By J. Woollcott
This month I’m thrilled to welcome one of my favourite authors to The Stilletto Gang. Sarah Stewart Taylor. I discovered Sarah’s Maggie D’arcy books a couple of years ago and have loved every one of them. This month, Book #4 in the series comes out, A Stolen Child.
Born in the US, Sarah grew up on Long Island, and was educated at Middlebury College in Vermont and Trinity College, Dublin, where she studied Irish Literature. She has worked as a journalist and writing teacher and now lives with her family on a farm in Vermont where they raise sheep and grow blueberries. Sarah spends as much time in Ireland as she can.
I started with the first in Sarah’s series, The Mountains Wild, and was struck by her obvious love for Ireland and her wonderful descriptive prose. In fact, in one quote about her work, The South Florida Sun-Sentinel says; “Razor-sharp… In addition to her intelligent characters, Taylor has sculpted The Mountains Wild as a valentine to Ireland, delving into its beauty, history and varied landscape…We may not be able to travel to Ireland right now, but Taylor has brought the country to us… a terrific series launch.”
I asked Sarah to tell us how she keeps her memories sharp about a faraway country, especially as she is a working mum in Vermont––on a farm no less.
One of the best things about writing the Maggie books is that in order to keep my memories fresh, I of course 🙂 have to take regular research trips to Ireland! After living and going to graduate school in Ireland in the 90s, I moved back to the States and kept my memories fresh by reading newspapers and a lot of Irish literature and history. Then, once my kids were older, I started traveling back again. I did a couple of trips while I was writing The Mountains Wild and I’ve managed to go just about every other year since then. I spend two weeks there, usually a combination of time in Dublin and time driving around, and try to do the research for two books while I’m there. I often do very targeted, specific research for the book I’m currently working on and then more amorphous, exploratory research for future books, coming up with interesting settings or talking to people about current events or neighborhood dynamics, etc.
When I’m in Ireland, I have to really switch on my “research brain,” otherwise I kind of just have fun and enjoy myself and don’t capture the details I need to in order to write the books. I’ve learned to really compartmentalize my time there. When I’m with friends, I just have fun and try to be very present, but when I’m out doing research, I take tons of notes, snap many, many pictures and take lots of video too.
I also use friends and contacts who are on the ground, as well as lots of different kinds of internet and book research.
Process and research, how do you begin a new book. Does a current event or news story trigger an idea or do you always have lots of plots in your head about future novels?
I usually start with a setting. Once I have that, I feel like I have a handle on the tone and often, the kind of crime I’m writing about and who my characters will be. And then, I find that I often am visited by the vision of a scene. It’s often the inciting event of the novel, the body being discovered or something very important that happens before that. Everything kind of flows from that setting and scene and the people who are there. Who are they? How did they get here? What are they hiding? What do they want?
Current events and news stories sometimes do play into my plots, but I find that the connections come later, after I’ve really imagined the characters and figured out why they do what they do.
Where does Maggie come from? Do you base your characters on people you know?
Maggie came from me doing some deep thinking about the family members of people who have disappeared and are presumed dead, but who have never been found. I thought a lot about how that would affect the people in the missing person’s life. How would it change your trajectory? Maggie is someone who probably wouldn’t have been a homicide detective if her cousin Erin hadn’t disappeared and I really wanted to explore that.
I also wanted to create a detective who is a woman near middle age, a parent, and someone who is grappling with a new relationship and trying to be the best partner and parent she can, while also trying to be a stellar cop. It’s not easy. In a way, I guess I based her on a lot of women I know, including myself, who are just trying to keep all the metaphorical pots on the stove going. Sometimes, one or more of them boils over. In real life, it’s stressful, but for my fictional characters it creates all kinds of interesting possibilities!
Introduce us to your new book, A Stolen Child, and are there more Maggie D’arcy books on the way?
Here’s my publisher’s description of A Stolen Child:
“After months of training, former Long Island homicide detective Maggie D’arcy is now officially a Garda. She’s finally settling into life in Ireland and so is her teenage daughter, Lilly. Maggie may not be a detective yet, but she’s happy with her community policing assignment in Dublin’s Portobello neighborhood.
When she and her partner find former model and reality tv star Jade Elliot murdered—days after responding to a possible domestic violence disturbance at her apartment—they also discover Jade’s toddler daughter missing. Shorthanded thanks to an investigation into a gangland murder in the neighborhood, Maggie’s friend, Detective Inspector Roly Byrne, brings her onto his team to help find the missing child. But when a key discovery is made, the case only becomes more confusing—and more dangerous. Amidst a nationwide manhunt, Maggie and her colleagues must look deep into Jade’s life—both personal and professional—to find a ruthless killer.”
I loved writing this book, even though as a parent, the subject matter — an abducted toddler — was territory I hadn’t wanted to go near before. But I loved the energy of a homicide investigation combined with a missing child and a nationwide manhunt for a kidnapper and I had fun injecting some extreme twists and turns into the plot. And yes, I am planning more adventures for Maggie!
J. Woollcott is a Canadian author born in Belfast, N. Ireland. She is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers and BCAD, University of Ulster. Her first book, A Nice Place to Die won the Daphne du Maurier Award and was short-listed in the Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence.
A NICE PLACE TO DIE
A young woman’s body is found by a river outside Belfast and DS Ryan McBride makes a heart-wrenching discovery at the scene, a discovery he hides even though it could cost him the investigation – and his career.