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Crime. Crime Writers. Crime Writing

True Crime with Niamh O’Connor

This Interview posted by Sam Blake on 25 August 2011.

Niamh O'Connor

Sam: Getting published can be long and rocky road for many writers, how did you get started writing?

Niamh: I trained as a journalist and ended up covering big criminal trials.  I realized that one in particular would make a really great book so I faxed the idea to O’Brien press, asking them to get back to me as quickly as possible as I was anxious to find a publisher. They called me a few hours later and when it came out The Black Widow went straight to number one. It was followed by Cracking Crime.

Sam: How did it feel to get a publishing deal for the first time?

Niamh: I think I was most thrilled when they agreed to publish, rather than when it was published, which is probably very odd. I didn’t want to go into any bookshops out of embarrassment which is odder. But I’m having a memory flashback now to this incredible feeling I had when I had my first newspaper story published in a college paper, and seeing my name in print. Never had that feeling since.

Sam: What are you working on at the moment?

Blood Ties, Niamh O'Connor

Blood Ties, Niamh O'Connor

Niamh: My latest book is Blood Ties is a compilation of books published by the Sunday World. Certain crime stories were captivating readers and so they were published as books in the papers. Blood Ties is an in-depth, up to date and more detailed version of the collection.

The first story in the Blood Ties is about Joe O’Reilly who murdered his wife Rachel, and the mother of his children so he could supplant her with his mistress and not have to worry about a custody battle for the kids. It was a real Celtic Tiger story of someone who had it all and wanted more. He was an advertising exec, with a nice house in the country, and a wife who packed in her job as a legal secretary to rear her boys.

Ambition was also at the heart of another of the Blood Ties stories about Sharon Collins who decided to bump off her millionaire property magnate partner PJ Howard and his two sons when he decided against marriage. She thought she could Google a contract killer which says something about what we’ve become as a society, and she very nearly did pull it off.

The third story in the book, about the Scissor Sisters – Charlotte and Linda Mulhall who murdered and dismembered their mother’s toy-boy lover, and then dumped his body parts around Dublin, is less about the killing, and more about the cover up.

Sam: Why crime? What draws you to this genre?

Niamh: It’s the psychological element…what drives people to extremes in cases where you’re not talking about a crime of passion, or drink and drugs as being the motivating factor. I’m interested in the human drama driving the plot. The who and why.

Sam: How do you begin writing each book?

Niamh: With true crime they come ready made. You already know who your characters are, and people already know who dunnit, so you need to really concentrate on why. I always try to start with the most incredible aspect of the story to draw people in. In the Joe O’Reilly case, this was the cold blooded way he drove home having set up an alibi and murdered his wife and the mother of his two young boys with his bare hands.

In the Sharon Collins case, it was the idea that she’d emailed the Gerry Ryan show looking for advice before the killing and basically gave her motive away.

And in the case of the Scisssor Sisters it was the mystery linking the murder victim, Farah Noor and the unsolved murder of Raonaid Murray which he claimed to havecommitted when alive.

Sam: You must need to do a huge amount of research for each book. Tell me a bit about the research you did for Blood Ties.

Niamh: I go to the trials. It’s very important to see how the central character moves, speaks, looks so as to get a sense of them. There’s loads of material you get at a trial which can’t be used in a newspaper because there isn’t the space. I also contact and interviewed people connected afterwards to complete the picture.

The Black Widow

The Black Widow

Sam: You meet dangerous people on a daily basis, have you ever been threatened?

Niamh: Regularly, one of the witnesses in the Catherine Nevin case wasn’t too happy and threatened to have me shot. There’s a prisoner in Mountjoy who is driving me spare leaving threats on the phone. But the only people who’ve actually thrown things, or hit me have been travellers. I had a plank thrown at a car after going to a halting site in Finglas, and asking some questions, and when I doorstepped rapist Simon McGinley’s home his mother went for me. She’s the one who went singing up the quays after the case so I should have seen it coming. That said, I’ve also met loads of nice travellers too.

Sam: You meet dangerous people on a daily basis, have you ever been threatened?

Niamh: Regularly, one of the witnesses in the Catherine Nevin case wasn’t too happy and threatened to have me shot. There’s a prisoner in Mountjoy who is driving me spare leaving threats on the phone. But the only people who’ve actually thrown things, or hit me have been travellers. I had a plank thrown at a car after going to a halting site in Finglas, and asking some questions, and when I doorstepped rapist Simon McGinley’s home his mother went for me. She’s the one who went singing up the quays after the case so I should have seen it coming. That said, I’ve also met loads of nice travellers too.

Sam: Who is the scariest person you’ve ever interviewed?

Niamh: I’ve interviewed Scissor Sister Charlotte Mulhall who murdered and dismembered a man, but to be honest Robert Dignam was scarier – he’s the former head of the Wicklow County Board who set up a rogue mortgate brokers.

Sam: How do you write – starting at ch1 and working to the end, or do you write different chapters/scenes and fit them together? What works for you?

Niamh: For me, it’s important to start at the start, otherwise how do you keep events moving in sync…Though I know some people swear by endings first.

Sam: Describe your writing day.

Niamh: Ideally it starts at ten (after kids are in school)  with a huge mug of tea.

Cracking Crime

Cracking Crime

Sam: We all have days when the ideas won’t come, or we get stuck, how do you get over this?

Niamh: Reading something close to what I’m doing or want to do always gives me a way out. You never feel like you’re wasting time when you’re reading, and sometimes it’s just a verb that can springboard you out of the brick wall you’d hit. When you see how someone else moves a story along it can really help.

Sam: You are also working on a fiction book. Tell me about that.

Niamh: If I Never See You Again is due to be published next May and it’s about a series of revenge murders linked to the abduction of a crime reporter’s child.

Sam: What are you reading at the moment?

Niamh: I’ve just finished Sean Black’s Lockdown which was great and am dipping in and out of a book lent by my good friend and fellow writer, Vanessa O’Loughlin which is a collection of short stories by the world’s best thriller writers. But Ian Rankin’s The Complaints is calling me.

Thank you for dropping by. Niamh’s books are all available on Amazon.

 

Watch this space for the next interview!

© Sam Blake 2009. All rights reserved.