Co Down author Annemarie Neary on her journey from law to writing
Co Down-born author Annemarie Neary, now living in London, launches her first thriller, called Siren, today. She tells Stephanie Bell how her brother escaping a bomb blast and a radio report about a honeytrap during the Troubles influenced her latest offering set in post-conflict Northern Ireland.
She has gone from travelling the world as a top lawyer to being a stay-at-home-mum to her three children. Now, Annemarie Neary is celebrating the success of a whole new chapter in her life - as a published author.
After years of penning short stories the Newry-born writer, who now lives in London, is excited to be publishing her UK debut thriller, Siren, today.
And even though Annemarie has spent a large part of her life outside of her native Northern Ireland - studying in Dublin and working in London - she has gone back to her roots for inspiration for her first crime novel.
Siren is a psychological thriller set in post-conflict Northern Ireland whose protagonist is Roisin Burns, a 17-year-old Belfast girl. As the tale unfolds the main female character gets unwittingly caught up in the Troubles, after which she tries to start a new life with a fresh identity in New York.
Annemarie has been writing for a number of years and has had some short stories published.
In 2012 she also had a novel, set during the Second World War, called A Parachute in the Lime Tree, published by The History Press Ireland. However, this is her first foray into the crime thriller genre.
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She has also won a number of awards for her short fiction with prizes being bestowed on her in the UK, Ireland, America and Europe.
In fact, it was through entering competitions that she first attempted to become established as a writer - and now, she has signed a two-book deal with publishing giants Penguin Random House.
Annemarie has lived in Clapham Common in London for more than 20 years with her husband Michael Meade, a financial adviser, and their three boys, Patrick (24), Conor (21) and Rory (19).
She grew up in Newry as the eldest of three children and her younger sister and brother both also went into law.
Their late father Kevin Neade was a lawyer with his own practice and their mother Rhonda, a retired primary school teacher, still lives in the Co Down city.
Annemarie left Newry at 18 to study in Trinity College Dublin where she met her then husband-to-be who was brought up in London by Irish parents.
She studied literature and after graduating, worked as a civil servant in Dublin while studying part-time for the next four years to qualify as a barrister.
Meanwhile, Michael had returned to London to work and, as soon as she passed her bar exams, Annemarie joined him and has been there ever since.
She recalls: "I left Newry in my teens just to get out, see new things and for a change of scene.
"I had studied literature, but there weren't too many careers open to me and law seemed a good way of making a living.
"When I qualified I moved to London for love. My boyfriend had moved back while I was studying for the bar and I pursued him across the Irish Sea.
"At that time the economy was not good and everyone was leaving. It was before the Celtic Tiger and it seemed like every weekend there was a wave of people leaving."
Annemarie began her career in corporate law in London working in the industry/energy sector.
It was a job which required frequent trips to places like Algeria, the US, Canada, Italy and Holland.
But with three young children at home, the travel side of her job began to take its toll. And after eight years working as a lawyer she decided to give it up after her third child was born to be a full-time mum.
Looking back now she believes that she was never suited to a career in law.
Annemarie says: "I stopped for several years and kind of dipped in and out of it again working for different law firms. But it got to the point when I realised I wasn't doing anything very well - I wasn't looking after my kids very well and I wasn't working very well, and so I left for good.
"I think, as well as the children, it was partly the nature of the job. There is a lot of travel and office politics, and I just knew it wasn't for me."
Writing was something she had always wanted to do. And, as a student, she had dabbled in writing poetry. When she realised that law wasn't for her, Annemarie decided the time was right to follow her dream.
From the moment she decided to try her hand at writing she believed that the best way to succeed was to regard it from day one as "a proper job".
That meant disciplining herself to sit down every day at her desk to write when the children went to school.
She started with short stories and decided to enter literary competitions to try and raise her profile.
Annemarie recalls: "I had a lot of rejections and then I won some prizes and that gives you confidence, and a kind of justification to keep doing what you are doing.
"I had some of my short stories published and then a small company in Ireland, History Press Ireland, published my first novel four years ago.
"I had no agent at that stage and the bigger publishing houses don't read manuscripts anymore, so you really do need one. They are amazing people who work incredibly hard, and my agent read my novel three times and gave me feedback before getting a two book deal."
Siren has already been critically acclaimed as "10 best book club reads for 2016" by a major Irish newspaper.
It is also one of Isabel Costello's Fiction Hot Picks for 2016 on The Literary Sofa, described as "chilling, gripping, a morally complex story of wrongs and retribution, strong on character and place".
Annemarie's first thriller was inspired by her childhood growing up in the Troubles. And she remarks on how fortunate she feels to have grown up unscathed by the conflict.
She explains where the story inspiration came from: "It starts with a honeytrap scene in the late Seventies in Belfast and that came from something I heard in the news when I was a young kid. It seemed to have lodged in my subconscious.
"I was fascinated by what would happen to someone in that position and what the implications would be further down the line. Would she feel guilt? Would she try and reinvent herself? That sparked the idea for the novel.
"Fiction is a strange thing. If you try and write too conscientiously about things you end up being hemmed in by reality.
"I have a very acute memory of things like the metal barriers we grew up with on the streets of Belfast. Fortunately I had no real experience of the Troubles, although my brother had a very close shave.
"He was very young and had sneaked off with his friend on their bicycles to the local petrol station to get some sweets. A man ran in and told everyone to run as there was a bomb. By sheer luck the blast didn't go in the direction my brother and his friend ran in." All that seems a very distant memory now, though, as she settles into life as a full-time writer.
Now, she's working on her second novel - another thriller which is due to be published next year. This time she is drawing on her experience as an adult and her new book is set in London on a common similar to the one she has lived beside for the past 20 years.
Having worked as a high flying lawyer and now about to see her first thriller in high street book shops, Annemarie says she is finally feeling fulfilled in her work life.
She says: "I consider myself incredibly fortunate. I am a member of a lot of writing groups and I know a lot of brilliant people who are finding it very difficult to get their work published.
"There is a lot of work involved in writing a book and I do treat it like a job. Looking back I don't think I was ever really suited to law, although it paid the bills.
"A lot of lawyers turn to writing. I know a lot of writers who are lawyers or were lawyers. It involves similar skills - the scrutiny of each word and the awareness of nuance, it's not a million miles away."
She loves to get back to Northern Ireland as often as she can to visit her mum who she describes as an avid reader - and one of her greatest sounding boards.
"Everyone at home is reading Siren at the minute and my mum is quite an astute critic, as well as being very supportive and helpful. She has told me she is finding the book very exciting," she says.
"My boys find it vaguely entertaining at times that their mum is an author, although my youngest has aspirations to write screenplays and dramas.
"I would like to think they are quite proud of me."
- Siren by Annemarie Neary, is published by Hutchinson, £12.99