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May 1st Author Stalker with Dervla McTiernan!

The fabulous Dervla McTiernan

Back in early 2020, I had the pleasure of attending one of Dymock's brilliant literary luncheons, held at the beautiful Four Seasons hotel in Sydney. The hotel has always held a special place in my heart as it was here that my husband Shaun and I spent our wedding night, all the way back in April 1993.

But on that day in February 2020, it wasn't Shaun who had my full attention. It was a softly spoken, WA based, Irish writer, the middle child of seven children, named Dervla McTiernan, who had us all hooked talking about her journey to publication.

Imagine sitting in your car, having just been told by a doctor that you have a brain tumour which urgently needs to be removed, and while you're holding your phone and the name of three neurosurgeons on a Post-it note, your phone buzzes. It is a major US Literary agent who has read the first ten pages of your manuscript and loved it...and they want to read the full manuscript!!

That manuscript went on to become Dervla's breathtaking 2018 debut novel, The Rúin which is being adapted for the screen by actor Colin Farrell. Ironically, this dual timeline novel was partly set in 1993, the very same year I was married.

In the beginning of the book Dervla explains that in Irish, The Rúin means 'something hidden, a mystery, or a secret, but the word also has a long history as a term of endearment.'

The opening pages introduce us to the captivating young Garda (policeman) Cormac Reilly where 'two silent, neglected children - fifteen-year-old Maude and five-year-old Jack - are waiting for him at a crumbling country house. Upstairs, their mother lies dead.'

Not only the winner of the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction, The Rúin also won the Davitt Award for the Best Adult Fiction and the Barry Award for Best Original Paperback.

In Dervla's next two bestselling novels, The Scholar & The Good Turn, we learn more about the intriguing Cormac Reilly, as we lose ourselves within the pages of these page-turning books.

However, Dervla's new release The Murder Rule, which hits Australian shelves on May 4th, is a standalone novel. Cormac Reilly is nowhere to be seen.

But don't you worry! Dervla will have you riveted to EVERY SINGLE PAGE, every little twist and turn, and the blurb will give you chills:

'First Rule: Make them like you.

Second Rule: Make them need you.

Third Rule: Make them pay.

They think I'm a young, idealistic law student, that I'm passionate about reforming a corrupt and brutal system.

They think I'm working hard to impress them.

They think I'm here to save an innocent man on death row.

They're wrong. I'm going to bury him.'

I was so lucky to read an advance copy of The Murder Rule over the Easter long weekend. When we meet University of Maine law Student Hannah Rokeby, she is endeavouring to join Professor Rob Parekh's The Innocence Project, which is set up to help overturn convictions for those wrongly convicted of a crime.

But as we dive deeper into the novel, all is not as it seems. And just when you think you have worked it'd be wrong.

The Murder Rule is Dervla at her best. Last month I ticked US author Jane Green off my Author Stalker dream wish list and with Dervla, this month I get to tick another one off that very same list.

And pop on over to Dervla's Facebook and Instagram pages to see the most unique form of book promotion I have ever seen. She has written a short story that is like a choose your own adventure story. There are 5 excerpts over five days (starting yesterday) and a little puzzle (created by Dervla's talented son Oisin) to solve. You are a character and get to play detective!! The second puzzle has just gone up a few hours ago.

So now, without further ado, I will hand you over to the wonderful Dervla.xx

Q1: What was your inspiration for this story and how long did it take you to write the first draft?

A: I came across an article in a newspaper about a young Irish law student who had spent a summer volunteering in the US, working for the Innocence Project. When her time in America was over, the student kept working the case from Ireland. She managed to convince a retired police officer to tell her the truth about evidence that had been hidden in the original prosecution. As a result of her hard work, a man who had spent over twenty years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, was freed.

The article fascinated me and I did some more research, reading everything I could find about the case. My enthusiasm was a little dimmed by what I discovered. It turned out that even after the hidden evidence was found, it took a further five years before the exoneration application was heard, and by the time he was freed the innocent man had only 3 years left on his maximum sentence.

To me this was quite different to the inspirational story of triumph over adversity that I’d first read. It was sadder and more complicated, and I wondered why these details had been left out of the articles I’d read. Maybe it was because the journalists (or their editors) preferred the cleaner, more inspirational take. Or maybe (darker thought) the Innocence Project had pushed the prettier story as part of a publicity drive for their work. Or maybe I was just over-complicating things, reading into the situation facts not in evidence at all.

Still, the discovery made me think about moral grey areas. About what it must be like to be a good person working for the Innocence Project. Doing such impossibly challenging work in a world that is so loud, and messy and unwilling to listen or help. What small ethical compromises would I make along the way, and where could those choices lead me? I felt that there was a story in that idea. A story that could fold in on itself, with twists and turns and pace and, hopefully, heart.

I think the first draft took about three or four months. But the re-writing took well over a year, on and off. This was a tricky story to write. It had to work on a lot of levels, but still read like a fast-paced thriller. It took me a while to figure out how to get it done.

I was thrilled to meet the fabulous Dervla at her

Dymocks Literary Lunch for The Good Turn (Feb 2020)

Q2: You are hosting a spectacular dinner party. Name four dream guests you would love to have seated around your table, and what would they be dining on and drinking?

