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My Inspiration for Lives Apart by Anne M. McLoughlin

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Lives Apart

By Anne M. McLoughlin

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I once tried writing a book by following ‘Write a Book in a Year’, series of articles in a newspaper.  I had the discipline, I followed the system, I created characters, locations and situations, but after a few weeks beavering away, I began to realise that the one vital thing I lacked was inspiration.  I had absolutely no idea what this book was to be about, where it should start or where its final destination might be.  Structuring it before I had the germ of an idea clearly didn’t work for me and I hadn’t the drive to finish it.  A good thing.  It was absolutely turgid.  Contrived plotlines, characters from Central Casting.  Even I wouldn’t have wanted to read it.  Into the bin it went.  They say you should never discard anything, but believe me, there was nothing in this that I would ever want to revisit.

Twenty years later I began researching my family tree, tracing them from County Clare to America in the 1800s.  All contact had been lost with the descendants of these original pioneers, but via a circuitous route I managed to track one down and that led to others.

Once I had most of them in their places on the family tree, with the help of old photographs from the US relatives, I began matching them up to the stories of the individuals.  I managed to go back to 1811, but with a family tree, as anyone who has ever dipped their toe in genealogy knows, there is no start or no finish.  So I set myself a deadline of 2011 – the two-hundredth anniversary of my earliest traceable ancestor.  What knowledge I had accumulated at that stage I would compile into a sort of book.  Once that was achieved I took myself off to the States and met up with some of the relatives who had shared their information and photos and gave each of them a copy.  It was wonderful to renew the links and I think they were very pleased to have a better knowledge of their Irish roots.

Friends then asked if I’d help them in their genealogical journey.  Now that I had my own done I couldn’t wait to get my nose into others.  It had become an obsession.  They too shared stories heard from their grandparents and it made me realise that it is not only the big events in someone’s life, but often the little things, the twists and turns that people take that make them interesting.

It was all this research and storytelling that provided me with my inspiration for a novel.  I was on fire.  It had to be done, but where to begin was the dilemma.  The idea of tackling a novel was overwhelming.  For a start I considered a short story – one character, one event that I could develop.  An incident I’d heard disturbed me, so this was the one I chose and married it to a character based on a photo of my great-grandfather.  He was an R.I.C. man with a handlebar moustache.  He died the month I was born but I’d heard stories about his rigidness and didn’t particularly like the sound of him.  I wrote a variation of the scene and linked him to it. Despite my original intention of portraying him as a villain, I began to like him.  Being a bit of a control freak I tried sending him down a route that was in my head but he refused to go, so I decided to let him write himself and take me along with him.  By the time I’d finished I realised there was so much more to this man.  As I wrote his back story I began to understand him so much better and he became one of my favourite characters.  I then tried the same technique with another character, Johanna, who eventually became the main focus in my first novel. One incident, short story style and she took off from there.

Writing the individual scenes was the easy part. Structuring them to fit together and interlink with other characters and timelines took many, many redrafting sessions but what a satisfying exercise when it eventually came together.  Not alone did I have a novel, but based on that same fictional family tree I had plots for three books.

(c) Anne M. McLoughlin

About Lives Apart:

A tale of emigration from Ireland to America after the Famine.

In 1877 young Johanna McNamara leaves her quiet life on the family farm and emigrates to America to join her successful businessman brother Hugh. Full of hope, she is determined to make a success of her life. However, tragedy strikes before she finds her feet in this new world, and she must put the care of others before her own needs.

Back in Ireland, farming life for the family continues through the seasons, with her brother Art struggling to deal with his troubled son Declan. Sending him to the USA is an option that might help turn him into a man.

Little does Johanna know what lies ahead, with the arrival of a nephew whose act of betrayal will blow her life apart.

Set in Ireland, Boston, San Francisco and Nova Scotia, Lives Apart explores the experience of emigration, both for those who had the courage to venture across the Atlantic and those they left behind.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Anne McLoughlin was born in Dublin, Ireland and now divides her time between there and her home in rural Wexford.
Having spent most of her working life in television production with RTE, Ireland’s national broadcaster, she took the plunge and went freelance on projects which included having a hand in starting Brendan O’Carroll’s ‘Mrs. Brown’ on her video career.
In the past she has written stories for RTE children’s programmes, also published a series of social history books on the Macamores in County Wexford and has written articles for newspapers and magazines. Highly commended in the Colm Tóibín International Short Story Competition in the Wexford Literary Festival, this gave her the encouragement to continue working on the novels that had been niggling at the back of her brain for years.

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