Catherine Deveney launches her new thriller Dead Secret tonight (Thursday) at 6pm at Waterstones Inverness. Here the writer and journalist talks about her book, breaking the story that led to the resignation of Cardinal Keith O'Brien and how her dad's death triggered her fiction.
THE first thing you notice about writer and journalist Catherine Deveney is her eyes – deep and dark and full of expression.
Within seconds of starting to talk about her latest novel Dead Secret – triggered by the death of her father some years ago – she wells up, the feelings instantly bubbling to the surface.
Later, she almost doesn’t need to tell you: “I’ve always felt that I feel things really strongly.”
But just before you define her as a woman with a hotline to writing about “emotions”, it’s worth remembering Catherine is also the journalist whose story trashed the career of the most powerful Catholic in Scotland.
An hour after our interview, you switch on the TV and there’s Catherine, invited to assess the day’s hot story – the appointment of Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s successor.
Get close to the screen and you notice the eyes are glittering with the same quiet anger they had earlier when the multi award-winning journalist talked about the allegations of inappropriate behaviour against Cardinal O’Brien from three priests and a former priest dating back 30 years.
Though she has no regrets about writing the story, critical of the hypocrisy from both church and Cardinal O’Brien, Catherine said: “I felt very sad when I heard about his resignation. Do I want a man in his 70s who is retiring having his whole life wiped out? No. But there are much bigger issues at stake. There were people who had been damaged.”
For Catherine, any moral dilemma disappeared as she knew the story had to be told.
Her heroines also face moral dilemmas.
In her second book, Kiss The Bullet, a mother whose partner and child were blown up by an IRA bomb comes face to face with the bomber.
In Dead Secret, – out this week– the death of a beloved father exposes a young woman to her parents’ part at the heart of an unsolved Highland murder.
It’s the years as a feature writer, first for Scotland on Sunday and now The Observer, that Catherine believes gave her the experience she needed to begin to write her novels.
“I really feel there is a strong link between the journalism I’ve done and the fiction. I don’t know if I’d have had the experience in my own life – the kind of emotional experience in extreme circumstances, murder, all these things, otherwise.
“Talking to people in extreme situations gives you insight. It’s a real privilege when someone tells you something that is really important to them.”
Anyone reading Dead Secret – where heroine Rebecca comes to the Highlands to discover the truth behind her mother’s disappearance and likely murder – may detect echoes of the famous 1970s MacRae case.
In 1976, Renee MacRae and her young son Andrew disappeared in what is now Britain’s longest-running missing persons case.
But Catherine, who lives in the Black Isle, said: “I’ve written about a lot of Scottish murder cases and this book is about all of them and none of them.
“I’d hate people to feel that I am somehow using their family or their tragedy. It’s really not about that.
“But for example, I deliberately didn’t go and read up again on the MacRae story because I thought ‘If I do that, things will lodge in my head’.
“I never worked on the MacRae story, I’ve got no connection to it. I took the central dilemma, not the details of it.
“I remember thinking ‘Imagine if that wee boy had actually lived?’.”
It was Catherine’s response to her father’s death that saw her start Dead Secret.
“It’s a kind of alchemy. Some thought in your head combines with another thought – or even a thought you’ve had for a while – and suddenly these two things merge and become a story in your head for reasons you don’t quite understand.
“Underneath the story, it’s about the search and about loss. The murder story is a framework to hang all those bits on.
“The funny thing is, though it’s my third book, it is actually the first one I wrote. It had been lying around for many years.”
Catherine found it helped while coming to terms with the death of her father.
“It actually became like a weight I felt I was carrying around. It started to affect me and I thought ‘I have to get this written’.”
She did, though made extensive changes to it later – including the title.
But Catherine revealed a series of strange coincidences along the way.
“I don’t know how to interpret it,” she said, laughing at herself as tears welled up.
“Eighteen months before my father died, I interviewed a young opera singer, a student from the east end of Glasgow people were beginning to talk about.
“It was only her and her mum – it was obviously the two of them against the world – though she said her dad had always encouraged her.
“The night I’d interviewed her, I went to hear her sing. We were sitting in the auditorium and she began to sing Puccini’s O mio babbino caro (Oh my beloved father). As I’d been talking to her that day, I knew about her love for her dad and the emotion in the room was incredible.
“Looking back, I wondered if it was also what I was bringing to it because my dad had just been diagnosed.
“That experience always stuck with me. When my dad died a few months later, I really wanted to go and ask the singer to sing at his funeral. But I didn’t because I knew I couldn’t listen to that and get through it.
“At the funeral, I didn’t feel the comfort of my dad’s presence, I just felt desolate.
“But I was desperate to write this book and the story suddenly came into my head, I still don’t understand why.
“In my more sentimental moments I feel this was my dad’s parting gift to me.
“I’d been nominated for the 2005 Scottish Press Awards and went along – I’d also done a redraft of the book by then and my head was full of it because I’d just finished it.
“I won journalist of the year and was sitting there wishing I could tell my dad, with two questions for him suddenly in my head.
“I thought ‘I wonder if it’s possible that you know?’ and ‘I wonder if it’s possible that you see?’. And this is where it gets a wee bit spooky.”
Catherine described how a young waitress got up onstage, grabbed a mike as if to sing her pal happy birthday, then a flash mob of “waiters” appeared too.
Catherine said: “I’ve never seen entertainment at the Scottish Press Awards, before or since. But these were opera singers who sang ... can you guess? O mio babbino caro.
“And what I haven’t told you is, that was the original working title of the book.”
Catherine will launch Dead Secret (Old Street, £8.99) tonight (Thursday) Waterstones Inverness at 6pm.