Ep 271 Dervla McTiernan, author of the compelling thriller ‘The Scholar’.

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In Episode 271 of So you want to be a writer: Allison and Valerie chat to bestselling crime author Dervla McTiernan, author of The Scholar about writing, plotting and the best (and worst) day of Dervla’s life. Discover when the next round of Furious Fiction is happening. Plus, we have 3 copies of The Orchardist’s Daughter by Karen Viggers to give away.

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Show Notes

Writer in Residence

Dervla McTiernan

Internationally bestselling and critically acclaimed writer, Dervla McTiernan is the author of The Ruin, her crime debut set in Ireland. The Ruin is the first in the detective Cormac Reilly series and has been published in the United States, the UK and Ireland, and in New Zealand and Australia, where it was a top ten bestseller. It has been named one of Lit Hub’s Most Anticipated Crime Mystery and Thrillers of 2018 and an Amazon Best Book of July 2018. Dervla was a New Blood Panelist at Harrogate Festival.

Dervla spent twelve years working as a lawyer. Following the global financial crisis, she moved to Australia and turned her hand to writing.

She went on to write The Ruin followed by The ScholarThe Ruin has been optioned for TV by Hopscotch.

Dervla is a member of the Sisters in Crime and Crime Writers Association, and lives in Perth, Australia, with her husband and two children.

The Scholar is out now.

Follow Dervla on Twitter

(If you click through the links above and then purchase from Booktopia, we get a small commission from this purchase. This amount is donated to Doggie Rescue to support their valuable work with unwanted and abandoned dogs.)

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This podcast is brought to you by the Australian Writers’ Centre

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Interview Transcript

Allison

Dervla McTiernan is the internationally best selling and critically acclaimed author of The Ruin, her crime debut set in Ireland, and the first in the Detective Cormac Reilly series. The Scholar, the second book in the series, is out now in Australia and New Zealand through Harper Collins, and out soon in Ireland, the US, UK and other territories. Welcome to the program, Dervla.

Dervla

Thank you, Allison. It is really cool to be here. Particularly because I have listened to your podcast so many times and a lot before I was published. So it’s very weird to be on the other side of this now.

Allison

Oh, that’s fantastic. I’m so excited that you’re here. All right, so your first novel The Ruin came out in February 2018 and seemed to become an immediate smash hit. It was one of those books that everybody was talking about. Can you tell us how that book came to be published?

Dervla

Yes, I can. First I’ll turn my phone off so it doesn’t make noises at us. Gosh, where do I start? Like everybody else, I suppose, I was just writing away, mostly at night. I was working during the day and I have young children. I was writing in the evenings and feeling like maybe, maybe, maybe, some day something might happen in terms of getting closer to publication, but not really having any real expectation that it would. You know, I was on the websites that everybody else goes on where they say your chances of publication are pretty much zero.

So that’s where my head was at. But I loved to write. And I entered, one evening when I was at my desk and I was bit bored and frustrated, I entered one of those Twitter pitch competitions. You know where you pitch your book in 150 characters or something. And an agent from the States liked my tweet, which basically means that you’re invited to submit your query. It’s really the same way as cold querying except you’ve got a bit more of an intro because you’ve done this Twitter pitch competition.

Anyway, I sent her my 50 pages and I kind of forgot about it. The book really was not ready to submit. I was working on it but it wasn’t ready to submit. I just couldn’t resist this whole Twitter pitch thing and it was a bit of a boredom release thing.

Anyway, then I had a bit of a weird wobble in that I was – this is a bit of a long story, Allison. I hope I’m not going to bore you guys to tears.

Allison

I love a long story.

Dervla

My husband and myself and the kids, we were heading down south for a holiday with friends here in Western Australia, and I had some medical results to pick up that morning. So I went into the GP at 8am on a Friday really expecting absolutely nothing major. And the GP just said, well, Dervla, you have a brain tumour and it’s quite large and you need to have surgery, and so on and so forth. And it all kind of came at me very hard.

Allison

Wow.

