1. What was the first book that made an impact on you?

The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton is the first book I can remember having a real impact on me. As a shy, quiet child, I loved escaping into the magical worlds that awaited at the top of the tree, and the wonderful characters like Moon-Face, Dame Washalot and Angry Pixie, who lived in it. Enid Blyton instilled a lifelong love of reading in me, as well as inspiring me to write my own little stories as a child.

2. I read that you started the novel as you approached your 50th birthday. Why do you think that was such a catalyst for you?

I had spent years talking about writing a book, but very little time actually writing. I was 48 with my 50th birthday approaching and I thought, if I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it, so I enrolled on a Faber online ‘write your novel’ course during the first lockdown, where I learnt how to plot for the first time. Until that point, I had rarely got beyond 30,000 words, inevitably writing myself into a cul-de-sac. The book I started on that course was the first book I ever finished, the book that got me a book deal and is, miraculously, on book shelves now.

3. Your book is set on a farm. As a city girl, how did you conduct your agricultural research?

It’s hilarious how many people have asked me if I’m from a farming background because of the setting of There’s Something I Have To Tell You, and the fact the book has been described as ‘rural noir’. I had to do quite extensive research into slurry pits as I had never actually seen one before I started writing and like my character Kate, I was shocked when I saw the size of the tanks. I rang up a local farmer in Blarney and asked if he would show me his slurry pit, which he very kindly did, taking me on a tour of the sheds, showing me the agitator and explaining how it all worked.

4. How did you find time to write the book with the demands of daily work and family life?

As I have three children, now aged between 10 and 14, and I was writing the book during COVID, I had to grab every opportunity I could between home schooling and everything else. I took a step back from journalism, I couldn’t have done it otherwise. My husband was also working from home, conducting loud Zoom calls from the breakfast bar in the kitchen, and as I need complete silence to write, I used to get into my car and drive to a nearby car park to escape the mayhem.

Author Michelle McDonagh

5. What was the most challenging part of writing the novel?

I find pacing and suspense the most challenging part and the bit I struggle with most, as it’s tricky to get right. I find a lot of it quite challenging to be honest, and I have to force myself to sit at the desk and write, but when it starts coming together and I’m on the downward slope at the end, I become totally obsessed and want to spend every spare minute working on it.

6. How did you get your book deal?

I was incredibly lucky that an editor at one of the big publishing houses showed interest in it early on, which led to me getting my agent, Faith O’Grady, and to interest from other publishers, including Hachette Ireland, who offered me a two-book deal. I went with Hachette who have been incredible to work with and the book made it to number two in the Irish top ten, which I had never imagined happening.

7. What crime writer do you look up to?

There are so many great Irish crime writers around at the moment, and it’s great to see so many women having such success in the genre and being so supportive of those of us coming up the ladder behind them. I look up to a lot of them, but Liz Nugent would have to be top of the list. She’s such a natural storyteller, her hooks are fantastic and really draw you in, and her characters stay with you for a long time after you put the book down. It’s great to see her doing so well internationally now, as well as in Ireland.

8. If somebody was to make a film of your book, who would you like to play the lead roles?

Gosh, that’s a hard one. Victoria Smurfit would be perfect for Ursula if she was aged and harnessed her Cruella de Ville character. Charlie Murphy for Christina as she’s quite similar to the picture of her in my head, those huge beautiful eyes. The gorgeous Robert Sheehan for Mark, who is described as ‘a GQ model in wellies’, and Gabriel Byrne as Jimmy because he’s a fantastic actor and would play him really well.

9. What books will you be taking on your summer holidays?

I’ll be re-reading The Polite Act of Drowning, a stunning debut by Charleen Hurbutise and my favourite book this year. I’m saving Catherine Ryan Howard’s new book The Trap, which is getting rave reviews, Catherine Kirwan’s A Lesson In Malice, and I’ve pre-ordered Amanda Cassidy’s new novel The Returned, which will be out in August.

10. What is the best advice you would give to a would-be novelist?

Don’t wait for the muse to come and inspire you. I tried that for years and it didn’t work. Learn the basics of the craft of writing through books on the topic or a course. Make yourself sit at the desk or page and start writing. Allow yourself the freedom to write pure shite, just get the words down on the page. You’ll have plenty of time to go back and fix it afterwards and as the writer Neil Gaiman says, to make it look like you knew what you were doing all along.

Read more

Take 10 with crime writer, Catherine Kirwan

'I had faith the book would tell itself to me eventually'