Interview with Don Cameron – Author of Marked Off – Interview by J Stuart Cross
Find out more about Don Cameron and Marked Off here. Marked off is published by New Island.
You won the ‘Get your book published’ competition, how complete was the book at that stage? Has it changed much since?
The book was completed at the time I submitted it to the competition. Since then, however, there were some changes during the editorial process with the staff at New Island Books, who published the book, but nothing major.
There have been no character changes, but some dialogue has been added and the overall grammar improved. It definitely reads better now.
You’ve had over 40 short stories published, how different is writing short story to writing a novel?
It’s about size. Going from writing a three, ten or twenty page short story to writing a novel with nearly 300 pages is a significant step up. Planning such an enterprise was daunting and I had to learn as I went along. Choosing characters, places, scenes, dialogue and pace, that are the lifeblood of the book, was new and demanding. That was very tough, as was keeping abreast of ‘where the story was’ when I was writing.
Writing a book is definitely a marathon and not a sprint, so it is vital that you commit and stay with it. The phrase ‘believe and achieve’ was the one that really helped me persevere.
There is an accountant character in the book. You used to be an accountant. Does that character reflect you? Did you do that to see how you would feel yourself in that situation?
The accountant character happens to be Mr Average living in the leafy suburb of Booterstown whose life is wrecked by his wife’s brutal murder. It could have happened to anyone.
He bears no similarities to me other than that we shared a particular profession.
The novel is set in and around Dublin but particularly Booterstown. Why did you choose that area? Was it because it is a quite a safe suburban area?
I was working there as a Polling Clerk during an election when I got the idea for the story. The fact that it is a nice, quiet neighbourhood where brutal murder does not usually happen made it a suitable place for the story. I know the area well so I was comfortable setting the story there.
Danny often says he is having a ‘nightmare’ and that he has demons. Why did you want Danny to have lost something too, to be a bit haunted?
Danny O’Neill lost his beautiful wife and he feels guilty about that. He is also haunted by the case of Helen Murray, the only one that he never solved. These are his demons, and the opportunity to catch the killer in Marked Off will bring O’Neill some relief. It is about him overcoming difficulties, achieving redemption and moving on with his life.
Marked Off deals well with the press and what they do and report during a murder hunt. You speculate what coverage would be like for Ireland’s first serial killer. What makes murder so fascinating?
I think that murder interests people because of what it does – it ends a life, which is the most precious thing. The fact that many murderers are often so ‘normal-looking’ is profound and worrying. That they can strike without warning and ruin lives is a deep threat that holds huge fear, no matter how much people wish to hide it. And, of course, a good murder-mystery story that keeps the pages turning and asks questions of the reader offers a very satisfying experience.
The coverage of real life cases like the Graham Dwyer murder trial have proven the Irish interest in murder cases. Do you think the press stoke the interest in these cases?
I don’t know exactly, but the sensationalism of that case and others always gets a response. Writing about a court case with its legal complexities, sordid findings and the damaged lives that are on show is a bit like looking at a car crash. It’s the old ‘glad it’s not me’ syndrome, but it still draws a visceral reaction.
Your characters are very wary of the ‘CSI’ stuff but Christine O’Connor is a profiler. Was it important to show the Garda as a modern force?
Yes. I don’t think that my characters are wary of ‘CSI stuff’ as they are, first of all, aware of it, and secondly, its cutting-edge nature is seen as something that really should be embraced – if a little reluctantly.
Lots of the male characters, but usually baddies, leer at women in the book and the major incidents of violence mainly happen to women, do you feel this reflects society?
Yes, more women are killed than men and that is probably not going to change for some time. Over 90 per cent of murderers are men, and women are more often than not the targets of their rage. In murder, sadly, there is most certainly inequality for women.
Do you think of the italicised narrator, who identifies himself as the murderer as being the actual murderer’s voice or part of Christine or Danny’s profiling?
The italicised narrative is that of the killer to show his separation from normality – our normality, not his. His disassociation is based on his abusive and loveless upbringing, and the narrative tells his story and how he goes about avenging the cause of his pain. It is the direct opposite to O’Neill’s search for redemption.
Do you think we will see more of Inspector Danny O’Neil?
Yes, definitely. I have already begun a new book with O’Neill and his team busier than ever. Some of the scenes will be new, and the Inspector soon finds himself under pressure on different fronts.
Find out more about Don Cameron and Marked Off here.