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Meet Ava: the startling young protagonist of Marie Tierney’s Deadly Animals

A mesmerising crime debut starring a one-of-a-kind lead, Marie Tierney’s Deadly Animals will become your next obsession.

Thirteen-year-old Ava Bonney possesses an unusual intellect far beyond her years. While her friends play, Ava’s fascination lies in the intricate process of animal decomposition, studying roadkill on the streets around her home. But, one night, Ava’s routine takes a chilling turn when she stumbles upon the lifeless body of a schoolmate. Armed with her unique skills and unrivalled local knowledge, Ava becomes an unlikely force in the race to apprehend an elusive killer before more lives are lost.

Author Marie Tierney introduces us to Ava – and explains the inspiration behind her unforgettable lead…

She is not a ‘creation’ – she was the seed of the woman she would grow to become… me.

“Ava Bonney is very much like Kipling’s cat; she walks by herself and all places are alike to her. She follows her own trajectory, her own discreet path, unfettered by convention and the social conditioning of what a girl is supposed to be like.

She is quite feral.

Yet, paradoxically, she is incredibly disciplined. And she isn’t ‘precocious’, she’s poor – poor and very bright. This means that she voraciously seeks out information that interests her, she is active and fully engaged with her own learning and accumulation of knowledge. She’s a talented artist and gifted writer who often lost herself in her own stories as well as books to escape the stresses of her life that would otherwise overwhelm her. But children of that era were seldom bored and complacent in finding their own fun anyway. They had to rely on their own imaginations and limited resources to maintain their own entertainment. It was a time of strict but indifferent parenting so there was unmatched freedom in doing what you liked as long as you didn’t get caught because punishments then were very severe.

Ava has learned from an early age that if she is to survive as a person in her own right she is to keep secrets and keeping secrets is as much a part of her nature as her intelligence and slightly askew sense of humour. She keeps hidden so as not to attract the disapproval of her parents but also the thuggish attention of the bullies who have made her school life miserable. Ava is mature for her age because she has to be the surrogate second parent since her father abandoned the family. She has had to grow up fast especially when her mother’s boyfriend barges into their lives, and targets Ava not only because she sees through him as a Bad Man but also because she a developing young woman.

Ava isn’t autistic. She is certainly an autodidact who, like Sherlock Holmes, is brightly interested in the subjects that she is fascinated by and deems useful to her but discards all else if they do not. 

She is acutely aware that her interests and hobbies will be seen as macabre and disturbing and unnatural by ‘normal’ people so she keeps these secret too. She is an outcast who is perfectly happy not to fit in, she is alone but never lonely. She chooses friends wisely. She knows who to trust and who to mistrust, she is loyal and generous to those she sees as friends and allies but is unforgiving when betrayed. She is unsurprised by cruelty yet is suspicious of kindness and even genuine concern. She is so crushed beneath a relentless siege mentality that being in constant battle-mode is normal for her. 

Inspiration for Ava Bonney is me. I have almost total recall of that time. The past is another room next door I can step into at will with all its sights, sounds, smells, and feelings. She is, for the most part, auto-biographical. Everything she experiences in the novel, everything she sees and hears and fears and gives her joy are the exact same things as those which affected me back then. The only thing that I didn’t experience was finding the dead body of a missing teenager while maintaining my own road-kill body farm! Deadly Animals is very much a What If? What if I had found a human corpse while I was out late at night? What would have been my reactions? What would have been my next step? They would have been the same as Ava’s because Ava’s skill set, as random and strange as they seem to be, are all mine.

Ava wasn’t hard to write. The only difficulty was going back to that time, in that place, behind that face, because so much of it was unhappy, frightening and almost overwhelmingly enchanting. She is not a ‘creation’ – she was the seed of the woman she would grow to become… me.

And Ava’s interest in dead things was rooted in the same pragmatic conclusion I had come to at the same age: dead things can’t hurt you.

It’s the living you’ve got to watch.”

Marie Tierney’s Deadly Animals is out now with Zaffre.