Dervla

She wasn’t my usual GP and I think honestly looking back I think she was a bit nervous. Because it’s not the kind of news that’s easy to give. But whatever caused it, she turned to her bookshelf and she took down her physician’s desk reference. And she flicked through until she found neurology or whatever and she wrote down the name of three neurosurgeons on a yellow post-it note and handed it to me and said, now call these surgeons and whichever surgeon will see you first is the one you need to see.

So that was fine. I kind of took my yellow post-it note and went down to the car and I sat there and I thought, who do I… I better make these phone calls now. Because I don’t want to go home, because as soon as I make a phone call at home the kids come running, and it’s not really the conversation I want to have with them beside me.

So I was about to make my first phone call and my phone buzzed in my hand and it was an email from that agent I had submitted the book to saying that she loved the first 50 pages and would I send her the manuscript. So I was like, this is bizarre and surreal and so weird. So I came home to Kenny and I was like, okay, I’ve good news and I’ve got bad news.

Allison

That’s incredible.

Dervla

The bad news is I have a brain tumour, but the good news is the agent loved my book! And honestly, I was so much more excited about this fact that this agent had emailed me. And Kenny was like, but Dervla, the brain tumour!

I was like, no, no. Okay, honestly, you had to be there. It was so weird. She must have it wrong. It just doesn’t make any sense. The way she gave me the news, we really shouldn’t worry about it. Trust me on this. I said, I asked her to email me the report from the MRI. I’m going to email that now to Avie my sister, who lives in Ireland and is a doctor but would have been asleep at that time of the day because it was middle of the night in Ireland. So I said, look, we’ll email it to Ave, let’s go down south now anyway. Avie will call us when she wakes up and she’ll tell us what this all really means.

But in the meantime, the agent liked my book!

Allison

That is surreal.

Dervla

And so that was that. And we went down south and we were in Clancy’s fish bar when Ave woke up and called me. We had our – I’ll never forget – we had our dog with us and I was there holding our retriever on the lead and Kenny was in distracting the kids. And Ave was explaining to me that, yeah, the news wasn’t so great. And that was that.

But as it turned out I had three weeks between that day and the day of surgery. And I spent the three weeks sending the book out to reams of literary agents. Basically I had this list I’d prepared before and I sent it to every agent on the list. And that was that, really.

And then I had the surgery and thankfully it all went well. And about four weeks after surgery I got the first email from an agent in the States saying she really liked the manuscript and would I be available for a Skype call. Which as you know, usually means they want to rep you but they want to make sure you’re not crazy first.

Allison

Yep.

Dervla

So we had the call. And I really was in very bad shape at that stage. So I put on about four inches of makeup and propped myself up on the couch for the Skype call. Because it wasn’t like I was going to hide it, but I really didn’t want to be the first conversation with an agent to be, yes, I’ve just had brain surgery. And my next book is going to be fantastic.

But it went well and she offered me representation. And then I was really lucky. I got a couple of other offers. I did what you’re advised to do, which is nudge the agents who have your manuscript and haven’t responded yet, let them know you have an offer. And that way I ended up finding my agent, who is my agent today, who is fabulous. Tara Wynne at Curtis Brown.

And then the book went out on submission. And it was so bizarre. The book went out on a Friday. And I was really prepared. This is going to take six months minimum. Because again I’d read all the websites that tell you how this works. And the following Tuesday, Tara rang me and said that we had a pre-emptive offer. And then by the time two weeks were up we had six offers of publication in Australia. Which is just… I still shake my head about it. I just can’t believe it.

Allison

So that’s obviously a point where you start to think maybe I do actually have something pretty special here, surely? Or are you still recovering so much from your brain surgery that you’re just like, okay, whatever?

Dervla

Actually, it still made no sense. And I will never, ever forget the feeling. Because it came down to a couple of publishers. And I got to go over to Sydney and Melbourne and meet publishers and talk about how they would publish the book and to make a decision.

