Interview with J.A. Corrigan, author of Falling Suns

Today I’m welcoming debut novelist J.A. Corrigan to my blog as part of the Falling Suns blog tour. Her psychological thriller, Falling Suns, is published by Accent Press and will be released on the 14th July. It is available to pre-order on Amazon now.

J.A. Corrigan is holding a book launch for Falling Suns on Thursday 21st July 2016 at Daunt Books, 158-164 Fulham Rd, London SW10 9PR. If any readers would like to pop in for a glass of wine, contact J.A. at jacorrigan.writer@btinternet.com

My review follows the interview.

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Welcome, J.A.! Thanks for coming by to talk with us today about your writing, especially your debut novel, Falling Suns.

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credit: Graham Keutenius

Firstly, could you describe the story for readers?

Thank you for having me on here, Kendra.

The story is essentially a tale centred on the themes of grief, guilt and revenge. Rachel Dune’s son is brutally murdered. She is devastated, and feels some guilt that in part she is somehow to blame. Rachel is an ex-detective; she is mentally strong, and possesses a vigorous sense of what she thinks ‘right.’ Being an ex-policewoman she is endowed with many of the necessary emotional and physical ‘tools’ to carry out her revenge.

However, as Rachel moves closer to her target and begins to remember her own past, reservations emerge about both her actions, and motivation.

Why did you choose to write this story? Your novel contains some very dark, distressing themes which I can imagine would not have been easy to write about!

The idea for this story arose from, I suppose, being a mother, and all the emotional turmoil that comes with being a mother; the real angst and worry that something tragic could happen to your child. How would you cope? Especially when the child is brutally murdered, and as is so often the case, murdered by someone known to the family, or within the family itself. I thought hard about Rachel’s decision and path to revenge. I even did straw polls of mothers! Only a few said that they could not contemplate revenge – that to lose a child would be so devastating that any thoughts of reprisal would be the last thing on their mind. But as I questioned more, more mothers agreed that given a chance, and if they were given the opportunity to do so, they would indeed think about revenge. 
I carried out a lot of research for this novel, and some of the events are based loosely on that research; but as we all know, fact can be a lot stranger than fiction. I also wanted to explore areas of criminal behavior that are less well-documented and discussed.
Parallel with the revenge theme, I set out to explore institutional corruption and the effect it can have on the patients within those institutions. And so the story of Rachel’s revenge became woven into the murderer’s own tale.

Did you carry out any research for the novel? If so, could you describe this for readers?

As I have mentioned in the previous question, I did carry out extensive research for the novel. I read non-fiction books about the United States’ penal system, and many of those books were written by psychiatrists who had spent their life working with inmates on Death Row. I also researched psychiatric hospitals in the UK – looking online at old news reports etc. I am very lucky to know a criminal lawyer, who after years representing many of the people who were subsequently sectioned and sent to one of these institutions, now works as a lawyer sitting on mental health tribunal panels.

I also did substantial research into Method acting, speaking at length with an actress who was great in answering my questions, and generally really helping me understand not only about Method, but acting in general. I researched Chinese Medicine too, although as with some of the medical scenes with Rachel, I did draw upon my own medical background – I am a qualified physiotherapist and have used Chinese acupuncture for pain relief with my patients.

What obstacles, if any, did you encounter when writing Falling Suns?

I think the main obstacles were firstly, achieving the balance with Rachel’s character – she has to be strong and quite hard-nosed, but also emotionally fragile. Secondly, I did find writing the more harrowing scenes difficult and often found it hard-going to write them. In the end I had to take myself away and pretend I was someone else (like an actor) and just write those scenes.

I understand that an early draft of Falling Suns was longlisted for the 2013 Mslexia Novel Competition. How did making the longlist affect you as a writer? Do you think that being longlisted helped you to achieve publication?

I think for any aspiring novelist, being longlisted (and definitely shortlisted) in a prestigious writing competition can only be a motivator. It did give me the impetus to carry on, and rework the novel. I think being longlisted in the Mslexia competition made me realise that with more work ­I might just make the grade! The bar is set high these days. The standard of writing is towering in these competitions, as there are so many authors out there with talent, and a desire to succeed.

What do you feel you’ve gained through the writing of your novel?

