Book Review: Claire

Claire (Book II in The Merencourt Saga) by Carol Edgerley

A B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

The 19th and early 20th centuries contain not a few accounts of resolute women, females who pushed back or laid claim to their slice of the world, many meeting success and motivating others to aspire to greater goals. Marguerite de Merencourt was one such woman, and although the legacy she passed to her children and grandchildren contained mixed blessings—for Marguerite’s obstinate streak, so admirable in her younger years, often worked against her favor as she grew older—she remains a draw for readers precisely because some of her efforts yielded less than absolute success.

The lovely second-edition cover for Claire, winner of the B.R.A.G. Medallion (click image)

Marguerite’s eldest daughter Claire, introduced to readers in the final pages of her mother’s story, possesses Minette’s striking beauty as well as indomitable spirit, and from an early age mesmerizes those around her, though not always for the better. Her father’s bullying nature softens to smiles, but upon a long-time-coming visit to her maternal grandparents’ home in France, the teen is viciously rejected by the same woman who pushed away her own infant—Marguerite as a baby. As Claire is coming into her own, she often clashes with her mother and the failure of both to choose their battles widens the already substantial chasm between them.

Claire opens to a scene of the girl celebrating—or trying to—her first grown-up birthday at the end of the twentieth century’s debut decade. While the mores of the time have not drastically altered since her mother was 17, Claire recognizes the changes dawning in the world—cars and telephones make their appearances in the novel—as well as within herself, and like most teenaged girls, resents her mother’s strictures as much as she is mortified by her working status as a Calcutta business owner.

Unfortunately for Claire, she doesn’t seem to learn from her mother’s mistakes, nor does Minette—to the detriment of both. Eager to escape the house as well as the hanging cloud of a family secret, Claire enters into a marriage arranged by her mother, only to find that her once-charming fiancé has little feeling for her other than as sexual release in the absence of the married woman he had conducted an affair with during their engagement. Betrayed by her partner in life and humiliated in the public forum, Claire directs her energies and considerable organizational skills on lavish entertaining and a posh lifestyle.

Before readers get very far into the story, Minette and Claire have already bickered over so many and such petty grievances, one wonders if they spend copious amounts of time nursing exhaustion, for indeed it takes a great deal of energy to be angry. Edgerley’s dialogue, however, always fresh and sharp, combines with the narrative and clearly shows characters’ perspectives as well as the larger picture. Family members frequently engage in heated rows and these strong and well-spoken women are rarely short of intelligently articulated deliveries.

Having said that, there is indeed more to the characters than smartly-chosen words delivered for maximum effect. Readers are permitted to witness the ambitious Claire as she at times struggles to maintain her footing or determine the next step. Troublemaker Sonia is not always able clearly to see her sister’s secrets in order to exploit them, and Christina, with a tendency towards submission and desire just to keep the peace, develops a strength enabling her to speak out against Claire’s less desirable behaviors and actions.

Though Minette has kept most details of her unhappy childhood from her children, some eventually learn the most significant details, such as when Claire’s grandmother verbally assaults her—for being Minette’s daughter, of course, but also because she is so startlingly like her. “That unnatural mother,” as Minette considers the Marquise, nevertheless has exerted some sort of influence as we later see Claire repeat some of her grandmother’s acts and treat her own children with a contempt shocking to modern readers.

Claire’s life does, however, have its happy moments, and Edgerley’s descriptive prowess of them and other scenes is as powerfully true to reality as it is scrumptiously absorbing. Scenes of both ordinary and grand wrap around readers as if they are part of them, and as they move though seamless transitions, investment in those they read about deepens. Appreciation for Claire and others develops despite—or perhaps because of—her flaws and obstinate inability to move past some of them.

The young woman had never looked more beautiful, her dark hair drawn up into a loose knot encircled by strands of jasmine. In her hands, she held a bouquet of the same delicate white blooms encircled by green foliage. The elegant bodice of her soft taffeta gown was scattered with seed pearls that proceeded in swathes over the flowing skirts. Only her hands were seen to tremble…wedding nerves, it was said.

When still becoming acquainted with Claire and how she endures living in a pressurized society under the seal of a loveless marriage, this reviewer had at first mused she might be a character readers “love to hate.” It soon becomes clear that such stylization shortchanges Claire, her story and readers themselves. Multi-faceted, Claire’s dreams, disappointments, loves, losses, sins and attempts at atonement could be any of ours, and reflect the reality she once lived.

How Claire goes on to make a satisfying life for herself and her family is nothing short of astounding; with her perseverance in the face of unforgiving setbacks as well as unmitigated joy, she carries on amidst global as well as local changes, community and personal. Like India herself as midnight, a new day, approaches, Claire must acknowledge the past as she aims to settle into her future, one that will certainly contain agonizing choices alongside the promise beckoned by the birth of a new era. Having grown attached to her, both despite and because of her lapses, readers will long with and for her, and wish for more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To see my review for
Marguerite (Book I in The Merencourt Saga),
winner of the B.R.A.G. Medallion, click here.

and

to see my review for
Susanna – Volume 1 – The Early Years (Book III in The Merencourt Saga) click here.

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Carol Edgerley tells us in her own words a bit about her amazing life…

Born in Calcutta, Carol spent most of her early childhood in France and then Jersey in the Channel Islands. Educated first at a French convent, she then attended Jersey College for Girls and later went to Heathfield, a girls’ boarding school in Ascot.

Throughout her long life (and three marriages) Carol has travelled extensively, visiting the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, living several years in France, India and Hong Kong.

A qualified teacher, Carol ran a successful tutorial in Hong Kong for many years, teaching children French and English towards eventual O-Level examinations. She is delighted to still keep in touch with a number of ex-pupils.

Upon retirement to France, Carol was able to carry out a burning desire to write the story of her French great grandmother’s astonishing life, told to her by a great aunt when she was twelve years of age. In the delightful surroundings of her home in the Dordogne at that time, she wrote the story of Marguerite in long hand, initially for the benefit of her three children.

Years went by, and sweating blood and tears, Carol battled the mysteries of a computer, Mac, Word and email … finally Facebook and Twitter. Encouraged by friends and her three children, she re-invented herself as a writer and typed out the manuscript of Marguerite on her new Mac computer, editing furiously as she went. The exercise, however, took decidedly longer than she had imagined!

Unwilling to pursue a (generally) disappointing path to literary agents and publishers, being dismally aware her work might end up unread, and thrown on a “slush pile,” Carol ventured into the world of self publishing. It was one of her life’s greatest emotional moments to hold a print copy of Marguerite in her hands for the first time!

Delighted by readers’ response to the book, Carol went on to write Claire, the story of Marguerite’s wilful elder daughter, who led an amazing if somewhat tragic life. Now there is Susanna: The Early Years (Volume 1), this being the story of one of Claire’s granddaughters. This particular book shines a light on bullying in its worst form, an unpleasantness that unfortunately persists to this day.

Susanna: A Tale of Passion and Betrayal (Volume 2) will follow in due course.

