Claire Allan on why The Liar's Daughter's Joe McKee is the scariest villain she has ever written
Claire Allan has told how The Liar's Daughter's Joe McKee is the only villain she has ever written that scared her.
The author's latest novel - which hit shelves last month (you can read an extract from the book here) - follows the aftermath of the death of McKee, a pillar of the Derry community.
The arrangements are being made for a traditional Irish wake, and his friends and family are left reeling at how cancer could have taken this much-loved man so soon. However, his daughter Ciara and stepdaughter Heidi aren't grieving - they knew the real Joe, the man who was supposed to protect them and did anything but.
As the mourners gather, the police do too - it's not clear if Joe's death was due to natural causes. And the lies that Joe told won’t be taken to the grave after all – and the truth gives his daughters the best possible motive for killing him…
The author recently spoke to Her about becoming a writer, Joe giving her the creeps and why she wanted to put The Liar's Daughter in the freezer.
"He's a bad article," she said of Joe. "He's there in the opening, and then he's got one or two short chapters. He doesn't deserve [much of a voice], he's irredeemable.
"In most of my books, I go with the theory of 99 per cent of people who commit crimes are really good people, and every single one of us could be a murderer in the right circumstances - if something goes horribly wrong, if you're defending someone you love...All of us would kill for someone or something, but we're all good people.
"Joe's not. He's just evil, there's nothing of merit in him - so there was no merit in seeing his insight, it's just a sick mind. If I had given him more of a presence or his own voice, it would have made it more sensational or salacious - and I didn't want to do that."
She added that Joe's the only villain she has written so far that has actually scared her - so much so that she wanted to put the book in the freezer, à la Joey from Friends.
"He scared me. He's the only villain I've written that has actually scared me. It's the only book I've written - you remember in Friends, when Joey puts the books in the freezer because they're too scary? - it was the only time I wanted to put my book in the freezer because it scared me. He gave me the creeps," she continued.
"It's the least graphic book - there's no major violence or anything in it, on purpose. But nonetheless, he scared me the most."
The writer also opened up about making the move from being a journalist to a fill-time author - and how it niggled at her for the longest time.
"Probably for as long as I can remember, I was a big reader and reading was something that was encouraged in our house," she began. "It was always in my head that I wanted to do [be an author]."
She recalled how she got back into creative writing after a writer's workshop in secondary school - but when she went into journalism, she put it "on the back burner".
"I thought, 'well, this is my career now, I'm going to focus on writing this way'. But [the idea of becoming a writer] kept niggling. After my son was born, it started to niggle a bit louder," she continued. "It's a great way to work through your own thoughts and feelings about things. My deputy editor in work was a great reader, and we would have sat and talked books all the time.
"She was always onto me, 'you should write something, you should definitely write a book.' I always thought, 'yeah, I will one day - I'll get around to it.' Her name was Siobhan and, unfortunately, she passed away - she was only in her 40s. I had seen her about maybe a week before she passed away, we went to the hospital to go see her and say our goodbyes. She was such a big influence in my career and my [life].
"As I was leaving the room, she said, 'you write something for me, girl'. She passed away a few days later, at the end of October. I started writing my first novel in December. That first book was dedicated to her. It made me realise that tomorrow's never promised, saying I'm going to do it 'one day'...you don't know if you're going to get that 'one day', so if you want to do it, do it."
And while making the move to being a full-time writer was tricky, it was still a long time coming - as Claire noted she had been combining being a journalist and an author for ten years.
"I had combined the two [professions] together for about ten years, then I decided to chance my arm and see if I could go full time as a writer," she explained. "I had eight women's fiction novels published in Ireland at the time, but I'd never been able to make it through to a UK deal or a bigger deal.
"I always wondered if it was because I also working as a journalist and I wasn't really giving 100 per cent to either, and what would make the difference."
Right before her 40th birthday, the chance came up for her to take voluntary redundancy - which is when she decided to take the chance and try to make the move to full-time author.
"I don't know why, it was like this madness came over me. I'm not a risk-taking person, I'm so risk adverse - and I don't know if I would have done it since," she added. "There was just something about that year that was like, 'go for it, try it now.'
"When I took redundancy, I had enough of a package behind me that I could take a year and give writing really, really everything. Otherwise, I would have spent the rest of my life staying in my job wondering if I had missed my chance to be a full-time writer.
"It was terrifying. But it was one year and three days after I left my job that I got offered my publishing contract with Avon - so it was like, juuuust under the wire," she added with a laugh.
And she told Her how she has "never regretted" taking the leap of faith.
"I loved [journalism] while I was doing it. I loved the people I met, the stories I heard - it was a great honour to be allowed to tell people's stories, to be invited into their homes on the worst days of their lives and to be trusted to tell their stories," she said. "But I think you can only do that for so long before it gets too much.
"I work harder now than I ever have before; seven days a week, Christmas Day, Boxing Day...but even when it's a stressful day, it still feeds me in ways that nothing else has done, [letting] me be who I really am."
- The Liar's Daughter by Claire Allan, published by Avon, is out now.