Today I’m delighted to feature Irish author W. C. Ryan who writes haunting, atmospheric mysteries. The latest, The Winter Guest, was published yesterday and is set during the Irish War of Independence. As William Ryan, he is also the author of The Constant Soldier and the Korolev series of historical crime novels set in the Soviet Union during Stalin’s Great Terror. His books have been shortlisted for numerous awards, including the CWA’s Steel, Historical and New Blood Daggers, the Irish Fiction Award and the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year.
William lives in London with his wife and son and is a keen cyclist and licensed mudlarker. You can often find him mudlarking on the Thames at night; wearing wellingtons and a head torch.
Over to William:
Which five pieces of music/songs would you include in the soundtrack to your life and why?
Nick Cave and the Bad Seed’s version of Gloria is spectacular, particularly live – and always puts me in a good mood. I can picture a scene with me cycling along some deserted road with it playing in the background.
We played The Wild Colonial Boy by The Clancy Brothers at my father’s funeral. I didn’t always get on with my father, but that song was one that he liked and it seemed a fitting way to send him off.
Cannonball by The Breeders is another song I love and this has reminded me I should listen to it again. The lyrics don’t make much sense but I’m not sure that’s always necessary.
A Message to You, Rudy by The Specials could play when I decided to write my first novel. I think changing career from being a lawyer to a writer was the moment when I straightened out, strange as it may seem.
Finally, Lose Yourself by Eminem, with its reminder that life is a series of opportunities that should be taken.
What five things (apart from family and friends) would you find it hard to live without.
You could leave me on a desert island with that lot and I’d be happy enough.
Give five pieces of advice to your younger self?
Work harder at writing from an earlier age would be the first. I always wanted to write but I left it until quite late.
I think I’d also remind myself to keep your friends close. There are people who I have fallen out of touch with over time that I regret.
I think I’d also tell myself to slow down and think about who you are and who you want to be from time to time. We can get caught up by the details of day to day life and lose our sense of direction.
I would probably remind myself that almost every problem is also an opportunity, if only to show the strength and determination to overcome it.
Finally, I would encourage myself to look for adventure and to step away from my comfort zone wherever possible. The challenging path is often the most rewarding.
Tell us five things that most people don’t know about you
I cycled across the Andes, twice.
I used to fence sabre to a reasonable level.
I am a member of the Detection Club, admission to which requires an oath sworn on a skull to not use secret passages in your novels. This is an oath that I promptly broke in A House of Ghosts.
I can wiggle my ears, very slightly, without moving my scalp.
Finally, I was taught how to play cricket by John Hurt.
Tell us five things you’d still like to do or achieve.
I would like to write a book a year, which I’m just about on course to do at the moment.
I’d like to cycle Norway’s Arctic Highway and hopefully avoid hungry polar bears.
In an ideal world, I’d grow my own food, although I will probably need a garden to achieve that.
I would like one of my novels to be adapted for screen, and for me to do the adaptation.
Last, but not least, I’d like to run a marathon, even though I slightly hate running.
Many thanks for joining me today William, you’ve got my new season of ‘Fives’ off to a cracking start. A great eclectic music mix, it’s good to hear something different, it makes me (aptly) step outside of my own musical comfort zone. I have travelled down the Andes, but from the comfort of a train, in my mind, mountains and bikes don’t mix – you clearly do have a sense of adventure. I hope you’ll still be a member of the Detection Club after admitting to breaking the oath – is there some dastardly forfeit as punishment? Here’s hoping you get to achieve those dreams on your list. I’m sure the success of The Winter Guest will be the catalyst for many more books to come.
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The Winter Guest
The drive leads past the gate house and through the trees towards the big house, visible through the winter-bared branches. Its windows stare down at Harkin and the sea beyond . . .
January 1921. Though the Great War is over, in Ireland a new, civil war is raging. The once-grand Kilcolgan House, a crumbling bastion shrouded in sea-mist, lies half empty and filled with ghosts – both real and imagined – the Prendevilles, the noble family within, co-existing only as the balance of their secrets is kept.
Then, when an IRA ambush goes terribly wrong, Maud Prendeville, eldest daughter of Lord Kilcolgan, is killed, leaving the family reeling. Yet the IRA column insist they left her alive, that someone else must have been responsible for her terrible fate. Captain Tom Harkin, an IRA intelligence officer and Maud’s former fiancé, is sent to investigate, becoming an unwelcome guest in this strange, gloomy household.
