Interview with ‘DownUnder’ author, Dervla McTiernan

Darvla was born and raised Irish. But moved to Perth, Western Australia in 2011 with her husband, their two-year-old little girl …and was 36 weeks pregnant the day they landed. She was a lawyer in Ireland but very burned out by the time they emigrated, and says she was, “keen never to practice law again”. When she went back to work, it was part-time, and eventually she started writing. Her first book, The Ruin, was published in 2018, with The Scholar following in 2019. My third book, The Good Turn, is out next year.

New study

Q. Where do you write? Do you have a special room, shed, barn, special space for your writing?  Or tell us about your ‘dream’ work space.

DM. I have a tiny study off the kitchen of our home, and most of the time that’s where I write. It’s small, but to me, just perfect and we just did a mini-renovation and now I really love it! Writing so close to where the kids spend a lot of their time is probably not ideal, but I have some excellent noise blocking headphones that take care of that!
When I started out we were living in a very small rental home with dodgy electrics – we couldn’t have the oven and the air con on at the same time or the whole system would trip. I used to write at a tidy corner of the kitchen table when the kids were in bed. The house was way too small for us so the detritus of the day inevitably surrounded me. I just had to learn to close my eyes to it all!

Q. Do you have any special rituals or quirks when you sit down to write? (a neat work space, sharpened #2 pencils, legal pad, cup of tea, glass of brandy, favorite pajamas, etc.)

DM. I am ridiculously picky about notebooks. I go through different phases but at the moment I like the A4 sized Clairefontaine notebooks and gel pens– I change colour when I start a new book. I usually write free hand for at least half an hour before I move to my computer. I write notes about the scene I’m planning on  writing that day. Thoughts about the characters and setting. What the characters know going into the scene, their mind-set, snippets of dialogue, all of that kind of thing. By the time I get started properly with fingers on the keyboard I usually have a pretty clear idea of where I’m going, which leaves me free to think about how I want to get there.

Before…

Q. Could you tell us something about yourself that we might not already know?

DM. Hmm. Tricky one! There are lots of things but it’s hard to think of something people might be interested in! I have a golden retriever, who lies outside my bedroom door every morning to guilt me into take her for a walk. She loves a good walk because she is ridiculously social and wants to chat with every human in the park and be generally admired. What she does not like to do is run. I’ve started running again for the first time in years (for running read *gentle stagger*) and she objects by lying down or dawdling along two hundred metres behind me. If I put her on the lead I have to tow her around like a little tow truck, and everyone in the park looks at me like I am cruelly punishing her. Then I let her off the lead and she spots a dog she likes and she’s off running like a crazy thing. It’s all very frustrating.

Q. Do you have a set time each day (or night) to write?

DM. I used to have a very strict routine – 8pm to 10pm every night, because I was working around kids and a day job. Now that I’m writing full time I generally write between 9.30am and 2 pm, and then again at night from 8pm for an hour or two. Not all of that will be active writing time. I have emails to deal with, of course, and the usual admin stuff that somehow manages to creep into my day despite my best efforts! And household tasks. But I will try to get a minimum of two hours active writing time a day and ideally that will be closer to four or five.

Q. What’s your best advice to other writers for overcoming procrastination?

DM. Respect the story and respect your instincts. If it feels wrong then maybe it’s time to backtrack and see if you lost the organic thread of the story somewhere. Or if your story is fine and your procrastination is just coming from that fear/avoidance place we all have, I think it can be useful to trick yourself into it. Make a really nice cup of tea, find some chocolate, sit down and tell yourself you’re just going to have fun for a while. Write in a notebook rather than on your computer. Write some random scene from later in your book. Do an exercise where you write your character first person if your book is usually third. Basically anything at all that feels more interesting than scary. Usually I find that within half an hour the fear is in my rearview mirror and I am writing again.

Q. Where/when do you first discover your characters?

DM. Everywhere and anywhere! Only one character ever came to me fully formed, and that was Maude Blake from my first book, The Ruin. I had this very clear picture in my head – two children, sitting on a stairs in a crumbling Georgian mansion deep in the Irish countryside. Maude was fifteen, and Jack only five. They were holding hands. The house is very, very cold, all the lights are off, and it’s getting dark outside. I knew that they were afraid. I knew that Maude loved her brother so much, that she had protected him from the moment he was born and that now she was afraid that she wouldn’t be able to protect him from what was coming next. And that was it. I knew Maude from the top of her head to the bottom of her feet but I didn’t know anything else, not what had brought them to that place nor where they would go next. I had to write the story to find out.

Q. What first inspired you to write?

Join us for Part 2 of this interview with Australian author, Dervla McTiernan
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   December: Dervla McTiernan ~~ January: David Poyer  
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