Catherine Ryan Howard, crime writer
Name and position: Catherine Ryan Howard, crime writer
Lives: Dublin city centre now, but in Grange, Douglas for nearly three decades before that
Family: Parents John and Kathleen Howard, big sister to John and Claire
Favourite thing about Cork: Everyone knows everyone else…
Least favourite thing about Cork: …but that also means everyone knows everyone else’s business. You can’t get away with anything!
One thing you’d change about Cork: The traffic.
When you were small, what did you want to be as a grown-up?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, although we did have minor digressions into NASA astronaut and, later, biosafety level four virologist. I blame the ‘80s kids’ movie ‘Space Camp’ and the book ‘The Hot Zone’ by Richard Preston for that.
Tell us about your career progression to your role today:
After a few jobs stapling things together in various Cork offices, I took off on adventures. I stapled things together in an office in the Netherlands, then I was a campsite courier in France and then I went to work as a front desk agent in Walt Disney World, Florida. The first book I wrote was about that experience, ‘Mousetrapped’, and I self-published it. I needed to finally do at 32 what I’d been talking about since I was eight; write a novel, ‘Distress Signals’. I signed my first book deal in 2015 and was published in 2016. There’s been another book since, ‘The Liar’s Girl’, and my third, ‘Rewind’ is out in September. I recently signed a new six-book deal with my American publishers, so I’m incredibly grateful that I’ll get to do this for a while yet.
What is the most enjoyable aspect of what you do?
I’m grateful every day that I get to do the job I dreamed of doing when I was a child. It’s wonderful; I get to make stuff up for a living and I get to do it at home, in my pyjamas.
What motivates you?
Every time you start a book you think, ‘This is going to be one – this one is going to be perfect!’ That will never happen, but trying to get as close as possible is what motivates me. I’m always trying to do better.
What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?
If you’re good at English, your options are not limited to teaching and journalism. Go get a BA in something to do with literature and find a job in publishing.
If you weren’t in the job you have, what would you be doing?
Trying to get this job.
What is your greatest life or career achievement to-date?
‘The Liar’s Girl’ was shortlisted for the Edgar Award for Best Novel by the Mystery Writers of America, which has been going since 1954 and was previously awarded to Raymond Chandler, Michael Crichton and Stephen King. I didn’t win but I got to go to the ceremony in New York, which was amazing, and even to be shortlisted is such an achievement, especially for a second novel. I was only the second ever Irish woman to be shortlisted for that particular award, which I’m very proud of (although, come on, shortlist more Irish women!).
Who has had the biggest influence on you in your life?
I’d no idea what to say for this so I asked my brother, and he said to say Oprah! It’s funny but he’s not entirely wrong. I used to watch her show every afternoon after school, and I think she planted the idea in my head that dreams could come true if you pursued them and your dream could be anything you want. That mind-set was not something I encountered anywhere else growing up – it was very much #notions. But luckily I was listening to Oprah, who was all for it!
What is the life dream now?
I would love to see a novel of mine adapted for screen. ‘Distress Signals’ has been optioned for TV so fingers crossed.
How do you switch off?
On a day-to-day basis I veg out in front of Netflix, but for real relaxation I go to Villefranche in the south of France. It’s just outside Nice and is a truly beautiful – and peaceful – place. I always say I feel like I’m running on batteries when I’m at home, but as if I’m plugged into the mains there.
What is your favourite Cork memory?
We spent a lot of time during our childhood summers in Garryvoe which I didn’t always appreciate at the time, but which I think of fondly now. I doubt it was as always as warm and sunny as I remember though!
What is your favourite place in Cork?
Waterstones on Patrick Street. The books I found there when I was a teenager have everything to do with what I write now and how I write it.
Do you have a favourite quote or motto?
‘Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail’ – Ralph Waldo Emerson.
When are you at your happiest?
When I type ‘THE END’ on the first draft of a new book. That’s the worst bit of the process of me so I’m always delighted when it’s done. Then the fun – redrafting, editing, and preparing for publication – begins.
What is your hidden talent?
I’m really good at gift wrapping.
What might we be surprised to know about you?
I was Munster disco-dancing champion 1991 – under eight category. The competition was in the old Arcadia Hall, and my winning routine was set to that musical classic, Do The Bartman.
Anything else you’d like to share with us?
My new novel, ‘Rewind’, is set in East Cork. I describe it as ‘Psycho’ meets ‘Fatal Attraction’. It’s out in September but I’ll be sharing an exclusive preview at West Cork Literary Festival on Sunday 14 July at an event alongside my fellow crime writer Catherine Kirwan, whose novel ‘Darkest Truth’ is set in Cork City. Find out more on new.westcorkmusic.ie/literary-festival/.