When Covid hit, RTÉ’s arts and media correspondent Sinéad Crowley left her usual pace and started reporting live from what was to become Ireland’s most famous conference room.
At the end of a long day listening to HSE and Nphet officials, the journalist and author escaped into the books of Daphne du Maurier, Shirley Jackson and Dorothy Macardle.
“At the time, work was overwhelming and Covid was overwhelming, so I started reading a lot of escapist fiction at night,” she said. “I think we’ve all watched and read things that would take us away from the day.”
She began writing what would become her fourth novel, The labyrinth of Belladonnain the midst of a pandemic.
The mystery thriller has a dual narrative – one storyline focuses on a young nanny and is set in 2007 while the other is set in the Famine-era 1800s.
A beautiful estate house or a large house serves as a fulcrum for the action.
“There’s a tradition of novels set around great English houses, so I thought of taking the big house book and putting it in an Irish setting,” Crowley said. The result is a historic ghost story.
It’s impressive that the author managed to find the time to write the book, given that she seemed to be on the news every other night telling us about the ever-changing Covid guidelines. She was also busy homeschooling her two children.
“I write in very short bursts,” she said. “I don’t have a huge amount of time, I don’t have the luxury of an entire weekend or retreats or anything.”
Working in the newsroom gave him the ability to meet deadlines.
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“If you give me an hour, I’ll definitely do it,” she said. “I write in the car when the children play sports. I know I can be disciplined during this hour. Even if I had one of these magical retreats, I’m not sure I would do more. I developed a very focused approach.
“It’s not easy, you have to like it. It must be a compulsion to write because you give up a lot. I always say that you do it instead of something else, that you write instead of watching Netflix or to go to the gym.
Crowley wrote throughout her life, and before landing a publishing deal she had already produced two novels. “Even if I was never published, I would still write,” she says.
Despite her literary success, she has no desire to quit her RTÉ day job. In fact, she said many of her insights came from press briefings, interviews, and news reports.
The concept behind The labyrinth of Belladonna came to her during interviews of families hosting concerts and festivals in stately Irish homes and properties.
“RTÉ and work give me ideas,” she said. “I often wonder what I would find if I just worked from home. It takes you to all these amazing stories and sparks these ideas. Having all of these experiences is really important for someone who writes fiction.
The labyrinth of Belladonna came out today.