By The Book: Irish Crime Novelist Jane Casey Chats Book 11 & What Inspires Her

11 books and counting

Having 11 books under your belt is no easy feat. Jane Casey, who is the mind behind the Irish Maeve Kerrigan crime series, is currently working on book 12.

She takes a break from writing to chat with us about a decade of work in the Brooks Hotel in the heart of Dublin. It’s the perfect crime day when we chat. It’s wet and windy and thoroughly miserable. Sitting by a fire in a hotel bar, enjoying a pot of tea, Jane is exuding Agatha Christie vibes.

We chat about writing 12 books, the novels that make up her DNA and, of course, Leaving Cert trauma!

How are you? Tell us a bit about your new book, A Stranger in the Family!

This is the 11th in the series but I am working on number 12. But we’re talking about A Stranger in the Family, which is 11th. So my 10th, The Close, had our two main characters go undercover as a couple. So now in this one, we’re circling back to see where they stand with one another. It looks at how can they go on and work together and have a professional relationship after getting so close. But the main mystery is a couple who are found dead in a murder-suicide but there’s more to it than meets the eye.

11 books, going on 12 is incredible. Did you always plan for this to be a series?

Kind of, yes! When I wrote my first book it was a standalone originally but I actually had a two-book contract. So after I sent in my first book, my editor asked for a synopsis of my second book. I sent her the synopsis for a book that, to this day, has never been written and will probably never see the light of day. My editor said it was good, but she told me that people don’t remember authors, they don’t remember book titles, but they remember characters and series names. So she asked me to write a series. And that was back in 2010…

It must be lovely to continue this series for as long as you have!

When I look back at my first book, I feel like when you ask someone for directions and they say, “Oh I wouldn’t start from here.” I know I could have done things a little bit differently. It’s the only one of my books I’d like to rewrite. But it’s such a privilege to write this series. I never thought it would go on for as long as it has. But it’s great because you can get really in-depth into each character. When I write each book, I want to make sure they work as standalones so readers can come in on whatever book and understand it. Obviously, I hope they go back to start and read them all! [Laughs]

You mentioned you’re writing book 12 right now! Tell us about your writing process!

I write a book a year. So you need to deliver a book to your publisher about a year before it goes out. So you are generally chasing your tail! After this I’m going up to my hotel room to do more writing. It’s full on but I love it. You have a period where you’re writing the first draft and it’s really full on. Then you send it away to your editor where you get a break, then it comes back with notes, so I tend to do a big rewrite before sending it off again. That means I get another small break before it comes back with copy edits, so you have to fix small things like dates and times. Then the proofs are sent out and by that time it’s done, advanced readers are reading it and it’s out into the world.

What’s the first thing you do when you sit down to write?

I did this deliberately when I started writing, I don’t have a schedule or anything specific because sometimes you just have to make the best of things. Some authors need a particular desk or sit in a particular place. But I am very opportunistic if I have an hour, I take an hour. If you let yourself feel like you need to do something at a certain time then you’ll make excuses not to do it.

What is that childhood book that you still think about to this day?

Oh, well, I remember the shock of it! It has to be Charlotte’s Web. My mam gave it to me and I remember getting to the end of it and sobbing hysterically. I found it very moving. But then I was like, “How dare you give me this book that upset me?” Over time, because I read it again and again, I remember thinking, “Isn’t it incredible that a book can make someone feel this way?” That was one of the key moments that set me on the path of being a writer.

Who are three authors that inspire you?

Agatha Christie, of course. There’s a 1930s author called Dorothy L. Sayers who wrote a brilliant series, with a will-they-won’t-they theme running through it. It’s one of the most beautiful love stories in literature and I would love if people felt that way about my characters. Somebody more contemporary…Lisa Jewell! She started in women’s fiction then moved to thrillers then to actual crime so she had a great arc.


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What’s a book that you’ll never forget?

The Secret History by Donna Tart. I read it when I was 16 so when I was beginning to think about being an adult. So it had a huge effect on me. A lot of crime writers will say that book as well. It has the perfect characters and such lyrical writing. I could probably still recite chunks of it. I just love it, I re-read it once a year! I remember Donna being on the radio in Ireland and her saying that the book starts with the reader knowing who the murderer is. So I just knew there and then I had to read it. She broke all the rules.

Who is the favourite character you’ve ever written?

A character called Georgia who is a detective in the series. And she’s crap! She’s really bad at her job. But she’s a lovely character! Nothing defeats her, she’s so confident. She’s so fun to write! She’s an agent of chaos!

If you could go into a book universe, which would it be?

Oh, a book in the 1930s. One of those big house type of books. There is something so compelling about that idea of the big house full of servants and secrets!

What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?

I think probably, that you should finish what you start. And I tell people that as well. No matter what you’re writing, whether it be a short story or a poem, just commit to finishing it. You will learn so much more by finishing it. Even if it doesn’t work out for you. There’s always a point in a creative process where you think you’re wasting your time. You have to get past that. You can always improve a piece of writing. You just have to write this.


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Forget dinner party guests, what are the three books that define you?

I would want to have a book by Mary Stewart, who is a 1950s crime writer. I’ve been talking about them for years and years. They’re in my DNA as a writer. I think Wildfire at Midnight. Definitely an Agatha Christie, the first one I ever read was Sparkling Cynanide. It is not one of her best books but it really hooked me, so that’s the one I would have. Probably The Secret History.

What is your favourite genre to read? 

Crime and romance! They both have in common that they both have a proper conclusion. That’s why my books have a mix of crime and romance. That’s what I enjoy. And I read them a lot! Nothing better than sitting down in that world, with those types of books.

What is your most prized possession?

I got a medal for my English Leaving Cert. Seamus Heaney gave it to me, that is the thing I am most proud of. Although I still have anxiety dreams about the Leaving Cert…I dream I have to retake it and it turns out that I’m a very bad writer and I get found out as a fraud.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Really random places, I will be walking down the road and see someone walk towards me, then an idea will pop into my head. I usually have a vague idea in my head then another idea will join it and suddenly I’ll have a book. I don’t know how but there is always a magic moment for me. It can just be seeing someone’s face and the plot falls into place. There are so many people who are walking the earth who had a very profound effect on my life who have no idea.

A Stranger in the Family by Jane Casey is out now