1. How would you describe Fionn Connolly, the main character of your new novel, President Fionn?
I would say when Fionn is young, which is where we find him in part one of the book, he is a dreamer, he has a fantastic imagination and when things get tough, when his troubled family are arguing, he has a problem, or he's sad he retreats in to his mind and imagines all sorts of things, many of them very funny. In the book his hero is Tarzan, and he imagines having lots of adventures in Africa and being able to call on all the wild animals to rescue him if he gets into trouble. In the second half of the book, when he is grown up, in the 1960s, he has changed somewhat because of a childhood trauma, but the essence of who he is doesn't change, even if it is hidden deep down.
2. What did you read/study in doing your research to capture the historical details of Ireland in the 1930s-1960s, and John K. Kennedy's visit to Ireland in 1963?
I read several non-fiction, autobiographical books on what it was like to live in Dublin/Ireland in those periods. I read a lot of the newspapers, too; this is a great way to get a feel for what was going on. I also went back and read about the history of Ireland. This was useful; you don't get a handle on why people behave as they do until you know where they have come from.
There is so much stuff written about Kennedy--I had my pick. One book I bought was JFK: Day By Day which chronicles every day of his presidency. That was an eye opener, reading about how much he had to deal with on a daily basis. I also watched a lot of documentaries on Ireland and the President, his televised visit to Ireland and Berlin for instance, his many speeches and of course the circumstances surrounding his death.
3. Your previous book, The Hydrangea Amongst the Weeds, is also a historical novel. What attracts you to writing historical fiction?
Several things really. My first book is set in a town near London called Reading. It had a rich history that I could call on. Many of the men were involved in World War 1 and 2 and also it had big factories such as Huntley and Palmer, the biscuit manufacturer. In the late 1800s right through to the 1900s, life was changing rapidly, and I found a lot of information about the working class, their conditions, their relationships with the upper classes and of course the suffragette movement. It is not widely known that some working class women, often married with children, were heavily involved in that. Again, as with President Fionn, I brought fact and fiction together to make the story.
4. What are the challenges and what are the benefits for an author when it comes to finding a readership online?
I think the challenge is getting your message across, really explaining who you are and what your books are about. It should be easy in a way, but nobody has the time or wants to read a big essay, least of all me, so I get that! I think people can be put off very easily and are afraid that the books might be difficult or boring, but I'm a very straightforward person, and I think that comes across in my work. I have been lucky in that my first book as been taken up on book club circuit, so people have been able to discuss it.
The benefit of course is that you can approach a wider audience and engage with people that you would never have otherwise had the chance to reach and that's lovely.
5. How does your academic background in Art History and Philosophy inform your work as a writer?
I left school before going to college, and it was through my love of going to see art, really as a hobby, that I finally went back and did my degree part-time, when my children were at school, which was hard work and took a while but was worth it. When I'm writing, I tend to see the words and actions in my head, like a movie; studying art history helped me with that I think--plus there is a rich history around every painting and building, and it fascinates me how people lived before me.
Philosophy also comes into art, and it is all about questions, why are we here, what does it mean to be a human being, should we be allowed to do this or that, to name but a few. There is always an argument on both sides in any discussion, so I guess it makes you look at other points of view, instead of seeing things in black and white. I think this is useful as a writer. I for one don't want to judge in my books: I'm merely asking questions and observing.