First Encounters: Paul Carson and Marie Cassidy
‘Marie is a bundle of fun, a joy to be with’: Paul Carson, with Marie Cassidy. Photograph: Alan Betson
Paul Carson is a GP in south Co Dublin and a writer whose sixth thriller was published last year. He has written 15 books, including health and children’s books. Originally from Newcastle, Co Down, he lives in Mount Merrion with his wife and two children
The first time Marie and I met was in Jurys in Dublin, then we met again in Limerick at a dental conference in the Radisson. The dentists were having their usual annual meeting and they wanted something to break up the boring stuff. Marie came out with a brilliant line: she said, the homicide rate is going up which I’m sure is bad news for you – but good news for me. I thought, now that’s unusual.
Marie said I was terribly po-faced at that conference and I was wondering what did I say that made me seem such an absolute bore. For her, being po-faced and no fun are the two worst crimes. But we met at another conference; after that had a couple of very nice long boozy lunches when we were both not on call, discussing the way the world is going, putting it to rights.
We both lead busy lives and neither of us has much time for socialising. But we have a mutually good sense of humour, can get a good buzz out of one another.
I used to write a book every 18 months, then I was unwell for a good while – I had leukaemia – so that took me out of action. Now I steal the time to write. I work four days a week as a doctor, write one day a week. I staggered into writing by mistake . . . I always wanted to be a doctor. As a GP I deal mainly with paediatric allergies and there’s very few doctors interested in that now. I’d worked in Australia and came back to Ireland with a wealth of material, particularly in relation to things like management of allergies.
I created a range of self-help tips for my patients, then thought they’d go into a book and wrote four health books. Then Emily, my first child, was born: I was reading her storybooks, thinking it would be lovely to write a book for kiddies. So I wrote a book about a bear that becomes a doctor. That’s still my proudest achievement – one of my children’s books is in a German anthology of all time great read-alouds, along with people like the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen.
I was at a medical writers’ meeting when someone said a publisher’s looking for someone who’ll do for medicine what John Grisham did for law. That was the challenge. A character I’d met in Australia, a gynaecologist who hated women, is in my first book, Scalpel. GQ magazine reviewed it and said “Brilliant story, clumsily written.” They were absolutely right.
I think Marie should write her own life story. She is what you see, a bundle of fun. She has a wonderful Scottish sense of humour, she and I can get down and dirty. She’s a joy to be with.
Inquest by Paul Carson is published by Century
Marie Cassidy has been Ireland’s State Pathologist since 2004. She is also Professor of Forensic Medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland and Trinity College, Dublin. Originally from Glasgow, she moved to Ireland in 1998. She lives in Swords with her husband and two children
Paul and I met at an Irish Dental Association Conference outside Limerick 13or14 years ago. We were both speaking – we were the light entertainment. I’m only serious when dealing with the dead, outside of that I can’t be serious – life’s too short and there might not be anywhere else to go, if you believe Paul. Although I’m hanging on in there about the afterlife, keeping my fingers crossed.
I talked about cases where forensic odontology has been helpful. One was about the ends to which one guard went to identify a particular skull – I was showing them how much information we got, and it was all from the teeth.
I thought Paul was very serious when he was giving that first talk, not boring, but he wasn’t what I expected – I thought he’d be very jovial because he’s a writer. I had read his books, did like them. Paul’s new book, Inquest, is set in Dublin and deals with situations that I deal with.
After meeting him at the dental conference we got chatting and I thought, he’s a bit of fun. Like any friendship, there’s something that happens that brings you together but after that it’s just whether you get on with someone. I’m a sociable person but Paul and I only get together about once a year – neither of us has much time. The life of a forensic pathologist is far from glamorous: I can tell you where to get a decent cup of coffee in every motorway cafe from here to Cork or Donegal.
I came here in 1998: as a result of Sophie Touscan du Plantier’s death, it was realised that Jack Harbison needed a deputy, that the State needed more than one forensic pathologist. I’d always said to Jack, ‘I’ll have your job when you go; you do 40 or 50 cases a year, when I do 400 or 500’. I thought I was coming for retirement – then the murder rate here went up.
Paul doesn’t ask for advice for his thrillers, but we discuss things, he gets some ideas from my ramblings more than anything else. I wouldn’t write books; I have no imagination at all.
I do read thrillers and watch TV crime programmes: Kathy Reichs is very good ’cos she’s a working forensic anthropologist. But you get some other writers, some American writers, naming no names, who think they’re forensic anthropologists . . . where one female thriller writer goes wrong is that she believes she is. And she’s very po-faced and no fun. I have met her a couple of times – you wouldn’t be having a boozy lunch with her.
I don’t get out much and when I do I like to have a laugh. And Paul always gives me a laugh. As far as I’m concerned, he’s great fun.