When the first lockdown hit Ireland on March 27, 2020, I was living alone with no home-schooling to worry about, and I was already working from home and had been for years. So I hunkered down and started baking banana-bread, binge-watching Tiger King, developing a costly LEGO obsession, hunting for hand-sanitiser stocks and having cocktails over an app intended for corporate video-conferencing. What I should have been doing was writing the first draft of my fifth novel, which centred on the aftermath of a shooting in a nightclub and opened with a scene of casual international travel. But as the days wore on – and the lockdown got extended beyond its initial two weeks – that story idea started to feel more and more like science-fiction to me. Eventually, I hit a wall.
Then I heard England’s deputy chief medical officer suggest that new couples either break up or, effectively, shack up in order to adhere to the ‘no mixing between households’ rule in the coming weeks. For years, I’d had an idea at the back of my brain about a couple who meet and fall in love but all is not what it seems. I knew who they were and what the truth was, but I had nothing in between. No plot to speak of. Suddenly, there it was: lockdown.
She would see it as a way of starting a new relationship without the scrutiny of her family, but he’d see it as a way to hide who – and what – he really is.
Ciara and Oliver would meet in Dublin in early March 2020 and then decide to move-in together once lockdown hit, with only a few dates in between. They wouldn’t tell anyone about this, because they’d both acknowledge it was a little crazy, and not seeing anyone else – no family, no friends, no colleagues – would mean they’d be entirely isolated in their own little bubble with no one to contradict or comment on anything that might say. She would see it as a way of starting a new relationship without the scrutiny of her family, but he’d see it as a way to hide who – and what – he really is.
Writing a novel set in lockdown was a gamble, but then writing any type of novel always is. I assure readers, however, that this isn’t a ‘pandemic novel’. No one gets sick. That first lockdown is merely our setting. I like to think that for both me and these characters, this story would’ve happened anyway. Lockdown just gave us both a unique opportunity for it to happen this way.
Catherine Ryan Howard’s debut novel Distress Signals was published by Corvus in 2016 while she was studying English literature at Trinity College Dublin. It went on to be shortlisted for both the Irish Crime Novel of the Year and the CWA John Creasey/New Blood Dagger. Her second novel The Liar’s Girl was published to critical acclaim in 2018 and was a finalist for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for Best Novel 2019. That same year Rewind was shortlisted for the Irish Crime Novel of the Year and was an Irish Times bestseller. In 2020 The Nothing Man was shortlisted for the Irish Book awards. She is currently based in Dublin.