that’s been really interesting working with the crime side of it. It’s going to deal a lot with Ireland’s troubled history, with the church. I’m really excited about it. (Ed Note: I believe the novel Claire is talking about here is THE LOST.)

What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
It’s difficult, because I think for a lot of people the moment of getting published comes very slowly. It’s not like nothing happens, then you get a phone call. It’s more like it almost happens for weeks, so you know it’s going to happen but you’re worried it’s going to fall through. Then when it finally did, actually it was quite good. I was working fulltime in an office job then, and I hated it and was desperate to quit. And I was going in to talk to my boss about how we could maybe reducing my hours, and I got the phone call saying we’ve accepted the final deal. So instead of going in to have a meeting about how we were going to reduce my hours it became a meeting about how I was going to leave. So that was good.

The first time I saw it in a shop, I felt really proud, and told the man “I wrote that, I wrote that”, and he just kept on scanning. He couldn’t care less.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
(Laughing), I don’t know, where do I start? At Bristol, this year, at CrimeFest, there were a number of quite hilarious experiences. Steve Mosby, another author, and I were sitting at a table at the gala, playing a drinking game at our table. And we were all a bit drunk. At one point he went out to have a cigarette, and while he was out there a policeman rode up on his horse, said “Can you hold my horse?”, then left him holding a police horse in the middle of Bristol for like 20 minutes or something. That was quite hilarious.

Thank you Claire. We appreciate you taking the time to chat to Crime Watch


You can read more about Claire McGowan and her books here:


Have you read any of Claire's books? Or Northern Irish crime fiction in general? Comments welcome. 

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