Siobhan MacDonald, who spent the first eight years of her life in Bishopstown before moving to Limerick where she is back living, says it took her “quite a while to come to my happy place. I think you should probably follow where your heart lies.”
But Siobhan, married to a Scotsman and mother to two grown-up sons, graduated in the 1980s in the height of a recession.
“It was like the situation we’re going to find ourselves in now. We were in the doldrums in the ’80s.
“I was very interested in history, English and creative writing. I also studied French and Latin at school and for balance, I did physics and maths. I was encouraged to do electronic engineering to widen my prospects of getting a job. The chances of getting a job with an arts degree were slim.”
One of six women on her electronic engineering degree course at NUI Galway where she won a scholarship, Siobhan says that the rest of the class of 22 students “were a nice bunch of lads. Everyone was treated the same.”
When Siobhan graduated, she remembers thinking she didn’t want to be working in some kind of lab ‘soldering iron’.
“ I knew I wanted to pursue writing in some shape or form.”
Siobhan spotted an ad for a job as a technical writer in Scotland which she felt would blend in with her background in technology and the sciences and her interest in writing. The company was in Dundee. It manufactured and designed the software as well as the industrial design packaging for ATMs.
“I got the job and trotted off to Scotland. There are courses now in technical writing and you can get a degree in it at UL.
“When I started out, it was all learning on the job and going on training courses. I went on and worked for various telecom companies.”
One such job took her to the south of France.
“The company did telecoms for airlines. I was writing in English and I got to travel. I was up and down to Paris and I was sent to New York. I had a really nice company apartment in the Cote d’Azur, close to the beach.”
While that sounds idyllic, Siobhan returned to Scotland as she had started going out with a guy from there who is now her husband.
She began to think seriously about writing and entered a number of writing competitions when she was in Scotland.
“I sat down in my study one night and started to write a story. It took off from there.”
Siobhan published her first novel, Twisted River, in 2016.
“It was a romantic novel that morphed into a thriller. I realised that my flair is for writing something with a mystery at its heart. I think I fit more neatly into the thriller genre.”
Siobhan’s second novel was The Blue Pool. It was translated into French and German. Her third novel, Guilty, was inspired by an incident that she read about in a newspaper.
“It was an horrific incident. I tried to imagine if there was any way you could make sense of it and if what happened afterwards was understandable or acceptable. I can’t say what the incident was as it would spoil the story.”
Siobhan, who won an award from the Department of Education for the most creative essay in the Inter Cert, and was always writing letters to friends in the days before email, as well as writing short stories, was destined for the creative life.
She and her husband moved to Limerick during the Celtic Tiger years. Siobhan’s grandmother had been all the time writing to her, saying there were loads of jobs in Ireland and would she consider coming home.
“I thought we should give it a try. When I came back, I did a lot of work for telecoms companies involved in mobile telephony.”
Much of Siobhan’s work was product description and writing marketing material as well as user guides. She also wrote articles on a freelance basis.
“It’s only latterly that I concentrated on fiction,” she says.
Siobhan is published in the UK and Ireland by Little, Brown, in the US and Canada by Viking Penguin, in France by Archipel and in Germany by Piper. She shows her work to her first readers, a group of three people. She then sends a draft off to her agent in London. After getting feedback, she makes any necessary changes. Siobhan’s agent is then responsible for sending off her submissions to publishers.
Siobhan writes every day.
“Because it’s so absorbing, the characters in my head almost become real people. It can be really hard to switch off. I have all these ideas going around in my head. I try to have wind down time to be switched off by tea-time.”
Siobhan found the Covid-19 lockdown hard.
“In the beginning, it was inordinately hard to get the concentration to write. It’s so surreal. You wake up every day. You wonder if this is really happening. Your brain has to click in. It’s one of those things that will only make sense when we look back on it.”
With two ideas for books, Siobhan is wondering if she’ll work the pandemic into the narrative.
“I’m not sure if people will want to read about the pandemic.
“At the same time, we don’t know how long it will last.”
It could well be the backdrop of much new fiction.
Published by Constable, Guilty, by Siobhan MacDonald, starts with Doctor Luke Forde, who has the perfect life. A respected heart surgeon, he has a rewarding job, a successful wife, and a daughter, Nina.
From their beautiful house overlooking Carberry Lough in County Clare, they present a family of family bliss. But over the course of a weekend, Luke’s life spirals into chaos.
It begins with the word ‘GUILTY’ painted on his boathouse one morning. Then he notices a chilling notice in the local newspaper announcing a death. When this is followed by the delivery of a small coffin-shaped package with a decapitated, bloody effigy, Luke is terrified. Someone knows the dark secret he is hiding.
And someone is out to get him.
Luke begins to be plagued by horrifying anonymous messages, and it transpires that it’s not only him the sender is intending to harm — it’s his daughter, too.
With strange things happening in the operating theatre, Alison’s political ambitions straining their marriage, and Nina’s behaviour sparking all sorts of trouble, Luke turns to therapist Terence Black.
Is the therapist the only one that can save Luke and his family from the horrendous secrets of the past?