Finnegan’s Close by Kelly Gammon White | Magazine | Tell Your Own Story | Writing & Me
Kelly Gammon White

Kelly Gammon White

Author Kelly Gammon White on the evolution of her debut book, Finnegan’s Close . . .

What’s an American woman doing writing a book set in Ireland?

I’m sure to the Irish, I’m a typical American.  Thinks she knows about a culture she does not own.  Fair enough.  But, all growing up, because of my dad, I was Ireland-adjacent.  In my house we referred to Ireland as “The Mother Country.”  My father’s family is from Ireland (great-grandfather Thomas Joyce arrived in the U.S. at the tender age of four) and I always felt a bit of romance, a bit of “what if” attached to that connection.  My dad REALLY leaned into his Irish roots.  He went to Notre Dame (The Fighting Irish) and celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with vigor.  But Ireland remained an idea more than a place where people actually lived and worked.  When I began writing in earnest (earning an MFA in Creative Writing along the way) I wanted to write a story set upon the rolling hills of the Emerald Isle.  But, to do that, I’d have to go there.  I needed to walk the streets with their musicians serenading at all hours; I needed to feel the constant mist warming into sunshine, then back to rain again; I needed to talk to Irish writers and sit in the pubs and listen to old men tell me of their trips to the states as young men, and how they developed a fondness for country music.  The Irish needed to become real people, and not just romantic ideas serving Guinness and writing poetry.

And so to Ireland I went.

Finnegan's CloseIn the summer of 2019, I spent almost two months in the West of Ireland.  I ate dinner in the pub at the center of the village, hung my laundry on the line and greeted the ponies that grazed in the yard of the cottage I rented.  Because I’m a writing teacher, and travelled with two of my writing teacher friends, we were asked to do a workshop for the fifth graders at the local school.  We talked to them about plot, character and setting; explained that with those three things any story can be built.  After we left, the students wanted to write their own stories and so they did.  A couple of weeks later, my friends and I returned to the school to have the students read their stories to us.  Not a word of a lie, of the 15 or so students, at least eight of them wrote stories about being kidnapped on their way home from school.  Men with guns figured prominently in their imaginations.  Something shifted in Finnegan’s Close.  Up to then, I’d been working on the story as more of a Series of Unfortunate Events-type book, a wry narrator looking on and winking at the reader as these two boys realized they had powers and used them on their school friends.  What fun, that!  But after meeting the students in the Scoil Naisuunta Ard (West National School), I wanted the magic to be something more real, more intimidating and scary.  What if a teenager woke up one morning and could read minds?  Or move things without touching them?  Start fires?  What if an entire family’s bloodline housed magic, so that every member of that family had some kind of magical power?  What if they lived in the hills of Ireland, and had worked for 500 years to keep it secret?  What if a nasty someone found out about them and wanted to force those teens to help him with his crimes?

Also, there clearly needed to be a kidnapping.

Finnegan’s Close was the story that emerged.  Julian and Jacob Harrington came to life – two American boys, separated by their divorced parents, raised apart then whisked off to the West of Ireland where their Irish relatives live in a castle near Donegal.  I know, a castle?  Be MORE cliched.  But, while the Finnegans live in an ancient family castle, they’re still a regular, sprawling, bickering family.  And, okay, they have a magical ancient bloodline that allows them to do any number of astounding things, but they still fight at dinner and make mistakes with the boys.  Let’s just say, things do not go smoothly for Jacob and Julian when they arrive in Ireland.

As things did not go smoothly with the publishing of this story.  Submitting to agents, pitching the story, I got positive responses but also, “I don’t know how I’d market this book.”  Is it American?  Is it Irish?  Who is the audience?   I pitched it over and over, researched agents and publishers and wrote cover letter after cover letter.  One agent told me she really enjoyed the story, but “I’m not sure how I’d pitch it to publishers.”  She passed.  Finally, I found a publisher that did not require agent submissions.  They asked for the entire manuscript.  A week later, they sent me a contract and an offer letter.  One of the agents I’d been talking to said I should pass, that it was better to get paid up front for my work.  Too true.  But, better to publish and earn as it goes, or better to wait for an agent and the traditional advance for publishing?  Well.  I chose to publish and earn as it goes.

Finnegan’s Close will come out on June 27th.  To me, the audience is anyone who wants to follow these two orphaned boys as they find their magic and learn to use it.  The audience is anyone who has to make sense of a world that is totally different than the one they are used to.  The audience is anyone let down by the ones who are supposed to love them the most.  The audience is anyone who has found family when their blood family has abandoned them.  Plus, there’s villains and kidnapping and telekinesis and mind-reading.  This story is not written to an easy formula. Which is probably a mistake.  Julian and Jacob don’t know anything about Ireland.  Their relatives don’t know anything about them.  The Finnegans are a family in name only.  Until the story unfolds.  And they start to learn about each other, to rely and trust each other when things go sideways.

I hope young readers will enjoy the story because whether Jacob and Julian are American, or Irish or magical or not, they have to fight for what they want, and for who they want to be, which is pretty darn universal.

(c) Kelly Gammon White

About Finnegan’s Close by Kelly Gammon White:

Finnegan's CloseOne sunny, spring day during finals week, sixteen year-old Julian Harrington learns his long-lost mother is dead, and he and his younger brother, Jacob, will finally be reunited. Having not seen each other in ten years, the boys are swept off to Ireland where Aunt Molly, Uncle Liam and the rest of his mother’s huge extended Finnegan family live in the stone castle they call Finnegan’s Close. Julian and Jacob discover the magical abilities they were born with and undergo the family’s training to harness their Finnegan Gifts. But their journey takes a perilous turn when a sinister and deranged villain catches wind of their powers and becomes obsessed with stealing them for his own nefarious purposes. In a high-stakes battle of wits and magic, the boys – and their entire magical Finnegan family – must figure out a way to thwart him, while keeping their magic a secret.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Kelly Gammon White is a writer and professor in Washington, DC. She is a CINE Golden Eagle winner for best non-broadcast documentary writing, as well as a two-time regional Emmy nominee for Best Educational Programming. Married with four uncomfortably tall children, Ms. White has an MFA in Creative Writing and teaches College Writing at American University.

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