For every author theme is an essential part of your book. Sometimes you may not be completely clear what the themes are in your story until the first draft is finished, but theme is essential – it forms the heart of your book, working at an often subconcious level with the reader. Theme enhances your story, drawing together the threads, and a confident author will subtly underline their themes with metaphor and similie, creating a richer story for the reader.
It was around March as I was writing the final chapters of my new novel 5 Peppermint Grove that I noticed another Irish author had used a street name in the title of her book. The House on Willow Street has a beautiful ring to it and I have always enjoyed reading the fabulous Cathy Kelly’s work. I put it down as a coincidence that we had similar themes reflected in our titles, and then in April, sent my novel off to my publisher Paula Campbell at Poolbeg. As May approached two other Irish authors released books with place names in the title. Magnolia Park and Tyringham Park both of which turned out to be great successes of the summer. The House, just released, is another book of family and place, this time for Christmas.
In July I was beginning to think that there was something in the water when one of the newest and brightest voices in Irish women’s fiction, Maria Duffy, casually mentioned that she had at last found the title for her second novel The Terrace. We had a laugh and oohed and aahed at the coincidence. As summer came to a close two other Irish authors Monica McInerney and Marian Keyes announced their titles for the Christmas market The House of Memories and Murder on Mercy Close!
I had to ask myself what is this Irish preoccupation with the land and home and sense of place? It’s a theme that has always been present and indeed, we only have to look to John B Keane’s masterpiece The Field to find the answer. Now more than ever there is a terrific sense of being Irish and being in your place – especially with ‘The Gathering’ which will be a great reunion on a massive scale all over Ireland in 2013, and it is amazing how this is subconciously reflected in so many completely different authors’ work. From historical fiction to women’s fiction to thrillers, place is a unifying theme, and theme the Irish have a very special ‘place’ for.
The above mentioned books are all set in different locations around Ireland and in other countries too, and anyone familiar with my work will know that the setting is of paramount importance to me.
For me fate lent a hand in finding the theme and location of my new novel 5 Peppermind Grove. At the end of last year my dear friend Rachel announced that she was uprooting her family and moving to Perth, Western Australia leaving my family devastated by the news.
Perhaps because home, the land and emigration is such a feature of the Irish psyche I felt compelled to write about it and the timing has never been more apt with the impending ‘Gathering’. With Rachel doing what so many Irish have done before her and setting down roots abroad, I did the only thing I could and booked a flight to Perth for my family and stayed with her and her family for two glorious weeks in their new home.
Rachel had spent her teenage years in Perth so she had a wonderful network of real Australian friends who were only too eager to suggest the best places to visit for myself and my clan. Peppermint Grove is a suburb in Perth and I liked the sound of the name so much that I made a point of visiting it while we were there. I wasn’t disappointed and despite being on holiday the author in me wouldn’t let go – I quickly found a story unfolding from the photos of the beautiful houses and breathtaking views of the bay.
There was a lot to impress me in this land half a world away from my own. I had my first introduction to the marvellous indigenous marsupials called Quokkas. These friendly creatures feature in the book when my heroines visit the intriguing island of Rottnest, a few miles off Fremantle harbour. It was once the location of an aboriginal prison and is steeped in history and strange vibrations which I felt compelled to include in the book.
When we returned home to Ireland I found myself experiencing first hand the emotional trauma attached to the core theme of my novel, emigration, yet I had to write a book without getting too involved in the feelings of loss and sadness that I was coping with personally. Of course much as I tried it was very difficult and I found myself wallowing in self pity as I wrote about all the places that I had visited with Rachel’s family and my own. That said, experiencing personally the trauma of separation has given the book a dimension of its own, a depth that can only come from living the story.
Researching the premise for my characters started in Ireland when I interviewed an Irish woman who had spent her entire married life in Perth. She told me her story and how she missed Ireland so much that she returned after her husband died. I had the start of my novel but I also needed a secret – so I sent my characters Julia and Ruth off on an adventure and indulged myself reliving all the wonderful outings that I had shared with Rachel a short time before.
Emigration has been a difficult and harsh fact of life for so many Irish people throughout history and it is again in these troubled economic times – too many are missing loved ones living abroad. With a national identity and a love of place as strong as our own, dislocation and emigration will be recurring themes in fiction, emphasising our understanding of the difficulties and the constant nature of the problem. Every single Irish person knows someone close who is living abroad. Thankfully these days, with Skype and Facetime it is much easier to keep in touch with our loved ones who have emigrated – I manage to chat to Rachel in Australia a couple of times a week and keep up to date on all that is happening with her family. I have a lot to thank her for and although I miss her so much I think sometimes the universe works in strange but marvellous ways. The great Irish Diaspora, all 70 million of them, are always on the move and it was an easy decision for me to dedicate my new book 5 Peppermint Grove to them.
This will give you a taste of what it’s all about:
Ruth Travers is emigrating like so many of the Irish Diaspora who have gone before her. Leaving behind her married boyfriend of ten years, she hopes Perth, Western Australia will offer her the fresh start that she so desperately needs.
Ruth’s best friend Julia Perrin owns one of Dublin’s most successful travel companies. It was she who orchestrated the move for Ruth’s own good. So busy fixing everybody else’s life, Julia sees no need to do so with her own . . . until she visits Ruth in Perth!
Angela, Ruth’s mother, lived in Australia in the seventies and is far from happy with her daughter’s decision to emigrate. When Ruth discovers a sealed airmail envelope, with 5 Peppermint Grove, Perth, scrawled across it in her mother’s handwriting, she wonders what secret Angela may be hiding.
Sunshine, sandy beaches and barbeques abound but there may be more than Angela’s story waiting for them in Peppermint Grove . . .