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Writing about what I know well: Pilgrim by Louise Hall

Writing.ie | Magazine | General Fiction | Interviews

By Louise Hall

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Fiction has always been my first love. I always wanted to write a novel. It was one of those things I said as a teenager to my closest friend, way back when we had guts and ambition and the whole world at our feet– ‘I’m gonna be a writer when I’m older. I am, you know. I’m gonna write a book.’

But the teenage years are pretty much unpredictable, and the aspirations we have then don’t always materialise the way we would like or the way we would think. We go with the tide, battle with the current, and let ‘destiny’ carve out what is ‘for us’ or ‘meant to be’. That is, up until something clicks in your brain which causes you to stop and reflect. Makes you pause and think. Think hard. Think deep.

I started writing ‘for real’ a few years after my sister died in 2008. When I say ‘for real’, I guess I mean it was a bit more serious than the short stories I would write as a child after taking in a stray dog only for its owners to have come to collect him the next morning before I even had a chance to open my eyes (I’ll let you figure that one out). I started to write a fiction novel, and this first finished manuscript seemed good enough to get me an agent. I then wrote a second novel, and a third. However, even though I had an agent, my novels were unable to find a home.

I had been writing for some newspapers and in 2011, I was asked to write a feature on Medjugorje for the Sunday Independent. While there, I spoke to many people about their experiences and why they travelled to this small village in the former Yugoslavia. When I got home, I had an idea for a non-fiction book which I pitched to The Columba Press. Within a few weeks, I had a book deal and two years later, I did a second book with them. This was later translated into Italian by Edizioni Piemme.

I enjoyed writing and researching these books, but my real passion still lay with fiction. I heard someone say before, that if they were to publish every book that had ever been written, we would all be living in the sea! I knew the fiction market was saturated, and let’s face it, the competition is tough – there are so many wonderful fiction writers out there in so many different genres. It’s hard to break into – at least that is my experience of it anyway.

My sister was over from New York, and I was talking to her about my frustrations in trying to get my fiction published. It was then she made a suggestion – why not write about something you really know well? Why not write a fiction book loosely based on Medjugorje?

I did. And the result is Pilgrim.

My agent submitted the manuscript to Ireland’s oldest publishing house, Mercier Press, around this time last year. And then a few days before Christmas, we got an email from commissioning editor Patrick O’Donoghue, to say they wanted to publish the book which is released in Ireland on the 14th September.

My journey to get my fiction work published has been a long, sometimes frustrating but also a strangely fulfilling experience. In between my two non-fiction books, I also wrote short stories which were published in the literary section of the Irish Times. I’ve been shortlisted for awards including the Colm Toibin Short Story Award, the Penguin/RTE guide Short Story Award, and I was runner-up in the New Talent Award at the Festival of Romance in London. I’ve appeared on the Late Late Show, on RTE radio and television, and I’ve attended writing festivals and book launches of fellow authors whom I admire.

I really enjoyed the whole editing process and was lucky to be paired with two great editors within Mercier Press, Noel O’Regan and Wendy Logue. I was also extremely fortunate and deeply humbled to get two great quotes for the cover of my book from Donal Ryan and Carmel Harrington. It never ceases to amaze me how supportive the writing community can be to one another. That can mean so much in a sometimes difficult field.

I get my inspiration from people – people from all walks of life. I read somewhere before that we lose ourselves in books, but we find ourselves there too. That’s why I chose so many different voices for this novel. The world is curious and intriguing. So are people. If you open your eyes wide enough, you will be amazed at what you might see.

(c) Louise Hall

About Pilgrim:

After a major row with his wife, Sarah, Charlie Carthy storms out of the family home. Just hours later he finds out that Sarah has become the victim of a hit and run driver and is in critical condition in hospital.

Sarah’s death and Charlie’s self-absorbing grief throws their daughter Jen’s life into turmoil. Will an unwanted pilgrimage to Medjugorje heal Jen and Charlie’s relationship, or, should Jen prepare to lose her remaining parent?

Deeply moving and evocative prose. Haunting, tender yet hopeful. Pilgrim is a beautiful read that lingers. – Carmel Harrington

In this cynical age it’s a joy to encounter such sincerity, and wonderfully unexpected to see contemporary fiction as a profession of fervent yet gentle faith. Louise is a brave and humane writer, a breath of the freshest air. – Donal Ryan

Order your copy online here.

Pilgrim is released on the 14th September 2018. The book will be launched in Dubray Books on Grafton Street on Thursday, 20th September at 6:30pm by Carmel Harrington. All welcome.

o learn more about Louise, you can log onto her website at www.louisehallwriter.com or follow her on Twitter @LouHallWriter

About the author

Louise Hall is from Malahide, Co. Dublin. She has previously published two works of non-fiction, ‘Medjugorje: What it Means to Me’ and ‘Medjugorje and Me: A Collection of Stories from Across the World’. Her fiction has been published in ‘The Irish Times’ and been shortlisted for numerous competitions, such as the RTE Guide/Penguin Short Story Award, the Colm Toibin International Short Story Competition and the Jonathan Swift Creative Writing Awards. ‘Pilgrim’ is her debut novel.

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