Claire McGowan is probably a new name to many crime fiction lovers with her first novel, The Fall, due out on 2 February. However, she is already well known to writers in the genre because she’s the director of the Crime Writers’ Association. The Fall was runner up in the 2010 Dylan Thomas prize for unpublished novels, and following this she secured both an agent and publisher. With the release just weeks away, coupled with the fact I’m really looking forward to reading her debut crime book, I jumped at the chance to discuss it with her.
Somewhat ambitious for a first novel, The Fall entwines three stories. Charlotte, is about to marry a wealthy banker called Dan, but he’s a man with secrets. And when he’s arrested they start to come out. Keisha contacts Charlotte with information, and Charlotte sets out to prove that Dan’s innocent. Meanwhile DC Matthew Hegarty is taking the credit for Dan’s arrest, but his doubts about the case are coming to the fore.
How did The Fall come about?
I had the idea in a dream, and after mulling it over for a while, wondering about writing a screenplay, realising I’d no idea how to, I started writing the novel in April 2010. I worked on it steadily, despite getting married and going on honeymoon during that time, and was finished by August. The day after I’d finished, I got an email from a friend telling me about a competition for unpublished novels, which was closing in ten minutes’ time. I entered, and the rest is history.
It was runner up in the Dylan Thomas prize for unpublished novels. Can you tell us about the journey from then to signing with Headline?
Having spoken to other writers since, I think I was very lucky with my journey to publication, as it was fairly straightforward. Once I was shortlisted in the prize, I started being contacted by agents. I very quickly signed with one, and she began sending the book out. I had an offer within a few weeks and it was finalised after about two months. That’s pretty fast, I now know.
What do you hope our readers will get out of the story?
I like books that make me ask ‘what if?’ as well as ‘whodunnit?’ so I hope the reader will wonder how they would themselves react if they were involved in a similar incident. Although I hope people will primarily be caught up in the story, I also want to provoke questions. The Fall is a book about cities and how we live in them cheek-by-jowl, but our lives are utterly separate. I first moved to London in 2007, when I rented a flat on Kentish Town Road. After that I lived round Hampstead and Belsize Park for a few years. I was fascinated by the extremes that existed round that area – on one short bus ride, or even walking from one street to another, you’d go from very wealthy to very poor. And despite this proximity, our lives don’t seem to intersect much. Everyone I spent time with in the city was from a similar middle-class-and-university background to myself. In the book, I wanted to explore what might happen when a violent event brings these lives together.
How are you feeling so close to the release?
I’m quite nervous, I have to say. I’ve always been a worrier, and it’s been a strange time being technically unpublished, but also not really unpublished. And all the writers I’ve met have been very welcoming, treating me as one of them. So these last weeks are probably going to be tough. I’m waiting for the day I see the book in a shop. The first review I got, I was so nervous I couldn’t look at it for about an hour. But I suppose it’s like showing your writing to people for the first time – it gets so much easier after that. Luckily the reviews have all been positive so far but I’m sure that won’t last. I’m just trying to prepare myself for the first bad one – I will be very dignified and calm, and then when no one’s looking I’ll cry and have a tantrum. Maybe.
Have you always wanted to write?
Always. I used to imagine my acceptance speech for the Booker Prize, and I remember starting my first book when I was nine – I only wrote the first page. I recently found my diary from when I was 12, and it’s almost entirely full of witterings about how I was going to become the world’s youngest novelist. That didn’t quite pan out. I never got to own 100 cats and 50 dogs either – probably a good thing.
If you could name one book which inspired you to write, what would it be?
As a child, probably The Secret Garden, which is full of magic, hope, and dark secrets. It’s like Jane Eyre for kids. As an adult, one of my favourite books ever is The Secret History. There must be something about books with ‘secret’ in the title. I’ve read it about six times so far – the plotting is so masterful and the writing itself is beautiful and compelling. That’s how I aspire to write.
What are your future plans?
I have a second book due with Headline, which is due out in 2013, and I’m also working on lots of other ideas. I would like to write something that’s more straightforwardly crime, perhaps a procedural series, but equally I have lots of non-crime ideas I’m interested in.