Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Question and Answer Session with Judy Leslie- Author of For the Love of Ireland

Author Supplied Bio

When I walked into the Antique shop in the historic town of Bellingham, Washington at the age of 21, I had no idea that I would soon become its owner and would be surrounded by things I knew nothing about. I researched everything from grandma's collectables to old tables and chairs. I quickly learned that there was a story attached to every object no matter how trivial it may seem to the average person. Old wedding gifts, items saved and sacrificed for, mementoes, useful and frivolous objects, all filled my shelves.
I lived in the back of the shop with my cat Betty, and cooked on an old wood stove that I fed with Presto Logs. In the evenings, I would sit in a creaky painted rocker, and scavenge through old black and white photographs and letters, pondering the lives of these long gone relatives. Did they know someday a stranger would be pawing their personal belongings, I wondered? I tried piecing an image together of what life must have been like when these items were new. Were these people happy back then? Had life turned out for them as planned?
When people came into my shop we would swap stories about old uncle's Joe's or aunt Gertrude's hand-me-down trinkets and what they might be worth to someone that wanted that 'junk'. Then I would remind them that perhaps they held some value that couldn't be bought. Like a child's first pair of ice skates or a set of hand embroidered tea towels made as a gift by a spinster losing her sight. Once I stirred their imagination they looked around my shop with fresh eyes and became curious about the objects surrounding them.
I would share what I had learned about whatever they were attracted to and soon they would be walking out the door with their new treasure. It was the story they bought, the article was just evidence of the legend. So, it only made sense that someday I would become a historical fiction writer.
Now, many years later with the shop long gone and countless writing classes under my belt, I'm researching the internet and locating out-of-print publications to find secrets about the past. Instead of antiques, I collect fragments of news articles about the lives of real people most have forgotten. I love doing the detective work and unwinding the threads of these various characters from long ago and weaving them back together again in a new version of their story.
My novel, For the Love of Ireland evolved from information I discovered about a Chicago couple and their connection to Ireland's Land League, and the secret activities of the Irish-American organization the Clan na Gael. If you would like to know more about my novel For The Love of Ireland, please go to There you can read about the real people my story characters are based on.
And the next time you pass an Antique shop pop in and bring your imagination with you. You never know what story you might leave with.

With Judy Leslie
author of For the Love of ireland

1.   What is the genesis of your interest in Irish history, especially the periods covered in For the Love of Ireland?

Things never go in a straight line and I had been working on another novel during that time frame in which the father had disappeared for 5 years.  I was looking for a reason as to why he left and wanted to tie it to Irish activity.  The deeper I got into my research the more I found myself pulled into writing For The Love of Ireland instead.  There were so many interesting characters and things going on with the Irish in America and in Ireland at that time.

2.   I like novels that include historical figures as your's does. How did you research the characters?

In the beginning the research required time on the internet locating books (many out of print) and old articles, until I acquired a large body of information.  I have in my procession over 25 books written either about the characters or written by the characters themselves.  I also spent time going through newspaper archives from 1870 through 1890.  I was lucky enough to purchase an old newspaper containing several articles mentioning Charles Parnell’s arrest.

3.    Tell us a bit about your educational background please.   Have you attended creative writing workshops?

I have attended many creative writing workshops over the years.  However, it wasn’t until I studied literary and popular fiction at the local university did I learn story structure.  Prior to attending the university I had spent over 20 years working on my training novel which I put aside when I decided to write For The Love of Ireland.

4.   Your descriptions of the evictions of Irish tenant farmers were very moving and vivid.   do you see the English  as the "villains" in Irish history and the famines as genocide?

Yes, the Irish were no better than slaves to the English at that time.  However, Britain previously had been colonizing the world and had developed a superior attitude, much like the south in the United States prior to the Civil War where people were treated poorly.

5.   Alex Sullivan is the only to me, wholly unsympathetic character in For the Love of Ireland.    Why did you choose to make him so unpleasant ?   

Ahh, interesting.  I have heard from a few people that they actually felt sorry for Alex.  I wanted to show that he really did love Margaret and wanted her to love him back.  Alex was very ambitious and at this time in history wives were expected to bend under the control of their husbands.  Alex admired Margaret for her intellect and independence, while resenting it at the same time.

