It seems many journalists harbour a desire to branch out into fiction.
Today on Buried Under Books I’m privileged to be interviewing journalist and prize-winning short-story writer turned debut novelist Mary McCluskey about her emotionally complex novel, ‘Intrusion’.
In this dark and psychologically acute tale, a once happily-married couple are struggling to cope with the death of their only child. While Scott focuses on his career, cocooning himself in the comfort of chasing new corporate clients, Kat quits her job and drifts aimlessly through the days, unable to take pleasure in a world without Christopher.
Then, Sarah appears. Once an intimate friend of Kat’s, Sarah disappeared after an act of betrayal that devastated those around her. Now she’s back and making herself indispensable, to Kat and Scott, who are too vulnerable to question her motives. Gradually, it becomes clear that despite having everything she once wanted – money, land, power – Sarah wants one thing more, and she’ll do anything to get it…
Congratulations on the publication of ‘Intrusion’. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions about this intriguing domestic drama.
This is a dark read, partially because it’s centered on such a difficult topic: the loss of a child. What inspired you to make this one of the central focuses of your novel?
Iβm afraid the subject chose me.Β After my youngest son was killed in a traffic accident and I became βstuckβ in the grieving process, a therapist suggested that I attempt to write about it.Β I began a short story. The short story became a novel β Intrusion.
I am very sorry to learn of your loss and hope that you did find the writing process cathartic.
Your central characters, Kat and Scott, respond to their grief in completely different ways. Do you see these as typical female and male responses to a devastating loss or could you conceive of a workaholic Kat?
I believe that statistically men are more likely to throw themselves into work after a devastating loss but everyone grieves differently and yes, I can certainly imagine a workaholic Kat. I can imagine both parents losing themselves in work.Β Every permutation is possible!
Obviously, Kat is lost in her grief, and this is understandable – the mere thought of losing a child makes my heart stop – but did you ever find her irritating to write? She can be quite selfish while wallowing in her pain, and though I appreciate Scott is frequently equally oblivious to her needs, readers spend more time with Kat and witness her complete self-absorption more.
I didnβt find Kat irritating exactly but I do understand when readers want her to just buck up and get on with it. A few want to shake her!Β I wanted to describe her honestly, however, her self absorption, her loss of awareness of what was happening in her marriage, in order to show how vulnerable she is to Sarahβs interference.
Speaking of Sarah – I really enjoyed the gradual unveiling of Sarah’s story and her increasingly malign nature. She is undoubtedly the most fascinating character, perhaps because she is more complex than the others, or perhaps because her background is more challenging. Without wishing to spoil your ending, could you have pictured a different ending to her story?
Yes!Β I had a different ending at one point! Even now I wonder about it…
Intriguing! And speaking of the ending…after such a gradual unspooling of events, the ultimate climax is very swift and is followed by one brief chapter functioning as an epilogue. What made you decide to keep the ending so short?
Originally, the novel had a much longer chapter after the confrontational Kat/Sarah scene but it seemed to dilute the tension that had built up and so I shortened it to end while the tension was still high.Β Some readers like that, some do not. The jury is still out!
Fair enough! Finally, you’re a journalist and prize winning short story writer and so, having read ‘Intrusion’, whose spare prose and quite self-contained storyline nod towards those roots, I’d love to know what motivated you to move genres for this story.
Like many short story writers β and journalists β I always wanted to write a novel. I have two abandoned on my hard drive.Β But I could not abandon Intrusion; I simply had to see it through to the end.Β I held the characters in my head at all times and was intrigued by the personality of Sarah. She seemed to follow her own path, no matter what I planned for her.
My rather minimalist style is, yes, partly a result ofΒ journalistic training β I had an editor who constantly admonished me to βremove all the frills and flounces.β Some of my short stories have ventured into richer prose/poem territory and I love to play with language but I felt that a spare prose style worked best for this story.
Removing the frills and flounces definitely encourages readers to focus on the characterisation and the gathering storm clouds without distraction, making them are more ready to question Sarah than Kat or Scott are, which adds to the subtle ‘pull’ of the story. I really wanted Kat and Scott to wake up to Sarah, partly just to see how Sarah would handle that!
Anyway, thank you once again for your time and for your responses.
Thank you for these questions!
Want to know more about ‘Intrusion’? I’ll post a review soon, but you can learn more by visiting the other blogs involved in the tour – see below!
Many thanks again to Mary McCluskey for taking the time to answer my questions and for making Buried Under Books a stop on her blog tour.