And I was sitting there and to this day I don’t understand how the offers of publication survive those meetings, because I couldn’t say a word. I was just sitting there going okay, so the surgery didn’t go well, and I’m on a hospital bed on a morphine drip, and I am fantasising about this, because this is just bizarre. Like, these people that you have such huge respect for and who are so on a different level and they’re interested in your book, and it just made no sense to me. And still makes no sense to me. I’m hoping nobody notices that they’ve made a huge mistake and it all keeps going for a bit longer.

Allison

Oh, so you’re suffering imposter syndrome even now? Even today?

Dervla

Big time.

Allison

Wow, that’s amazing. So was The Ruin the first thing you ever wrote? And what year are we talking about. It came out in 2018, so what year are we in.

Dervla

I signed the contract with Harper Collins in October 2016. And not to annoy people severely, but I started writing probably seriously in 2014, was when I really committed to it. I mean, I’d been a reader since I could walk and just passionate reader for my whole life. But writing always felt to me like something for other people. It was too big a thing.

So it took me a long, long time to come to it. I think probably moving to Australia was part of the extra push. And then when the kids were big enough that they started to sleep and I got a bit of brain space, I just said to Kenny… You know, I wasn’t particularly happy in the job I was doing at the time, and I said to Kenny, maybe I’ll do an MBA. And then, why am I even thinking like this? I don’t want to do anything but write.

So I said, okay, I’m going to give it five years. I’m going to write every night except Thursday which was wine night. I’m going to write every single night for a couple of hours when the kids are in bed. And if after five years I’ve gotten nowhere, there’s no suggestion that I have any potential as a writer, then I’ll reassess. But in the meantime, I’m going to be as committed to it as I would be in any career change. It takes years. And it just happened a lot quicker than I had hoped or expected.

Allison

So your background is actually as a lawyer, is that correct?

Dervla

Yes, that’s right.

Allison

So was crime fiction a natural fit for you? Was it just what you started writing? Or did you try a few different things first and then come to crime fiction?

Dervla

I started writing crime fiction first because that’s what I read most of the time. When I was younger I read fantasy mostly. I grew up reading fantasy, and I read fantasy. It was probably my first choice right into my 20s. But at some point I just found it harder to find fantasy writers that I would fall in love with the same way. And then I just found that I was buying crime fiction most of the time.

So I think that was the main reason. And then partly it was because the story that came to me was Maud’s story. And it fit within a crime novel well. The structure of it fit that story well, so that’s what I ended up writing. But I didn’t set out to write a series. It wasn’t, in my head, I’m going to write a crime series. It was, I’m going to tell Maud’s story and then we’ll see what happens.

Allison

Okay, well, that was a question that I was going to get to, so we’ll just park that for a moment. So where did the inspiration for Maud’s story come from? Where did the inspiration for The Ruin come from? Like why for instance did you set it in Ireland rather than say in Australia where you were living at the time?

Dervla

I think Ireland because it’s the place I know best. We moved to Galway when I was 13 and I went to school there, I went to college there. I worked in Dublin for a few years and then I came back and set up my little legal practice in Galway. It’s just a city I know like the back of my hand.

And it’s a very old, old, old city. So the centre of it is really small. You can walk everywhere. And in terms of atmosphere it’s a great place for a crime novel. So that was probably a natural fit.

The story I think came to me because I’m Irish and because I grew up in Ireland at the same time that Maud grew up in Ireland, and I love… I was super lucky. I had a very happy childhood. And I grew up feeling very proud to be Irish. I love my country and very proud of my nationality. And then we discovered what had actually been going on in the country at the same time. And the experience that so many children had which was very different from mine.

And we were all left horrified that this had happened. I’m talking obviously about child abuse but also child neglect and what was happening at these institutions that were supposedly caring for children at the time. And other things that were happening within families as well that were being ignored and brushed under the carpet, as well as the religious stuff.

And then it all started to come out and people just said, you know, we didn’t know. We didn’t know this was going on. We didn’t know this was happening. And I was just… I make a bit of a joke out of it, but at the end of the day, when I was a kid and my brothers misbehaved, they’d be told, behave yourself or you’ll be sent to the Christian Brothers! It was a kind of jokey threat that was held over people’s heads. And it is funny, but at the end of the day, people said that because they knew that these were terrible places for children to be. Awful places. And nobody did anything to stop them.

