Today, please welcome ERIN HART
featured reader at Books & Brews LIVE! August 2018
Tell us a little about your background
Perhaps it’s no surprise that I come from a family of great readers. Imaginary worlds have always been important in my life, from books and theater to my own made up stories. People often ask whether there were any writers in my family, and I always said no—until it dawned on me that my grandparents ran a small town newspaper, and had to churn out stories and columns for the paper every single week. Their office was full of giant sheets of paper, so my siblings and I used to write stories on my grandfather’s old manual typewriter and turn them into books. I had no idea that such things would become my future life!
Although I was born in Indiana, I grew up in Rochester, Minnesota with my parents (married 62 years in September), two sisters and one brother. I blame my happy childhood for my failure as a memoir writer, but it’s also what turned my hand to fiction writing, so I guess it’s all good!
I was always involved in theater through high school and college—I went to the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis for a year, and then transferred to Saint Olaf, where I received a B.A. in theater. After working for a time, I felt as though my brain was shrinking, and decided to take graduate courses in English and Writing, and eventually (after eight years) earned an M.A. at the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis.
I’ve been interested in Ireland since I was a child, probably because I’m named after my Irish-American grandmother whose name actually means “Ireland.” I’ve always been interested in Irish history and folklore and traditional music as well, and make sure those cultural elements come through in my stories.
I think my interest in forensics stems from the fact that both my parents worked in the sciences: my dad is a mechanical engineer and my mother is a medical laboratory technician. Mom used to attend continuing education classes on things like DNA testing and blood spatter, and couldn’t wait to share her newfound knowledge at the supper table!
How did you get started as an author?
I read a book of poems my Seamus Heaney in the mid-1980s. In one poem, “Bogland” he talks about the strange items found in bogs:
They’ve taken the skeleton
Of the Great Irish Elk
Out of the peat, set it up
An astounding crate full of air.
Butter sunk under
More than a hundred years
Was recovered salty and white.
I was intrigued by the butter in particular, and so when visiting friends in Ireland that summer, I asked if they’d heard about people finding butter in the bogs. My friend’s mother started to tell me about all the strange things found in bogs—2,000-year-old bog roads, a wooden practice sword from the Middle Ages…
Tell us about some of your writing.
All my novels so far are contemporary crime novels with an historical element—an ancient mystery and a modern mystery that are somehow connected, intertwined. My stories are mostly set in Ireland, because I started in Haunted Ground with the story of the red-haired girl from the bog, and grew the settings and characters from there. The two main characters, Nora Gavin and Cormac Maguire, continue throughout the series, but they are in different locations in Ireland, and working with a whole new cast of characters in each novel.
The stories always involve history, archaeology, folklore, and traditional music—my husband Paddy O’Brien is an Irish musician, some might even use the term “accordion legend.”
My current work-in-progress (working title, The Spirit Pool) is a historical crime novel, set in 1933, about the search for a missing policeman. It’s filled with the kind of political turmoil and intrigue that was going on in Ireland after their struggle for independence, and with the rise of Fascism in Europe at the time. The main character is a policeman-turned-archaeologist, who, as it happens, is Nora Gavin’s grandfather. So there is a connection to the original series, even though it’s set much earlier.
Tell us a little about your visits to Ireland.
I have to travel to Ireland and talk to the people who actually do archaeology, antiquities experts and police detectives, so that I am describing their work and lives as accurately as possible. I also have to visit historic sites—castles, ruined monasteries, excavations in progress, private homes—to capture the textures and scents and sounds and flavors of the places I write about.
It’s off-the-beaten-path stuff, for sure. I’ve spent a few rainy days working in the trenches on bog excavations, climbed to the tops of mountains to visit burial cairns, interviewed policemen and antiquities experts in their respective habitats, and gathered details for scenes at tune sessions and dances in pubs and private homes.
Since 2010, I’ve also been leading tours to Ireland, to share some of my favorite places (and locations from my books) with readers and fans. That’s been a wonderful adventure. I just got back from a trip on July 14—we went to bogs, monasteries, abandoned villages, mountains and beaches, and a distillery. My secret plan is to kill someone in a distillery in a future novel so that I have to do A LOT of primary research.
Tell us about The Book of Killowen.
The Book of Killowen starts in the year 870 A.D., with a pair of scribes traveling across Ireland. The older man, a famous scholar, is attacked and murdered and sunk into a bog—along with the book he was carrying—setting in motion a twisted tale of greed and deception from the past that Nora and Cormac connect to events in the present day.
What are your favorite parts of writing?
Not gonna lie—I love the research; I can’t stop myself from doing it! I always turned in my college papers at the very last minute because I couldn’t stop researching. And I’m much happier rewriting than writing. I HATE doing the first draft! They’re always so horrible and I think, Who would ever read this? But my very favorite thing is that moment when the characters take on three-dimensionality—when they plump out and become real people I care about. That moment is magic.
Favorite memories related to writing?
Probably all the strange coincidences. Ireland’s a small place, but there’s no explanation for all the weird connections I’ve experienced. Just one example of many: I was finishing up Lake of Sorrows, which starts with a 2,000-year old man found in a bog. I’d done all the research I could on bog people, and was thinking, Where can I get some real-life information about a 2,000-year-old bog man? Just then, a friend emailed me a newspaper article about a body just discovered that was probably about 2,000 years old. What were the chances, right?