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Claire Coughlan on her inspiration behind Where They Lie

Where They Lie is the beautifully atmospheric debut novel from Claire Coughlan.  Claire writes below about her experience as a first time novelist and the inspiration behind her central character Nicoletta Sarto, an ambitious junior reporter at the Irish Sentinel.

When I began writing my debut novel, Where They Lie, I thought I was writing literary fiction. I’d had an idea for a character called Gloria Fitzpatrick, a mid-century Dublin abortionist, and I started writing fictional fragments from her point of view, documenting her interior life. The early feedback on this work was that it was too ‘quiet’, a dreaded publishing term for ‘not much actually happens.’

I realised that what I loved reading, as well as writing, was crime fiction. Gloria was interesting in her own right, but the book could only work if I documented what she did, not what she thought. She couldn’t sustain a whole novel. She was more of an antagonist, and I needed a protagonist.

The character of journalist Nicoletta Sarto came from a few entwined strands of inspiration. I worked as a features journalist in Ireland for years. However, it was when I read a collection of journalism, Maeve’s Times, by the late novelist Meave Binchy, who had been the first women’s pages editor of The Irish Times in the late 1960s and continued writing for the newspaper until the 2000s, a time of great change in Ireland, particularly for women, that Nicoletta arrived in my imagination. A woman’s place in the workplace, as well as in the home; contraception and abortion were all prescient topics – as much as they still are. I decided to set my ‘present’ day sequences in 1968, when the inaugural women’s pages of the fictional Irish Sentinel newspaper in my novel are about to be set up. Nicoletta is young, driven and extremely ambitious, and she desperately wants that position, more than she is even able to articulate to herself. She feels that it will be a crucial step away from her old life.

I made Nicoletta’s background Italian-Irish, as I studied Italian language and literature at university and I’ve always felt an affinity with the country and culture. Many of Ireland’s Italian community of the early-mid 20th Century came from a town called Casalattico near Rome, and settled in Dublin and elsewhere in the country, setting up businesses in hospitality, though Nicoletta’s family are shopkeepers.

The beauty of writing fiction is that you can make your characters say and do outrageous things that you’d never get away with in real life. That’s why writing Nicoletta has been a lot of fun. Though when I am reading reviews, and early readers have had strong opinions about her decisions and actions, I have to remind myself that although she is my creation, she is most certainly not me.

Read the first chapter of Where They Lie here and find out more here.

Where They Lie

The thrillingly atmospheric debut from an exciting new voice in crime fiction

‘A superb novel, evoking a bygone era when women could not afford to put a foot wrong’
‘This isn't just a mystery novel: it's a window into a vanished world’

Some stories demand to be told. They keep coming back,
echoing down through the decades, until they find a teller . . .

Dublin, 1943
Actress Julia Bridges disappears.
Her body is never found.

Dublin, 1968
The bones of Julia Bridges are discovered in a back garden.
Nicoletta Sarto, an ambitious junior reporter for the Irish Sentinel, investigates the mystery of Julia’s disappearance, drawing her into the tangled underworld of the illegal abortion industry.

But some stories remain a mystery for a reason, and it’s not long before this one stirs up buried secrets from Nicoletta’s own past. Secrets that perhaps should stay buried . . .

'A thrillingly dark and atmospheric tale, richly evocative of its time' JOHN BANVILLE
'Atmospheric and absorbing, . . . A dark and turbulent journey to unexpected truths’ VAL McDERMID
‘A dark, gorgeously-written thriller’ NICCI FRENCH
‘Atmospheric, authentic, and almost unbearably poignant . . . transports the reader back in time while holding up a mirror to the present. A must-read’ ERIN KELLY
'Gripping and brilliantly atmospheric' RODDY DOYLE
‘Deliciously evocative and atmospheric . . . a shocking story, stylishly told’