‘Halfway through this gorgeous book, and GRIPPED. It’s got elements of YA, historical romance, and also facts I did not know about Dublin.’
This recent Facebook post by the amazing author, Deirdre Sullivan, about my new novel, Through the Barricades, has reminded me of a period of confusion on its path to publication, a period when I became stuck.
Traditional wisdom advises sticking to your genre and building your audience. It makes sense. To me, though, writing is about the very opposite of sense. It’s about sharing the stories that come my way. They are gifts to me. That’s how it feels. I’m not writing, I’m channelling. The stories are coming from somewhere else. Somewhere magical.
Through the Barricades is my first historical novel. I have written contemporary family dramas under my pen name, Aimee Alexander. I have written for young adults under my own name, Denise Deegan. Switching genres has never bothered me. A story arrives, I write it. I’m not restricted by how it will be categorised. I do that, I get bored. I get bored, my readers get bored. The End.
Through the Barricades is a story of duty, love and sacrifice. Maggie Gilligan, driven by the weight of expectation from her dead father’s last request, tries to ‘make a difference in the world.’ Not an easy thing to do in 1913 Dublin. Maggie is frustrated, angry and passionate. Daniel Healy is one of the few people who understands her. Each is prepared to die: Maggie for her country, Daniel for Maggie. Their mutual sacrifices put them on opposite sides of a revolution that alters the course of history.
If a story like this arrives to you, you don’t walk away. You open your arms wide. You immerse yourself in research. You try to get it right. You try to understand all those people who risked their lives for what they believed in – whether it was fighting in the Great War or becoming rebels and rising up for Irish freedom. I read, watched, listened to everything I could from that era. And it was fascinating. OK there were frustrating discrepancies of accounts. But if seven people witnessed an accident that just happened, there would be frustrating discrepancies of accounts.
For me there were two research highlights. One was finding a book written in 1917 that recorded what happened my beloved Irish regiment when they arrived in Gallipoli in 1915. It would break your heart. The second was reading actual witness statements from people who were involved in the Irish revolution that became known as the Easter Rising. Here were people I had read about in books, now recounting in their own words what had happened.
For two years, I lived in the early 1900’s. I occupied a world of war and revolution. I saw it, smelled it, tasted it, touched it, heard it. Breathed it. This went beyond research. I was in the trenches with the men in Gallipoli. I felt their fear, their boredom, their homesickness, their thirst, their optimism and pessimism. I was in the trenches again on St Stephen’s Green on a chilly April night as gunfire exploded from a nearby hotel wakening rebels to the treacherousness of their positions.
With Gallipoli in particular, I felt a real connection to those young Irish men in the trenches. I still do. Some day, I will visit those ghostly Turkish beaches. There will be tears. There is no question about that.
I did not think of genre. I let Daniel and Maggie (and Lily and Patrick and Michael and all the many others I have grown so fond of) take me along with them wherever they needed to go.
Then it finally came time to publish the book. That’s when things got real. I had to stop and ask myself: is this a Denise Deegan book or an Aimee Alexander book? The arguments went back and forth in my head as if the teen me was arguing with the adult me.
Teen me: It’s absolutely a coming of age novel.
Adult me: They’re adults at heart; they have to be. Look at the issues they face.
Teen me: But they’re crazy about each other.
Adult me: Adults can be crazy about each other!
Teen me: Can they?
Adult me: YES! Love is not a privelege of youth.
Teen me: OK, can it be, like, both adult and teenage?
Adult me: You mean crossover?
Teen me: Whatever.
Adult me: It could, I suppose.
Teen me: Cool. Sorted.
Adult me: So Aimee Alexander or Denise Deegan?
Teen me: Does it matter?
Clearly, talking to myself wasn’t working. I asked friends, people who have read all my books. They all said the same thing: ‘It feels like a Denise Deegan book.’ I had to admit, it did to me too. Does that mean it’s for young adults? No. This is who it’s for: Anyone who likes love stories. Anyone who likes a book to make them laugh and cry and think and feel and imagine. Anyone who likes a story about ordinary people who become extraordinary in crisis.
Some of us are old before our time. Some of us are young at heart. Age doesn’t matter. Not for this book. And mostly not at all.
(c) Denise Deegan
About Through the Barricades
She was willing to sacrifice everything for her country.
He was willing to sacrifice everything for her.
‘Make a difference in the world,’ are the last words Maggie Gilligan’s father ever says to her. They form a legacy that she carries in her heart, years later when, at the age of fifteen, she tries to better the lives of Dublin’s largely forgotten poor.
‘Don’t go getting distracted, now,’ is what Daniel Healy’s father says to him after seeing him talking to the same Maggie Gilligan. Daniel is more than distracted. He is intrigued.Never has he met anyone as dismissive, argumentative… as downright infuriating.
A dare from Maggie is all it takes. Daniel volunteers at a food kitchen. There, his eyes are opened to the plight of the poor. It is 1913 and Dublin’s striking workers have been locked out of their jobs. Their families are going hungry. Daniel and Maggie do what they can. Soon, however, Maggie realises that the only way to make a difference is to take up arms.
The story of Maggie and Daniel is one of friendship, love, war and revolution, of two people who are prepared to sacrifice their lives: Maggie for her country, Daniel for Maggie. Their mutual sacrifices put them on opposite sides of a revolution. Can their love survive?