Bleed a River Deep, to my mind, will always be associated with the first time I introduced myself to someone as a writer. Despite the publication of my first novel, Borderlands, and having had the second, Gallows Lane, accepted, I still felt self –conscious about calling myself a writer.
Then I learnt about a new goldmine in Omagh, Co Tyrone, about twenty miles form my home. Something about the idea of a gold mine in Ireland seemed massively incongruous and yet strangely appropriate for a country still gorging on the carcass of the Celtic Tiger. I had always imagined the borderlands setting as akin to the Wild West in a way – the Irish border for years had been exploited by people who needed to escape criminal charges in one or other of the jurisdictions. I felt that a goldmine would be a perfect location for one of the Devlin stories, would reflect the seemingly prosperous New Ireland, and would fit in nicely with the whole Wild West idea – a modern gold-rush, I suppose. And in the same way that the US goldrush was one of a number of things that drew immigrants to American shores, the Celtic Tiger had likewise drawn increasing numbers of immigrants to Irish cities in search of a share of the wealth.
The difficulty with the pursuit of wealth, of course, is that there must be a cost, as we are learning now. In Bleed A River Deep, I imagined the cost both to our sense of morality and the way in which we treat each other, and the impact mining and the search for gold would have on the physical environment. With that, the stories converged and the idea for a book developed.
Determined to see a mine for myself, if only to fulfil my childish wish to see what a real goldmine actually looked like (fuelled, admittedly, by too many viewings of the Old Prospector in Toy Story 2 with my kids) I got a phone number and contact name of the man in charge of the mine. I called him and asked would it be possible to get a tour of the site.
‘Why?’ I was asked.
‘I’m a writer,’ I said. ‘A crime writer. I’d like to set my next novel in a goldmine.’
To my delight, the man in charge of the mine agreed, later explaining to me that his brother wrote true crime books in the US.
As for the mine itself? There were significantly less rickety railroad carts and shovel carrying, grey-bearded men in denim dungarees pinging chewing tobacco into spittoons than I had hoped. There was, however, the kernel of Inspector Devlin’s latest story.
Bleed a River Deep is published by Macmillan