Interview with Dervla McTiernan

4 min read

Dervla McTiernan spent twelve years working as a lawyer. Following the global financial crisis, she moved from Ireland to Australia and turned her hand to writing. Dervla is a member of the Sisters in Crime and Crime Writers Association, and lives in Perth, Australia, with her husband and two children.

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Girly Book Club: How did you get into writing and what inspired you to write your first book?

Dervla McTiernan: My mum maintains I taught myself to read when I was three. I suspect that is one of those exaggerated family stories, though it’s certainly true that I carried a book around in my hand every day of my life for as long as I can remember. But despite that I don’t think I really dreamed of being a writer. I grew up in a very practical family, and writing seemed like something for other people. Special people, not ordinary people. I read Stephen King’s On Writing when I was quite young and that was equal parts inspiring and intimidating – he wrote ever since he was a little boy, and I just wasn’t like that. I was almost forty when I finally started writing properly, and the only reason I started was because I just couldn’t not at that point. I was still reading, but it wasn’t enough anymore. And as soon as I started writing I knew I would never never stop. It was the missing piece.

GBC: What makes a book great, in your opinion? What elements does a great story possess?

DM: For me it’s always about character. I’ll forgive a book almost anything if the writer creates a character I can truly fall in love with, someone who comes to life, someone I think about weeks or months or even years after I’ve read the book. Stakes matter too, of course, and a well-structured story. I enjoy some literary fiction, but I’ll choose beautifully written commercial fiction every time, to be honest. I really do want a story – a beginning, middle and end and a satisfying resolution. Bonus points if I cry!

GBC: What are you doing if you’re not writing?

DM: This is a terribly boring answer but the truth is – looking after my kids (who are ten and eight) or housework related stuff! There isn’t a lot of time left for anything else, though I do love pilates when I can squeeze it in. I feel like my life is divided almost equally in half. Fifty percent of the time I’m Mom, and fifty percent of the time I’m a writer. And I never feel like there is enough time for either but I think I’m like every other mother in the world when I say that!

GBC: Name your favourite bookshop in the world.

DM: I think maybe Hodges Figges in Dublin, Ireland. It is this enormous, beautiful bookshop stretching over multiple floors and the books there are so well curated. It has been going since 1768 and because of the size of the shop they can really stock in depth – you’ll find books there you wouldn’t find anywhere else, books you’re amazed you haven’t heard of, real treasures.

GBC: Physical book, e-book, or audiobook? – and why.

DM: All three!  Physical book for the pleasure of a good read and I really won’t read anything that is special or important to me any other way. E-book for research – if I need to read something fast and I know I’ll be largely skimming, I’ll probably go for e-book and of course they’re so useful for travel. And I listen to audiobooks every single day. They are my companion when I’m walking the dog or making dinner.

GBC: What was your favourite book as a child?

DM: I’m not sure I had any one favourite, but the books that come to mind are all fantasy – probably The Belgariad by David Eddings, or the Anne McCaffrey Dragons of Pern series.

GBC: We’re always on the hunt for our next great read. Recommend us a book to add to our TBR pile!

DM: You have to check out Adrian McKinty’s The Chain if you haven’t already. Imagine if your child was kidnapped and the only way you can get them back is if you kidnap someone else’s child. Argh! It’s an absolute barn-burster of a thriller. For me one of the very few thrillers that actually delivers what it promises. If you start it I can promise you won’t be able to put it down.

GBC: What is one movie, TV series, or podcast that you’re loving right now?

DM: We just watched His Dark Materials and it was glorious. Movies I loved recently include Knives Out and Ford v Ferrari. And my favourite podcast is Scriptnotes which is basically one of the best and most entertaining resources for writers on the internet. Two extraordinarily talented screenwriters (John August and Craig Mazin) talk about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters, but honestly there’s just a wealthy of information for anyone who is interested in story of all kinds. And they’ve been doing the podcast weekly for years so there are hundreds of back episodes! Highly recommended for anyone who wants to write.

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