So what I was left feeling was why? Because the people who did nothing are the people that I know and love. The people that I grew up with and respect and care about who I know are good people. So I was left with these questions. How is it that a society can close its eyes to these things that are going on? And choose not to see them? And that’s a question we’re all still asking today.

And I don’t know if you’d agree, Allison, but I think for writers obviously books have to come from inside us. And it might be a story that’s set anywhere. An imaginary world or the real world, a place we know well, a place we’re making up, but at the end of the day, the soul of the book is coming from the things you really care about. And that was something that I was left caring very much about, but also not understanding. And I think part of writing the book was trying to understand it better.

Allison

Do you think that the fact that you were in Australia when you started writing the book, that you had that distance, do you think that it gave you… I mean, even though you’d grown up there, even though you had the memories, even though you had experienced a lot of that and grown up with people who were in Maud’s situation, do you think it was the distance that gave you the opportunity to observe it in a funny sort of a way?

Dervla

I do. Because there are things that you don’t notice about your own country and your own culture until you’ve spent a long time away from it and somewhere that’s very different. And Australia, in many ways, the culture here is very similar to Ireland. But there are some stark differences. Obviously the geography and the climate is very, very different.

And if you’re trying to describe somewhere, you don’t want to go on, particularly in a crime novel, you want to look for those telling little details that make somewhere come to life. And I think you can see what those details should be more clearly when you’ve had distance from somewhere.

Allison

That makes sense. Do you think that the experiences of being here and being a part of the Australian writing community, as opposed to perhaps being in the Irish writing community, do you think that that… I guess my question is do you think Irish readers would think that your books have a whiff of an Aussie accent at all?

Dervla

That’s a really interesting question. I don’t know. I actually don’t know. I mean, I think I have to… When I’m writing one of these books, I have this little study off the kitchen here and you’re going to think this is really weird, but I usually plug my phone into the Noisli app and I turn on rain. So I have my headphones on with rain. And then I turn up the air conditioning and I put on a jumper and I pretend I’m in Ireland!

Allison

That’s hilarious.

Dervla

Because obviously Perth is too in me otherwise.

I don’t know. I tell you what I do notice. I find myself thinking a little bit more recently about Australian stories. A little bit. I find myself noticing things in conversation around me that are particularly Australian or that feel… I feel like it’s beginning to happen. But I think it takes a very long time to really feel a country.

The Peter Temple books, which are so astonishing, I don’t know how he did that. To me they feel very Australian. And I think Australians would agree with that. And yet he was South African. I don’t feel ready to do that yet. I don’t know if Australian-isms are creeping in. I do sometimes use some language that I think might be a little bit Australian. Usually it’s a curse word and then I end up having a debate with my editor about whether it’s an Australianism, an Americanism, or an Irishism, and which spelling is most appropriate. It always tends to be about a swear word, weirdly enough.

But beyond that I don’t notice it. Maybe I can’t see it. I’m too close, you know.

Allison

Are you having to do regular research in Ireland? Or are you relying on your lived experience and what you remember?

Dervla

Well, I’ve been back a bit for promotion things when the books are launched and stuff. And I’ve got a trip coming up that I’m super excited about, because I get to do Noireland, the crime writing festival in Belfast.

Allison

Oh that’s fun.

Dervla

Yeah, it’s supposed to be a really fun one. So I’m looking forward to meeting everybody at the bar for that one. And I usually stay in Dublin. When I go to Dublin I usually stay with my sister, but there’s loads going on in her house this time, so for various reasons I’m not. But I booked an Airbnb in an area where I think I’m going to set a story. So that’s going to be really fun from a research point of view.

I mean, I feel like I know Ireland well enough that I wouldn’t need to go back. But someone said to me the other day, someone in my family, and it was a reminder to be aware, the Ireland that I remember it probably already doesn’t exist. I’ve been here for eight years now and Ireland has moved on. And I read the Irish newspapers and stuff but it’s not the same as living it.