Working undercover, Harkin must delve into the house’s secrets – and discover where, in this fractured, embattled town, each family member’s allegiances truly lie. But Harkin too is haunted by the ghosts of the past and by his terrible experiences on the battlefields. Can he find out the truth about Maud’s death before the past – and his strange, unnerving surroundings – overwhelm him?
A House of Ghosts
Winter 1917. As the First World War enters its most brutal phase, back home in England, everyone is seeking answers to the darkness that has seeped into their lives.
At Blackwater Abbey, on an island off the Devon coast, Lord Highmount has arranged a spiritualist gathering to contact his two sons who were lost in the conflict. But as his guests begin to arrive, it gradually becomes clear that each has something they would rather keep hidden. Then, when a storm descends on the island, the guests will find themselves trapped. Soon one of their number will die.
For Blackwater Abbey is haunted in more ways than one . . .
The Holy Thief: Shortlisted for the 2011 Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year (Moscow Noir Book 1)
Moscow, 1936, Stalin’s Great Terror is beginning and, in a deconsecrated church, a young woman is found dead. Captain Alexei Korolev, finally beginning to enjoy the benefits of his success as a detective with the Moscow Militia, is asked to investigate. But when he discovers that the victim is an American citizen, the NKVD – the most feared organization in Russia – becomes involved. Soon, Korolev’s every step is under close scrutiny and one false move will mean exile to the frozen camps of the far north.
Committed to uncovering the truth behind the gruesome murder, Korolev enters the realm of the Thieves, rulers of Moscow’s underworld. As more bodies are discovered and pressure from above builds, Korolev begins to question who he can trust and who, in a Russia where fear, uncertainty and hunger prevail, are the real criminals. Soon, Korolev will find not only his moral and political ideals threatened, but also his life.
The Bloody Meadow: Shortlisted for the Irish Crime Novel of the Year 2011 (Moscow Noir Book 2)
Following his investigations in The Holy Thief, Captain Alexei Korolev is uneasy– his new-found knowledge is dangerous, and if some of his actions during the case come to light, he will face deportation to the frozen camps of the far north.
But when the knock on the door comes, in the dead of night, it is not Siberia Korolev is destined for. Instead, the detective is asked to look into the suspected suicide of a young woman, Maria Lenskaya, and when the detective arrives on the set for Bloody Meadow, in the bleak, famine-scarred Ukraine, he soon discovers that there is more to Lenskaya’s death than meets the eye . . .
The Twelfth Department: Guardian Crime Novel of the Year 2013 (Moscow Noir Book 3)
Moscow, 1937. Captain Korolev, a police investigator, is enjoying a long-overdue visit from his young son Yuri when an eminent scientist is shot dead within sight of the Kremlin and Korolev is ordered to find the killer.
It soon emerges that the victim, a man who it appears would stop at nothing to fulfil his ambitions, was engaged in research of great interest to those at the very top ranks of Soviet power. When another scientist is brutally murdered, and evidence of the professors’ dark experiments is hastily removed, Korolev begins to realise that, along with having a difficult case to solve, he’s caught in a dangerous battle between two warring factions of the NKVD. And then his son Yuri goes missing . . .
The Constant Soldier
Shortlisted for the HWA Endeavour Ink Gold Crown.
1944. Paul Brandt, a soldier in the German army, returns wounded and ashamed from the bloody chaos of the Eastern front to find his village home much changed and existing in the dark shadow of an SS rest hut – a luxurious retreat for those who manage the concentration camps, run with the help of a small group of female prisoners who – against all odds – have so far survived the war.
When, by chance, Brandt glimpses one of these prisoners, he realizes that he must find a way to access the hut. For inside is the woman to whom his fate has been tied since their arrest five years before, and now he must do all he can to protect her.
But as the Russian offensive moves ever closer, the days of this rest hut and its SS inhabitants are numbered. And while hope – for Brandt and the female prisoners – grows tantalizingly close, the danger too is now greater than ever.
And, in a forest to the east, a young female Soviet tank driver awaits her orders to advance . . .
Great interview – I must admit I’d not heard of this writer, but I will look for his books now – especially The Winter Guest, as I have a little book of collected interviews with Irish women writers talking about their childhoods, and in it Molly Keane describes her family’s life as part of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy in the early part of the 20th century, and the eventual burning down of their house. Later in life she appeared to have no resentment about it.
I enjoy this feature very much.
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Thanks Rosemary I’m really pleased to know you enjoy this feature. It is a different way of discovering new authors. It sounds like The Winter Guest could be a good companion piece to the Molly Keane interview.