Carol still lives in France, now in a comfortable old farmhouse set in the centre of its own twenty-eight acres of pastureland in the Vendée. Sitting at her desk in the veranda, she is invariably surrounded by six much-loved adopted dogs of all shapes and sizes.

Find and follow the wonderful Carol Edgerley at her website, Twitter and Facebook.

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A copy of Claire was provided to the blogger in order to facilitate an honest review

Author photo courtesy Carol Edgerley

 

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Author Interview: Valerie Biel (B.R.A.G. Medallion Winner)

Circle of Nine: Sacred Treasures – A B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

Hello, Valerie Biel, and welcome! Thank you so much for taking a few moments to chat with us. And congratulations, not just for your initial B.R.A.G. Medallion for Beltany, but now also Sacred Treasures. Sa-weet!!

So, Sacred Treasures is third in the young adult Circle of Nine series in which Brigit Quinn, still somewhat working through having her newfound knowledge and magical abilities, faces additional challenges. Her gifts being hereditary, they also spur Brigit to turn an eye to those who came before, and the possibilities and realities she finds are, to say the least, confounding.

Is there anything else you would like to add about Circle of Nine in terms of its description?

Thanks for that great summary, Lisl. Yes, Brigit is gradually becoming more used to the idea of being part of the Circle of Nine (the nine women who have the job of guarding the ancient ways and stone circles of Ireland.) She never wanted these “magical gifts” she’s been given and is still working through how she feels about them when she is catapulted into a mission to protect the circle. And what’s worse is that she doesn’t know who she can trust to help her fight those who wish to destroy the circle.

Did you read fantasy as a child? Or did you “discover” it later on?

I read a ton of mystery novels—series mostly as a preteen and teen. I definitely discovered fantasy as an adult reader! That may seem strange when I have such a love now for both reading and writing in this genre.

How did Brigit’s story come to you?

I was inspired by my travels to Ireland and became fascinated with the stone circles that dot the countryside. Beltany, the subtitle of the first novel in the series is an actual stone circle in County Donegal, Ireland. There’s something eerie and beautiful about these circles which rise up out of the greenest grass you’ve ever seen. Who built them? Why did they build them? If that’s not enough to start a story, nothing is. That led me to write the historical chapters of Brigit’s ancestors first. These chapters are included in the first and second book in the series. Brigit discovers these stories through a book of family history she is given on her 15th birthday.

Who were your favorite authors? Who or what inspired you to record your stories?

I have so many favorite authors in so many genres . . . I love a good creepy story like Stephen King writes, but I also adore Jane Austen’s novels. I am a little bit all over the place. Epic long journeys through another time are some of my favorites. Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series is one I will read and re-read.

I read a ton of young adult and middle grade novels too. There’s so much smart writing out there to choose from!

I have always been a storyteller. I don’t know if this comes out of my birth order as the youngest in a family of six or what – but I’ve always liked telling a good story and being the center of attention that way. My first attempts (3rd grade or so) were decidedly not good, but I’ve improved since then! I am so much happier when I’m creating new stories and plot lines and playing around with characters. It’s my creative outlet.

Would you want to have any of Brigit’s powers?

Yes, please, all of them! But I won’t spoil anything for the reader by listing them out here.

How did you select the names for your characters?

Oh, my gosh! You would laugh if you saw my gigantic spreadsheet of names. I spent a lot of time on the internet gathering cool Irish-sounding names. I’m very careful to keep track so I don’t re-use a name.

How long, on average, does it take for you to write a book—at least the ones you’ve penned so far?

It has totally varied – my first book took a year when I was writing part time. When I switched to writing full time, I could complete a novel in four months—about 80,000 words.  I don’t write every single day, but when I’m in writing mode I can write up to 4,000 words in one day. Not all of those sections make it to the final novel, of course.

Is Circle of Nine the (or one of) young adult book(s) you wanted to read when growing up?

I think so. Don’t we always write what we want to read? I know I do.

What is your writing Kryptonite?

Oh, I am so distractible. I write from home and when I used to perch at the breakfast bar, all the comings and goings in the house interrupted me constantly. I finally have snagged one of my kids’ bedrooms for an office. (She is 22 and assures me she is not moving home—so it’s okay!)

Now, I’d say that social media is my Kryptonite. I have to turn everything off – no pings, no pop ups – to immerse myself in my work in progress.

Do you ever read reviews for your books?

Ha, I do. Every-Single-One! Mostly, that’s okay because my reviews have mostly been good, but there’s always a stinker in there somewhere. I get a little upset, but I find there’s always something to learn from a less than stellar review.

As a fantasy author, what would you choose as your mascot or animal spirit?

A bird or a butterfly.

Have you ever been on a literary pilgrimage?

Whenever we travel, I weave in stops at important literary locations or authors’ homes/museums. For instance, on a trip to England with my family we stayed in a number of Jane Austen-ish locales like Bath and Lyme Regis.

I’ve been on personal literary pilgrimages—or maybe that is better defined as a research trip. Luckily, we don’t always have to visit far-off places to write about them with the ability to immerse ourselves in a place via the internet, but truly there’s nothing like being somewhere to convey the sights, sounds, and smells of a place in our literary descriptions.

Do any other mythologies interest you? Would you consider writing a story within that setting/location?

Yes, I am completely fascinated by other mythologies and folk lore of other countries, especially those beyond the traditional Greek and Roman studies we encountered in school. Norse and Viking themes are big right now, but lately I’ve been intrigued by Egyptian mythology.

What are your favorite literary journals? Genres? Books?

I’m a big fan of Stephen King’s book On Writing. (There are so many other books about writing and how to write that I’ve read, but this is one I will re-read.)

I love The Sun – it’s a beautiful literary journal.

Are there any question not asked here today that you would like to address?

No, this has been a lovely and interesting set of questions to answer!

And now for some fun queries…

Do you ever (or often) have conversations in your head?

Yes, doesn’t everyone. Sometimes out loud, too. I think people assume that I’m talking on a hands-free cell phone in my car when they see me at a traffic light. (I live in a small town, so everyone knows everyone.) In truth, I am likely working out some dialog between two of my characters.

What is your favorite mode of transport?

Trains – I really adore trains.

What track have you played to death lately?

The music from the Young Pope miniseries on HBO is fantastic and yes, I’ve played it to death.

What accent(s) do you find charming?

Irish & Scottish

What does your ideal day look like?

It would begin with waking up to breakfast in bed on a tropical island.

But, a  good day in my regular life includes an hour or so of social media work before writing for a solid four or five hours and then a break for a workout/run before cooking dinner and relaxing with an excellent book (or possibly some reality TV like the Great British Baking Show or The Amazing Race.)

Thanks again, Valerie Biel, for joining us and congratulations!

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About the author …

Valerie Biel’s debut novel Circle of Nine: Beltany has been honored as a 2015 Kindle Book Award Finalist, a finalist in the Gotham Writers’ Young Adult Novel Discovery Contest and the Readers’ Favorite Book Award Contest as well as being a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree. The final installment in this series – Circle of Nine: Sacred Treasures – has also received a B.R.A.G. Medallion and was short listed for the Eric Hoffer Book Award grand prize, earning the First Runner-Up distinction in the YA category. In addition to the young adult stories in the Circle of Nine world, she has also authored two middle-grade novels and is represented by Kim McCollum of the Purcell Agency.