6.   Underlying the novel, I found powerful commentary on how women were seen in both Ireland and America in the 1880s or so.   How does this oppression relate to the oppression of the Irish.  In one shocking scene the mother of Charles Parnell tells Margaret Sullivan that her husband has the right to keep her in her place by hitting her.

On a deeper level I wanted to show the parallel between the way Britain treated Ireland and the way Alex treated Margaret.  (I will give you things you don’t want in exchange for the illusion of freedom, but never forget who really has control and if you do you will be punished.)  Margaret’s fight for Ireland’s freedom became the metaphor for her fighting for her own.  

7.   Who are some of your favorite historical novelists?   Favorite Irish writers? 

I have too many historical novelists to list and I like different authors for different reasons.  I like many of the old Irish authors like Joyce, Becket, Wilde, Stoker and Yeats.  Margaret Sullivan was friends with WB Yeats by the way.

8.   Have you yet been to Ireland?

I went to Ireland last September to see the places mentioned in my novel.  I don’t think people who have never been there can fully appreciate its history and current culture.  To me its appeal comes from the lack of pretentiousness, genuine beauty of the landscape, and generosity of the people.

9.  How did running an antique store impact your interest in history?  

When I bought the antique shop the only thing I knew about history consisted of the names and dates I needed to remember to past my history tests in school.  I hated history.  But the items in my shop belonged to real people and that personalized the past for me.  So, I started researching the items in my shop and this stirred my imagination.  The one thing I regret selling was a box of old photographs and newspaper articles about a photographer during the 1880s.  I guess his chemicals caused an explosion on a train once and he got thrown off the train.  This man travelled all over the US taking photos of people and buildings.  His photos were quite interesting to look at.  I hope whoever owns them now appreciates the history this amazing photographer captured.

10.   What is your next writing project? 

I have a couple in the works.  One picks up where For the Love of Ireland left off.  In real life Margaret Sullivan went to the 1889 world’s fair in Pairs after the Parnell trial to write about the fair, so I am reimagining her experience.  Another novel I am working on deals with an Irish family sent to separate prisons in Australia during the 1860s.  

11.  Do you think it is fair for a kindle edition to cost the same as a physical book?  

No, I have my kindle edition priced much lower. But, I think most people don’t understand how little an author makes whether it is off of an ebook or a paperback, traditionally published or self-published.  People are used to watching free TV, but forget that the others (advertisers) pay for the program.  

12..  Do you prefer E reading or physical books? 

I buy paperback books because I spend hours on a computer and I want to get away from a screen and enjoy my reading time in a different place.

13.   How long did it take you to write For The Love of Ireland?  Did you do an outline first?  

Once I decide this was the story I wanted to tell I wrote about 10 hours a day for 6 months.   While I was doing my research I had to create a timeline.  It pretty much predicted the historical events in the novel.  I just wove Margaret’s story around the events.  Of all the real people my characters were based on, information about Margaret was hardest to come by.  So, I could creative with her.  

14.   Why do you think the Irish have produced so many great writers?  

I think the Irish muse pushes repressed passion and sensitivity forward through the writing of many Irish writers; scenarios that they may not have been able to act upon in real life.  Perhaps there exist somewhere in the universe an Irish collective consciousness.

15.   What advise would you give writers struggling with getting their first novel published?

Learn your craft, have a unique story to tell, and hire a copy editor.  Once you have a quality product then learn all you can about marketing.

End of Q and A

For The Love of Ireland by Judy Leslie  ( USA) is marvelous historical novel that deals with some of the central figures in the Irish struggle for independence.   The story opens in 1879 on a steamship crossing the Atlantic from the USA to Ireland.   Margaret Sullivan (all of the main characters are real) is the wife of a prominent Chicago Irish American leader and wealthy business man on her way to Ireland by herself, an amazing thing for the time, to gather material for a book on the country.   She is a journalist but has to make use of a man's name in her work as otherwise no one will take her seriously.   I highly recommend this book to anyone with a love for first rate historical fiction.

My great thanks to Judy Leslie for her very interesting answers.

Mel u

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