The First Rose of Tralee by Patricia O’Reilly

I met Patricia O’Reilly at an Historical Novel Society conference in 2014. As travelling companions on the writing journey, we kept in touch with occasional emails and Facebook comments. Today, Patricia shares a thoughtful post on her latest novel.

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Researching and Writing The First Rose of Tralee, the story of Mary O’Connor (182?-1845)

It was while sitting in my aunt’s kitchen in Tralee, Co Kerry during the school holidays that I first heard of Mary O’Connor, the young girl who inspires the annual Rose of Tralee International Festival, now in its 60thyear.

Each morning after 10 o’clock mass, auntie and her relatives had tea and biscuits sitting around the oil-clothed table. The chat was mighty. They talked the Irish history that I learned in school as though it was happening outside in the street – the patriot Daniel O’Connell and his campaigning for Repeal of the Union, the disruptive Whiteboys, the Great Famine, the curse of consumption, and Mary O’Connor featured frequently.

Mary, the daughter of a shoemaker from Brogue Lane, lived more than 150 years ago – it is said, her beauty had heads turning. The handsome William Mulchinock, a poet, campaigner and master of West Villa, fell in love with her and wrote The Ballad of the Rose of Tralee.

The story of Mary O’Connor stayed with me, lurking at the back of my mind until about four years ago when I discovered her story had not been written in novel form. Researching was a minefield of differing bits of evidence. But because I was writing historical fiction I settled on some facts, embellished others and added characters and intrigue, taking creative liberties with set pieces, imagining places, occurrences and dialogue – bearing in mind that the book could not be research-led. As I wrote fact blurred into fiction and vice versa.

The story is set in the 1840s during the time of Daniel O’Connell’s monster rallies for Repeal of the Irish Union of 1801.  The parts of his speeches that I quoted are taken from Richard Aldous’s Great Irish Speeches. The love affair between the master and the servant was doomed from the start – William’s mother was horrified; the schoolmaster grieved for them, and the final straw was when William was wrongly accused of killing a man, having to flee the country, ending up in India for five years.  When William was finally exonerated his return to Tralee and plans to marry died a quick death.

I visited Tralee and met archivists and local historians who furnished me with information maps, drawings and portraits – though there are none of Mary. I stayed in Benners Hotel, a Bianconi coach stop in the mid-19thcentury and imagined William leaving and returning to Tralee by coach.

Google provided information on the shoemaking industry of the mid-nineteenth century; the running of big houses – kitchen to upper floors; the lives of the peasants; education of the time; consumption or the white plague as TB was known.

Poverty in 19th century Ireland

When writing about a particular era I like to read works of fiction by other authors. Compared to what’s been written about Ireland during and after the Famines I didn’t come across much pre-famine, but I re-read Beatrice Coogan’s The Big Wind. Despite it being a contemporary novel, I familiarised myself with sensory India with Gregory David Roberts’s wonderful Shantaram.

‘The Way We Wore Exhibition’ in Dublin’s Collins Barracks Museum provided an insight into the clothing of the time. The National Famine Museum in Co Roscommon and Kerry County Museum proved useful information about  coaches, carriages, kitchen utensils and furniture of the time.

My first draft was a mess. The second daft was little better. I spent what, at the time, I considered to be inefficient days soaking up atmosphere and getting a bit of information here and there. Those ‘inefficient’ days proved invaluable as I ended up with a notebook full of information – such as the way dresses were hung in the wardrobes of the time; the use of tea to restore mahogany furniture; the healing properties of goose fat for chapped hands and the favoured foods for a formal dinner – when trifle was known as an Empire dessert.

As writers we know that the opening paragraphs – or point of entry, as it’s called in publishing circles, is most important. The opening I finally settled on has Mary’s father threatening her with marriage and her flouncing out to the potato market before wandering along to Denny Street that was ‘black with people’ as one of Daniel O’Connell’s rallies was in progress.

Great. I had a rally, Mary O’Connor and Daniel O’Connell. As I felt the story cohese I added falling snow. Why not include William Mulchinock, the hero? Margaret Mulchinock, William’s mother, an important character, was introduced in the second scene. On the death of her husband in the early 1830s she took over the running of the family businesses.

William managed the drapery store on the Mall – known as the Munster Warehouse in the 1960s where the fashion-conscious of Tralee shopped. I had him source jewel coloured silks and taffetas from the Far East – I saw such examples in London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.