When she’s not writing, she’s working on freelance publicity projects and assisting other authors through her business Lost Lake Press or teaching about writing topics at conferences, libraries, and schools. She’s a member of a fantastically fastidious critique group through her membership in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

When Valerie’s away from the computer, you might find her working on community theater projects, local history preservation, wrangling her overgrown garden, traveling the world, and reading everything she can get her hands on. Once upon a time, she graduated from the University of Wisconsin with degrees in journalism and political science. Now, she lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband and children and dreams regularly of a beautiful cottage on the Irish coast where she can write and write and write.

Follow and learn more about author Valerie Biel and her world at her website, blog, at her Amazon author page or Facebook, TwitterInstagramTumblr, or Pinterest.

Author image courtesy Valerie Biel.

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Comedy and Tragedy: A Week in the World of Marina Julia Neary, Book Excerpt: Never Be At Peace

Chapter 2

A Cooler Shade of Orange

(Belfast)

            On the train back to Belfast, the young Quaker immersed himself into the fantasies about the girl he saw at the Abbey. Her strong neck, glowing shoulders and supple knees appeared before his eyes. In the five minutes spent inside the dressing room at the Abbey he saw more bare skin than he had in the twenty-one years of his life.  McDonald, his comrade from the Protestant National Society, collected continental postcards with half-naked corset models and circulated them furtively after the meetings, but that was not quite the same as seeing a real girl. McDonald frequently spoke of certain establishments where young lads could go not only to look at naked girls but also touch them and have their way with them. Allegedly, those places were good for gaining experience and purging inhibitions.

never-be-at-peace-cover-thumbnail1As for Bulmer, his mother had taught him there was no real pleasure to be found in those filthy dens. Skimming over the moral aspect of going to a brothel, Mary Ann focused on the palpable dirt.  She did not speak of sin, only of infectious diseases that could turn a robust boy into a lump of flesh covered with oozing sores. A clean, enlightened, self-respecting Quaker boy never pays for carnal favors. If he absolutely cannot wait until marriage, he finds a discrete young lady of his own intellectual caliber with whom he could negotiate an interim arrangement. Miss Molony looked like the sort of girl Bulmer could negotiate with. He imagined the two of them sitting in a dusky picture house, holding hands and licking ice-cream from the same cone, their lips and tongues meeting in a vanilla-flavored sea.

The biological response triggered by the conjured scenario made it necessary for Bulmer to shift his briefcase over his lap. He loosened his tie and leaned his burning forehead head against the cool glass of the window. The elderly priest sitting across had no trouble guessing that the young man was not reciting Hail Mary in his thoughts.

***

            The train arrived in Belfast just before dusk. The shrill hiss of the steam drove Bulmer out of his reverie. Inhaling the smell of coal, his beaming face lifted to the sky, he did not see the gap between the train and the platform. He stepped into the void, his right leg getting caught between the concrete and the steel, his left knee landing on the sharp edge of the platform. A few gasps came from the crowd.  Two men rushed to his rescue and pulled him out by the arms just before the train started moving again.

Since rudimentary masculine pride prohibited him from wailing, and Quaker upbringing prohibited him from cursing, Bulmer burst into a song.

So here’s to those great Protestant Men
Who gave their lives to free our land.
All the people sang their praises then
For those brave United Irishmen.

His bewildered rescuers released him in haste. Bulmer was left sitting on the pavement under the lantern, rocking back and forth, still humming the tune.

“You really ought to be ashamed of yourself,” Bulmer heard above his head. It was Denis McCullough, a pub owner’s son from Divis Street. “Those compassionate gentlemen pulled you from under the train, and how do you repay them? With ungodly howling! I tune instruments all day, and my skill has quite improved over the years.  Alas, I cannot tune a human voice. That, I fear, is still beyond my area of expertise.”

Denis’ own voice had a peculiar quality reminiscent of a tightly wound string. He had a habit of speaking through his teeth, which caused his nostrils to flare and veins to swell on his neck. Half of the time he sounded like he was wrestling with pain or stifling back sobs. His gaunt swarthy face was marked with that exquisitely morose beauty that would make him ideal for portraying romantic martyrs on stage. Denis harbored no theatrical ambitions and regarded his own good looks as a minor nuisance.  Seeing no other purpose in life than fighting for Ireland’s freedom, he resented everything that distracted him from his quest.  At age twenty-one he was one of the staunchiest young republicans in Belfast. The only reason why he tolerated the chatty coddled Quaker was because the latter shared his political views.  Denis could take him in small doses.  Unfortunately, Hobson did not dispense himself in small doses, diving impetuously into every cause, every relationship and every conversation. His speeches left one deaf, and his hugs left one gasping for air. Denis would love to keep their alliance strictly vocational, but Bulmer, with his maniacal generosity, longed for a full-fledged friendship.

“Can you walk, Hobson?”

“I believe so. You’re my guardian angel, McCullough, always appearing when I need you. What are you doing here? Waiting for someone?”

“For you, as matter of fact.”

His ominous tone and the steadfast stare alarmed Bulmer. “Is something wrong? Did something happen while I was gone?”

“It’s all good news, especially for you, Hobson. Start walking and I’ll tell you.”

“Splendid! I have good news too, best news in the world. Guess what, McCullough? I saw that girl again.”

That girl … Not another tale of infantile infatuation! The Quaker spoke of the opposite sex with puppyish rapture, which betrayed his utter lack of experience.  It was easy for him to idealise women, because he had never gotten sufficiently close to one.

“Remember that céilidh hosted by Inghinidhe?” Bulmer continued. “Remember that girl who danced with Parkhill.”
“So? Parkhill danced with every girl in the hall that night. He won’t win a medal for monogamy, that’s for sure.”

“Well, one of the girls was Frank Molony’s little sister. Today I spotted her again in the costume room at the Abbey. She looked just like Emer from that book Alice Milligan lent me. Miss Molony is the secretary of Inghinidhe now. And since I’m the founder of Protestant National Society, among other things, it would make us the golden couple of the patriotic movement.”

“This is monstrously romantic,” Denis interrupted him, “but did you manage to convince Madame Gonne-MacBride – or whatever her name is – to intercede for us?”

“Oh, that too! I was about to tell you. That old grouch Yeats is coming, no worries. She’s a grand lady, Madame Gonne!”

“A lady?” Denis smirked incredulously. “I thought she was a general in petticoats.”

“What matters is that she’s bringing Dublin’s theatrical elite to see my play. I hope Miss Molony comes.”

Denis was ready to stick his fingers down his throat. “Women will be the end of you, Hobson. A few minutes ago you almost lost your legs because of your moronic fantasies.”

“You’re right, McCullough. There’re more injuries in store for me. I’ll consider myself fortunate if I survive the next decade without breaking my neck. Now, back to your good news, what were you about to tell me?”

