As “pinch me” moments go, getting a congratulatory message from One Dayauthor, David Nicholls, after knocking him off the number one spot on The Sunday Times UK best-seller list, must surely be up there.

Though Andrea Mara is quick to ground that particular memory in complete reality.

“My kids are like, ‘Mom, what is this dinner? Is it satay? You know I don’t really like satay. Mom, can you pick me up from football?’” she recalls, laughing. “And I’m looking at my phone saying, ‘Guys, it’s David Nicholls! Can you stop asking me about football and dinner.’”

Then again, as a crime writer whose thrillers twist and turn around the roots of everyday life, maybe that’s entirely appropriate. Certainly, her “what if?”- driven domestic dramas are hitting home with readers, with over 500,000 copies of her last three books sold to date; a figure set to soar following the release of her latest novel, Someone In The Attic.

And yet Andrea’s own story is just as compelling as any of her characters, considering that she only published her first novel on her 43rd birthday, following a plot twist career pivot, after being made redundant from her job in financial services.

“I never would have thought, ‘Oh, I should be a writer,’” she admits. “If I hadn’t been made redundant, I’d still be there.”

Writing her own story

Irish Country Living is chatting to Andrea at her home in Dublin, but she lived in Carrigaline, Co Cork until she was 13, with holidays spent on her grandparents’ farms in both Galbally, Co Limerick and Edgeworthstown, Co Longford. “I feel really lucky that we had that; and it’s something my kids don’t have,” she says.

“You’d literally be barefoot out in the fields.”

One of four girls, theirs was a “book-filled house”, with weekly trips to the library, where Andrea devoured the catalogue from Enid Blyton and Nancy Drew to Christopher Pike and Judy Blume. However, as a child of the ‘80s, a more “practical” career path paved itself, which led to Andrea working in finance for 17 years, while raising her young family.

This everyday juggle was what initially prompted her to start writing after having her third baby: initially, dipping a toe in by posting on a parenting Facebook page when she got her first smartphone, before starting her own blog, Office Mum, in 2013. “It was a little bit because of the enjoyment of the writing in the Facebook group; and a little bit because I was going, ‘Oh my God. I’m back at work, I’ve got three kids, how do people do this? Is anyone talking about this?’” she reflects.

Occasionally, Andrea would be commissioned to do an article for a newspaper or magazine based on one of her blog posts. But writing remained a recreation until she was offered the choice between redundancy – or re-locating to Luxembourg – with her role in 2015.

“I was devastated,” she recalls, explaining that she had “really enjoyed” her work. “I took it very personally.”

As part of her redundancy package, Andrea was offered career-coaching and initially began signing up with recruitment agencies for other finance roles. But?

“My heart wasn’t in it,” she admits.

Recognising this, during one of their sessions, her coach asked her to close her eyes and visualise what she would be doing if there were no perceived barriers in her way.

“And I said, ‘I’m sitting at my kitchen table writing for a living.’ And she said, ‘OK, let’s make that happen,” Andrea says.

“I actually still feel emotional every time I think of her saying that because it was life-changing. I needed someone to tell me; and that changed my life.”

Andrea Mara published her first novel on her 43rd birthday after reinventing herself following redundancy. \ Tom Clarke

Parking imposter syndrome

With a financial cushion thanks to her redundancy (“we literally couldn’t have paid the mortgage if we didn’t have the redundancy payment”), Andrea and her husband agreed that she would give freelance writing six months to see if it would pay its way.

She describes unsubscribing from the recruitment agencies and packing away her “office” clothes; though relocating them to the attic rather than giving them away, just in case.

“I was like, ‘I’m not going to tempt fate,’” she says, smiling. “They’re going in the attic in case I have to get a job.”

They’re well gone now, though. Having quickly found her feet in freelance journalism, after a year or so she was encouraged to try her hand at fiction by Kildare author, Margaret Scott. “Literally the next day, I opened a word document and typed the first sentence of what became, The Other Side of The Wall, my first book,” she says.

But it wasn’t a seamless transition.

“I knew I had ‘what if’ stories rattling around my head, but writing an entire book seemed like a very big job. And I think I was also going, ‘Well, who do I think I am to write a book?’”

Parking the imposter syndrome, Andrea continued to work on her articles in the morning while her youngest child was at pre-school, returning to her book at bedtime. “I’d be wrecked sitting down at 7.30pm or 8pm at night and my husband would be upstairs doing stories and stuff; and I’d just be writing as fast as I could,” she says.

One piece of advice that stood her in good stead – and continues to this day – was to “write what you know”, with her first book set in an ordinary suburban neighbourhood. “If I was ever going to write a story, it was always going to be a world that I know really well, the world that’s outside my window,” explains Andrea; albeit with mysterious goings-on next door in the fictional version.

She finished the first draft the night before her 40th birthday, and published with Poolbeg exactly three years later on her 43rd birthday. After three books with the Irish publisher, in 2020, Andrea signed with Transworld in the UK (a division of Penguin Random House), which has allowed her to reach a more international audience, with last year’s release, No One Saw A Thing, proving a particular juggernaut, with over 250,000 copies sold to date.

“Which is not what I was expecting!” she exclaims.

Andrea Mara is now one of Ireland's thrilledrd queens. \ Tom Clarke

Asking what if?

Her latest – and seventh – novel, Someone In The Attic, hit shelves this month; once again on Andrea’s birthday. Like many of her books, it was inspired by a “what if?” moment, when she heard a sound in her attic while she was home alone one day and wondered if there was somebody up there.

“Now, it was either mice or something was dislodged and fell over,” she quickly qualifies. “But then you go, ‘Hang on, imagine if there was someone in the attic.’ There’s all these childhood fears that we have and then we become adults and realise these fears were unfounded. There’s no one in the wardrobe, there’s no one under the bed, there’s no one in the attic. But then you go, ‘What if? What if there really was?’ And that’s where the book came from.”

We ask if releasing a new book is a little like delivering a child; after months of (fictional) blood, sweat and tears? “The writing of it is like the whole delivering a child and, in a way, once it’s done, there’s nothing else you can do, other than sit back and cross your fingers,” Andrea says.“So maybe that’s like when they’re teenagers. There’s nothing you can do. You just hope at that stage people will like it; but you can’t control it.”

Andrea still writes around family life – though today, it’s typically in a four-hour burst in the mornings before grabbing a sandwich and starting the school run. She is currently elbow deep in the second draft of her eighth novel, with the idea for 2026’s release also given the go-ahead. Meanwhile, her fourth book, All Her Fault, has been green-lighted for a TV series by US streaming service, Peacock, starring Succession actress, Sarah Snook.

As for the next chapter? Let there be no more “what ifs?”

“The great thing about writing is there’s no age limit on it,” she says with a smile. “It’s never too late.”

Someone In The Attic, RRP €16.99

Anya is enjoying a relaxing bath when she hears a noise on the roof. Through the open door, she sees the attic hatch swing open, and a masked figure drops to the floor. Thirty seconds later, Anya is dead.

Across town, Anya’s old school friend, Julia, sees an online video of a masked figure climbing out of an attic. She suddenly realises why the footage is eerily familiar: it was filmed inside her house in a luxury gated community, designed to keep intruders out.

Why would a stranger target Julia? Unless of course, it’s not a stranger at all.

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