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"Broken Harbor," by Tana French

Broken Harbor, Tana French
Penguin Group, Kyran O'Brien

Jeff Glor talks to Tana French about "Broken Harbor."

Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?

Tana French: I owe this book to mice. One night a few years ago, I went into the kitchen and half-saw something dash across the counter and vanish. My now-husband and I couldn't find any sign that anything had actually been there, and he gently hinted that my active imagination is a wonderful thing, but was I sure I had seen something? Luckily, a few nights later he was the one who went into the kitchen late at night, and he saw a mouse legging it down behind the cooker. We got traps, and that was the end of that - except that something stayed in my mind: that sense that our home, which was meant to be the ultimate safe place, was actually porous and vulnerable; that sense of knowing what I'd seen, but not being able to convince my husband. That's one thing if you're in a happy, strong relationship, with no outside pressures on you - but what if it were to happen to someone whose relationship and home were already under attack? The feeling linked up with the image of the ghost estates that litter Ireland, to become "Broken Harbor."


JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?

TF: How much I ended up feeling for the narrator, Scorcher Kennedy. He showed up in my previous book, "Faithful Place," where he came across as a pompous, rule-bound annoyance. People who are fanatical about rules and doing things the Right Way really aren't my kind of people - so, although I knew Scorcher belonged as the narrator of "Broken Harbor," I was worried that I wouldn't be able to do him justice. But as I wrote, I started to realize that he's much more complex, more intense and more damaged than I'd originally thought - and that his obsession with rules isn't just pomposity. It's because he doesn't trust his own mind and his own instincts to steer him right; he thinks of them as fragile, tricky and hideously dangerous. Once I figured that out, he stopped being annoying and became much easier to write.


JG: What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?

TF: I was an actor for years before I wrote "In the Woods." If I weren't writing, I'd still be doing that. I love writing, but I miss acting - being on stage, being in rehearsals, and also the social side of it. In acting, you're working with a group of people all day, and then you all go to the pub together. If you have a day when nothing works, then you're surrounded by people who can help to bounce you out of that: someone else in a scene will throw you something that sparks an idea, or the director will nudge you in the right direction. When you're writing and you have a day when nothing works, you're basically stuck being Homer Simpson, staring blankly into thin air while inside your head a cow plays the fiddle.


JG: What else are you reading right now?

TF: "An Evening of Long Goodbyes," by Paul Murray. I loved his "Skippy Dies." This is his first book: Charles and his sister live in the old family mansion on the outskirts of Dublin, and Charles is desperately trying to hang on, not only to the house, but to the graceful way of life that he sees being destroyed around him by boomtime vulgarity. It's very different from "Skippy Dies," but it's got the same wild creativity and the same wonderful writing, lyrical and very funny (I really like the description of Charles taking a seat on a 'dysmorphic sofa').


JG: What's next for you?

TF: I'm working on my fifth book. It's called "The Secret Place," and it picks up a couple of characters from the third book, "Faithful Place." The narrator is Stephen Moran, who was a young, eager detective back then. It's been seven years, and one day Holly Mackey (Frank's young daughter from "Faithful Place") shows up at Stephen's work. She's sixteen now, she's at a girls' boarding school, and she's brought Stephen a card she found pinned to a noticeboard where the girls can reveal their secrets anonymously. The photo shows a teenage boy who was murdered a year ago; the caption says 'I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM'.


For more on "Broken Harbor" visit the Penguin Group website.

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