“Patience, Hobson. Just follow me.”

Bulmer sighed and limped along, feeling the blood from his knee trickling down his leg. Denis led him to a hall on Albert Street where the Tír na nÓg branch of Gaelic League met every second and fourt Saturday of the month. Bulmer noticed that the windows were dark.

“So, McCullough, you dragged me here just to show me an empty hall that I’ve seen a thousand times before?”

Denis rattled the keys in his pocket. “It’s not really empty. Some comrades of mine believe you’d make a welcome addition to the organization.”

“Silly old boy! How’s that possible? I already belong to every organization in Belfast. I started half of them, remember?”

“Why, Hobson, your modesty is breathtaking. You think yourself ubiquitous and omniscient, don’t you?”

“Not without a reason! I’m the most ardent activist around here. Who spends all of his free time floating between the branches of the Gaelic League? You mean to tell me there’s some secret body from which I’ve been excluded all this time? Who’d have the audacity to start a club without my knowledge? Everybody knows I’m the chief club-starter in Belfast.”

“That ‘club’ has been in existence since ‘58. The same ‘club’ was behind the Rising of ’67. Any bells ringing in your pretty little head, Hobson? Your candidature was approved at the last meeting, after months of ardent advocacy on my part.”

Bulmer threw himself on his friend’s neck.  “Oh, McCullough, they want me!”

“With reservations, mind you.” Denis freed himself from the Quaker’s embrace. “There’s some concern about your ability to keep secrets.”

“Of course, I can keep secrets!”

Denis came close to kicking him in the bleeding knee.  “See? That’s what I’m talking about. You’re addicted to limelight. You never learned to modulate your voice.”

“It’s not my fault that I’m so popular. God endowed me with superb public speaking skills. Not that I’ve ever used those gifts for any selfish gain. Everything I do is for the benefit of Ireland.”

“It’s your discretion I question, not your devotion. If you blurt something out in mixed company, if you inadvertently compromise the organization, it’ll make me look very bad.”

“I’ll never fail you,” Bulmer vowed.  “I’ll be your right hand.”

“But, you see, Hobson, I don’t need a right hand at this moment. And even if I did, you wouldn’t be my first choice. You don’t need any more notoriety. Learn to observe and listen. Think you can keep your mouth shut for more than five seconds?”

Bulmer ran his knuckles across his lips. “From now on, I’ll speak only when spoken to.”

As soon as they entered the hall, they heard rustles coming from an adjacent lecture room.

“He’s here,” Denis announced in a loud whisper. “I deliver him wounded but alive.”

A small procession emerged from the lecture room. The leader was carrying a Bible and a paraffin lamp that gave just enough light to keep him and his companions from stumbling.

“This is how such things ought to be carried out,” Denis said. “I was sworn in by an obese drunk at the door of Donnelly’s pub. Not a sober man in the room! It sickens me just to think of it. You’re in luck, Hobson. You’ll experience what I was denied.”

Once Bulmer’s eyes adjusted to the semidarkness, he surveyed the faces of the men in the party. He knew some of them from Cumann na nGaedheal that was founded in August of 1900 at the suggestion of Arthur Griffith.

“What do I do now?”

Denis nodded at the leader of the procession. “Kelly, bring out the good book.”

The torch-bearer stepped forth, and his companions formed a semicircle behind his back. Bulmer’s hand trembled slightly as he placed it on the Bible. As a Quaker, he was prohibited from taking any oaths.

“Ready to proceed, are we?” Denis detected the tremor in his friend’s fingers. “Look, if your heart isn’t in it—”

“It is!” Some inner voice told Bulmer that this was not the last time he would be breaking one of the key principles of his faith. “My heart, my pocket, all I possess …”

“That’s the spirit.” Denis smiled wryly. “Repeat after me: in the presence of God—“

In the presence of God, I, John Bulmer Hobson, do solemnly swear that I will do my utmost to establish the independence of Ireland, and that I will bear true allegiance to the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Government of the Irish Republic and implicitly obey the constitution of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and all my superior officers and that I will preserve inviolable the secrets of the organisation.

Marina Julia Neary

Comedy and Tragedy: A Week in the World of Marina Julia Neary, Book Review: Never Be at Peace

One hundred years ago this week…

Today at the blog in this week of remembering two enormous historical events, we look back at Easter Week 1916, when Irish nationalists staged an uprising and strike, in large part roused following the death of Irish Republican Brotherhood founding member Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa and the words, at his funeral, of noted orator Patrick Pearce: “Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.”

Never Be at Peace by M.J. Neary

never-be-at-peace-cover-thumbnail1Set in the first half of the 20th century, Never Be at Peace tells the story of Helena Molony, an actress who dreams of liberating Ireland from British control. The novel is also the story of the 1916 Easter Rebellion and Molony weaves in and out of it along with a sizeable cast of other personages to whom the author, M.J. Neary, pays detailed attention and manages with impeccable skill. There are few undeveloped characters and one result of that is the intense insider view readers are given to the historical rebellion along with its strengths, foibles, inner squabbling and eventual splintering.

Against a backdrop of the theatre, a telling metaphor superimposed on the plans for a nationwide Irish strike and government shutdown, Molony et al., particularly Bulmer Hobson, with whom she engages in an unsatisfying and drawn-out affair, act out their own dreams. This is despite the conflicts raised in competition with each other’s egos, biases, backgrounds, perceptions, demands and goals—even children are part of the make-up of this production, one in particular representative of Ireland herself, in the aftermath of a clash of wills, disregarded in favor of satisfaction of individual wants.

The novel provides fresh insight into earlier groups and their startups, and we read of bands such as the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), Citizen Army and Irish Volunteers. While they strike an alliance, they are not a true consortium; instead they are given to poor communication and conflicting orders, most notably regarding the scheduled uprising day and the failed rendezvous with a German ship intending to deliver arms. Moreover, the public does not support them as much as previously believed, but the rebels will themselves to continue.

“Oh but it was frightfully comical: red streamers and paper flowers floating in the air. Flags, draperies, carpets! Red through a grey mist…Most Dubliners, even the destitute, view George as a legitimate monarch. While the carriage made its way through the sea of Union Jacks, I leaped forth with a black flag. The feeble old man standing behind me was so furious he struck me on the back with the stick of his Union Jack. But you know, my back is quite stiff, and the stick broke at once!”

Never Be at Peace moves in time past the rising, until the eve of World War II, when we are witness to the aftermath of forty years of dedication to a cause that appears to be in tatters. One chapter entitled “Potato Theatre” recalls a previous statement of Hobson’s, that the potato is the “prostitute of all crops,” and links the absurdity of situations with compassion for the heartache of loss, portrayed by Neary with a balance that utilizes sardonic and dark humor as well as what has to have been an intensive amount of research to get at the private lives of historical figures.

Murty makes a move on Helena
Murty makes a move on Helena

Neary tells this story of these people through an omniscient narrator who retains its presence as we are transported one at a time into the thoughts of various characters. At any given time it is very clear through whose perceptions we are viewing the world, and it works, even as Molony and Hobson retain their positions in the lead. This technique enables readers to see players as the individuals they are, individuals that history has sort of flitted over for “lack of space,” and we are able to identify them later when they at times are initially unrecognized following the brutal passage of years.