With Falling Suns I honed more my craft both as a writer, and to a large extent – I think – became a ‘nicer’ human being. Writing Falling Suns encouraged me to think a lot about life, and the emotions of grief, loss and anger. About what is important, and what is not so important.

On a more practical level, writing Falling Suns really did hone my skills in writing a coherent story – a story with a beginning, middle and end. I think the novel taught me how to build some tension in the story, which is so important, and something that has taken me years to be able to do … well, I hope I manage to do it!

You’ve chosen to publish under your initials. Why did you choose to do this and what went into this decision?

In many ways, I wanted to be genderless. I wanted the writing and the book to stand-alone ­– away from my name, and me. I also quite like J.A. Corrigan!

I understand that you’re also a published short story writer. Do you feel that writing a novel was a natural next step for you? How did you make the transition?

I started my writing ‘career’ with the short story form and I think many writers do begin this way. The discipline of making every word count is essential to the novelist. The trick is – not to write the bits that the reader skips over and I truly believe writing shorts assists the aspiring novelist in achieving this.

I decided to write a novel when I realised that each short story I wrote was in fact like a mini-synopsis for a novel! I think I was itching to write a longer length work, although at the time I had no conception of how difficult it would turn out to be, which in retrospect is probably a good thing …  

Are there any future novels in the works?

Yes, I am working on my next novel, which is another dark tale and the same genre as Falling Suns.

Many thanks for coming to speak with us today, and best of luck with the publication of Falling Suns!

Falling Suns is available from Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Falling-Suns-J-Corrigan/dp/1786152495

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Falling-Suns-J-Corrigan-ebook/dp/B01FUI9NKY/

Falling Suns is also available from Waterstones: https://www.waterstones.com/book/falling-suns/julie-ann-corrigan/j-a-corrigan/9781786152497

The Guardian Bookshop: https://bookshop.theguardian.com/catalog/product/view/id/414323/

And WH Smith: http://www.whsmith.co.uk/products/falling-suns/9781786152497

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My review

Falling Suns is an emotionally intelligent, well-plotted thriller which explores the experience of being a mother, with its unwavering responsibilities and attachments which may not always be understood–or accepted—by others. Rachel and Liam Dune would appear to have a good life, when viewed from the outside. Rachel’s ever-helpful best friend, Charlotte, lives nearby as do her parents and aunt and uncle. Her husband, Liam, works from home as a renowned painter. So when Rachel eventually decides it’s time for her to go back to work as a detective it would seem that their son, seven year old Joe, will be well looked after in her absence.

Of course, appearances can be deceptive and sometimes what is hidden can be more dangerous than what we think we see. When Joe goes missing, his parents fear the worst. Rachel has worked on cases such as this herself, and understands more than she’d like to.  How will Rachel’s worst fears compare with the reality of what’s actually happened to Joe? When Joe is later found dead, and Rachel’s cousin Michael Hemmings admits to the crime, will her suffering give way to grief, or will it simply continue on, taking new and ever changing forms?

Four years after Michael Hemmings has been confined to a secure psychiatric unit, Rachel receives notification that he’s being moved to a less-secure unit in order to begin reintegrating him into society. Unable to bear the thought that Hemmings may one day be free, Rachel Dune decides to quit her job on the force in order to make sure that never happens. But to achieve her aim, she’ll have to cut ties with everyone, and everything, she thinks she knows.

Rachel’s character is the antithesis of the distraught, oppressed female heroine who silently suffers while the men in her life go out and right wrongs. Not only is Rachel a character to be reckoned with, but Corrigan does not shy away from showing readers the more disturbing elements of Rachel’s personality, thus turning female stereotypes on their head.

Corrigan explores the layers which make up families, friendship and society as a whole, and the ways in which relationships can go terribly wrong. Falling Suns raises interesting questions about the nature of the mental health institutions we have in place in modern-day Britain and how effective these are at both assisting individuals in need and in containing those few who really are a danger to others. Oh yes, and it’s a gripping read too.

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8 thoughts on “Interview with J.A. Corrigan, author of Falling Suns

  1. I loved this book – a really gripping read, gut-wrenching in places – and I so agree with your review comment: “Corrigan explores the layers which make up families, friendship and society as a whole, and the ways in which relationships can go terribly wrong.” Great interview, too!

    Liked by 1 person

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