Monday, 18 July 2011

An Interview with Tana French

To celebrate the release of Faithful Place, its talented author, Tana French has succumbed to the charms of and here is an interview I carried out on their behalf.

MM - Congrats on all the various awards that have come your way since you first became published. Are you aware of your audience or high expectations this may bring to subsequent books?

TF - Thank you very much :-). I don’t think I can afford to think about audience expectations. For one thing, it would take up too much time and focus – I’ve never read online reviews, for example, because if I start getting into them then I’ll never get the next book done! The book I’m currently writing always takes priority; the ones I’ve finished are the audience’s property now, not mine.

More importantly, though, I think focusing on audience expectations is pointless, because there’s no such thing as ‘the audience’. There are individual readers, with a huge variety of tastes. The thing one reader loves most about my books is probably the same thing that another reader hates. There’s no way I can write anything that will fit all of those tastes. All I can do is write the best book I can manage, and keep my fingers crossed.

MM - Faithful Place has universal themes (family, home and loyalty) displayed against the backdrop of a very small locale - was this juxtaposition a deliberate ploy on your part?

TF - I think a small, tight-knit place is often the best setting to explore big themes. That’s where the crucial questions become intensified, distilled. That’s also why I think murder mystery is one of the best genres in which to explore those big themes: the characters are quite literally dealing with life and death, they’re dealing with the most crucial questions of morality and humanity, so the stakes are raised sky-high and any other issue they’re dealing with becomes intensified by the context.

MM - Your bio reads that you spent much of your childhood travelling - has this impacted on your ability to have a “Faithful Place” of your own?

TF - I think my international-brat childhood played a big part in shaping Faithful Place. You’re always fascinated by what’s alien and inaccessible to you, and I’ve always been fascinated by people and places whose roots go deep – people who are part of a centuries-old, tight-knit community where every relationship is shaped by generations’ worth of interaction and knowledge. That’s not something I’ll ever have, and that’s the world where Faithful Place is set: the Liberties, an inner-city neighbourhood that’s one of Dublin’s oldest.

    At the same time, though, Dublin is the nearest thing I’ve got to a home. I’ve lived here since 1990; it’s the only city I know inside out, all the accents, all the short cuts, the sense of humour and the best pubs. In a lot of ways Faithful Place is a love song to Dublin, with all its flaws.

MM - Your bio also reads that you are an actress. How does this impact on your writings?

TF - I definitely write like an actor. Writing first-person, which is what I do, is a lot like acting: you’re seeing the whole story through one character’s eyes, through his or her preconceptions and illusions and biases, and trying to bring the audience into that character’s world. A lot of readers have told me that they end up feeling like the characters are real people, close friends whom they know inside-out; it’s the best compliment I can get.

MM - One of the many things that intrigued me about Faithful Place was how your main character, Frank had distanced himself from his family while being paradoxically highly loyal to them. This is of course the kind of inner tension that creates effective drama in a novel. Was this part of the plan, or did you discover this aspect of him through the journey of writing the book?

TF - Frank’s distanced himself from his family because he believes it’s their fault that his first love, Rosie Daly, dumped him. On the night when Frank and Rosie were meant to run away to London together, back when they were nineteen, Rosie never showed – and Frank figured it was because of his alcoholic father, nutcase mother, and generally dysfunctional family. Twenty-two years later, when the book begins, he hasn’t been home since. He thinks he’s completely cut himself off from Faithful Place, the street where he grew up.

But when Rosie’s suitcase is found in an abandoned house, it starts to look like she might not have dumped him at all. That reshapes Frank’s whole view of his past – and he’s forced to confront the fact that getting your family and your home out of your system may not be as simple as he wanted to believe. No matter how far you run, those things shape you, in one way or another. Frank’s spent years trying his best to convince himself that he’s got no ties to his family, but those ties are still absolutely real.

I had the basic premise – the suitcase forcing Frank to come home – before I started, but the rest developed along the way. I never have a real plan. I’m wildly jealous of writers who have the whole book outlined before they start the actual writing. I can’t work that way – I have to figure out who the characters are, by writing them, before I know what they’d do. So I usually start with a narrator and a very basic premise, and just dive in and hope to God there’s a book in there somewhere.

MM - In my view what gives extra interest to your books is your tactic of “almost” writing a serial while choosing a new character’s viewpoint for each outing – was that deliberate?

TF - God, no, I’m nowhere near that organised. But when I started thinking about writing a second book, I realised that what I’m interested in writing about is the big turning point in a narrator’s life – the case that changes him or her, for good. And most of us only have a few of those huge crossroads in our lives. So I figured either I could keep dumping the same poor narrator into more and more immense life-changing situations, or I could go down the usual series route of following the main character through smaller ups and downs – which I love reading, but wasn’t particularly interested in writing – or I could switch narrator every time. So I’ve ended up writing a chain of linked books, which I like. It means I get to do something new each time, because each narrator’s voice and perspective is a bit different.

MM - You have an engaging lyrical style of writing. Happy accident or is this something you worked on? Could you also tell us about your writing influences?

TF - I just work on writing as well as I possibly can – I’ve never had a specific style in mind. I’ve always loved books where words become a rich, sensuous pleasure, though. I can still remember being about six and falling in love with words when my father read me The Wind in the Willows: ‘He had never seen a river before, that sleek, sinuous, full-bodied animal…’ I love Mary Renault’s rhythms, the purity of image in T.H. White’s Once and Future King, the perfect control and beauty of the language in National Velvet – I’ve got too many influences to name. I think maybe everything you read influences you. Even something really terrible can make you realise: Oh, OK, that’s why that didn’t work, I’ll keep that in mind.

MM- What’s next for you? (This question has the sub-text of asking if we will ever see Rob – from In The Woods – again?)

TF - I’ve just handed in my fourth book. It’s called Broken Harbour, and the narrator is Scorcher Kennedy, Frank’s old friend/rival from Faithful Place. He’s investigating the brutal murders of a young family in one of the half-abandoned ghost estates that litter Ireland – but did the danger come from outside the house or inside?  I’d love to come back to Rob from In the Woods someday – I loved writing him. Who knows…

My review of Faithful Place can be found HERE and copies of this excellent novel can be purchased in all the usual places.  Go on, what you waiting for? Buy a copy already.


  1. I like that Tana is an actress!
    Nice questions and nice answers!

  2. Great interview. Every answer showed that Tana's a real writer and treats the profession with respect. That isn't always the case. Thanks, Michael (and Tana).

  3. Thank you, Dezmond and Bill. Men of exquisite taste and refinement clearly.

  4. Great interview, great answers. Bookmarking to come back later and try to absorb and learn for my own developing career.

  5. Delighted you enjoyed this, Nevets.

  6. Oh, I'm a big fan of Tana French. I devoured her first two novels. I'll be reading this next one too. And I agree she does a great job of making the characters feel like people you know. Really enjoy her writing.

    Thanks for posting the interveiw.

  7. Hey L.G. You're welcome - and I'm sure you'll enjoy FP just as much as her first two.