Creatives in profile - interview series

Creatives in profile: an interview with Olivia Kiernan

We may be in the middle of a global crisis, but there’s nothing in the rulebook to say you can’t continue your interview series during a worldwide pandemic.

Olivia Kiernan was born and raised in County Meath in Ireland. She studied anatomy and physiology before she started writing crime fiction. Her first crime thriller Too Close to Breathe was published in 2018 and features Dublin detective Frankie Sheehan. The sequel, The Killer in Me, was published in April 2019 and the latest instalment in the series, If Looks Could Kill, was published on 23rd July 2020.

Described by crime fiction heavyweights CJ Tudor and Jo Spain as ‘truly first class,’ and ‘a proper page-turner’, the first DCS Frankie Sheehan novel Too Close to Breathe finds Frankie investigating the supposed suicide of successful Dr Eleanor Costello. But when another young woman from Frankie’s own past is found dead, Frankie discovers a sinister link to Eleanor and realises there is more to both cases than meets the eye.

Having now finished Frankie’s third case, If Looks Could Kill, Kiernan has been described by the Irish Times as ‘the heir to Tana French’s throne.’ If Looks Could Kill is now available for purchase from Waterstones and Amazon.

We spoke to Kiernan earlier this year, before the release of If Looks Could Kill. We asked what drew her to writing crime fiction, how she finds ‘the voice’ of a novel, and why Anne of Green Gables taught her to cherish her imagination.


INTERVIEWER

Tell us a little about yourself. Where do you live? What’s your background/lifestyle?

KIERNAN

I’m Irish and grew up in the countryside, a couple of miles outside the town of Kells in Co. Meath, one of six. When I was nineteen, I moved to Wales to study Chiropractics. My intention was to return to Ireland but I took a job near beautiful Oxford shortly afterwards and still live here with my partner and daughter.

When I worked as a chiropractor, I wrote in the evenings. Writing was never far away from my day at all. Then, when my daughter was born, I started to write what became my debut novel, Too Close to Breathe. When it was published, I moved to writing full-time. Now that my daughter is at school, I write during the day or if I’m really trying get ahead I’ll get up early and write. I’ll usually try to fit in a walk with the dogs or run in the day, if I can. 

INTERVIEWER

Who or what inspires you?

KIERNAN

So many things and people inspire me. On a creative level, other writers and artists inspire me, of course. And the research for my books can take me far and wide from philosophy to the psychology of a police interrogation or, as it was in my first novel, the artist Marc Chagall and the pigment Prussian blue.

Listening or reading material from specialists who are enthusiastic about their subject matter inspires me all the time. Nature and wildlife too. I’m only realising how often I’m inspired by the beauty and brutality of nature. In my second novel, The Killer in Me, an entire chapter was shaped by a tiny spider’s web that was on the other side of the window at my kitchen sink.

INTERVIEWER

Is writing your first love or do you have another passion?

KIERNAN

Writing is definitely my first love. I have other interests, of course, hobbies like running, reading, cooking but nothing that feels so tied up in my sense of self as writing is. 

INTERVIEWER

Tell us a little about your main character, DCS Frankie Sheehan. What did you find interesting about her? 

KIERNAN

Frankie revealed herself to me as I wrote my debut novel, Too Close to Breathe. I had a very clear sense that she was good at her job, brave and very confident in her role and her abilities. She has at times an awkward relationship with herself. One of her skills is being able to study criminal behaviour and analyse the psychology of the crime scenes presented to her to get a sense of their suspect. She profiles criminals so although I think she does have a good understanding of who she is and how she might act, she’s reluctant to look too closely at herself in that way.

When I began writing her, I could sense that she was someone who really knew their stuff when it came to work and was used to being right. She was the strong one, the hero, but very early on I realised that her feeling of being the hero had been undermined. She was still recovering mentally from an attack she’d experienced on her previous case. Of course, Frankie being Frankie, pushes on. She wants to be as she was before but her current case will not let her forget or bury her experience.

INTERVIEWER

How did you come to choose the setting of you books – Dublin, Ireland?

KIERNAN

I’m from Ireland but have lived away for many years so it’s fair to say that to be able to return in my novels is a real treat. Dublin is a great city to set a crime novel. The setting is interesting both historically and socioeconomically and the Irish weather can always be depended on to provide the right atmosphere for a crime thriller. Plenty of brooding skies, for sure.

INTERVIEWER

Steve Cavanagh has described your writing as, ‘Cracking, taut and beautifully written.’ What do you think are the three most important ingredients for a gripping crime thriller?

KIERNAN

I guess it might depend on the reader but for me, with any book, I want good storytelling. I enjoy propulsive prose that occasionally surprises and characters with depth.

INTERVIEWER

Which crime writers should we be paying particular attention to at the moment?