Mary started as a kitchen skivvy in West Villa, progressed to the upstairs and finally was promoted to the position of nursery maid where William first met and fell in love with her.

Gradually re-write after re-write – in between illness visited on our family – The First Rose of Tralee was published. And I’m glad to say, as is said in publishing circles, it was well received.

©por2020

Many thanks, Patricia. Such a mystery the way novels come together. Best wishes for another success.

DON’T MISS OTHER POSTS ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION.  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

The Evolution of a novel (2)

We left East Rising Sun firmly tucked in the digital equivalent of a bottom drawer as I worked on a historical novel titled Lies Told in Silence.

The writing journey continued. In 2013 I self-published Unravelled and in 2014 Lies Told in Silence hit the shelves at Amazon and other online retailers. These generated modest success. I finished Time and Regret in late 2015, approached Lake Union Publishing with it and they published that dual-timeline novel in 2016. A joyful sense of accomplishment.

Lake Union had right-of-first-refusal for my next novel – Paris in Ruins – which I turned in to them in early 2017 and the world came crashing down when they rejected it. Joy to rejection in less than a year. I pitched several ideas and my editor said yes to East Rising Sun. Actually, she said ‘send us 50 pages and a detailed synopsis’.

Returning to a novel after a seven year absence is a challenge. Who are these characters? Why on earth did I write that chapter? What’s the story and where’s the plot? I’d learned a lot about writing and East Rising Sun definitely needed work.

So I conceived a new story with the same characters and a similar expat journey but added a twist involving a nasty father and a kidnapping, a scheming husband and a divorce, a shaky marriage, and a woman who became the confidant to each of the friends involved.

As you can imagine, all of this took several months. I now had an agent (fist pump) and she submitted the materials last August. Crossing my fingers and toes, I kept working on the story.

Less than a month later – quick turnaround in the publishing world – my agent informed me that Lake Union would prefer me to add a historical timeline to East Rising Sun since that would be more consistent with my brand! While I managed to keep my temper under control – my inner self was saying ‘what the fuck?’.

Sigh … back to the drawing board once more. Next instalment coming soon.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Writing Popular Fiction – John Grisham’s Suggestions

In June, I read an article on John Grisham’s latest novel Camino Island. In the sidebar were the author’s 8 tips on writing fiction. He says that now, after so many novels, he writes “each day with these habits ingrained.”

  1. WRITE A PAGE EVERY DAY – “Nothing will happen until you are producing at least one page per day.”
  2. DON’T WRITE THE FIRST SCENE UNTIL YOU KNOW THE LAST – Grisham acknowledges that this means you need “that dreaded device” called an outline. “Writers wast years pursuing stories that eventually don’t work.”
  3. WRITE YOUR ONE PAGE EACH DAY AT THE SAME PLACE AND TIME – “go to the same place, shut the door. No exceptions, no excuses.” I wonder if he takes time off on weekends or vacations?
  4. DON’T WRITE A PROLOGUE – He calls prologues “gimmicks to hook the reader.” Call me guilty. I wrote a prologue for novel #4.
  5. USE QUOTATION MARKS WITH DIALOGUE – Enough said.
  6. DON’T KEEP A THESAURUS WITHIN REACHING DISTANCE – Oops, guilty again! Concentrate on words you know with some words you should know but not words nobody knows. Grisham maintains that a thesaurus enables writers to use too many words nobody knows.
  7. READ EACH SENTENCE AT LEAST THREE TIMES IN SEARCH OF WORDS TO CUT – He says most writers use too many words.
  8. DON’T INTRODUCE 20 CHARACTERS IN THE FIRST CHAPTER – this merely bombards and confuses readers. “Five names are enough to get started.”

So, there you have it. Simple, straightforward advice.

In case you’re interested, here’s the blurb for Camino Island – A gang of thieves stage a daring heist from a secure vault deep below Princeton University’s Firestone Library. Their loot is priceless, but Princeton has insured it for twenty-five million dollars.

Bruce Cable owns a popular bookstore in the sleepy resort town of Santa Rosa on Camino Island in Florida. He makes his real money, though, as a prominent dealer in rare books. Very few people know that he occasionally dabbles in the black market of stolen books and manuscripts.

Mercer Mann is a young novelist with a severe case of writer’s block who has recently been laid off from her teaching position. She is approached by an elegant, mysterious woman working for an even more mysterious company. A generous offer of money convinces Mercer to go undercover and infiltrate Bruce Cable’s circle of literary friends, ideally getting close enough to him to learn his secrets.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.