BOOKS: Claire Allan on writing about the dark side of the web

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Derry girl Claire Allan is never more comfortable than when writing about her home town, where she worked in local news for 17 years. The chatty mum of two took the leap from newsprint to fiction and has never looked back.

“I’m a born and bred Derry girl,” says Claire (46) from her home in Northern Ireland. “I have worked all my life here, went to Belfast for university and came straight back,” she laughs.

“I wrote my first novel in 2007. I started writing women’s fiction and I always thought that was where my career was going to go. I found myself ten years on from that, I hadn’t got a UK deal and I was feeling a bit restless.”

The death of her grandmother added to this sense of a need for change and when she was offered redundancy from her job as a reporter she decided to seize the moment. “I fell very accidently into writing a novel where I was challenged to unleash my dark side.

“I wasn’t a reader of thrillers before then – it’s probably a good thing as I would probably have been paralysed with fear and not written a word!”

Her first thriller, Her Name was Rose, was published in 2018; “It was almost like writing a book for the first time,” Claire recalls. “I wanted to be back at my desk, wanted to be writing and it got me that UK book deal, which really was that dream come true.”

The Nurse is Claire Allan’s sixth thriller.

Claire’s latest book The Nurse is her sixth psychological thriller. Set in Derry city, the novel delves into the world of the dark web with a plot that is at time thrilling, shocking and disturbing.

As a news reporter she reported on many crimes but she says that her stories aren’t based on those experiences. “I did a lot of court reporting and there is no doubt that it has influenced me but I would never draw on somebody’s real pain,” she points out. “It is their story and on that level you do feel an even bigger responsibility to do it justice.

“I don’t think I could have written crime when I was still in journalism,”

“I don’t think I could have written crime when I was still in journalism,” she reflects. “It was only when I left journalism that I could start to process a lot of what I experienced. It all comes back to me in wee fits and starts and it does colour my writing.”

The Nurse is written from two very different perspectives, Marion, the nurse’s mother and ‘him’ someone whose identity is a bit of a mystery. “Marion was never really intended to be a major point of view,” Claire points out, “but sometimes when I am writing the voices are just there – the first sentences come into my head and Marion just never shut up!”

Dark places

As for the other narrator, “he is so dark that he is fun to write but once you are in his voice he sort of takes over, that experience of feeling that I wasn’t really writing it. I didn’t want to do the standard woman in peril versus the bad guy.”

Researching The Nurse’s incel (an involuntarily celibate man) plotline took Claire to some fairly grim corners of the internet. “Some stuff was simply too disturbing to include,” she says, “most of the user names that I use in the book are real names, they are absolutely disgusting. Reddit used to have incel discussion boards but shut them down but now they have gone underground their anonymity gives the users more power. It has driven this discussion into the dark side of the web and that is frightening,”

Write about where you know

She never shied from setting the tale in her home city, “I think I feel really compelled to write about here because I want the story to be as authentic as possible,” she explains. “I love Derry and I believe that we should be able to tell stories here in the same way we would anywhere else. For a long time Norn Irish authors felt compelled to set their stories somewhere else but I thought why not just put in our own colour and I am happy to push that.”

Unsurprisingly, Claire is has already penned her next novel which is currently with the publishers, “It’s about a true crime documentary investigating an older case, I hope it’s worked,” she says. I have also been working as a story consultant on Blue Lights, which is being shot in Belfast by the BBC – it is brilliant!”

Ultimate endorsement

But her proudest moment to date has been gaining glowing reviews from one of her own favourite authors and fellow Irish woman Marian Keyes. “I have met Marian a couple of times and she said, ‘send me a copy’ she is so supportive and then one day she was tweeting about my book! She is probably who got me into writing and giving it a go,” she enthuses. Not bad for a wee girl from Derry!

The Nurse by Claire Allan is available now, £7.99, Avon.

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