Historically, for example, Hobson’s positions were sabotaged, information was deliberately kept from him and he had to develop strategies of his own in order to detect plans, all part of a swirl of events that counterattack themselves and lead to rumors that damage his subsequent political prospects.

While it might be a tad unfair to state that Neary’s Hobson spirals into a caricature of himself, he does nevertheless retain his insistence upon placing his position at odds with forces mightier than himself, for better or worse—and often worse. Neary portrays the stark reality, never attempting to overlay scenes or actions with glitter of any sort. Hobson is determined if at times naïve, and his humor and bitterness frequently cross paths. As he stumbles upon a Sackville Street in the midst of being looted,

[j]ewelry shop owner Edward Burns watches his premises as it is destroyed. . . The spectacle of urban apocalypse mesmerized him.

A gaunt man in his early thirties entered the scene, limping and holding his stomach. In spite of his wrinkled clothes and tangled hair, it was obvious he did not belong to the mob.

[He] exclaimed in a heightened Northern accent, “Connolly, look! This is your noble working class, unshelled, unembellished.” He clapped his hands, cheering the looters. “That’s the spirit! Steal from your fellow Dubliners while you can.”

James Connolly awaits execution

Likewise, Molony dedicates her life to a cause that she herself helps break down by allowing herself to be misdirected, by others as well as herself, despite her intelligence and strong sense of personality. Of course, in fairness it must be said that she does not see all that readers do, and naturally her responses are colored by events as she occupies them. Still, Neary does not provide excuses, though we do at times see Molony nearing the moments when she needs to reconstruct herself. Her often simple dialogue is nevertheless charged with meaning as she simultaneously sabotages a moment, a statement fraught with significance.

“This is Ireland’s hour of beauty. When all the sordidness and sadness slips from her, when she lies around us simplified in the coloured dusk. Look how the seagulls rock on the golden water. Don’t they remind you of pearls scattered over silk?”

Helena exhaled and tucked a frizzy strand behind her ear. “If I don’t have a cup of tea, I’ll surely collapse.”

This is the story of a moment in time, which involves the people who eyed it, waiting for and planning, and what happens afterwards. It rightfully brings to a wider audience the historical figures whose lives were spent in dedication to that moment, and the failures they experience. Some of the cast are recognizable to many readers; some known well to audiences appear but briefly. Many are bent to the brink, giving their lives—in more ways than one—for the chance at freedom, and none are willing to give up in the face of breakdown in whole or part. As written elsewhere by Irish novelist Liam O’Flaherty, who himself makes a cameo appearance in Never Be at Peace, “There is reason to hope that the failure is only partial in some places.”

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About the author

A self-centered, only child of classical musicians, Marina Julia Neary spent her early years in Eastern Europe and came to the United States at the age of thirteen. Her literary career revolves around depicting military and social disasters, from the Charge of the Light Brigade, to the Irish Famine, to the Easter Rising in Dublin, to the nuclear explosion in Chernobyl some thirty miles away from her home town. Notorious for her abrasive personality and politically incorrect views that make her a persona non grata in most polite circles, Neary explores human suffering through the prism of dark humor, believing that tragedy and comedy go hand in hand.

MJHer debut thriller Wynfield’s Kingdom was featured on the cover of the First Edition Magazine in the United Kingdom and earned the praise of the Neo-Victorian Studies Journal. After writing a series of novels dealing with the Anglo-Irish conflict (including Brendan Malone, Martyrs and Traitors and Never Be at Peace) she takes a break from the slums of London and the gunpowder-filled streets of Dublin to delve into the picturesque radioactive swamps of her native Belarus. Saved by the Bang: A Nuclear Comedy is a deliciously offensive autobiographical satire featuring sex scandals of Eastern Europe’s artistic elite in the face of political upheavals.

You can find more about Neary and other books at her blog as well as her Facebook and Amazon author pages. The companion novels for Never Be at Peace, Brendan Malone: The Last Fenian and Martyrs and Traitors: A Tale of 1916, as well as others, may also be purchased at Amazon and Amazon UK. A potential addition to follow up the trilogy is entitled The Lily of Ulster.

Drawings by Alissa Mendenhall, courtesy Marina Julia Neary,
and appear as a separate entity from the novel

A copy of Never Be at Peace was furnished to the blogger in exchange for an honest review

Comedy and Tragedy: A Week in the World of Marina Julia Neary: Book Excerpt, Martyrs and Traitors

Chapter 19

Dublin Suffragette Logic

(Abbey Street, Dublin)

January 14, 1910

Bulmer celebrated his twenty-seventh birthday in bed with Helena. The blizzard kept them trapped inside her flat. The gramophone was broken, so they had to make do without any musical accompaniment.

martyrs and traitorsWhile Helena was undressing, Bulmer noticed bruises and scratch marks on her hips and shoulders. The gradation in color also suggested that they were left over the course of several days. He knew better than interrogate her about the origin of the marks.

“I hope you haven’t been bored or lonesome,” he said. “Those Dublin winters can be depressing.”

Helena picked up her clothes from the floor and folded them methodically. She proceeded to remove her comb and her earrings lest they should get damaged, blotting the gloss from her lips and examining the circles under her eyes.

Bulmer, growing impatient, tapped the blanket twice. “Hurry now. You’re starting to behave like a reluctant wife.”

Their lovemaking had already begun losing its spontaneity. At the dawn of their affair they would initiate foreplay in the presence of onlookers and then seek a secluded spot. Often the consummation would happen before they even had a chance to remove their clothes. Now they would take the time to undress themselves side by side, sort out the garments, making sure that nothing of value fell out of the pockets, slip under the covers and only then begin kissing. They had not grown bored yet, but they had certainly grown complacent. Once the initial fervor of their reconciliation had abated, once the terms of their alliance had been renegotiated, the two settled into their version of ‘ever after’. Bulmer was no longer afraid of disappointing Helena, having made his peace with the fact that she, in spite of being younger than him, possessed more experience. Silencing his insecurities, he freed himself to indulge his curiosity—and Helena, her ingenuity. Her instructions and compliments were equally blunt.

“Blessedly, you’re not a smoker, Hobson. They taste horribly. This gent I knew before you—nice as can be—went to bed with a pipe between his teeth.”

“Men like him keep Tom Clarke’s business afloat.”

“I’m all for supporting local shopkeepers, but that gent was portly and sweaty and had red dots under his skin. I only tell you this to demonstrate how vice, gluttony and poor hygiene can undermine one’s amorous prospects. Of all my friends, you have the firmest, healthiest body. Even your sweat smells like pine sap. Animals use scent to choose their mates.”

Still from cover shoot
Still from cover shoot

The topic of mating and procreating kept rising with intriguing frequency. Helena never asked Bulmer to exercise caution and welcomed him into her body wholly, which left him both alarmed and flattered. If a beautiful woman wanted to bear his offspring, even out of wedlock, who was he to protest?

