I grew up in inner-city Dublin. Like so many people of my age I was told to “sit there and keep quiet!” ‘There’ could be anywhere from a horsehair sofa in a front parlour – a blanket on the grass in Stephen’s Green – the cold wet sand of Sandymount Strand or a wooden bench in the corner of a kitchen. Oh, the fodder those gossip sessions between ‘the grown ups’ offered when it came to writing my series about life in inner city Dublin.
I love reading. I love escaping into another world with the magic that is words. I’ve travelled the world from the time I was seventeen until the present day. I love waking up not knowing where I am – looking forward to the adventure ahead and I love, love, love to write.
I listen to the radio constantly. It was while I was listening to Gay Byrne on Lyric fm talking about ‘the good aul days’ that it dawned on me. I know about those days – know about the outdoor tap – the single loo – the bucket under the bed. I can tell these stories. I sat down to write and the words flowed.
I decided to set my books in the 1920’s. This was a time of such change in Ireland as a whole. Both of my parents were born in 1919 and raised by grandparents so they and their friends spoke of ‘the troubles’ and 1920’s Dublin frequently – repeating eye-witness accounts of that time.
I knew I’d have to find a way of making an income for my main character – Ivy Rose Murphy – there were not a lot of options for women in those days. I remembered a woman from my childhood. This lady pushed a pram around the wealthy Dublin neighbourhoods begging for discards. The amount of money she made from ‘her round’ was a frequent topic of conversation and envy amongst my mother and her friends. I had Ivy’s income source.
The location of my stories was easy – The Lane – I had decades of stories about the Dublin tenements known as The Lane. It exists – it is where I was born. The hidden enclave off upper Mount Street in Dublin is still there – still Corporation buildings – still hidden.
I had to find a male friend for Ivy – someone with an income of his own. I didn’t want a man out begging for work and spending what little he had at the pub. I recalled that movie star Roy Rogers performed on the Dublin stage in the 50’s. His horse Trigger was stabled at the Livery that took up one side of The Lane – Jem Ryan – livery owner – was born. My father (me da) became a chauffeur for the livery owner and drove Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson –to name but two – around Ireland.
So now I had the two main characters and the location for my book. The Lane provided a host of secondary characters that would drift in and out and keep the story moving.
My father drove an ambulance for years. He would wake the house with nightmares about ‘the morgue’. It formed the background for many of his tall tales and true.
The opening chapters of Through Streets Broad and Narrow take place in the morgue (find out more here). There Ivy meets Ann Marie Gannon a woman of independent means. I needed to find a way to show the other side of Dublin. The story couldn’t be all farts, fleas and flings. The ‘upper-class’ had to be shown.
I sent off the first chapters to Poolbeg and to my everlasting amazement they wanted to publish my stories. My book Through Streets Broad and Narrow hit the shops in June 2013 and I’m still gasping in wonder and joy.
Ha’penny Chance the second book in the series is out now. I still can’t believe it. I’m a published author – pass the smelling salts.
In the opening chapter of Ha’penny Chance we meet Sean a young lad returning from work on one of the many back yard farms that were dotted around Dublin. This character is loosely based on my eldest brother. His family legend tells of how he started work at age two on one of those farms. The pigs followed him home from work – so the story goes.
The stage and screen were an important part of most people’s life in those days. I used this knowledge in Ha’penny Chance. My parents performed in talent shows around Dublin. My father usually took first prize with my mother second. The people of The Lane helped dress them for their appearances. They sang opera arias – the lyrics were suspect – they won top prize none the less. Their Friday night winnings paid for the pig’s feet, cabbage and potatoes that fed The Lane on Sunday.
I grew up hearing about The Lane – it was a close-knit community. The pram parade to Sandymount Strand was a regular occurrence. The men would dig for cockles and cook them over a big pot on the open fire they set on the strand. They lived and partied in the street – the overcrowded one and two room homes only for sleeping and eating. The kettle was never off the hob – you would be the talk of the town if you didn’t offer your company a cup of tea. They may not have had a pit to hiss in but they loved life – music, laughter and storytelling were ever present.
I tried to tell their story in a way that would entertain. I didn’t want it to be all dark days and doom. I don’t remember tears in the stories the grown-ups told – only gales of laughter.
Dublin in and of itself is a character and has many stories to tell. The wealthy of Dublin have their paintings, photographs and diaries. Official records give ‘outsider’ views of the Dublin poor – I want to write about the people who left a legacy of surviving tough times with music and laughter.
(c) Gemma Jackson
About Ha’penny Chance.
Ivy Rose Murphy dreams of a better future. For years she has set out daily from the tenements known as The Lane to beg for discards from the homes of the wealthy – discards she turns into items to sell around the Dublin markets. And now, she has grander schemes afoot.
But, as her fortunes take a turn for the better, there are eyes on Ivy – and she is vulnerable as she carries her earnings home through the dark winter streets. And, to add to her fears, a well-dressed stranger begins to stalk her.
Jem Ryan, who owns the local livery, longs to make Ivy his wife but she is reluctant to give up her fierce independence.
Then a sudden astonishing event turns Ivy’s world upside down. A dazzling future beckons and she must decide where her loyalties lie.
Ha’penny Chance is in bookshops now or pick up your copy online here.