So I think it is necessary to go back. If I’m going to continue to write books in Ireland, it is necessary for me to spend time there with Irish people in Ireland and listen to the conversations and see how things have moved forward in that time. You know?

Allison

What a terrible shame that you’ll have to go back regularly.

Dervla

I know.

Allison

You must be devastated.

Dervla

I’m horrified.

Allison

Now you said earlier when we were talking about inspiration that you didn’t necessarily have Cormac Reilly in mind as a series detective when you started writing the story. So how do you think that would affect going forward? Are there important things that you need to consider when you’re creating a character that can sustain more than one book?

Dervla

I think so. For me, I mean, I think there are different approaches you can take to this. But for me, there are two important things, really. First of all I wanted, as Cormac grew as a character, I wanted him to be someone I liked in the beginning. And that has helped me for the series in that I’m happy to go back and write about him again. He’s not a character that, you know, sometimes if you write somebody that you’re really not fond of, it’s almost hard to pick them up again. But I do like him as a character, so I’m interested in him and that’s good.

But for me also, I think it was very important to write more than one character that I cared about and that had depth within the police. Because the non-police characters will not appear book to book. Obviously the Mauds and the Aislings – well maybe with Aisling – but the main non-series characters who are most closely linked to the crime, once that book is over then you’re done. They’re finished.

But the other police characters have loads of potential. And I like the idea of moving a little bit in terms of the point of view. I don’t know if you’ve ever come across Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad books?

Allison

No.

Dervla

They’re just amazing. They’re really wonderful crime books.

Allison

I’m making a note as we speak.

Dervla

They’re really fantastic. But she does this… She’s an absolutely unbelievable writer of character. And she switches point of view so thoroughly and so firmly between the books. So she will write the first book from the point of one police character, and the next book from the point of view of a different police character on the same team. And they feel like completely different books because the voice is so different. That’s what I think she’s so phenomenal at. The voice changes completely from book to book.

So I won’t do exactly that. But I do like the idea of being able to shift point of view to some degree and experience more from the point of view of the other character. Because you know the way they say this thing, you need the character arc, you need to character to change over the course of the book? You can’t put people through that many profound life changes through a series before it starts to become like Dallas and everybody’s been divorced ten times and has had six heart attacks and whatever else.

Allison

And it was all a dream.

Dervla

It was all a dream, yeah. So I think if you want to hit the book at a profound moment in a character’s life, you might need to use a different character.

Allison

Okay, that makes sense.

Dervla

So for me, I like spreading it out a little bit.

Allison

Okay. So The Ruin, when it took off the way it did, where were you at as far as working on your second novel? Which is called The Scholar, it’s out now, I’ve read it, it’s great.

Dervla

Oh, thank you.

Allison

Were you working on that second novel when The Ruin came out? Or had you already finished it? Or where were you up to it with it?

Dervla

I had finished it. Not editing, but I had handed it in. Because I signed the contract with Harper Collins in October 2016, and we needed time to edit The Ruin and they wanted to bring it out at the right time, so it didn’t come out until February 2018. So I had a year and a half. Obviously there was a lot of editing on The Ruin during that time, but in between the edits I was writing The Scholar. So by the time I got to the book coming out, The Scholar was handed in. And that just took so much pressure off.

Allison

I was going to say, I bet you were happy with that, were you?

Dervla

Oh yeah. Because I’d heard so much about the second book thing. And really, I would have been, particularly after The Ruin went so well, sitting down at a blank page, oh! Scary, scary.

Allison

The fact that The Scholar is also Cormac Reilly, was that your decision? Was it like I’m going to write another book from this character’s perspective in this world? Or was that something that you and the publisher decided together? As part of your two book contract, your second book is going to be another book in this series, as opposed to something totally different.