“I’m spoiling you, Hobson,” she said, looking up at him. “You aren’t learning to exercise self-restraint. That may become an obstacle should you decide to marry.”

“You mean, not all women are like you,” Bulmer said in all innocence.

“You’d be astonished to learn how many married men lead lives of sensual deprivation. Their wives still perform their spousal duties in complete darkness, in the only acceptable position, for the only acceptable purpose. And once those women decide they don’t want any more children, they leave their husbands in the cold altogether.” Helena enjoyed the look of horror on Bulmer’s face. “I hear frightful tales from my married gentlemen-friends, whose wives constantly complain of headaches and fatigue. Sometimes they grow fat on purpose, just to repulse their husbands. Consider yourself warned. Even if your future wife doesn’t torment you in this manner, you still may find yourself feeling deprived, after all the piquant little sins we’ve committed.”

“Then I’ll never marry!” Bulmer laughed and pulled Helena on top of himself. “I’ll remain your jester, your playmate, anything you want.”

With every round of lovemaking, as he noticed, the sensations were less acute but deeper and broader, engulfing the entire body. Both had to work a little harder to reach the peak, but it also lasted longer.

The repeated rising and dropping of the blood pressure left Helena drowsy and her lover famished. Bulmer knew that in her flat there was no food except for intellectual. Helena had an impressive collection of old books and treated them in the most irreverent fashion. A rare copy of the William Barrow’s 1846 English translation of The Three Musketeers was lying open on the damp floor amidst shoes, which could not possibly be good for the leather binding. Bulmer thought of giving Helena a lecture on the proper treatment of collectible prints, but in the end he decided not to provoke fate. Instead, he picked up the abused book, blew the dust off the cover and began reading it.

Helena took a few sips from a whiskey bottle that she kept by her bedside, yawned and laid her head on his shoulder. “Ah, this is heavenly. “Hobson, stay for another day. Belfast can wait.”

Bulmer thought it would be even more heavenly if the woman sharing his blanket was Isabel. Oh, it was unforgivable piggishness towards Helena, the mother of his unborn baby, and possibly, of his future children. To atone for his ingratitude, he cuddled Helena closer to him and planted a few apologetic kisses on her sweaty forehead. “Go to sleep, darling. You have a grueling rehearsal tonight.”

“Will you still be here when I return? I dread coming back to a cold, dark and empty flat in the middle winter.”

The book slipped out of Bulmer’s hand, as he began dozing off. “I’ll stay here until you kick me out.”

“Don’t be foolish, Hobson. I cannot kick you out in this blizzard. You’ll never reach the train station.”

“Can I come along to the theatre? I’ve never seen you rehearse.”

“But then everyone will assume we’re a couple. They’ll starting winking and grinning and asking questions. You know how people are.” “As you wish, darling.” There was no sense in arguing with Helena on that subject. The woman was willing to get pregnant by him, yet she would not allow him to come to her rehearsal. Now that was a classic example of Dublin suffragette logic.
“I knew you’d understand.” Helena sighed and rubbed the tip of her nose against his collarbone. “By the way, before I forget … I spoke to her last week.”

Bulmer shuddered and opened his eyes. “Who is ‘her’?”

“The one of whom you were thinking half a minute ago.” Helena lifted her head from his shoulder. “No need to feign innocence with me. I know what’s on your mind, and I’m not offended in the least. Dream about your divine Isabel all you want. She’s crafted a business proposal for you. She wants you to go to Carrick for a few months and train her father’s men. Did you hear that, Hobson? Your unattainable princess is dispatching you on a quest. Her mother is even willing to give you a modest stipend. You can lodge with the Malones, if you do not mind living side by side with pigs and horses. I know that the patriarch would welcome you with open arms. Hosting an IRB activist under his roof would be holy oil on his peasant heart.”

Bulmer sat up, his drowsiness suddenly lifted. “I’ll do whatever is necessary,” he said with rapid eagerness. “I told Isabel she could call on me anytime. I’ve met those men in Carrick. They are good raw material.”

He started rising from the bed, but Helena held him back by the arm. “Before you agree to this endeavor, examine your motive carefully. Are you doing this for the cause or only to impress Isabel? If it’s the latter,

then I must warn you that your efforts, in all likelihood, shan’t pay off. I’d hate to see you become devoured by another fancy and start neglecting your work.”

“That won’t happen.”

“You mustn’t make such promises. Recall how you went to pieces when you and I first quarreled? And you don’t even love me.”

“That’s not true. I do love you, as much as you allow me to.”

“I suppose, there are gradations of love.” Helena shrugged, acknowledging her defeat. “You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t care for me at all. But Isabel has bewitched you. If you say a woman’s name in your thoughts often enough, others will hear it too. With your every thrust I kept hearing Isabel, Isabel, as if there were three of us in bed instead of two. Again, I take no offense, though it would pain me to see you demeaned.”

Bulmer did not want Helena to think they were having an argument, so he embraced and rocked her gently. “Hypothetically speaking, even if I were to pursue Isabel, what makes you so pessimistic about my chances of succeeding?”

“I’ve seen her with other men. She’ll never belong to any one of them. She’s betrothed to the Republic. Of all our nationalist friends she’s the most fanatical one, even though it may not seem so at a first. Oh, she may press your fingers, stroke your brow and impart a few secrets that aren’t really secrets. You’ll walk away feeling privileged and empowered, while in reality you’re but clay in her hands. Isabel doesn’t do it out of malice or for her feminine vainglory. Believe it or not, she hates being a woman and would give up anything to be reborn as a man to better serve her country. Everything she does it for the cause. I saw her kissing Malone’s youngest on Frankfurt Avenue two years ago. She still hasn’t given up hope of recruiting him into the IRB, even though Hugh’s been courting that Ashley woman from Belfast. Isabel wants him for that circle in Carrick. I’m ninety-nine percent certain that our prized Irish Baritone won’t join, but if there’s anyone who can convert him, it would be her. Did you hear me, Hobson?”

“It’s done,” Bulmer declared, alert and battle-ready. “Tell Isabel that I’ll go.”

Marina Julia Neary

Role of Bulmer Hobson
Handsome Edgar Harding in character as Bulmer Hobson

 

Comedy and Tragedy: A Week in the World of Marina Julia Neary, Book Review: Martyrs and Traitors: A Tale of 1916

Martyrs and Traitors: A Tale of 1916 by Marina Julia Neary

On the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rebellion, April 1916

Winner of the Readers’ Favorite Five Stars Award

41yT+awP3nL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_With Never Be at Peace, Marina Julia Neary opens up to readers’ awareness and imagination the world that existed behind the 1916 Easter Rebellion, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB)-led event doomed to failure by its own participants. To be seen in this telling of events would be the backdrop of theatre consumed and surrounded by love affairs and casual assignations; jealousies and rivalries; and the rise and fall of groups and leaders of questionable sustainability.

