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Deirdre Sullivan chats to Missy about her new book, ‘Perfectly Preventable Deaths’

Deirdre Sullivan chats to Missy about her new book, ‘Perfectly Preventable Deaths’

Alannah Murray

If you haven’t heard of the brand-new book ‘Perfectly Preventable Deaths’ you will be hearing a lot about it very soon!

In ‘Perfectly Preventable Deaths’ Irish writer, Deirdre Sullivan, mixes teen romance and drama with old Irish magic; creating a plot and characters that will have you glued to the pages until you finish.

A bit about ‘Perfectly Preventable Deaths’

Sixteen-year-old twins Madeline and Catlin move to a new life in Ballyfrann, a strange isolated Irish town, a place where the earth is littered with small corpses and unspoken truths. A place where, for generations, teenage girls have gone missing in the surrounding mountains.

As distance grows between the twins – as Catlin falls in love, and Madeline begins to understand her own nascent witchcraft – Madeline discovers that Ballyfrann is a place full of predators. And when Catlin falls into the gravest danger of all, Madeline must ask herself who she really is, and who she wants to be – or rather, who she might have to become to save her sister. got the chance to pick Deirdre’s brain and talk about her career as a writer and of course her brand new book, ‘Perfectly Preventable Deaths’.

Image via Deirdre Sullivan Books

What inspired you to become an author? 

Deidre: I had a kind of unusual journey in becoming an author. When I was in teaching college, in Marino, I signed up for an elective module called ‘Teachers Writers Fiction’. Before then I had written a few short stories because I was always very drawn to that adolescence time period. I just think that time period is really inspiring and it can be a difficult. Siobhán Parkinson, who was teaching the module, had written books that I had read and enjoyed so it was really exciting and it became very therapeutic for me.

Before then most of my writing had been for me and by the end of the course I had written a few things that she enjoyed one of which is a short story that I wrote and was actually released in September 2017 (Tangleweed and Brine). She asked me at the end of the course to consider writing a book for her new publishing imprint Little Island. So, all I had to do was not mess that up because that’s not an opportunity a lot of people are given.

Once I had done it once, there was a shift in that I knew I had done it before and I could do it again. So that was very freeing in me and the fact that someone had that much confidence in me to offer me that meant the world.

And I am not alone in that, I do feel with women who are in creative writing don’t have permission to go for the things that you want. All the things said from the media about not being good enough, even if it is not about exactly what you want, still can stand in your way. So, I would have still written, but if Siobhán hadn’t given me that chance it would not have come as early in my 20s. 

How would you get over a case of writer’s block? 

I have a few weird ways of getting over cases of writers block. I used to have a blog where I write ridiculous things about my guinea pigs. So, if I was writing something really dark and I felt like I don’t know where this is going or you write yourself into a corner or you just need to take a break from that darkness because it can have an impact in on your emotional state sometime. I would write ridiculous little stories about my guinea pigs that would remind me that it is supposed to be fun and you’re meant to enjoy it.

It’s not the most important thing in the world if you can’t write for a few days you’ll find something again and I think kind if giving yourself permission to do something that is just for you and doing something silly just for the crack of it I’d find that really nourishing for me.

I have a few other things on the go at the same time so if I get stuck with that I can go to other things and tweak them. Just to stay busy. 

Was Ireland a vital part to the storyline of ‘Perfectly Preventable Deaths‘? 

It was and it wasn’t. I think Irish writers are a unique kind of species and with our history, the folklore and mythology. And the language because we have the Irish language humming under the surface of our English.

There are ways that we structure sentences that are based on the Irish language and little words that creep in, so I am very aware that I am an Irish writer and all of my books are set in Ireland but because of the paranormal element to Ballyfrann it has a very specific sense of place and the witchcraft is kind of forged in the folklore and legends that I read as a child. Not explicitly because I didn’t want to draw too much in something that had already been written. They were all the stories I heard as a little girl kind of inspiring me to make up my own story.

I don’t think I could have set it in another country because I know Ireland and more specifically I know Galway.

Ballyfrann, where it is set is kind of a combination of my childhood places all mashed together in this specially Irish village. I don’t think I could’ve set it somewhere else but someone else could have done it, but I write about what I know best and that’s Ireland.

Was it a necessary to get some Irish words in there, like the word Mamó,? 

With Mamó, I wanted her to have a name that was a term of respect and there is a famous fairy that appeared a lot in the Folklore Collective called Nano Hayes and she would’ve been like an ageing witch/superhero type that you encounter solving problems in the village.

I suppose it’s a little bit of a nod to that and also the term grandmother; it’s a term of respect. So, if everyone calls her that, that is a particular way to acknowledge her knowledge and power because she is a powerful woman.


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Did you base your characters off real people? 

I don’t usually base my characters off real life people, but you do encounter things and people that teach you a little bit more about how the world works and how people cope with things and obviously that knowledge runs through your writing.

Madeline in the earlier drafts she was a little bit more like my younger brother, she was very studious, ambitious and motivated to become a doctor and I gave her that bit of drive from him.

While I was young I didn’t really know what I wanted to be or that a writer was a thing people do. To me it was like being a wizard. I had seen a doctor when I had been sick. I had seen a teacher when I had been in school, but you don’t meet any writers and you can think it’s not achievable or something.  

What was the main inspiration behind the story? 

I always start with characters as a writer, so I had started with Maddy and her voice and I got to know her quite well and little parts of her based off my brother.

Then for Caitlín – so when I was growing up I had a very close friendship with another girl who lived down the road from me. I didn’t have my own sister, but I had this person who was my very best friend and we were together all the time from the time we were three years old and I would consider her like she was my family. She would’ve influenced Caitlin a little bit; more the relationship between Madeline and Caitlin. The fact that I was writing everyday and I felt so close to Madeline and I understood the dynamic between them kept me going. 

How long did it take you to write Perfectly Preventable Deaths? 

It took 18 drafts and 6 years to write and each draft adds a little more it like putting skin and clothes on a skeleton and putting pretty hair on him. Each draft adds more to the story, but I already had some of the arc and I had some of the magical element before I started. 

Was it difficult to get the book published? 

In a sense because in the past I had only worked with Little Island and Siobhán who gave me my first book deal. There are three of them working really hard to get really good books out there and specifically to young Irish readers. They are amazing at nurturing the talent.

This book however is coming out with Hot Key and it was different because I was used to working with one editor so there were changes. But I found they were really helpful. I was a little worried because they are a UK publishers about how Irish the book is, with using the words Mamó, and having phrases in it the way that Irish people speak to each other but they were so open to the Irishness and supportive to my voice. Every new brain and every new person that you work with in this teaches you something new about what you are trying to do. 

Deidre’s new book Perfectly Preventable Deaths will be out on the 30th of May this year and is a must buy on your summer reading list. You can buy it on Amazon now.

For more book recommendations take a look at our book section.

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