Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Crime pays for thriller writer Claire McGowan as BBC snaps up rights to her novels

Claire McGowan

Despite having three acclaimed crime thriller novels under her belt, Claire McGowan has largely remained shy of the public spotlight.

But all is set to change for the young Rostrevor writer, who has piqued the interest of the BBC with her tales of dark happenings in a fictional Ulster border town.

The broadcaster has secured the rights to her two most recent novels, The Lost and The Dead Ground, meaning Northern Ireland could once again be centre stage for a major television production.

It's a dream come true for the 32-year-old, and is all the more remarkable considering she never really intended to become a crime writer.

Claire studied English and French at Oxford University, lived in China and France for a while, and then moved to London where she worked in the charity sector.

Her 2012 debut novel The Fall is about a woman whose life falls apart when her banker boyfriend is accused of murder. It came to life in a dream she had and was published to rave reviews after being shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize for young writers.

The Lost, published last year, features forensic psychologist Paula Maguire, and it is this feisty female character who has sparked the interest of TV bosses.

The story is set in the border town of Ballyterrin, which Maguire left nearly 20 years earlier. But when two girls go missing she becomes part of the team set up to investigate the disappearances and finds herself back in her home town again.

"I wanted to write a character that wasn't a detective as such, I wanted to be a bit more flexible in what she did," Claire said.

"I know the BBC were looking for something with a female lead. At the moment there is a lot of interest in stuff in Northern Ireland, with (TV's) The Fall being so successful, and a lot of filming ."

Of the Maguire character, Claire said: "She makes a lot of mistakes in her private life. She is driven and will quite often break the rules."

Describing her genre as "almost women's fiction", Claire said of her fan base: "I think there are a lot of women readers. I have had some criticism as there is a lot of looking at personal relationships, but I think the people who read the books enjoy that."

Claire's novels deal with all sorts of modern moral issues such as sexual violence and asylum seekers. Her latest novel, The Dead Ground, is a continuation of the Maguire stories but "much more about the politics".

The peace process was already well established by the time Claire finished school but the Troubles formed the backdrop to her childhood and the memory lingers on in the Ballyterrin that Maguire returns to.

She believes her Northern Ireland-based novels translate well to a wider UK audience.

"Some people have said it helps them understand what was going on," she said. "Most people in England have little idea."

With negotiations for the broadcasting rights taking place over the past year, but only recently concluded, Claire said there was no 'Eureka' moment when she suddenly realised she was doing rather well for herself.

It's a difficult industry, she said, and she is also busy trying to manage the expectations of family and friends.

"Obviously, I really hope that it happens," she added of the BBC interest.

"I always have to explain that it does not mean it will get made, trying not to get them too excited, but it is a good accolade."

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