KIERNAN

Books I’ve read recently and really enjoyed have included Karen Hamilton’s The Last Wife. Karen is phenomenal at getting under the skin of disturbing characters and this book simply had me gripped in its very twisted hand. I also loved Rachel Edward’s Darling, a literary psychological thriller around the developing relationship between a black British woman called Darling and her white step-daughter, Lola.

INTERVIEWER

Can you tell us a little about your creative process? How do you go from blank screen to completed manuscript? Do you plan the plot before you write or do you just dive in? 

KIERNAN

My process varies for each book. Generally, I don’t sit down from the off and plot out my novel but simply (she laughs) write the first lines and go forward from there. However, I will have a premise or a theme that I’m wanting to explore. Or maybe it will be an unusual character who will inspire the story. Often I’ll be able to picture a few key scenes to write towards.

When I start out on a first draft, it feels more important to get the tone and voice right rather than knowing exactly what is going to happen next. I try not to interrupt the flow too much but life or pandemics get in the way and that’s usually when it gets tough. Trying to get back into the mood of a scene that I’ve been kept from for a few days is probably the most difficult thing.

As I get deeper into the novel, I might have to sit back occasionally and make lists of the scenes and look at what might need to happen or elaborate on a section of the plot. Often this is when I’m nearing the final third of the book when there are many plates spinning and I have to make some definite decisions going into the final scenes.

INTERVIEWER

Do you feel a sense of responsibility as a writer?

KIERNAN

I’m frequently asking myself questions about what’s right to include in a story and always look at all options – a story can take many paths to the same conclusion – when it comes to adding or removing difficult emotions or scenes. But ultimately, I feel my loyalty is to the story, to be true to what I want to write and be true to my characters.

INTERVIEWER

What was the first book that made you cry? 

KIERNAN

Probably The Fox Cub Bold by Colin Dann. 

INTERVIEWER

What is the hardest thing about being a writer?

KIERNAN

When you really want to write or have an idea or urge to write a story or scene and for whatever reason you can’t get to a notebook or computer or don’t have the time to get to it. I think many writers know that feeling of agitation.

INTERVIEWER

Name a fictional character you consider a friend.

KIERNAN

I lived in my imagination a lot when I was a child. Always making up stories. So I remember reading Anne of Green Gables for the first time, a character who cherished her ability to imagine, and suddenly feeling less ashamed of my tendency to let my mind wander. She made me feel that it was okay to day-dream. Now day-dreaming is an essential part of my work day!

INTERVIEWER

Did getting published change your perception of writing?

KIERNAN

Not especially, only that now I’m more aware there will definitely be readers (thankfully) so I do have to work harder to ignore the inner critic during the first draft when I don’t necessarily want to pause too much.

INTERVIEWER

Which book deserves more readers? 

KIERNAN

D A Mishani’s Three which was released in March this year and is a fantastic thriller set in Israel.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have any friends that are writers? If so, do you show each other early drafts?

KIERNAN

I know many wonderful writers. The crime writing community, in particular, is very welcoming. I don’t tend to exchange early drafts with them or at least have not yet. My first reader tends to be my literary agent.

INTERVIEWER

What’s next for you?

KIERNAN

At the moment, I’m eagerly awaiting publication day for book three in the DCS Frankie Sheehan series, If Looks Could Kill which is coming in July 2020 and in the meantime I’m writing the next book in the series, In The Final Hours.

QUICK FIRE ROUND: 

INTERVIEWER

Favourite book?

KIERNAN

Just one?! The Secret History by Donna Tartt, A Long, Long Way by Sebastian Barry or Perfume by Patrick Suskind. There are many more.

INTERVIEWER

Saturday night: book or Netflix?

KIERNAN

Book of course!

INTERVIEWER

Critically acclaimed or cult classic?

KIERNAN

Critically acclaimed.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have any hidden talents?

KIERNAN

If I do, they are hidden from me! 

INTERVIEWER

Any embarrassing moments?

KIERNAN

Many but we don’t speak of them.

INTERVIEWER

What’s the best advice you ever received?

KIERNAN

It’s a little clichéd but if you want something to change, you need to change something.

INTERVIEWER

Any reading pet peeves?

KIERNAN

If it’s absorbing or interesting, I’ll forgive most things. 

INTERVIEWER

Do you have a theme song?

KIERNAN

Not particularly but when writing my lastest book If Looks Could Kill I did listen to Rag’n’Bone Man a lot, particularly the hit song ‘Human’. Sometimes, a song or piece of music, even if the lyrics don’t reflect the true content of the story, the mood or emotions evoked might help me back into a scene. 

INTERVIEWER

Your proudest achievement?

KIERNAN

Aside from giving birth to my daughter, definitely getting published. 

INTERVIEWER

Best advice for writers just starting out?

KIERNAN

It is something repeated often but it does hold up and that’s ‘never give up’. I’d also suggest that if your first novel doesn’t land where you want it, don’t be afraid to move on to another.


If Looks Could Kill is now available for purchase from Waterstones and Amazon.

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: