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Paula Tully

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My name is Paula Tully and I’m from Dublin. I have a Masters in American Literature and a BA in English and Art History, both from UCD. My novella, Her Rebel Self, is inspired by the 100 year old precious diaries of my friend’s close family relative who lived through Ireland’s deeply turbulent revolutionary history last century. The book is made up of a series of fictionally reimagined diary entries. On 1st November 1920, the day of Kevin Barry’ hanging in Mountjoy Prison, the main character, Dervla Kelly, finds herself revisiting the last four years of her secret diary. My first collection of short stories, Meeting Countess Markievicz and Other Irish Short Stories, is set mainly in Ireland from 1919 to more recent years and the stories look at various facets and crevices of human experience such as women in the Irish revolution, mental illness, Celtic Tiger Dublin, post-traumatic stress disorder, and hidden pregnancy. In 2016 my husband and I returned to Dublin from Brighton where I worked as a full time English language and literature teacher.

Writing sample

A Collins Girl, Friday, 13th August 1920 (From my novella, Her Rebel Self)

I should have walked out of the club and gone with the messenger boy to Capel Street. Those biscuit tins, unstacked from the trolley, cradled in his young arms, would have appeared heavy. Biscuit tins aren’t supposed to look heavy. Perhaps he had a handcart out back with other provisions already neatly loaded; an ordinary errand delivering across the city to a sister club. I’ll never know if he arrived safely.

It’s late now, after 1.00am, and I can’t sleep. Nuala asked me only yesterday would I stand in for her at the private club where she does the odd shift, as she wanted to go out to Blackrock for tea with her Niall. I knew the United Services Club paid their kitchen hands a few shillings more than the hotels so I told her I’d do it, no problem.

What a beautiful but imposing building facing itself grandly onto St. Stephen’s Green. Tonight it was full of British officers. As I found my way to the kitchen below stairs, I caught a glimpse of them sitting in one of the dining rooms on the ground floor. The large room sparkled with British maleness. An incongruous sight, when you think about it. The elite of the British military sitting politely in the chandeliered light, the best of linen lying across their uniformed laps, crystal glasses full of expensive wine in their hands, gleaming silver cutlery waiting to be held. Less of a guardedness about some of them, a thing I couldn’t quite put my finger on in that brief glimpse.

I was glad to report to the head cook and slip into the clamour and heat of the kitchen, its close smells of gamey joints and rich sauces owning the hot air. All you’ll be doing is helping with mountains of vegetables, Nuala had said. And that’s exactly what the job was - cleaning, peeling, shredding, dicing, and chopping vegetables - and I can tell you I’ve never seen so many of the things in my whole life; hundreds of potatoes, carrots, onions, turnips. I got stuck in and worked quickly. Everyone in the kitchen was busy with concentration, listening and shouting as their tasks dictated. Most seemed to be Dubliners, and most were friendly. A permitted toilet break was my chance to take in the splendour of the building and it was on my way back down to the kitchen when I saw her standing, very still, outside a slightly open door, along a quiet corridor, away from and to the left of the sweeping staircase.

It must be that Collins girl, Molly O’Reilly, I thought, the one who organizes safe houses. Nuala had said Molly would probably be in tonight but that she’s leaving the club soon to work in the Bonne Bouche tearooms round the corner on Dawson Street. There are Collins girls, and boys, working undercover all over the city. They stand behind shop counters, check coats in hotel cloakrooms, serve food in restaurants, and file and type letters in Dublin Castle. All sorts of information hovering within earshot, or placed right in front of their eyes. Some of the girls are still in C na mB but they generally keep themselves to themselves, often preferring to work alone, the way Mick Collins seems to like it. But I wonder can any of us fully trust each other any more? Especially since all the suppressions last year. Being less visible during a war isn’t always a good thing in such a small, furtive city.

It was a foolish risk, I know, but I told myself if she was who I suspected she was I had a duty to offer her assistance, however small. The reddish hair, her youth, the casual readiness into which she might engage or disappear on the spot – these small observations convinced me I was right. When I saw her swiftly enter the room I made my move along the corridor.

She hadn’t closed the door from the inside; that would indicate far too much intent. But she didn’t hear me push quietly into the room - the Gentlemen’s Room, the polished door sign told me - seconds after her. I expected the room to be all wood panelling and heavy furniture, but it was much more informal, untidy in places, with hats and summer overcoats and various trunks arranged hurriedly on stands and along the length of one dark wall. Half smoked cigarettes stubbed out in saucers and the fiery aroma of whiskey remnants in the bottom of crystal tumblers occupied one or two glass-topped tables. Had the gentlemen and army officers taken the liberty of pouring their own drinks, tired of waiting for a lowly clerk who had decided they could uncoat and serve themselves?

And then I saw what held her attention.

The Sam Browns were hanging from a set of brass pegs unadorned with outdoor garments. They were suspended by their leather straps and their pearl handles made them look like special theatre props, waiting in their designated spaces, not yet required by the main players; the unguarded look I had noticed when passing the dining room on my way to the kitchen to report for work.

Her natural instinct obviously told her a pair of eyes were on her because in that moment she turned fully to greet me, a radiant smile on her face and ten different scenarios poised on her lips. ‘Ah, I see the manager got my message, have you been sent to help me clear up this mess?’ A wide sweep of her arm took in the cigarette ends and tumblers while her other hand smoothed down her uniform apron.

I guessed her time was rigidly measured.

‘Yes, I’m here to help you in any way I can.’ I let her see my eyes settle on the hanging revolvers. ‘My name is Dervla and I’m covering in the kitchen for a close friend who I work with at number 25.’ The voice in my head prayed she would catch my C na mB reference, the same voice which also told me to say no more to this young girl. I knew she had a split second to make her judgement about me. Her blue eyes blazed alertness. She held her smile while she regarded me, inclining her head slightly to the right. Did she believe me? Could she trust a sudden stranger?

‘I’m Molly and the storeroom beside the kitchen has exactly what I need to do my work here,’ she said, moving closer to the brass pegs.

Three of the tables Molly was charged with looking after were military officers, each one of them having ordered three courses. She explained they would be expecting their main meals of venison, pork, or duck, in about ten minutes. Waiting on tables and serving food is a perfect cover, she said, especially while trying to gather useful intelligence in the amiable hours after dessert, but a waitress not stationed at the service hatch at the right time would seem strange to staff and patrons.

Molly needed me to work fast. Not being on familiar terms with the kitchen staff was a minor disadvantage so I had to get straight back to preparing my vegetables without arousing suspicion. Or give the appearance of doing so. I chopped rapidly through bunched carrots while counting inside my head two full minutes. The club had other non-military diners to cater for so the kitchen was continually busy with various courses. Thank God for it as this ensured a mild chaos throughout the order of service. Molly had told me precisely where in the storeroom to find three large empty Jacobs biscuit tins, plus a bundle of tea-cloths, none of which would be missed by anybody during my shift. Afterwards, it wouldn’t matter; we’d be long gone.

She had also told me exactly what to say to the messenger boy, another friend, who was usually to be found near the main reception desk. This I did first. I saw him immediately. He had years yet to fill his work uniform. He listened intently and when I stopped talking he moved away from me, nodding like he’d been in this situation many times. Which, of course, one way or another, he had.

Current project

I am about to return to the initial draft of my third book, Lessons in Falling, a very early stages 'work in progress' which is quite different to the historical fiction I’ve just finished. The main plot centres around a violent attack on a young, female student who is studying in a Glasthule based language school. For this project, I may look for an agent but it’s too early to start knocking on those doors yet. We’ll see. My two previous books were self published and are available on Amazon and Book Depository.

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