Cobh author on how life in the military helped her write crimes

When Michelle Dunne joined the military straight out of school, she wasn’t sure what direction her life would take. Today, as she forges a career as a mystery writer, she finds her life experience invaluable. Cobh native Co Cork says taking a less than conventional path to writing has served her well in portraying the darker side of life.

“To this day, I’m in awe of any 18-year-old who knows what they want to do with their life. When I was that age, going to college was a foreign thing to me because my life was outdoors – I loved sports and it was always go go go. It was the army lifestyle that really appealed to me. It was to give me something about what to focus on at that time college wasn’t going to happen and I wanted something that was going to give me an experience that I wasn’t going to get anywhere else and that’s definitely what I did.

Dunne, 44, spent five years in the army, serving as an infantryman, then a UN peacekeeper in the Middle East, becoming an instructor on his return to Ireland. His family supported his career choice. It helped that his brother was in the Navy, although it worried his parents when they both served overseas for a brief period.

“The panic for them set in when my brother was in Lebanon for six months, then I got out before he got home, so we met there for a week. For a full year, they had one of us there. I would say that Lebanon has completely influenced my life and all the work that I do in my writing. It has opened my eyes so much to how other people live I went out there as a naive girl and came home as an adult.

Dunne’s latest book, The Invisible, follows his first crime novel, While Nobody is Watching, both of which feature ex-Private Lindsey Ryan. In The Invisible, set in Cobh, Ryan comes to the aid of Syrian refugee Lena and is drawn into the dark underworld of human trafficking and prostitution. It’s a story that was inspired by Dunne’s time in Lebanon and also by the experience of his former colleagues working on the front lines of the migrant crisis.

“I started writing this book at the height of the Syrian migrant crisis. I have friends in the navy who patrol the Mediterranean and the stories they came back with were horrific, that’s where Lena came from.

Michelle Dunne in Cork, with her previous novel, While Nobody is Watching. Photo: Jim Coughlan

Dunne says she sees resonances in the current situation in Ukraine. “They’re just from a different country, they’re all trying to escape hell and they’re putting their lives in danger. They’re getting so vulnerable. It’s the same in Ukraine, how many children have gone missing since it started? So many people will never come back. The book is called The Invisible because that is what these people are. They are gone, where are they? In some cases, no one is looking for them because they no longer have a family.

Dunne lives with her husband and four-year-old daughter in Cobh. While her local knowledge gives The Invisible extra authenticity, she says it could be set in any city in Ireland.

“Human trafficking is happening right under our noses. I’ve painted a very dark picture of Cobh – I love Cobh and there’s nothing like it – but the thing is, it could be right next to us, absolutely anywhere, and that’s the case,” she said.

Dunne also relies on his military background when it comes to dealing with dark subject matter in his writing.

“You have to compartmentalize. It brings it home when you have a kid yourself, you tend to relate everything to your own home life and imagine what would happen if it happened to them.

In real life, things are looking bright for Dunne, as While Nobody is Watching, the first book in the Lindsey Ryan series, has been picked up for television.

“There’s a whole new chapter opening up which is very exciting. I have meetings with producers who are involved and it’s so exciting to talk about my character, I never thought I’d would be in this situation,” she said.

She’s also looking forward to taking Lindsey Ryan to new pastures in her writing. “She’s one of those characters I can come back to and maybe go international. I’ve kept her local so far but she has huge potential and I love her so much. I don’t have any. certainly not finished with Lindsey Ryan yet.

  • The Invisible, by Michelle Dunne, published by Bad Ink Press, is available now. Dunne is one of the participating authors at the Spike Island Literary Festival, September 2-4

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