Today on 746 Books, I am delighted to welcome author Caroline E. Farrell, whose self-published novel Lady Beth is causing quite a stir in Ireland. Winner of the Carousel Aware Prize for Best Novel in 2017, Lady Beth is a gritty, urban thriller with a fantastic central female character.
Beth Downes is keeping her head down, working hard and living a quiet life as she brings up her teenage son Jesse on her own. Life is predictable, but stable and that’s how Beth likes it. But when Jesse dies following a drug overdose, secrets from Beth’s past refuse to stay hidden. Driven by grief and guilt, Beth must confront her old life and search out the man she has been desperate to forget, it she is to find out who is responsible for her beloved son’s death.
Lady Beth is a perfectly paced page-turner of a novel which keeps the tension taut at all times. The darker side of Dublin city is perfectly judged, with well-rounded characters filling out the scenes around the titular Beth. Beth herself is a fantastic character moving seamlessly from unassuming office worker to avenging mother with an impressive lack of melodrama. Caroline has a filmic eye and the book swirls with a wonderful noir atmosphere as Beth digs deep into her past in order to build herself a future.
I had the pleasure of asking Caroline some questions about her novel to get some more insight into the process of what brought Lady Beth to fruition.
Can you tell us a bit about your road to publication?
I’ve been writing stories through prose and screenplays for many years. I sent an early draft of Lady Beth to three agents in Ireland. All of them were encouraging, but none where interested enough to take the novel on, so rather than spend months, and maybe years preparing submissions and probably receiving as many rejections, I decided to put my energies into finishing the novel and publishing it independently. The process was hard work, with many long hours spent learning how it all works, but I am lucky that I found each element so interesting, and a worthwhile challenge. Self-publishing is not for every writer, but it is an option that works for many. In the case of Lady Beth, positive feedback from readers and other writers, and winning the Carousel Aware Prize for Best Novel, is all the affirmation I need to confirm that the grunt work has paid off.
Lady Beth has a real noir atmosphere. Did you decide to write in that style from the outset or did the story dictate the style?
It is such a compliment to hear that, as I am a fan of noir, though I don’t think I consciously set out to write the novel in that style. Beth is a classic femme fatale in my opinion, and as the writing moved deeper into character and sense of place, the noir element developed and I was happy to go with the tone and atmosphere that emerged between the lines.
Beth is a fantastically complex character, particularly when seen from different characters viewpoints. Where did your inspiration for her come from?
She came into my head as a bereaved mother, many years ago, and having children myself, I began to explore the absolute devastation that must happen to a parent when they lose a child. In this character’s case, having her son at such a young age, and becoming a warrior to build for him a better life than she had, gave her a perspective and an energy that would drive her through the story. Every one of us comes with a back story that shapes us, and in writing Beth’s, her complexity emerged from her own experiences before she faces the challenges that unfold in the novel. As writers, I think our social vision is always heightened, as is our awareness of the diversity of people around us. That is where the theme of the drug culture and the characters that inhabit that world came from, and from where I created a journey for her that was perilous, yet filled with very human tragedy and deeply flawed humanity. I wanted Beth to be proactive in her decisions, owning the bad stuff as well as the good, with no excuses.
The book is a dark read and explores the real underbelly of Dublin life. Did you do a lot of research for the book?
Yes, over many years, from the initial imaginings of Beth’s journey. Apart from personal stories and anecdotal retellings, I read several non-fiction books on crime in Ireland, plus newspaper articles, and first-hand experiences of drug abuse and prison. All of it amalgamated to inspire the events that eventually ended up in the book. There were also some rather dark and disturbing incidents and stories that I discovered through research that I chose to leave well enough alone.
Lady Beth is a very filmic novel. Do you think your background in screenwriting has an influence on your novel writing?
Without a doubt. Screenwriting teaches us to be very disciplined in structure and to be economical with words. I write short novels, the kind I like to read. However, short novels must be just as visually captivating as longer works, finding the perfect words to convey characteristics, atmosphere and sense of place. I guess for me that means aspiring to create the visual in every sentence, without the use of excessively descriptive prose.
For me, the main message of Lady Beth is that in order to move forward, we need to leave the past behind. Would you agree with that?
Yes, and there is also hope of redemption for Beth in that she does have choices at the end of the novel. We just don’t know what those choices will amount to, though in our imagined endings, we can impose our own scenario on her character’s final fate!
Irish crime fiction and Irish fiction in general is thriving at the moment and you have your own review blog, The Librarian’s Cellar. Who are your favourite contemporary writers?
We are so lucky to have the range of traditional and alternative voices currently writing in Ireland. Writers like John Connolly, Louise Phillips and Liz Nugent have blown open the gates in terms of putting Irish crime writers on the world stage, as well as paving the way for new ones. There are also several literary fiction writers that have captivated me in the last couple of years, Sara Baume, June Caldwell, Donal Ryan and Lisa Harding, to name a few. I think, given the opportunities to be seen and to be read, there are also a number of very talented voices emerging from the world of self-publishing. Alternative avenues for sharing our creativity are opening up to all. The future is bright.
And finally, are you working on another book at the moment and can you give any hints about it?
I have just sent my new manuscript to my editor. Lots of work still to be done, but I am getting there. It is, yet again, a dark urban drama, though it does not have a crime element. This one will end with a rather chilling conclusion though, and for now, that’s all I’m saying!
Caroline E. Farrell is a writer and filmmaker from Dublin, Ireland. She is the author of the novel, LADY BETH, recent winner of Best Novel at The CAP Awards 2017. She has also written several feature length and short screenplays including ADAM  and the multi-award winning IN RIBBONS . Caroline, a qualified Librarian, now works as a freelance Cultural Event Manager, teaches creative writing and holds a H Dip in Adult Education. She is a member of the Writers Guild of Ireland, the Irish Writers Union, and the Irish Film and Television Academy.
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!