A: Oh, man. I am such a homebody. The HONEST answer is that I’d be with my husband and our close friends. We play a monthly board game together, and we usually make cocktails (my buddy makes the best espresso martini in the world), and have a cheese board or something and then play a wildly complicated board game. That’s my idea of a perfect night. Is that horribly boring?

(Not at all Dervla. It sounds wonderful. Shelley.xx)

Q3: What is your favourite book of all time and why?

A: I don’t know that I have a favourite of all time, because my answer to this question has changed over the years and probably will again. But one of my absolute favourites would be Lisey’s Story by Stephen King.

I love it for a lot of reasons. The story is really compelling, and the language and imagery is rich and beautiful, but I really love it because it’s the story of a marriage. A long, complicated but mostly happy and loving marriage. It feels real to me, and beautiful. Stephen King’s been married for a lot of years. I think he knows what he’s talking about.

(I will have to check this one out Dervla. I have always been too scared to read Stephen King but this one sounds amazing. Shelley.xx)

Q4: If you could travel anywhere in the world to write for a year, where would we find you?

A: I think I’d love to have a little house in Ireland in a quiet spot. Somewhere on the west coast maybe. Or maybe Wicklow. Just a quiet spot, in winter, so that I could go for long rainy walks and then come home and curl up by the fire. It sounds like absolute heaven, now that I think about it. But my children are still young, so writer's retreats are just a daydream for me for another few years!

Q5: Describe your go-to reading spot at home and what book/s would I currently find there?

A: Go to reading spot is probably bed! Usually a stack of books. Right now you’ll find James Clear’s Atomic Habits and a bunch of books I promised to read for possible blurbs that I’m way behind on!

I seriously don't know how Dervla gets any writing done with her adorable fur baby helper!

Q6: Tell us a bit about a typical writing day…

A: At the moment things are a little chaotic because I have the book tour kicking off next week and every day is different. But on a perfect writing day I’ll drop the kids to school and be home for 8.30 am. I’ll do a bit of tidying up, and then do some pilates in my living room, just to stretch out and decompress a little bit before I start work.

The aim is to be at my desk at the latest by 9.30 am. I’d love to start earlier, but our house tends to be busy in the mornings so it’s not really possible. Then I’ll work from 9.30 until around 12.30 when I take a break for lunch. Then I’ll start again and work from 1pm until around 2.30 pm. I’ll stop at 2.30 pm and do some other household stuff. Either laundry or food prep or something like that. I pick up the kids from school and I’m with them for the late afternoon.

At 5 pm my husband usually makes dinner, and we’ll all sit down together to eat and catch up on the day. And if I’m under pressure for a deadline or if the writing is just going well, I’ll sit down and write again for a few hours in the evening.

Q7: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

A: I really do love to write. Usually I’m trying to find more time to write, and when I have leisure time I usually fill it up with writing or writing related activities. But other than writing, I love spending time with my family. We like to go camping when the kids are on holidays.

Q8: Any advice for aspiring authors?

A: It all honesty, there’s no point in pretending that it’s easy out there right now. It’s very hard to get published and even harder to make a living as a writer. What I would say is that if you love to write, if you really love to write, then you should do it.

The fantastic thing about writing is that it costs almost nothing to do it, and you can fit it around a day job and kids. Do it because it brings you great joy, and then if publication comes, it’s a fantastic bonus.

The truth is, having your book published is wonderful, and I’ve been lucky enough to do some really exciting things, but still by far and away the best thing about writing is the writing itself. And no-one can give that to you and no-one can take it away. That’s yours, and it’s yours for your whole life, if you want it.

Q9: In a few lines, which debut/emerging Aussie author should we look out for?

A: Dinuka McKenzie I think she’s got real talent, and she also has a fantastic work ethic. I thought her book The Torrent shows that she’s got something really special. Her writing is exceptionally clean, and smart and nuanced. I’m looking forward to reading whatever she writes next.

(I totally agree. Dinuka's debut is fantastic and she is definitely a name to watch. Shelley.xx)

No one is innocent in this story ...

The unmissable new standalone from the no.1 bestseller of The Good Turn

First Rule: Make them like you.

Second Rule: Make them need you.

Third Rule: Make them pay.

They think I'm a young, idealistic law student, that I'm passionate about reforming a corrupt and brutal system.

They think I'm working hard to impress them.

They think I'm here to save an innocent man on death row.

They're wrong. I'm going to bury him.

'Diabolically clever, highly compelling and deeply moving. I loved The Murder Rule and did not want it to end.' Don Winslow, New York Times bestselling author of The Force and The Border

'Extraordinary. Haunting. An incredible thriller. I could not put this book down. Dervla McTiernan is a gifted writer with a very special way of telling a story. This is a heart stopping rollercoaster of a tale.' Adrian McKinty, New York Times bestselling author of The Chain

Thank you Dervla for being my May 1st Author Stalker victim. xx

The Murder Rule is hits shelves on May 4th and is available now for pre-order through bookstores and online.

If you would like to find out more about Dervla, you can find her here:

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Carla Simmons
Carla Simmons
May 01, 2022

Wow. Well done, Michelle. What a privilege for you. And a privilege for her also, to have such an enthusiastic and capable interviewer.

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