'Find out what your hero wants, then just follow him", was science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury's advice to anyone starting a novel. That sounds all very well, except where do you get the hero in the first place - does the plot not always start the ball rolling?
Apparently not, and novelist Jane Ryan would almost certainly agree with Bradbury; she has just published her novel, 47 Seconds, a police procedural, and a bit like Bradbury, it all started with her principal character, Garda Bridget Harney. "I always had this character inside me, banging around," Jane says. "Would I put her in a love story or a story with sisters? But no, the stories were never to her liking. She's very real to me, I have 45,000 words on her back story, how she'll react in any given situation. Then when I put her in a police procedural, a light went off in my head - and in her head."
If Jane sounds slightly daft - differentiating between her head and that of her character - she's anything but. She is a bubbly, warm, and entertaining mother of two, an accountant who has had high-powered jobs in digital sales, but who always wanted to write.
However, she was always too busy to devote any extended periods of time to it, and only got around to it seriously in recent years.
It was only a matter of time; the vivid imagination was there from the beginning, growing up in an old house with her parents and brother in Co Kildare. "Our house was full of books on bookshelves, and I was allowed to read what I could reach. I was reading Agatha Christies at nine. I was always reading and always writing, always scratching and scribbling," she recalls.
However, there was no question in those days of her pursuing a career as a writer; her parents were adamant that she had to have a proper profession. "I left school at the end of the 1980s and it was important to Mum that I had a profession, to Dad, too. That I would be steady and stable," Jane says.
So she opted to study accountancy for two years in Griffith College, then went into an accountancy firm for a further two years. "They were lovely people, but it was not for me," Jane says, adding, "I got lucky. I ended up going into a company called EUnet. Denis O'Brien took it over and it became Esat, and I worked there for years. It was a very exciting time. I was in technology sales. When BT took that over, I worked for BT and I was head of their client services north and south."
Jane was particularly grateful for the Esat years - not only was she able to sell her shares to pay for a deposit on an apartment, but she also met her lovely husband, Ron McNamara, in the company.
Ron is from Tallaght, and he had done marketing in college before doing the stockbroking exams and moving to New York, where he became a stockbroker. However, his dad had health issues and Ron decided to come home. While home, he was headhunted by Denis O'Brien's company just months before Jane joined. "I saw him on the first day and thought, 'Oh, he's nice'. He was in corporate sales, I was in customer care. I was there five months when I fell in love with him. He was just gorgeous, still is," she notes fondly.
They never worked in the same area, and eventually Ron left to set up his own company, Driver Focus - a driver cognitive behaviour company. "Customers have a dongle to record their mileage, to work out mileage expenses; it's Revenue compliant, etc." Jane says. She herself continued working in technology sales at a very high level in a job that required a lot of travel. The couple got married in 2001, and went on to have two children, Adam (now 14) and Conor (eight). Up to the time Adam was born, Jane was always writing on the side, but his birth put a stop to that.When Conor arrived, Jane began to feel very stretched; pulled in all directions. "I was up at 6am, full face of make-up, into the office by 7.15; I was flying every week, and it was exhausting," she says. "I never once got to Adam's nativity play when he was in primary school. His grandmother would turn up and he never felt the loss, but I did."
It finally dawned on Jane that life needn't be like this. She gave up the job and instead began to work part-time for Ron's company, and at the same time started her 'scratchings' again. She did creative writing courses, including some online courses with the University of British Columbia, which she found invaluable and which, she says, helped push her to finish a novel.
47 Seconds - which is a compelling story about drugs and organised crime and Garda Bridget who, unusually, is a barrister turned garda - is actually Jane's second novel. Her first was a love story, and though she sent it to some publishers, it has yet to see the light of day, but it did lead to her getting 47 Seconds published.
"I had just finished 47 Seconds and I thought in my mind, 'I'll leave that for a month or so', and I literally wrote 'The End', when I got a call from Paula Campbell of Poolbeg Press who said, 'I got your love story, but it's not our thing, have you anything else?'" Jane recalls. She sent it off, and within days was offered a three-book contract for 47 Seconds and two more police procedurals, which her publishers hope will be as real and gritty as her first. "The research was savage," Jane says. "It's all fictional, but the details have to be right, learning all about organised crime, police strategy, police policy, human rights and the vernacular of the organised crime world, all the EU directives about drug trafficking, drug seizures, I had a path beaten to the LexIcon."
Fortunately, the dlr LexIcon library in Dun Laoghaire is only about half a mile from the lovely period house which Jane shares with Ron and their two boys and their dog Benji; the couple bought the house in 2000, the year before they got married. "I always wanted a red-brick house, Ron's mother Rosaleen and aunty Rita, who make a hobby of driving around looking at houses for sale, found it for us," Jane explains, adding, "I had grown up in a lovely house in the country so that stayed with me."
The house was not in good condition, and Jane wonders if they bought it without weighing up the pros and cons. "In those days, it was all auctions, and we had lost so many at auction, we were thrilled to get this. So did we do due diligence before we bought it? I couldn't tell you," she says. "All the slates were cracked and broken, there was no insulation, it was single-glazed and had six small bedrooms."
On the plus side, the house had lovely period features, including high ceilings, so Jane and Ron set about doing essential repairs and renovations.
Seven years ago, they got an architect and did a complete renovation. They reduced four of the six bedrooms to three good-sized ones, and converted two others into a dressing room and a study. They kept the two reception rooms - a sitting room to the front and a dining room to the back - as they were, but they added a kitchen extension with lots of light, and white kitchen units by Lomi with granite worktops. The original dining room opens onto the new extension, as does the hall.
They furnished the house with interesting pieces; some bought abroad. A bit like her mother in her day, Jane likes to bring back pieces from travels abroad. "In mum's day, it was hard to get nice furnishings in Ireland," Jane says. "We used to go on holidays to Brittany and Normandy and my parents used to bring back stuff for the house. Sideboards, beds, doors - they'd fill the car with loads of the stuff and myself and my brother would be mashed up in front."
Some heirlooms have made their way to Jane's house, and they blend beautifully with her own pieces.
In recent years, Jane has become friendly with an interior designer Helle Moyna, who has given her great advice on colour schemes and flooring. "Helle said to get wooden floors all the way through the ground floor, so we got parquet flooring - there's a concrete suspension floor underneath. She also advised me on colours. Sometimes she's a bit too Scandi for me, but she is wonderful," Jane volunteers. "I met Helle through the parents' association. On the one hand, I'm the mainstay of the school cake sale, on the other, I'm chopping up bodies."
Whatever floats your boat, and getting emmeshed in the gritty world of police procedurals is certainly working for Jane.
'47 Seconds' by Jane Ryan is published by Poolbeg Crimson, €15.99
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan
Photography by Tony Gavin
Sunday Indo Life Magazine