Horror writer Graham Masterton says raw material can be found in the newspaper's court pages

A writer of more than 35 horror novels as well as crime fiction tells Caroline Delaney of the chilling moment when art imitates life — sometimes on the streets of Cork.

SOME writers seem to hate being asked about the inspiration behind their fiction — almost as if you’re accusing them of being lazy. 

Not so the extremely prolific Graham Masterton.

The 70-year-old crime and horror author has written more than 35 horror novels and dozens of thrillers, works of historical fiction and short stories — and 29 sex manuals, though more on those later.

One of his current projects is the Katie Maguire series — a detective series focusing on the work and personal life of fictional Detective Superintendent Katie Maguire, stationed in Cork. 

She investigates drug dealers, petty criminals, rapists, killers and corrupt colleagues — all while weaving a tangled love life.

While the series is definitely fiction, Masterton gleefully details where a lot of his ideas and characters’ names come from.

“I moved to Ireland with my wife, Wiescka, — originally for tax reasons — and we fell in love with Cork. We lived here for five years,” he says.

His wife died in 2011 and he has moved back to England but he still keeps up with real-life events and issues in Cork: “I read the Irish Examiner every day. Those court stories are so rich and I like to keep up with issues which are affecting people and I try to get back as often as I can.”

Many of the crimes Maguire tackles are inspired by ongoing news reports and court situations — dog-napping has been a recurrent problem in Ireland in recent years, whether for resale or, more appallingly, for dogfight baiting. And this crime features heavily in Masterton’s latest Katie Maguire novel, Buried Alive.

Masterton laughs: “The name ‘Katie Maguire’ came from Katie O’Sullivan, an Irish reporter friend, and Denis Maguire, who runs the Cork School of Hairdressing on Oliver Plunkett Street and used to cut my hair!”

Somewhat chillingly life seems to imitate art too sometimes as Masterton notes: “I feel a very close connection to Cork, and who knows if it’s a spiritual connection of some kind or just coincidence, but almost every time I write about some incident in the city in one of my Katie Maguire books, sooner or later it seems to happen for real.”

He goes on to list details of cars in the River Lee and episodes of business premises’ arson which took place after but are very similar to events in his writing. 

He has now been formally requested to ensure that nothing bad happens to any Cork journalists in his next book.

Masterton almost seems unstoppable — many writers might rest on their laurels for a while. 

He has had novels adapted for film; he has won a Special Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America and a Silver Medal from the West Coast Review of Books and he is the only non-French winner of the prestigious Prix Julia Verlanger and his latest Katie Maguire book was just released in the summer.

However, he’s already well into the next one in the series. 

Dead Girls Dancing will be released, first as an e-book — in time for Christmas. This one sees Maguire investigate the “strange, obsessive world of Irish folk dancing”.

And for a writer who began his career long before email and tablets — Masterton is happy to embrace new technology: “I love e-books. It’s a fantastic new wave of publishing and helps writers reach a larger audience.”

He gives a throaty chuckle when I mention the 29 sex instruction books. 

These include titles such as Acts of Love and Your Erotic Fantasies as well as How to Drive Your Man Wild in Bed, which was published in 1976. 

Though I note that How to Drive Your Woman Wild in Bed didn’t hit the market until 1987.

I gently enquire why he didn’t make it an even 30 sex manuals and he laughs: “It’s not that I ran out of material anyway.”

Maybe he’s channelling that aspect into his novels — Katie Maguire, when not dealing with criminals and office politics, has a fairly active and varied love life.

And with all that activity people are bound to work up an appetite. So Cork restaurants and chippers are name-checked.

“I remember well enjoying food from Jackie Lennox’s so that’s mentioned in my next book,” says Masterton.

As well as classic Cork institutions, some uniquely Cork slang features in the Katie Maguire series. So you have characters saying ‘C’mere to me will ya’ or ‘I will ya’ when they mean no.

“I really hoped I was getting this right and that people wouldn’t think I was taking the mickey and I have been assured that I did. The language is so rich and varied, it is just fantastic. Some of it is modern and other expressions are so old. ‘Take a sconce’ at something is almost medieval really,” says Masterton.

[It has been suggested that this Cork expression for taking a look at something may come from the old French word ‘esconse’ for lantern, hence ‘to see’.]

Some of these are clear from the context, for readers who don’t have the fortune to come from Cork, but Masterton includes a dictionary of Cork slang on Katie Maguire’s website. 

Thus you have explanations of ‘bazzer’, a haircut; ‘a fifty’ — being stood up, ie only 50% of a date turns up; and ‘scobe’, ‘septic’ and ‘strawkalling’ — look em up.

So you can see why it might be initially surprising to hear that Masterton’s Katie Maguire series is so popular overseas. Blood Sisters was No 1 in the Australian charts in July and Buried was No 3. 

And the Polish edition of Blood Sisters was released on September 28. Fans there even had a chance to meet Masterton when he went to sign books at a Warsaw bookstore on September 30.

And Masterton also directs readers baffled by references to someone being ‘allergic’ or getting a ‘cheeser’ to a new film set in Cork.

“Any readers who find it difficult to imagine the Cork accent in which all of my characters in the Katie Maguire crime novels speak might find this film trailer for Peter Foott’s film The Young Offenders helpful. Peter Foott directed the notorious but hilarious video for the song ‘Horse Outside’ by the Limerick singers Rubberbandits (who always wear plastic shopping bags on their heads). This new feature film is set in Cork City and West Cork and is already garnering praise for being both funny and true.”

Some critics have noted the extremely detailed violence peppered throughout the Katie Maguire series.

However, Masterton says that reality is often far worse — and says despite graphic rape scenes, torture, murder and brutality, it was descriptions of illegal dog fights and baiting that left people really disgusted.

He said he is well aware that gardaí deal with appalling situations every day and that the courts hear about awful cruelty regularly too and said it is ironic that it was cruelty to animals that people got most upset.

Living Death is out now — published by Head of Zeus — and Dead Girls Dancing will be released as an e-book in early December.


Breaking Stories

Two men held on suspicion of murder after woman found dead in Belfast

Update: Missing 16-year-old in Ballymun found

Call for Government to fund new study in sexual violence in Ireland

225 people caught speeding; including one doing 177km/h in 100km zone

Lifestyle

A helicopter put a piano on the 150-foot roof of Blarney Castle and other stories from the Cork Jazz Festival archives

Jazz Memories: Famous faces share their favourite moments

Live music review: The Horrors - Icy genius in a thrillingly intimate setting

New book revisits the games they just don't make anymore

More From The Irish Examiner