Dervla

I’m trying to remember exactly how the conversation happened now. It’s hard to remember. I think it was either with the agent or it was with the editor. At a certain point someone said, I think this would be very good as a series. And I said, okay! You know, it was definitely not… I’m like, fine, if you want me to sign a contract, I’ll sign it for anything.

I was just really happy that it was happening and I had so many stories. It was never a question of, oh, I’m going to struggle to think of what I could write for a series. I feel like I can go in lots of different directions. So I was more than happy to write a series and I’m happy that that’s what I’m doing now. But it wasn’t my original plan when I set out to write The Ruin.

Allison

So when The Ruin was coming out, etc, had you begun writing another book? Was there writing that had to be done around the promotion etc of that first book?

Dervla

Yeah, absolutely. Last year was a very tricky year, a very challenging year. I was still working in my day job and The Ruin was coming out and I was doing a fair amount of travel for festivals. I was also editing The Scholar and I was trying to write the third book. Because my original deadline for the third book was last November. So that was really, really tricky, particularly because my day job just seems to get a lot busier in that time. So juggling all of that and the kids was just really, really challenging.

Allison

How did you do it? How did you make it work?

Dervla

Well, I had a lot of support. My husband’s really supportive. And he certainly carried his fair share of the childcare and the housework and all of that sort of stuff, which is brilliant.

Allison

Woohoo!

Dervla

Yeah, I know, it’s great when that happens. I was very, very organised and I wanted to do it more than anything else. I think those are the two things. I really love to write. And when it gets to 7:00 and the kids are in bed, or 7:30, and I make my cup of tea and I sit down at the computer, that’s the time for me.

Allison

So that’s your routine? Are you still writing every night except Thursdays which is wine night? Just out of interest.

Dervla

Well, I stopped my day job last October, so I’m writing fulltime now. The aim of that was to try to get some of the evenings back.

Thursday wine night has survived.

Allison

Woohoo!

Dervla

Which is great. It’s still there, even though I still have a few more evenings. I thought when I gave up my day job that I would have all of my evenings free. That is not even close to happening. And I think I was completely deluded about how many hours you get out of the day with having the kids at school. So it’s very short. You know, five hours tops.

And there’s always, I always said, you know, I’m not letting housework creep into those hours, I’m not letting household management stuff creep in. But it does. Of course it does. The car has to go there, you have to be here for collection XYZ. Whatever. The small stuff that creeps into your day.

So I definitely don’t get a full five hours. And then promotion stuff takes up time. And I’ve just found answering emails is suddenly an issue. It’s just… I think at the end of the day as long as you always keep the heart for the writing and just love the writing part. And I know it isn’t always like that, there are days where you have to hit your word count if you’re going to hit your deadline and you’re not feeling it. But if you are doing it ultimately because you love it then I think you’ll always find a way.

Allison

When you sit down with your technical five hours, do you aim for a word count on a daily basis? Or are you just writing to get as much done as you can?

Dervla

I always have a word count. I guess it’s the old lawyer head coming out. Usually I have a spreadsheet, and I have a target for every day and planned out what’s happening on that day, an adjusted target based on how many hours I have. I’m completely pathetic about it.

But I throw it all out the window regularly. I don’t hold myself to it at all.

Allison

And do you do that when you plan your books as well? Do you spreadsheet plan those and then throw them out the window? Or do you plan them from scratch and stick to it?

Dervla

No, I throw it out the window. I do sort of outlines. I usually free write a lot about a character first, then I would probably write between 20 and 30,000 words around, and then I’ll do a full outline and go back. But I throw out the outlines regularly.

And I’ve found that by the time – like I’ve just finished the third one now – and I’ve found that as I’ve moved along, I am feeling it more. More of it’s about instinct. Knowing when I’m forcing a story versus letting it grow organically. You’re just losing it because you’re pushing to try to fit it within a box that it just doesn’t want to fit in.

So I think outlines are fantastic because you need to know you’re going to end up somewhere. But you also need to be open to feeling it where it’s like, I’m not feeling that this story is growing the way it needs to grow, so I need to look at this outline again and see what’s gone wrong.

