1. Can you tell us about your farming background and how you feel it has influenced you?
I grew up on a mixed farm in the parish of Fews in mid-Waterford with breath-taking views of the Comeraghs from every field. I did all the usual things rural children did back then that would have the Health and Safety Authority reaching for the smelling salts these days.
Along with my sister Marcia and brother Neil, I travelled on swaying loads of hay and straw, picked stones, stood in gaps for what seemed like hours at a time, fed calves, and bottle-fed lambs in fire-side cardboard boxes. But I also spent a lot of time playing with the dogs and lying in the long grass looking up at the sky.
The farm was more mixed when we were small than it became later. We had oats, barley, beet and, for a few years, maize, which was brilliant for hide-and-go-seek. My brother Neil, who runs the farm now, with the invaluable assistance of Tom Foley, planted barley this year for the first time in ages.
My upbringing has had a massive influence on me, not least the fact that my first short story began with something I saw down home one Sunday in 2014: three sheep sitting motionless under a hawthorn tree. I drove back to Cork thinking about the image and started writing that very day.
2. What was the first crime book that you read that made an impact on you and why?
I was very young when I sneaked “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” from my mother’s bookshelves, not having a clue who the writer was or what it was about. But actually, it’s the first Poirot book by the great Agatha Christie. Need I say more?
3. Apart from your own lead character, who is your favourite literary detective and why?
I love John Rebus by Ian Rankin. Rebus walks the line between light and dark. He’s clever, awkward and very funny.
4. How did you get your book deal?
I entered a first novel competition run by the Daily Mail and Penguin. I didn’t win but came in the top six of 5,000 entries. From that, I got my agent Luigi Bonomi, and my first book “Darkest Truth” was published in 2019.
5. How would you describe your lead character, Finn Fitzpatrick, to somebody who has not yet read your books?
Finn, like me, works as a solicitor in Cork. I wanted her to be Nancy Drew mixed with John Rebus. What both characters have in common is their independence and a relentlessness that means they persist right to the end, even when, as in my current book “Cruel Deeds”, Finn is drawn into terrible danger, both physical and emotional.
6. What has been the greatest “pinch-me” moment in your writing career to date?
It was wonderful when “Darkest Truth” was picked as Cork’s One City One Book, and when it became Cork’s most borrowed novel in 2019 and 2020, and when Graham Norton gave it a shout-out on his radio show. But the morning I was in court doing my day job when Judge Olann Kelleher said (from the bench) that he really enjoyed it left me stunned. The story made the news pages of the Irish Examiner the following day, written up by court correspondent Liam Heylin, so it did happen...
7. As you still work full-time as a solicitor, what is your writing schedule?
Sitting in a chair for as long as I can manage (with paper, pen and computer to hand) at weekends and on holidays.
8. What books are on your summer holiday reading list?
I’ll be re-reading Jane Casey’s “The Killing Kind”. I inhaled it in one day the first time I read it so I want to read it again, but more slowly this time so that I can take it in properly. I’m also looking forward very much to Tadhg Coakley’s “The Game: A Journey Into The Heart Of Sport”.
9. Is there a classic book that you have tried to read, but not completed?
For years, “Ulysses” nearly defeated me, but I finished it eventually along with a group of friends. It’s definitely worth the effort.
10. What is the best advice you would give to a would-be writer?
If you feel like you want to write, give it a go and keep on giving it a go. I’m working on my third book and that’s all I do. It’s all I’ve ever done.
“Cruel Deeds” is out now from Hachette Ireland. Catherine will be reading with Jane Casey at the West Cork Literary Festival on Sunday 10 July at 6.30pm. Tickets for this and all other events are available at www.westcorkmusic.ie/literary-festival/booking/