I began writing my first novel in the summer of 2010. I had been living in Ireland for a little under 4 years and had been reading about the history of migration of Irish people, whether the consequence of famine, punishment by ‘transportation’ to the antipodes, or simply the search for a better life.
One of several books that I read dealing with the subject was a slim volume telling the true story of a young man who, at the age of 19 in 1895, traveled from his family home in the Irish Midlands to North America. After a spell working as a tram driver in Brooklyn, he became a sailor, working on banana boats plying between the Caribbean and the East coast of America before deciding to try his luck, first in Dawson City then in the Klondike. Like the majority of the thousands who participated in the gold rush, he was always on the verge of a fortune but never quite made it.
I thought the story would make a good novel and that I would write it. I researched the period and the places but I needed to add a ‘love interest’. The author of the original story had been unable to unearth anything suggesting a long term relationship, implying that his ancestor had led a lonely life. I decided that the young man in my version of the story would meet, and fall in love with, a young woman whilst in Brooklyn, but that something would sully that relationship triggering his decision to move as far away as possible.
Adopted at birth
I created a female character, gave her a back-story which explained her cavalier treatment of the young man. Like him, she spends the ensuing decades regretting her actions. Part of her story includes abuse by a powerful man, a teenage pregnancy, the adoption of the resulting child and a reunion, years later, between mother and grown-up daughter. I published ‘Honest Hearts‘ as an e-book at Smashwords in November of 2011 and, later, at Amazon.
Having thus discovered that I could create characters and put them in unusual situations, I went ahead and did it again, this time taking a couple of unrelated incidents from my childhood and putting them together to create a traumatic series of events in a single day in a community closely resembling the one in which I grew up. ‘Summer Day‘ was published in the same way in March 2012.
By then I had discovered the historical connection between my new home in County Laois and my birthplace in Herefordshire. I began putting together the series of articles that would become the Hereford and Ireland History section of this website and inspired me to write about the young woman who married the leader of the Norman occupation of Ireland in the twelfth century. ‘Strongbow’s Wife‘ took longer to research and write. Originally written in third person it was recast as a first person account in her own voice and published on June 1st 2014. This time I decided to create a paper back version via CreateSpace.
By then, too, I had begun thinking about the many stories emerging about the abuse of young girls and boys by celebrities and others during the 1970s and ’80s. I had already created the character of a not very successful jobbing reporter. The idea of having him retired and ghost-writing the autobiography of a soap star, with her daughter revealing herself at the book’s launch, seemed like a good starting point for a story examining the immense changes that have taken place in society and especially in regard to attitudes to sex and sexuality.
I am not sure now at what point I realised the similarities between my treatment of this theme in ‘Transgression‘, and key elements of ‘Honest Hearts’. Each has an abused teenager giving up her child for adoption. In each, the adopted child embarks on a search for her parents. Both of the abused women pursue successful careers in creative professions but suffer mentally as a result of the circumstances of their early initiation to sex.
I have no idea why two stories with very different origins, set in different historical periods, have ended up featuring such similar events. And, when I look at the background to the other two novels, I see that family dysfunction is evident there also. The central family in ‘Summer Day’ includes two women with the kinds of problems you would not expect to find in a typical twentieth century sub-urban household.
Strongbow’s wife, of course, is a woman from a very different age, and yet the true history of her background is that her elderly father sired children by women other than her mother; that her husband, for whom her hand was the price for the assistance he gave to her father, already had at least two children from a previous relationship. It was a time when the fostering of children in the families of friends was common place. On her husband’s death her own two children were placed in the care of the king of England, hundreds of miles away from the family home. A situation not so very different from that of the female protagonists of ‘Honest Hearts’ and ‘Transgression’ giving up their infants for adoption.
I wonder if the fact that my father died when I was two, that he spent those two years serving in the RAF with only infrequent visits to my mother so that I was never aware of him, and that I spent the bulk of my formative years in a boarding school that had once been an orphanage, influenced what is beginning to feel like an obsession with such themes?