Allison

And you said you’ve just finished writing the third one, obviously. Do you now just jump straight back into a new book? What happens now? Obviously you’ve got promotion to do and that takes up time. Particularly with books in different territories, I’d imagine you’re juggling quite the calendar, really.

Dervla

It does get a bit messy because you finish one and then the next one starts. So you’re never completely off the promotional side of things. Which is hard to keep your head in the new book if you’re talking two books back in a different territory, you know.

But it’s fine. I mean, you shouldn’t really be complaining about that when you’re…

Allison

Yes. We’re not complaining. We’re just discussing the realities of it so that our listeners can go, yes, when it happens to me I’m going to know how to do that. That’s what it’s all about.

Dervla

Yes, exactly. That is what it’s all about. Yeah, it gets a bit tricky with that. But it’s all fine. For now, I won’t jump straight into the next book because I like to give it time to germinate in my head. So I’ll probably something else. I’ll write a short or something. And then while I’m writing that, I’ll be thinking about the next book. So then when I finish, I’ll be ready to… I’ll wait til after I do the structural edit on the third before I start writing the fourth. That’s my plan at the moment.

Allison

So are you technically going to be on a book a year roll for the foreseeable future? Is that the plan?

Dervla

That is the plan at the moment, yep.

Allison

Wow, that’s big.

Dervla

It is.

Allison

Get that spreadsheet out, Dervla, you’re going to need it!

Dervla

Yep.

Allison

All right. So we’ll just finish up today with our infamous three top tips for writers. Which of course I know you’re totally prepared for because you’ve listened to the podcast.

Dervla

Totally. Totally prepared for. Well, I should have been. But you know, obviously my spreadsheet let me down on this one.

I think my first one is the most important one. And I think that is there’s only one reason to write, and that is because you love it. You just have to love it. I remember before I was published, just before it all happened, I was down at the Margaret River Writers Festival, and Kenny came down to meet me on Saturday night. And I’d just had the best weekend. I was writing, I was hanging out with other readers and writers, I was just having a blast. And I said to him, it doesn’t really matter if I’m ever published. If I get to write and do this kind of thing every now and again, that’s enough. And I meant every word of it. Like if you love it, then it’s all worthwhile. Because if you don’t love it, you’re not going to love it after you’re published either, so what’s the point?

The next thing is don’t believe too much about the whole messy first draft thing. I think it’s true that you should feel free to have a very messy first draft. But I think you can make it really hard for yourself if you don’t pay… If it’s completely just stream of consciousness stuff. At the end of the day, you are writing a novel, or nonfiction if that’s what you’re writing, and just have some structure to it, I think, is helpful. That’s not for everybody, but that’s my approach anyway.

Allison

Yep.

Dervla

And my last tip is a very practical one. A fantastic book that I found really helpful before you’re sending out to agents is a book called Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. I don’t know if you’ve come across that one?

Allison

I don’t believe I have. Who’s it by?

Dervla

Oh gosh. I can’t remember.

Allison

I’ll look it up. And then we can put a link in the show notes for it.

Dervla

That would be great. I can’t remember the name. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. It’s a short book. Get a little paperback. I think I had to order it online. But it is fantastic for the kinds of mistakes first time writers often have in their manuscripts when they get to agents and editors first. It can really help you with things like point of view and beats and attributions. Just the simple things that actually really make a huge difference to how your writing feels to a reader. And it just can lift you up another level, I think. So it’s a really useful book and I recommend it.

Allison

Fantastic. Well, thank you very much. Those were excellent tips. You’ve obviously been thinking about those for days.

Dervla

Days! Months! Weeks!

Allison

All right, Dervla, well, thank you very much for your time today. Best of luck with The Scholar out now. You can find out more about Dervla at her website which is… Dervla is going to tell us right now.

Dervla

Dervlamctiernan.com

Allison

And I’ll put the link for that in the show notes so that everybody can find it easily. And yes, we very much look forward to seeing how Cormac Reilly takes over the world in book two.

Dervla

Thank you very much, Allison. It was lovely to talk to you.


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