Where does your heart fall in the writing world?
I write novels. On rare occasions I’ve written short stories and prose poems. I find, though, that I really need the big canvas of the novel. I need to take time to develop my characters and let a story unfold over a few hundred pages.
When did your writing journey begin? What drew you to writing?
Even as a young child, I’d look at a picture, say in a magazine or catalog, and if something about it grabbed my attention, I’d start making up a story in my head to go with it. It wasn’t something I did consciously. It just happened. The same is true if I was bored. I’d just start imagining stories which would play themselves out in my mind. I guess I was drawn to writing in order to get the stories out of my head and onto paper.
What was your inspiration for Kelegeen?
I was taking a course in Irish history for my undergraduate degree (BA in History). While studying the Potato Famine, my professor suggested that, as a creative exercise, I keep a diary as if I were a parish priest in Ireland at the time of the Famine. I really enjoyed writing that diary. After the course ended, I thought it would make a great basis for a novel.
Do you find inspiration in your own life for your writing?
Quite often, yes. I’m a New Englander to my core so most of my writing is set in New England. Obviously, that’s not the case with Kelegeen which is set in Ireland, but it is with most of my writing. Also, since I write mainly historical fiction, coming across some interesting historical event or tidbit often triggers the idea for a story.
Tell us about Kelegeen.
Kelegeen is the fictionalized story of what brought countless Irish immigrants to the North American shores. The little village of Kelegeen is going about its day-to-day life when the potatoes - the only food available to the Irish peasants - is suddenly struck by a horrible blight wiping out the entire potato crop across all of Ireland. In what would become known as An Gorta Mor (the Great Hunger) over one million Irish would die and another million would emigrate.
Meg O’Connor, a bright, resilient, resourceful, and compassionate young woman must find a way to prevail while keeping alive her relationship with Rory, the young man to whom she is engaged. Each time a survival tactic fails, she’s forced into a new one. At the same time, she is beset by worry about Rory who’s own survival strategy is gravely dangerous, her mother whose frightening but vague premonitions bode an unknown evil, and the loss of beloved family and friends.
Father Brian O’Malley is the parish priest of Kelegeen and a dear friend of the O’Connor family. He becomes unlikely allies with an English doctor. Together they make the rounds of the countryside to offer what spiritual and physical help they can to the villagers. It is to the two of them that Meg will turn for help with her final, most desperate plan for survival.
Though told from the points of view of both Meg and Father O’Malley, Kelegeen is really Meg’s story, which, in turn, is a story of what led to the Irish diaspora.