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The Inspiration for The Good Activist by Bronagh Curran

Writing.ie | Magazine | General Fiction | Interviews
Good Activist

By Bronagh Curran

I watched them from the window of the cold empty stairwell, a contrast of colour and sound to my grey silence. They had been outside the building for a few days now, sometimes in their hundreds, other days just a sampling of their collected intent, a visual reminder to the people inside that they weren’t going away. In all the stolen break time I’d spent at that five storey window in the nine months I’d worked in that building, the most important postcode in the country, I’d seen plenty of protestors. The farmers and their beef plan movement, the truckers and their fuel, various groups calling for justice and reform in housing, health and our legal system. But none of them were like this, this riotous righteous wave on Kildare Street in October 2019 that threatened to drown anyone that challenged its path to certain victory. There was a knowingness amongst these teenagers and twenty somethings that wasn’t seeking approval or even a listening ear from the people who, inside Leinster House, held the power to invoke the changes they marched for. They knew they were right, they knew the world needed them, they knew the future was theirs. They weren’t asking permission to change it, they were merely letting us know they’d arrived.

Working as an assistant to a senator, I’d had a birds eye view of the Extinction Rebellion protestors as they gathered around the statue of William Conyngham. In that courtyard away from the main gates, they’d sit and regroup, prepare their chants and placards while encouraging and celebrating each other. It was tribalistic and inspiring. Their passion was the virus that spread amongst them just months before the real one came and I remember thinking, thank God for them. Thank God for the socially minded, eco conscious, selfless and courageous youth of today. They are so much better than my millennial capitalist generation, the future is in safe hands. But then I thought what might happen if all that unbridled enthusiasm for revolution, that nascent naivety was harnessed in the wrong direction, by the wrong hands. Could something with such obvious well meaning be corrupted by a prevailing, captivating wind. And that was the kernel of the idea for The Good Activist.

I’d recently moved into a three story Georgian house in Donnybrook as part of a housing scheme, where I’d provide company to the elderly homeowner for a significantly reduced rent. Her house was an atmospheric time capsule with original 1970s horse hair furniture and a warren of rooms. It was the perfect setting for a story, I knew that the moment I’d moved in. I’d written five books over the past eight years but nothing in the last two, I’d lost inspiration perhaps. But I’d write a new book in this house, that I was certain of. And it would be a new kind of book, one for an older reader unlike the YA I’d written before. This one would be dark, foreboding, sexy even. I’d write the kind of book I love to read, ones with unsettling characters and complicated human connections, ones where you see the lesser promoted reflections of yourself. All my adult life I’ve struggled with obsessive and even addictive thoughts and behaviour patterns. I don’t drink alcohol because of it, I keep a fairly mundane routine, I’ve learned to stay away from dating sites. I know those feelings of intense infatuation and what’s its like to let something or someone envelop your entire person. I suppose other writers reading this will identify, perhaps we all need a certain level of obsessive behaviour in order to write a book. It in itself is a labour of insanity. I knew these were the building blocks of my protagonist Maeve Daly, an idealistic, over confident 18 year old from a tiny country town intent on changing the world. On the outside she would be fierce and fearless but inside, incredibly vulnerable to anyone prepared to show her love. And that’s where Ferdia Cusack came in. As the charismatic leader of a group of social and environmental activists, The Clan, Ferdia gives Maeve everything she is looking for, a purpose, a place, even a mother. I placed them both in that Georgian house, assigned them rooms and welcomed the rest of the family, fellow activists Eimear, Seb, Zamara, Posey and the captivating Aide. They all lived with me as I plotted their protests, their illicit liaisons in the moonlit kitchen, their ultimate unravelling.

When their story was half told, the world came to a standstill. I had to leave our house and move home to my small country town, just like the one Maeve came from. I didn’t visit The Clan again for two months, until I was back in Dublin, this time in a bedsit, starting a whole new career in the uncertain pandemic fog. The only thing I really knew was that I needed to finish Maeve’s story, her ultimate mission. I vacillated between a happy or foreboding ending, both versions existed independently until I decided on something between the two. A fitting conclusion for Maeve, who is both light and shade, like us all.

I always knew The Good Activist was a different kind of story, part psychological thriller, part coming of age, part suspense and maybe even a little bit of satire. While writing it I never thought of what genre it might be pitched in, that only came after. I was so incredibly lucky that independent publishers Merdog Books recognised the story I was trying to tell and never questioned its category, they accepted Maeve for the messed up, complicated creation she is, and as such, finally gave her the home she was searching for.

(c) Bronagh Curran

About The Good Activist:

Maeve Daly is a product of her time, opinionated, impressionable and determined.

But she is also a product of her upbringing, for half of her life she called her teenage mother her sister and never knew her place in the family, let alone the world.

So when she finds like minded social and eco activists The Clan, and a mother figure in their enigmatic leader Ferdia Cusack, her fate is set on a path of destruction.

Maeve’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic and extreme – especially when a burgeoning relationship with fellow member Aide awakens her sexual desire.

Intoxicated by everything her new family can give her, Maeve puts their needs above all else.

She is willing to shed blood for the cause. But as the final reckoning beckons, will she truly turn her back on her old family in favour of her new one?

Order your copy online here.

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