Chief amongst these is Bulmer Hobson, an upper middle-class Quaker and Ulsterman, whose northern accent somehow is charmingly evident despite Neary’s choice not to emphasize burrs and brogues. He appears once more here in Martyrs and Traitors, which also recounts the events of the Dublin-centered insurrection, zooming in to brighten the field and all within it. Though he is the novel’s central character, the story is not told from Hobson’s point of view, but rather that of an omniscient narrator with the purpose of additionally seeing him the way others do, a narrative choice that develops Hobson’s person even further and also allows his interactions to provide greater insight into who he is.

This Neary pulls off with skill, aplomb, grace and remarkable understanding of this era’s events as well as implications that affect every moment. She brings in Helena Molony, Hobson’s first love, often to showcase the pair’s opposite approaches to their nation’s fight for freedom, not to mention the incandescence of Helena’s nature and the hue she brings to her perspectives.

“Over there,” she gasped, squeezing Bulmer’s arm.
“You’re in luck. I’m so glad he came out tonight.”
“Who’s ‘he’?”
“Mr. Pearse, the founder of St. Edna’s.”
Bulmer knew all about the school—another educational experiment, not much different from the agricultural commune in Raheny. Except, instead of vegetables, the test subjects were boys.
“Why are you whispering, Helena?”
Her pupils were dilated with indignation. “Well, because . . . his name’s not to be taken in vain.”
“Is he holy?”
“To many people, he is, believe it or not! Hobson, are you merely innerving me, or are you truly so ignorant of the man’s contribution?”
“We all contribute. Most patrons here have done something for Ireland. And yet they greet each other in their natural speaking voices. We’re not in mourning, are we?”
“As a matter of fact, Mr. Pearse is in mourning at the moment, yes.”
“Let me guess . . . a magazine rejected his poem?”
“You unapologetic blasphemer.”

Despite Bulmer’s prime spotlight, Neary never allows other characters to function as mere curtain warmers. Their presence indicates the reality that no figure exists in a vacuum but the author’s treatment of them also dignifies their own roles in Hobson’s life as well as that of Ireland. Indeed, the privileged position of opening is awarded to those who kidnap Hobson before the rebellion gets going, aware that he had already added sufficient gum to their works in his efforts to prevent the entire episode from occurring on schedule, thus reducing the number of participants. Neary’s streamlining prowess reveals a great deal about their natures without consigning them to stock status, as she simultaneously shines the spotlight on Pearse—“[Dublin] was about to be demolished by a mob of self-proclaimed patriots in a collective suicide fantasy devised by a handful of IRB bullies under Patrick Pearse’s leadership”—and commences his requirement throughout the novel to work for every strand of sympathy he gets.

Hobson as a young man
Bulmer Hobson as a young man, during a trip to NYC

This is not Neary’s doing; as she herself states, she doesn’t attempt to sway readers in either direction, “[n]ot that you need to take sides to enjoy a good historical novel.” Pearce’s voice is persuasive, but she presents historical information, relentlessly researched, and even when shared through the filter of Hobson’s perceptions, trusts readers to make their own choices about this moment in time when a group of citizens reach out for the freedom that hitherto had proved so elusive.
The novel does have its light moments—in fact rather many of them. Hobson himself is presented as somewhat caustic, though his sarcasm or insensitivity—dependent on where one stands upon delivery—is characterized by his willingness to unleash it even upon himself. Moreover, while not everyone thanks him for the truth within his statements, specifically regarding IRB multiplexing that would, he warned, lead only to collapse, he issues them anyway, at great risk to himself.

“The only way to free Ireland permanently is by moral insurrection. Our men need to stop drinking and enlisting in the British army and police force. We must expand and support our own industries. I’m not suggesting that we not bear arms at all, but we must use those arms for self-defense, not staging frivolous rebellions to flaunt our reckless courage before the oppressor.”

Reader appreciation for him goes deeper because he is portrayed realistically; no one can rightfully claim Neary’s Hobson as “too perfect”; he certainly is as egotistical as any of his adversaries, and has a way with words. It may be that the logic he employs is too pure in form for casual recognition, despite its simplicity: “No man has the right to risk the fortunes of a country to create for himself a niche in history.” He demands a free Ireland, but will not accept a nation that bleeds itself in it attempts to become whole.

“A body that’s kept clean of harmful substance and engaged in wholesome activity can heal itself. In the same manner, a nation of sober, industrious citizens can claim its independence.”

As the novel moves on we catch glimpses of events also portrayed from a different angle in Never Be at Peace and as Easter Monday and the week come and go, the narrative picks up speed, reflecting the way in which everything since the last uprising has led to this, and the rapidity with which life now seems to pass us by, once something we have toiled long, arduous years for has taken its final bow.

hobson being guarded
Hobson being guarded

Apart from the initial opening giving us a glimpse into just pre-rebellion, Neary’s tale—aptly titled as one of many portraits of the time—moves along linearly, which for this complicated historical era and cast of performers works best. Post-rebellion we see more of a Hobson we might not always have preferred—he is portrayed as, amongst other descriptors, a user and a traitor—but who succeeds in capturing us as the shared heartbreak of a partitioned nation continues to cast individuals into categories (i.e. religion) that guide us in “knowing” whether we are meant to love or hate them.

For those who grow old and at this time watch their friends and fellows begin to leave this world, it surely must have been all that much more bitter. Neary’s gift of words—a vast repertoire of communication; descriptive action phrases instantly and delightfully recognizable, even when we haven’t ever seen them before; and the ability to bring laughter to our lips when we would prefer to weep—mercifully carries us through these final years, as fast as they pass by. The tenderness with which Hobson’s daughter treats him reminds us of his vulnerability—and our own—as we can at least be grateful for this solidarity amongst so much else that has been divided, personally as well as societally.

Martyrs and Traitors is an analysis as much as the telling of one man’s role in a movement and place in the world, public and private, a man once categorized by the British as “the most dangerous man in Ireland,” whose rising star really did make him dangerous to Ireland’s rulers, for had his confederates followed his lead, they may have achieved differently—to the detriment of the British. However different to that it turned out, Hobson himself might be the first to point out that what we mourn in life is eclipsed by the freedom of soaring over the sea, as a star burning, for others, its lantern of liberty.

“This novel is my hymn for all prematurely extinguished stars.”

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About the Author

this oneA self-centered, only child of classical musicians, Marina Julia Neary spent her early years in Eastern Europe and came to the United States at the age of thirteen. Her literary career revolves around depicting military and social disasters, from the Charge of the Light Brigade, to the Irish Famine, to the Easter Rising in Dublin, to the nuclear explosion in Chernobyl some thirty miles away from her home town. Notorious for her abrasive personality and politically incorrect views that make her a persona non grata in most polite circles, Neary explores human suffering through the prism of dark humor, believing that tragedy and comedy go hand in hand.

Her debut thriller Wynfield’s Kingdom was featured on the cover of the First Edition Magazine in the United Kingdom and earned the praise of the Neo-Victorian Studies Journal. After writing a series of novels dealing with the Anglo-Irish conflict (including Brendan Malone, Martyrs and Traitors and Never Be at Peace) she takes a break from the slums of London and the gunpowder-filled streets of Dublin to delve into the picturesque radioactive swamps of her native Belarus. Saved by the Bang: A Nuclear Comedy is a deliciously offensive autobiographical satire featuring sex scandals of Eastern Europe’s artistic elite in the face of political upheavals.

