Today I'd like to introduce to you Irish journalist Sinéad Crowley whose debut novel, psychological thriller Can Anybody Help Me?, is published next month.
Sinéad Crowley is Arts and Media Correspondent for RTE, Ireland’s national broadcaster. Working for radio, television and online, she has covered stories ranging from general elections to the Eurovision Song Contest, and has reported from locations including Southern Africa, Azerbaijan and the Oscars.
A self-confessed internet addict, she discovered the world of parenting websites when on maternity leave with her first child. Sinéad lives in Dublin with her husband and two young sons.
It was crazy, really, she had never met this young woman, and had no idea of her real name but she thought of her as a friend. Or, at least, the closest thing she had to a friend in Dublin.
Having recently moved from London, and struggling to cope with a new baby, Yvonne turns to an online forum, netmammy, for support. Drawn into a community of new mothers, she spends increasing amounts of time online and volunteers more and more information about herself.
When one of her new friends disappears, Yvonne feels something is wrong, but dismisses her fears. After all, how well does she really know this woman? Then, as the body of a young woman with striking similarities to her missing friend is found, Yvonne begins to suspect that their close-knit community is in danger.
Can she persuade Sergeant Claire Boyle, herself about to go on maternity leave, to take her seriously? How can you ever know who you’re really talking to online?
Can you tell us a little bit about your debut book Can Anybody Help Me?
First of all, thanks for having me!
My book tells the story of a young mum, Yvonne, who has moved from the UK to live in Dublin with her husband and baby daughter. Her husband’s busy job means he is rarely around and because her baby is so small she hasn’t had a chance to make friends in her new city, so she relies on an internet forum, netmammy, for company. One day Yvonne realises that one of the other posters, known as MyBabba hasn’t been around for a few days.
In the real world, a young mother is reported missing and Yvonne is afraid something has happened to her virtual friend. But how can she give the police information about a woman she has never actually met?
The other main character is Claire, a hard working detective who also happens to be expecting her first child. She is very sceptical about the whole idea of parenting websites, but soon also finds herself drawn into the netmammy world.
Where did the inspiration come from to write about a young mum seeking support from an online forum?
I got the idea when I was on maternity leave with my first child in 2009. I was lucky because several of my friends had babies around the same time so I didn’t experience that intense feeling of isolation that Yvonne does. But when Conor was only a couple of months old we had a snow storm, the worst winter weather in decades and there were days when I literally couldn’t leave the house, so I began to think of what it would be like to be totally dependent on your online friends for company. Yvonne herself then came to me in a dream, if that doesn’t sound too pretentious! I just had this image of a young, exhausted woman, sitting up in bed at 3am, staring at a computer screen, feeling that the people on the internet were the only people who understood her. She wasn’t me, she was ten years younger and had a baby girl, but I felt like I knew what she was feeling. And then I asked myself the question, what if those ‘internet people’ were not all on her side?
Do you think your experience as a journalist was a help during the writing process i.e. editing, deadlines etc?
Yes, it was a huge help. On the most basic level, I’m used to sitting down in front of a blank document and having to fill it! But the main help came after I got my publishing deal with Quercus. The editors wanted to make several changes to the original script and I was perfectly happy with that. I think that as a journalist you are used to people looking at your copy and making suggestions, or simply asking you to cut it back or add to it. I wasn’t ‘precious’ about the changes that had to be made, in fact I was delighted to be working with an editor who was clearly very enthusiastic about the story and wanted to make it the best it could be. So in that sense, having a pragmatic, realistic attitude towards writing really helped.
Did you always know that you wanted to write?
Yes, always. I was addicted to reading as a child and the desire to write my own books ran alongside that. I got a typewriter when I was seven and my first words were “Chapter One”! So it was always the dream, and I’ve always written fiction in my spare time but it took me a long time to get here. I was 39 when I signed my book deal. Practice paid off in the end.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
When I was writing my first book there was no typical day because some of it was written while on maternity leave and I was literally fitting it in between nappy changes and naps. Now I’m back at work full time and have two children so I have to be very disciplined. I write most evenings after the boys are in bed and occasionally early in the morning as well – I’m not naturally a morning person but I’m trying to be! I write in short sharp bursts – that’s how my style has had to develop, I write an hour here and an hour there when I get the chance. But I’m constantly thinking of the plot and carrying around a notebook so that when I do sit down in the evenings I’m ready to go.
Have you any exciting plans for publication day?
Not on publication day itself but a week later we’re having a launch at the main Eason’s store here in Dublin which should be fun. It’s a bit like planning a wedding in terms of wondering who to invite – and who will turn up! – but it should be a good night. A friend of mine who is a radio presenter here in Ireland is launching it so he’ll be like the best man, making all the important speeches. Hopefully I’ll just have to turn up, smile and say ‘I did!’.
Are you going to treat yourself to something nice to celebrate the publication of your debut novel?
A posh frock has been bought for the launch!
If you could go on a writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you choose?
Honestly, with a four year old and an 18 month old, anywhere where I could write for a couple of hours without interruptions would be considered a retreat. I am currently at my most productive in a café with people nattering around me. At this stage I don’t think I’d be able to function in a quiet writers retreat! So let’s see… if I won the Lottery… wouldn’t New York be lovely? Car horns blaring and people shouting outside my window while I worked, and then a walk in Central Park afterwards. That would be perfect.
CAN ANYBODY HELP ME? is published by Quercus on 1 May, paperback £12.99