And she’s totally okay with that.
The lawyer-turned-writer moved here eight years ago and while she will likely never soften her Galway burr, she says she finally feels like Australia is her home.
As she prepares to release her third crime novel this week — The Good Turn, starring her popular detective Cormac Reilly — McTiernan says she has embraced the Aussie culture.
“If you’d asked me a few years ago, I would have hesitated on the question of whether I feel like Australia is home,” the mother-of-two tells the Sunday Book Club from her Perth home.
“I have to recognise that the accent is going nowhere and in many ways I’m as Irish as it gets.
“But I do feel Australian now, in fact, it’s official because I have an Australian passport now. My children are very Australian: Oisin was born here, Freya came here when she was two, they’re growing up in Australian schools doing Australian things with Australian friends. Once that happens the country just sneaks into your heart one way or another.
“It was a bit of a shock the first time I went back to Galway and felt like I was a visitor, then I flew back to Perth and as the plane came in, I felt like I was coming home.
“It just felt right.”
In many ways McTiernan is a risk taker, swapping countries just one example of this. At the same time she moved to Australia with her young family, she ditched her career as a lawyer in favour of finally writing that bestseller.
Again, the gamble paid off. But the publication of her debut novel, The Ruin, which introduced Detective Cormac Reilly, came at almost the exact same time she received devastating medical news.
As an exercise in procrastination one night in 2014, McTiernan submitted a 140-character Twitter pitch for the police procedural she had been working on and an agent “liked” her pitch — so she sent off the first 50 pages, thinking nothing much of it.
About a month later, on a cold July morning, McTiernan’s life was turned upside down in a good-news-bad-news scenario.
“I’d been getting some headaches and my husband had encouraged me to get it checked out, so I popped down to the GP to pick up some results, not thinking much about it,” McTiernan recalls. “The GP was quite nervous and she said ‘Dervla you have a brain tumour and it’s serious, it’ll have to come out.’
“Afterwards I was sitting in the car Googling the number for a neurosurgeon and my phone buzzed with an email at the exact same moment, no word of a lie. It was the literary agent to say she’d read my first 50 pages and she loved them, would I send her the manuscript.”
In the three weeks between the diagnosis and her brain surgery McTiernan distracted herself with finalising her novel to get it ready to present as a complete manuscript. It went out to publishers on a Friday and by Tuesday she had her first offer from a publisher. Within two weeks she had six offers on the table.
It sold to HarperCollins in Australia after a six-way auction for the Australian rights and also to publishers in the UK, Ireland, the US, Canada and Germany.
The Ruin tells the story of 15-year-old Maude and her five-year-old brother Jack, who are found by a rookie Cormac Reilly in a country house, their mother dead upstairs from an overdose. It was a wildly popular and exciting debut novel, even turning the head of Irish actor Colin Farrell, whose production company secured the rights, presumably with the idea he would play the competent but flawed detective.
While many optioned novels never make it to the big screen, The Ruin is moving along nicely. McTiernan reveals the producer, Lee Magiday of the Oscar Award-winning The Favourite, called recently to tell her they are having creative meetings to find writers.
The Good Turn, out this week through HarperCollins, completes the Cormac Reilly series. The novel opens with the abduction of a young girl, the only witness an ailing boy who watches from a distant bedroom window. In a style that has become a trademark of McTiernan’s, the story that unfolds involves murder and police corruption.
It is not lost on McTiernan that, despite her background as a lawyer, she chose to write crime novels from a police procedural perspective.
“I was completely clueless to begin with,” she says of her police knowledge when she was writing her first book. “To be completely honest with you, I wandered around in all different directions and at a certain point I realised I needed to put some structure around (the story of Maude and Jack) and the police procedural structure was the thing that pulled the story together.
“I didn’t know a whole lot and even now, I definitely adapt what I research to work for the story. If you take a major murder, the way those cases are run is with a very strict hierarchy and with a lot of people involved. The minutiae of the day-to-day work just wouldn’t work for the novel.
“A lot of the time, I feel like I’m making a deal with this imaginary cop reader saying ‘OK, it’s not 100 per cent, but it’s almost there, right?’ I have this internal conversation while writing and hope he or she will let me off.”
McTiernan, who leads a new wave of female crime writers in a traditionally male-dominated genre, is ramping up to promote The Good Turn, but her mind is on the next novel. And again, it’s one of those good-news-bad-news scenarios for her legion of fans.
That she is deep in writing her fourth novel is the good news. That it won’t feature Cormac Reilly is the bad.
“I’ve been thoroughly warned that I’m not allowed to talk about my new book,” she says. “But I can tell you that it’s not a police procedural, it’s more of a mystery. And it’s a stand-alone book, it’s not a Cormac book.
“I hadn’t really thought about it until a friend said to me ‘Do you think your fans will be disappointed it’s not a Cormac book?’ I don’t know if the one after that one will be a Cormac book, I haven’t decided that yet, I don’t think I’m ready to farewell him altogether yet.
“I think I was ready to try something new and I think the readers will be ready for that too.”
The Good Turn, by Dervla McTiernan and published by HarperCollins Australia, is on sale from February 24.
If you’re keen to meet Dervla, she’ll be doing events across the country over the next few weeks. Details and tickets at https://dervlamctiernan.com/events/
Our Book of the Month is Beth Morrey’s Saving Missy. Get it for a Sunday Book Club 30 per cent discount at Booktopia with the code MISSY. And do drop in to the Sunday Book Club Facebook group for great chat with fellow booklovers.