What's in a Page: Flynn Berry wrote Northern Spy in longhand

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Nina Subin; Penguin Author Flynn Berry

Flynn Berry has written a thriller for the ages. Northern Spy takes place in Belfast, two decades after the Good Friday agreement — protagonist Tessa is a producer at the BBC when her sister is caught on CCTV footage conducting an IRA raid, forcing Tessa to confront the possibility that her sister has ties to the group. It's Berry's third page-turner, and in honor of its publication (and instant New York Times best-seller status), she's answering EW's burning authors questions.

What is the first thing — ever — that you remember writing?

I remember writing stories inspired by the Redwall series [by Brian Jacques]. I adored those books, especially the food — candied chestnuts, wild oatcakes, cheese with dandelions, buttercup and honey cordial. To be honest, I'm still basically writing stories inspired by the Redwall series.

What is the last book that made you cry?

Sorrow and Bliss, by Meg Mason, got me this weekend. Martha, the narrator, is funny, wry, and smart, and endures episodes of despair that she compares to bad weather at sea: "Cyclonic, becoming rough or very rough." It's a gorgeous, heart-rending book. I'm also reading Open Water, by Caleb Azumah Nelson, which has made me tear up. Its form and style are completely different, but I think its narrator and Martha would have a lot to talk about.

Which book is at the top of your current To-Read list?

Lucy Caldwell, a writer from East Belfast, has a new story collection called Intimacies out in May, and a forthcoming novel on the Belfast Blitz. I'm so excited for both.

Where do you write?

I write at my desk, longhand, usually while listening to Max Richter or Olafur Arnalds.

Which book made you a forever reader?

There are so many, but one is A Ring of Endless Light, by Madeleine L'Engle. Its descriptions of swimming in the ocean are in my blood.

What is a snack you couldn't write without?

The snacks are constant but variable, but I also always have very dark coffee in the same red Le Creuset cup. It's been with me for three books and I feel inordinately attached to the little raised letters on its side.

If you could change one thing about any of your books, what would it be?

The dog in my first book, Under the Harrow, is called Fenno. I'd really like to use that name for my own dog in the future, but can't now because it's taken.

What is your favorite part of Northern Spy?

I really enjoyed writing the scenes with the two sisters, Tessa and Marian, talking or arguing. It felt like I had to work out how to get them in the same place, and then they'd take it from there.

What was the hardest plot point or character to write?

The wedding scene took me ages. I seemed to be at that wedding for years. Group scenes always tend to take the most work for me — getting the noise and voices of a party right.

Write a movie poster tagline for the book:

It would be this piece of graffiti, which the IRA painted in 2019: "They will forget about you. We won't."

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