After 10 years of living and working South London, author Clare Donoghue decided to escape the rat race and move back to her home town in Somerset to do an MA in creative writing.
It proved to be a good move because her first novel, The Watcher, was long listed for the Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger award for unpublished authors.
Although it remains unpublished it inspired Clare to carry on writing and in 2013 she published her murder mystery thriller Never Look Back.
Set in Lewisham it featured the borough’s murder squad headed up by DI Mike Lockyear who investigate a serial killer responsible for the deaths of three women.
Things are complicated further when another woman, who fits the profile of the other murdered women, fears she is being stalked by someone unknown.
Creepy, dramatic and with a gripping plot, it received critical acclaim from readers and critics alike.
Fans of the book will now be delighted to learn that Clare has picked up her pen again to write a sequel, No Place To Die, which once more follows the exploits of DI Lockyear and his team as they patrol the streets of Lewisham, Southwark and Greenwich fighting crime.
The plot is somewhat darker and whereas in Never Look Back, the victim was the main character, this time it’s DS Jane Bennett who is centre stage. She takes charge following her boss Mike’s suspension at the end of the previous book for becoming involved with a female witness who was then murdered.
No Place To Die starts with the team making a grim discovery of a man made tomb and in it the body of a missing university student under Elmstead Woods.
It leads them on a winding case through psychologists and dodgy academic practises in and around South East London.
And with Jane often feeling as though she is floundering while her boss fights his own demons, she eventually finds herself in danger.
“It’s very dark,” admits Clare when I chat to her about the book. “When I signed the deal it was for two books so I’d already created the synopsis for the second by the time I had finished the first.
“My inspiration for No Place To Die was a nightmare I’d had as a child. When I was quite young I had a recurring dream of being buried alive and not being able to breathe. It was very scary and I would imagine for many people, it’s their worst nightmare.
“I realised it could work as a premise for a story and so I did some research about it which was fascinating and freaked me out a bit – and still does – but it has cured me of the nightmare!”
The story is both gripping and frightening especially the descriptions of the student whose life gradually ebbs away as she lies alone in the underground tomb.
It is extremely chilling and there are lots of twists and turns along the way making it a real page turner.
One of the best bits about it is that it’s so descriptive. Indeed the attention to geographical detail is spot on – and for anyone who lives in South East London all the locations within the book are instantly recognisable.
Reading it I felt as though I was right there with the characters, so realistic were the references.
“I lived in Nunhead for about 10 years when I was working in London so I know the area well,” says Clare.
“Lewisham has a big murder squad and it’s home to the biggest police station in Europe and it always gave me a massive amount of inspiration so it made sense to base it there.
“I don’t live there anymore but I do love coming up to South London on my research trips and pounding the patch. Lewisham has and is changing massively even in the few years since I’ve been way.”
But why leave in the first place I ask.
“I was working as a deputy credit manager in a law firm but had always wanted to write,” she says.
“My writing at school was dreadful, I don’t think I had any aptitude, my spelling was bad and grammar was over my head. I wrote lots of stories but realised I had no idea what I was doing. There was no proper structure, I only had short scenes and I didn’t know how to make the bits in between interesting.
“I’d always loved puzzles and reading crime fiction and had writers I admired such as Stephen King, David Hewson, Tess Gerrittsen and Sharon Bolton and I couldn’t wait for their books to come out.
“After a while I realised that I actually really wanted to give writing a serious go and if I didn’t do it soon I’d never do it.
“But to do it I needed to do a writing course.”
So she quit her job, upped sticks and moved back to Taunton and wrote her first book whilst doing her MA.
By the end of the course she had The Watcher under her belt and had “totally got the writing bug”.
“It was a big risk but it was the best thing I’ve ever done,” she laughs. “I was a complete dunce on the course but absorbed everything they threw at me. Even just mastering the basic writing helped and gave me confidence and I realised I could do it.”
“Eventually I was writing characters and situations I was comfortable with and by the end of the course I had written The Watcher.
“No Place To Die was done in about six months which was very quick but I was on a bit of a roll and I found it easier to do than Never Look Back!
“I’d never go back to my old life,” she adds warmly. “This suits my personality, I love the space I have here to write and although it’s tough, I want to keep going.”
So are there plans for a follow up to No Place To Die?
“Oh yes definitely,” she says enthusiastically. “I’ve just about written the third which will be published hopefully next March and I’ve got ideas for future books.
“I’d love to write a series of stories featuring Mike and Jane and their team – I’ve certainly got lots of ideas for plots and characters that pop into my head all the time.
“They are definitely fictional characters, though Jane is most similar to me and a bit of a goodie two shoes.
“I wanted to give her more prominence in the second story but in the third we see them run together on the case and we get to see more of the team they work with.
“What I want is to make my books enjoyable, easy reads, something that someone can get stuck into and that will make them miss their stop or read one more chapter before they go to sleep – that’s what I’m aiming for!”
No Place To Die, by Clare Donoghue is published by Pan Macmillan. RRP £7.99.