Internationally bestselling and critically acclaimed writer, Dervla McTiernan is the author of The Ruin, The Scholar, The Good Turn (together the Cormac Reilly series), her stand-alone novel, The Murder Rule, as well as her novellas The Sisters, The Roommate and The Wrong One. Dervla’s novels and novellas have been number one bestsellers in multiple territories. The Murder Rule has been optioned for television by FX, and The Ruin has been optioned by Hopscotch Features.
Dervla has won numerous awards, including two Barry Awards, a Davitt Award, a Ned Kelly Award and in International Thriller Writer Award.
Dervla spent twelve years working as a lawyer. Following the global financial crisis, she moved from Ireland to Western Australia and turned her hand to writing. Dervla lives in Perth, with her husband, two children and far too many pets.
Tell me about your pathway to publication:
I’ve always been an avid reader. I learned to read when I was three and you would rarely have found me without a book in hand since. I’ve written a hundred bits and pieces, the beginnings of chapters, paragraphs here and there, but never finished anything. In 2015 I wrote the first forty thousand words of what would become The Ruin, then stopped writing again. At the end of the year, frustrated with my failure to complete anything, I entered a short story competition, just so that I would have a deadline. The competition was the Sisters in Crime Scarlet Stiletto competition and my story made the shortlist. That gave me the confidence, and maybe the kicking I needed to get serious. I scrapped my forty thousand words and started again, finished the manuscript, and queried agents. In late 2016 my agent sent my manuscript out on submission in Australia and, incredibly, I got six offers of publication! The Ruin was a bestseller in Australia and Ireland, and named an Amazon book of the year in the USA, which was incredible. My second book, The Scholar, came out in Feb 2019 to similar success, and my third, The Good Turn, will be publishing in 2020.
You emigrated to Australia in 2011. Did that move affect your writing?
Absolutely. I don’t think I would be a writer today, and I wouldn’t have a book deal if I had stayed in Ireland. I studied law at university, and though I knew from day one that it wasn’t right for me I stuck it out through two degrees, law school, my apprenticeship and almost twelve years in practice. It wasn’t all bad, and I worked with some great people, but law is a very challenging environment. It’s adversarial by its nature, the hours are long and you have to really love the highs to stick it out. I enjoyed the challenge of it in the early years, but I always felt like a fish out of water. Having said that I would still be doing it today if the Global Financial Crisis hadn’t hit and decimated my legal practice. I saw Tana French speak about her book, Broken Harbour, which is set in one of the ghost housing estates that was left in Ireland after the property crash. She spoke about the rule-followers who were badly hurt by the crash in Ireland. Tana said she was not a rule follower, but I certainly was. When the GFC hit and we lost everything, it was devastating but it was also freeing. We got to start again and this time we threw out the rulebook. Our little boy was born five weeks after we arrived in Australia, so I didn’t work straight away. When I did go back to work I was determined that I wouldn’t practice law again. I found part-time job and started writing at night, when the work was done and the kids were in bed.
The Ruin - tell me about this book. What brought you to writing this book in particular?
I think in many ways Maude and Jack are the heart of the story in The Ruin. They’re sister and brother- in the prologue Maude is only fifteen, and Jack is five. She loves him very much, would do anything to protect him. I’m the middle child in a family of seven. When I was growing up it was absolutely normal and expected that older children would care for their younger siblings, as I did for my two youngest siblings. Even though I was very young, I still remember feeling that fierce protectiveness, that almost maternal feeling, towards them. There’s such an innocence about Maude, even those she’s seen so much. For her it’s very simple, and to me there’s something both childlike and powerful about that simplicity. Jack is her brother and she loves him and it’s up to her to keep him safe. But of course the world is a complicated place, and I wanted to try to work out what happens after. What happens to the Maudes of the world after they do the saving. And that’s really what The Ruin is about.
And The Scholar? what brought you to write that book?
I think all writers bring their life experience to their books and I’m no exception. When I was a lawyer I worked with tech companies – everything from biotechnology to heavy industry – and I worked on international contracts, so I had an opportunity to really look at that world from the inside out. Thankfully none of the companies I worked for operated quite like the company that features in The Scholar! I’m also very interested in the more subtle forms of corruption we see in our world today. People with a great deal of money and power have the ability to bend the world around them, without every having to step over the line legally or engage in outright bribery. I wanted to shine a light on that too.
What has been the highlight of your writing career so far?
There have been so many amazing moments, from the first offer of representation from a literary agent, to the first offer of publication (that knocked my socks off!). I think the moment that had me really shaking my head was when I did a panel with Louise Penny at Adelaide Festival. I think it was my second event ever as a writer, and we had more than five hundred people in the audience (all there to see Louise, needless to say!). But Louise was so kind and so generous and so very funny. I’ll never forget that moment. An absolute highlight. Still, the best thing about it all (and sorry to sound so worthy!) is the writing itself, and working with my editors. That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.
Where to from here?
Well, I’ve just delivered the structural edit of my third book, The Good Turn, which will be out in 2020. That book is the third in the Cormac Reilly series, and for me it really rounds off the story in The Ruin and The Scholar. All of the books can be read as stand-alone novels, but I think they will be most rewarding if read in turn. So now I’m waiting on my copy-edit, and planning my next book!