Nearly fifteen years ago, a man was found dead on a beach in the north-west of Ireland. Nobody knew who he was or where he had come from. The man had taken steps to hide his identity by using a fake name, paying in cash, and disposing of his belongings as he travelled. To this day, he hasn’t been identified. That scene was the seed for my novel, Falling Animals – a nameless dead man, alone on a beach – but the story soon veered away from that. I fished around for other true stories – a shipwreck, an arson, an accident – and wove them together into something completely fictional.
I was more interested in the surrounding characters than the central mystery, so the novel is written from eighteen points of view. It follows many different lives as they cross paths with this dead man and also goes back in time to tell the history of the nearby village. But it was still tempting to try to solve this fifteen-year-old puzzle. I spent a lot of time on true crime message boards and even included some of the strangest theories I found in the novel. In the end, I didn’t discover the man’s identity, but I did come up with an answer that worked for the story I wanted to tell.
Falling Animals begins as a mystery: the who, how and why of one man’s death. But if somebody picks it up and skips to the last page for the answer, they’ll probably be disappointed. My hope is that readers won’t be too concerned with the man’s identity by the end – the other characters will have become just as important, their stories just as gripping. But any book is a conversation, and you can only hope that you’ve created something compelling enough that that your reader wants to listen.
The title is a reference to the fact that stranded dead animals are called ‘fallen animals’ – a lovely term for something so grisly. It made me think of the strange natural phenomenon of animal rain, where everything from birds and fish to frogs and spiders have been reported as raining down from the sky. At the beginning of the book, a dead man appears out of nowhere, as if he too has fallen from the sky. All of these ideas fed into the title: this man may have fallen, but the rest of the characters are still there – still falling, still alive.
You can now pre-order Falling Animals by Sheila Armstrong on our website.