Claire Allan is well used to deadlines. The author has written 15 books and her current, Ask No Questions, is her fifth thriller. What's incredible is that her first thriller - a genre where she continues to grow in skill and talent - was released only two-and-a-half years ago.
"When you're in the middle of writing, I don't think about the timescale, I'm just hitting the deadlines," she says.
If you add Claire's two romantic comedies - under the pen name of Freya Kennedy - into the mix, that's four published novels since January 2020.
With the addition of a pandemic and uncertainty all around, it means that writing during the last year has been a 'really strange mix' for the author.
"It's been a really strange mix of being able to escape into writing to a world you can control and outcomes you can control, which we do when we're creating characters," she says.
"But also, with there being so much uncertainty, for example, with kids at home and there's home schooling. You have your worries, you're watching the news, you're stressed out, there's times, and a lot of other writers are saying this, that you're completely paralysed thinking, 'What's the point?'
"For me it's either been, 'I need to write to get away from this' or, 'I'm never writing again'.
"But thank god for deadlines! That's what keeps me focused. If I didn't have a deadline, I think I'd be in my pyjamas, drinking tea all day."
Available as an eBook and in selected independent bookshops, Ask No Questions details the 25th anniversary of eight-year-old Kelly's Doherty's disappearance and subsequent discovery, found floating face down on the banks of the Creggan Reservoir.
No-nonsense journalist Ingrid Devlin, who fans of Claire's previous books will know, was only two years older than Kelly when she disappeared and is asked to compile a piece for the local paper.
It should be a straightforward article, until Ingrid is contacted by someone who wants to tell their side of the story. She continues to investigate, even after her editor asks her to stop concentrating on Kelly's case, and despite a series of intimidating tactics. Can she discover what really happened in a case that's now a quarter of a century old?
Unlike other books which have featured Ingrid, the reader is given much more of an indication into what makes the journalist tick.
Claire - who is a former journalist - says that including Ingrid as an important character helped with writing.
"The core of her personality was already fully formed before I even started writing the book," says Claire.
"I find her a really fascinating character. I know from having a background in journalism, it's a really, really competitive industry and in some areas it's kill or be killed. You have to get the story; there's no coming back to the office with, 'I don't have the story.' That doesn't cut it."
The 'morally questionable' character has a good side at her heart.
"I wanted to let people see her a bit differently; when they've met her in the other books, they see that really competitive side. I wanted to go in and show people that this is why she is the way she is. This is what has happened in her life and how she gets caught up and actually became the story herself."
For those willing Ingrid on, expect more to come.
"She's a brilliant character to write… and I know for a fact that we've not the seen the last of her because she's in the book that I'm writing currently," says Claire.
"She has more of a cameo role and I think she will recur through the books because I think there's mileage in her.
"She was only ever meant to be in [first thriller] Her Name was Rose and then I thought I was done. When I writing Forget Me Not, I was on a writing retreat at the River Mill and I was sort of stuck. I knew I needed to inject something into it.
"[Author] Liz Nugent was at the retreat that week and we had dinner together every night [as part of the retreat]. She said, 'I really like that character Ingrid Devlin, you should bring her back.'
"That brought her back into Forget Me Not and once she was back I knew she was a very interesting character. I don't think I can let her go. She's probably the one stuck in my head the most."
It was important too that Claire shows Ingrid not as someone exclusively focused on a newspaper credit - but as three dimensional.
"At the heart of my stories, no matter who it is - apart from one character I've written about who has no humanity at all - with every character, I try and show, whether they're perceived ultimately as bad or good, they're human and they're flawed, and everybody can do the right thing and everybody can do the wrong thing and it just all depends on the circumstances that you're in," she says.
"I wanted to show that she gets it wrong and makes mistakes and gets herself into messes. But at the end of it all, her heart is in the right place and when push comes to shove, she'll generally do the right thing."
Location is paramount to set a novel's appropriate tone but in her books, Claire's use of her home city has seen it become a character in its own right.
"Probably in this one, even more so than the others because it really is set in the heart of the working class community in Creggan," she says, speaking of the community in which she grew up.
"Those streets are where the young me spent her childhood. For me while writing it, I did drive around the streets again to get a feel for it. Those are the things Ingrid does: goes up to the country park, to get that feeling again. I drew on stories that we would have been told and the warnings we'd have been given such as not going up to the reservoir because you didn't know who would be there.
"It's very much focused on the reality of what my childhood experience was and what that community is, the tightness of the community and the difficulties that exist within the community, be it poverty, be it addiction, be it a legacy of the Troubles.
"It is very much a Northern Irish book and very much a Derry book and I think, more than the others, it had to be told in this city."
