Tuesday 12 December 2017

Secret life of a crime scribe

An English teacher might not strike you as the most likely candidate for leading a secret life. Behind Brian McGilloway's spectacles and white shirt sleeves lies a dynamic crime writer who is fast becoming one of Ireland's most popular. Author of the Benedict Devlin series, McGilloway has just published his fifth novel, and first standalone book.

Little Girl Lost introduces the Catholic PSNI officer Lucy Black (named after McGilloway's baby daughter, who was born last year). Writing as a woman for the first time was a new experience for the 37-year-old Derryman. "I got in touch with my feminine side," he laughs. "I showed it to my wife as I was going along, which was the first time I had done that. There were a couple of times where she said, 'a girl wouldn't say that'."

Balancing being an English teacher and a father of four children under eight with writing dark crime stories might sound hectic but McGilloway says writing is his escape.

"Writing is my downtime, it's my way of getting an hour and a half to myself and just being able to disappear into your own world. Writing for me is exactly what reading was to me, a way to vanish for an hour or so. That's why I enjoy doing it. My wife is incredibly supportive and I'm very lucky in that I write quickly so I tend to do an hour or two a day, at night when everyone is gone to bed or early in the morning. Or else I'll just go to a café with an iPad and keyboard, stick on a pair of headphones and just disappear."

McGilloway first started writing his character Lucy because he "wanted a break" from Devlin. "I thought there's no point writing another male detective. Any issues with masculinity and fatherhood I deal with through Devlin," he chuckles, "so I thought the perfect example for a new Derry would be a young female Catholic PSNI officer trying to find her feet and actually unsure whether she even wants to be in the police or not. And I quite like the idea of someone who works in a more gentle way than Devlin."

Already it is likely that readers will be seeing more of Lucy in the future as the book has been optioned by a prestigious UK television production company and McGilloway plans to write a series on her.

Little Girl Lost opens with a child found barefoot in the snow, covered in someone else's blood and unable to speak. "There were a couple of cases in the North last year where children were found in the woods. A doctor was being interviewed for radio and he commented on the fact that about three hours after one child had been found she started to scream. The reason was she had been so cold her body hadn't been able to feel anything and it was only as the body began to warm up it began to register pain. I thought it was incredible. Strangely, in terms of Northern Ireland, there's almost an element of that 'postponed pain'. We became so acclimatised to a particular way of life and social behaviours that it was almost as if people became inured to it and now that we've had that gap people have begun to feel again."

I have four kids and don't want them to grow up in the Northern Ireland I grew up in, tearing itself apart."

While McGilloway can't help but refer to the North's history of violence, his books are in no way defined by this. "I wanted to write about normal crime. What interests me is how a normal person deals with these kind of crimes, how they do this kind of job."

Little Girl Lost is out now, published by Macmillan.

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