Chagall and Too Close to Breathe by Olivia Kiernan – guest post

Today I’m pleased to welcome Olivia Kiernan to the blog. Olivia is the author of Too Close to Breathe which was published by Riverrun on 5 April 2018.

Today Olivia has written a guest post about Chagall’s influences on her novel.

TOO CLOSE TO BREATHE follows the investigation by DCS Frankie Sheehan into the murder of Dr Eleanor Costello, a microbiologist whose life looks almost perfect from the outside. But as the murder investigation gathers pace, more victims emerge and Sheehan finds herself drawn onto a dark canvas of lies, deceit and murder in a hunt to find the killer who likes to play dead.

In 2015, a few months before I’d even thought about sitting down to write TOO CLOSE TO BREATHE let alone bringing art into the plot, a friend and I visited Chichester Cathedral in West Sussex. Inside, tucked away in a corner, I saw a striking stained-glass window, a savage shade of red, bleeding sunlight onto the floor. I was blown away by it and more so when I discovered it was from the artist, Marc Chagall.

Chagall was a Russian-French artist, who was not one to follow convention. He forged his own way plucking from many influences whatever he pleased to create art that was distinctly his own. His paintings have a dream-like quality in that you feel you know what he’s trying to say rather than being able to name it. And although Chagall remains a small facet in the plot of Too Close To Breathe, he really was a significant figure in the genesis of the novel. I’d always wanted to write a novel that incorporated painting in some way and when I began to explore the themes that inspired Too Close To Breathe, Chagall and all his shades of blue played a big part in how I approached the style and tone.

I’m intrigued by the science behind the pigments used by various painters. How the pigments are detected. How they’re created and their other uses, outside of the world of art. I’m also intrigued by the technology used today to authenticate paintings of great value. The methods employed could compare to those used at a crime scene. It’s forensic. The painter’s DNA is decided on, if you like, and these technologies analyse the work to attribute it to a creator. Technologies such as infrared reflectography or raman spectroscopy, kinds of x-rays that can peer through the layers of a painting, show up an artist’s unique creative fingerprint. Not unlike how a detective working a crime scene would peel back the layers of a case to find a culprit. This felt like a nice comparison and inspired me to bring Chagall and one of his blues into the novel.

When I began to write Too Close To Breathe I chose a pigment as a sort of killer signature. The pigment was a deep, dark blue, used regularly by Marc Chagall. Prussian blue. And it was a very fortunate choice for this novel. Prussian blue is the pigment that kept on giving. It has many uses. Uses, I only learned after embarking on the manuscript. Some of those uses you’ll discover when you read TOO CLOSE TO BREATHE.

About the book


Polished. Professional. Perfect. Dead. Respected scientist Dr Eleanor Costello is found hanged in her immaculate home: the scene the very picture of a suicide.


DCS Frankie Sheehan is handed the case, and almost immediately spots foul play. Sheehan, a trained profiler, is seeking a murderer with a talent for death.


As Frankie strives to paint a picture of the killer, and their victim, she starts to sense they are part of a larger, darker canvas, on which the lines between the two blur.

Olivia Kiernan’s debut is a bold, brilliant thriller that will keep you guessing and leave you breathless.

About the author

Olivia Kiernan is an Irish writer living in the UK. She was born and raised in County Meath, near the famed heritage town of Kells and holds an MA in Creative Writing awarded by the University of Sussex. Too Close to Breathe is her first novel.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. annecater says:

    Thanks for the Blog Tour support Janet


    1. janetemson says:

      Alweays a pleasure 🙂


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