When she began writing, Claire concentrated on the 'universality of experience,' keeping location more general, letting readers set the story in their heads.
"When I moved to [publisher] Avon, I was so surprised, a UK publisher was saying to me, 'Why are you not writing more about the history, the streets? Put that in, we want to get the flavour of it.'
"Others writers do, they put in London or Dublin or even Belfast, but in Derry, we've kind of shied away a wee bit from setting stories in the heart of our community. But it works really well. I love reading Brian McGilloway's books as I can recognise everywhere he's talking about."
Her favourite bit of writing thrillers? What she calls 'leaving wee breadcrumbs', those red herrings which can make or break an intriguing plot.
"So when the reader does get to the end, they can flick back and think, 'Ah, that's why she said or did that' and work it out from there. That's the fun part, like putting a jigsaw puzzle together."
And with red herrings come plot twists - now expected when reading the genre.
"To be quite honest, most of the time when I start writing the books, I know that there's going to be a twist but I don't know what that's going to be, or what I originally think it's going to be," says Claire.
"By the time I get so far into the book, I think, 'That's really obvious' so I change it or something else comes into mind.
"I have been writing books where the killer has changed quite near the end because it seems to be an even better twist.
"I always think I'm never going to be able to do it again, I'm never going to be able to come up with another twist, but we always get there."
Female noir has grown in popularity in recent years and it is the emotional connection that these authors showcase that helps drive their success, says Claire.
"I think it's being able to get into the characters and a lot of women's crime fiction is really character-led.
"A lot of the male crime fiction is a bit more plot-led. There are strong characters there but I don't think you delve into their psyche quite as much as women did, because we do like to pick at what's behind people.
"The Irish female writers writing crime… I don't think there's any other country that's producing such a high standard. It blows me away that this is such a tiny island and we have these incredible writers."
The support and guidance offered within the writing community is equally paramount, says Claire.
"We know that this is a really tough industry and we acknowledge that every one of us is working in a really tough industry.
"It's hard to break through - it's harder to break through if you're a woman than if you're a man. It's definitely harder to be taken seriously if you're a woman than a man in writing so we're there for each other.
"I think it was Marian Keyes who said if we're all supporting each other, nobody loses. If someone buys a book and loves it, they're going to buy other books; they're not going to buy one author.
"If we're all chatting about each other's books, everybody's book is getting bought and it's making the readers' market bigger."
Social media has never been more important to authors - being able to promote new publications and keeping fans updated on writing progress - but it can be a blessing and a curse, says Claire, especially when living in uncertain times.
"There have been times during the pandemic where I've had to take a few days off, deactivate the account for a few days so I can't even sneakily log in because everybody's in a heightened emotional state.
"But it's also a huge comfort because no matter morning, noon or night, you go on and there is going to be somebody who sort of gets what you're going through.
"It might be another writer, a reader or god knows how you've connected with somebody. I think that's all we want at the minute: a sense of connection and we don't have a full-on hug from a friend so it's important that we have that wee sort of nice echo chamber.
"I quite like my echo chamber; people say you shouldn't just stick with people you agree with but it's nice to stick with people you agree with.
"And when you do feel yourself getting too wound up, to realise it's ok to switch off."
Being honest with followers is imperative, says Claire, praising the support can be found on social media.
"You can think everybody else has got this lovely life and I'm sitting here feeling a bit depressed," she says.
"It doesn't have to be something huge; it could be that you woke up and you can't shake the cloud over your head. Just to have somebody acknowledge it and say, 'You'll be grand,' even if that's a complete stranger, it does help.
"The entire conversation helps. There's a lot of talk about protecting our mental health at the minute. Talk's great but people have to take active steps. Being understanding that everybody is emotional and going through their own stresses is a huge part of that. If people talk more openly about how they're feeling, that's going to benefit everybody."
The USA Today bestseller always has 'something ticking over' in terms of ideas and finds inspiration from all around.
"Me and my daughter who's 11 - she's a very mature 11 but she's 11 - took the dog for a walk the other day and got into a discussion - because we were walking around a country park - about where in the country park would be a good place for a body to be found, and then what kind of injuries, what kind of murder it might be and who would have done it," she says.
"She's a wee wannabe writer as well and we were plotting it the whole way around. I thought, if anyone was walking past us they would have thought, 'What on earth are they talking about?'
"Even my friends have now started saying, if we're going out a walk, 'That would be a good place for a body.' You're always seeing things, firing ideas at you and it's great, it's just sort of catching the right one."
Ask No Questions, published by Avon, is available as an eBook and in trade paperback from independent stores and easons.com