You can find more about Neary and other books at her blog as well as her Facebook and Amazon author pages. The companion novels for Never Be at Peace, Brendan Malone: The Last Fenian and Martyrs and Traitors: A Tale of 1916, as well as others, may also be purchased at Amazon and Amazon UK. A potential addition to follow up the trilogy is entitled The Lily of Ulster.

Drawings by Alyssa Mendenhall

All images courtesy Marina Julia Neary

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The blogger was furnished with a copy of Martyrs and Traitors in exchange for an honest review. 

A Happy New Home

Many of you may have noticed that the blog has not been very active; indeed you haven’t received a lot of e-mails from this site. This is because I’ve opened up shop at a new location, and you can access it from here. At the end of 2015 it will be the third New Year’s I greet at Before the Second Sleep‘s new location, and I would love it if you joined me there.

I’ve continued to work on book reviews and other series, such as “Ordinary People,” “Great Land History” and “My Tottering TBR,” and others are yet to emerge, focusing on food, arts, interviews, Alaska and more.  I’m also currently undergoing transitions in terms of affiliations and projects, deliberately shifting priorities in order to be able to look forward and expand my creative thought, abilities and output. I may have time to post links here to the new location, but also encourage you to jog on over and follow me there.

Here are a few examples of some of my newer pieces:

Friday Night Flashback: Words and Walking

This flashback dips into another piece of writing from a few years back when my son was no longer pretty tiny, but still very much a little boy. He was growing into what I tend to call being a “regular boy,” more and more asking me to tell him stories about himself and about me when I was his age.

This is one that leads into his own experiences…

When I was a little girl, my mother and I were in the habit of going for walks. There was something poetic about these walks, partly because we talked a great deal about the natural world set out all around us: what we could see and what lay buried beneath the cold winter’s snow. But also, as we walked through the sometimes terrifically cold and windy evenings–I recall our winter walks the best–we spoke silly rhymes and recited poetry, even if it were only a few lines from each poem we wanted to talk about.

In moments like these I suspect my mother was a lover of words and, had she been born later, may have had opportunity to develop her fascination, but for then we roamed the streets and fields, calling out the name of the first thing we set our eyes on after we opened them, then trying to come up with words to rhyme. Sometimes these would be phrases, nonsense ones even, or sentences that we took turns stringing together, spinning a yarn in verse.

More in Friday Night Flashback: Words and Walking

Of Pies, Books and other Essentials: An Interview with Anna Belfrage

Hello, Anna, so good to see you again! It’s been awhile since we’ve sat down for a chat together! Thanks so much for joining me here today. I got a little ambitious this time. (gestures to plate)

What, you’ve made me chocolate torte – and you don’t even like chocolate? How lucky I brought a lemon meringue pie! (whips out pie)

Wow, just as you promised! That was super sweet! Although… (peers at pie)…it’s a bit, umm, droopy?
I know, the meringue looks sort of weird, the heat in my oven is a bit uneven, but I can assure you it tastes great.

I’m all for testing that theory! (picks up cutter) Well, first of all I’d like to congratulate you on winning The Review’s Book of the Month award! I found myself becoming more and more excited as reveal day drew closer, that’s how much I wanted people to know about A Rip in the Veil.

I think I’m as excited as you are – and very, very honoured. To be quite honest, I’ve been considering to relearn how to cartwheel just to celebrate, but that little effort resulted in a sprained wrist – and three sons who were falling over laughing. Huh: as if they can cartwheel!

(chuckles) You spoke briefly last time about Alex, who travels in time back to 17th century Scotland and meets up with Matthew Graham, and indicated she was not modeled on any person you knew. What about other characters or events? Do any of them have roots in past memories? I suppose I’m fascinated when I learn of the way writers bring some of their memories to life in association with those who populate their stories. If they’re all new from your imagination, how did they all develop—many at once or did they come as you went along? Do you have full backgrounds laid out for them?

The more I write, the more I realise that characters spring into life through different channels. Quite often, I see someone doing something – like the auditor who had this habit of always fiddling with her long hair. In my books, it is Matthew doing the fiddling with Alex’s hair, but the gesture comes from a PWC [Price Waterhouse Cooper] partner.

Some characters do have a real life model. Mrs Gordon in A Rip in the Veil owes a lot to Elsa, my mother-in-law. It was Elsa who taught me to knit, it was Elsa who laughed her head off the first time we met and the first thing that happened was that my pants split all along the inside seam. (What can I say? I wanted to impress, so I wore my best pants, unfortunately a tad too tight.)

In general, no, my characters do not appear as fully-fledged Athenas, springing out to meet the world. Some are reticent – Matthew did not want to share the humiliating experiences at the hands of his wife and brother – some are too unformed. Usually, they come to me as voices first, I hear snippets of conversations, words that allow me to grasp how they think and why they think that way. From the voices, I progress to visual impressions – but I am not interested in detailed descriptions of what they might look like, I want my readers to fill in the blanks for themselves. I think that as a writer, one must decide which characters need a full background and which don’t – but even the secondary personages must be brought to life, become relevant to the protagonists. Otherwise, they serve no purpose.
What is important when writing historical fiction is to ensure your characters fit the period. This requires a lot of research – very varied research covering religious views, reading matters, dress, diet, etc. What I want to achieve is a sense of immersion that will allow me to paint the period for my readers, without coming across as a heavy-handed know-all. A fine balancing act, let me tell you.

More in Of Pies, Books and Other Essentials: An Interview with Anna Belfrage

Book Review: Martyrs and Traitors

With Never Be at Peace, Marina Julia Neary opens up to readers’ awareness and imagination the world that existed behind the 1916 Easter Rebellion, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB)-led event doomed to failure by its own participants. To be seen in this telling of events would be the backdrop of theatre consumed and surrounded by love affairs and casual assignations; jealousies and rivalries; and the rise and fall of groups and leaders of questionable sustainability.

Chief amongst these is Bulmer Hobson, an upper middle-class Quaker and Ulsterman, whose northern accent somehow is charmingly evident despite Neary’s choice not to emphasize burrs and brogues. He appears once more here in Martyrs and Traitors, which also recounts the events of the Dublin-centered insurrection, zooming in to brighten the field and all within it. Though he is the novel’s central character, the story is not told from Hobson’s point of view, but rather that of an omniscient narrator with the purpose of additionally seeing him the way others do, a narrative choice that develops Hobson’s person even further and also allows his interactions to provide greater insight into who he is.

This Neary pulls off with skill, aplomb, grace and remarkable understanding of this era’s events as well as implications that affect every moment. She brings in Helena Molony, Hobson’s first love, often to showcase the pair’s opposite approaches to their nation’s fight for freedom, not to mention the incandescence of Helena’s nature and the hue she brings to her perspectives.

More in Book Review: Martyrs and Traitors

There are loads more great entries waiting and many more to come. Welcome to my new home!