The little thatched cottage I grew up in was the lifelong home of my great grandfather, Frank Dwan, who perished on the Titanic. I remember in the living room there was a small, cream coloured wooden door to the left of the fireplace. The two narrow shelves inside housed about a dozen books that sparked my love of stories, fired my imagination and blessed me with the precious gift of reading and writing. I like to think of those books as a legacy from my great grandfather and my efforts at writing as a thank you to him.
Among those books were a couple of classics that had an instant appeal because I found in them something that I recognised but, as a child, had not yet found the means to express. Specifically, Dickens’ and Hardy’s characters always seemed to me so entwined with and shaped by their natural environment. The way the elements almost lived and breathed through the characters was something I had noticed from a very young age in my own seaside community.
A fisherman’s daughter, I grew up with the sea looking in at me through practically every window of my childhood home; by night, cradling me to sleep with its lullaby. And I was acutely aware of how that great belly of water influenced all our daily lives. Depending upon it for their very sustenance, the sea seemed to seep into the community’s characters, its passions and seasons dictating their moods, their very lives. There was so much more than an affinity there: there was almost a merging of souls. The sea provided, the sea took away; it demanded respect and perseverance; it rewarded by throwing up its bounty; and, all too frequently, sought the ultimate sacrifice of life itself.
When I moved away to college, to work and later to settle down to married life in an inland county, there was always a restlessness in me, a calling from that part of me that had been carved and shaped by the passion and wildness of my birthplace. A hobbyist writer of poetry and short stories, I found that returning there as often as I could released a creativity in me – a creativity that struggled to find breath without the rush and roar of the sea that had been a constant backing track to my childhood dreams and imaginings. Towards the end of the nineties, when I decided to get serious about writing and try my hand at a novel, it seemed only natural to move back permanently to the cliffs and the coves of my childhood.
It took a year or so to build a home and settle into work and the inconveniences of no longer living in a town before I finally got down to the dream of attempting my first novel. But when I did that pen seemed filled with magic, words flowing as naturally and effortlessly as the tides. No weather could keep me indoors and days were spent writing, summer through winter, along cliff tops and on beaches, the sea seeming to urge me on.
Even the cold slap of November sea spray couldn’t have prepared me for the sting of rejection. Being told that you ‘write like an angel’ offers little comfort when it is followed three lines down by an emphatic ‘not commercially viable’. Defiant, I kept sending it out. The sea had taught me resilience and I imagined myself a rock, standing stern against this storm of rejections, battered, perhaps a little altered, but still standing.
When one publisher suggested that I try a new novel with more of a commercial slant I consigned Novel No 1 to a drawer and began again. If I Trust in You was published in 2009, reviewed by the Irish Independent as ‘tense and gripping…a riveting debut’, held its place in the best seller lists for months and won a Publishing Ireland, Book of the Month award. Was I proud? Of course I was – in between those times when I found myself returning to my ‘stillborn’, lying in that drawer. This was the novel that had my DNA in it; this was the one that my heart longed to stand in front of on a book shop shelf. The voice in that book was the voice of the sea; it held my authenticity and the longer it lay there, silent, the less and less inclined I was to pick up my pen.
A couple of years went by and I returned to my poetry, the sea swelling and crashing in fat folders of pages. When, in the summer of 2011, a ‘How to get Published’ workshop with Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin was listed among the events at the annual Waterford Writers’ Festival, I found myself opening that drawer and slipping out my original manuscript: almost a decade later. One final roll of the dice?
Never a great exponent of the happy ending, I was completely taken aback when Vanessa contacted me shortly afterwards to say that she loved the book. And it is thanks to her belief in it and her unfailing determination to find it a home that, last Friday evening, I took delivery of my author copies of Finding Alison, Black & White Publishing’s stunning cover perfectly capturing the sea that inspired it. To finally hold this book in my hands so many years after it was written was probably the most triumphant feeling I have ever had, the novel itself seeming testament to its own message of endurance and perseverance: of not giving up but holding true to your own essence.
Thanks to both Vanessa and Black &White’s belief in me, I have just completed my next novel and the sea continues to inspire. Sitting on a cliff top or in the shelter of a cove, I watch my brothers, fishermen too, trawl the sea with their pots and their nets while I, on the shoreline, cast into its depths for inspiration. As in childhood, the sea – with its mystery, depth and boundless passion – continues to sustain and enrich, to shape and to guide us.
(c) Deirdre Eustace
About Finding Alison:
Grief and guilt. Love and resentment. A community divided.
No one in Carniskey has ever truly understood what led Sean Delaney, a seasoned local fisherman, to risk his life in a high storm in the dead of night. Now, three years on from that tragic night, his wife Alison is still struggling with her unresolved grief and increasing financial worries.
After three difficult years, Alison has grown distant from her daughter and estranged from her friends and fellow villagers, particularly her best friend Kathleen who harbours a deeply guarded secret of her own. Isolated by its stunning yet often cruel surroundings, this is a community used to looking after its own but the arrival of an outsider – artist and lifelong nomad, William – offers Alison a new perspective on life and love that threatens to unearth the mysteries of the past.
A story of courage and enduring humanity, Finding Alison follows the community through their struggles in love, loss and betrayal, each coming to understand that only in truth can we find the peace and liberation essential for true happiness.
“A story of love, loss and liberation that will keep you captivated to the last page.” Carmel Harrington.
Order your copy online here.