It’s a real pleasure to have Irish author Anne Frehill as a guest on my blog today. I met Anne on NetGalley, of all things. I downloaded her book for review, and she kindly emailed me to get to know me.
I love contemporary Irish history, so I was thrilled to read her book and get in touch with her, and very soon, we agreed on an interview for Reading Ireland Month.
Her book is truly lovely. It has a great sense of time and place and a strong heroine. You can read my review of Reapers of Justice here.
I had a feeling that first-hand accounts of real life heavily influenced Anne’s book. This interview proves this true. I loved it. And I hope you’ll do the same.
Hi Anne. Tell us a bit about yourself and your stories. When did you start to write? What’s your drive?
I started to write when I was about thirteen, by then I had dipped my toe into some of the classics: Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen. I also enjoyed writing letters to radio programmes on every topic under the sun and it whetted my appetite for writing both fiction and non-fiction when I managed to earn the princely sum of one Irish pound. And so the rest is history, once I got “the writing bug” I could not shake it off. Yes, for some years while I was at university or just enjoying life as a young adult, it lay dormant but then it would flare up again and I would be more driven to write than ever.
The great imponderable is what drives me to write?
My own father was a natural storyteller -in the oral tradition of the “seanchaí ” and from the cradle onwards I listened and learned while he spun tale after tale to a roomful of neighbours who waited with baited breath as he approached the denouement. They frequented our home ostensibly to play cards but invariably the talk always turned to storytelling once the whiskey flowed.
I love to write because it transports me to other times / places and indeed to parallel universes, where I can walk with the characters in their shoes for a while. However, what really fills me with joy is the power of these characters who nudge me into taking twists and turns that I had never dreamt of doing.
I loved the setting of Reapers of Justice. A little community but with great variety. It was so vividly portrayed. Did you have a real community in mind? Or was you driven more by the needs of the story?
Somerset is a fictional village in County Meath and so was created entirely from my imagination. I have to confess that I adore history, Irish and world history. And I have also studied Irish history at university level so this reading/ research informs my writing.
I liked that you touched upon the difficulties of education in a rural community. I think that was quite common at the beginning of the 20th century. How do you see the role of a teacher in that setting? Were teachers likely to be criticised for trying to keep young ones away from the fields?
Given the abject poverty of rural Ireland at that time, teachers could not possibly object to pupils being absent to help in the fields or indeed in the home – where there was a high mortality rate among both infants and mothers, and women endured pregnancy after pregnancy for most of their childbearing years.
I really liked how the female characters tend to help each other. I suppose this was something quite common in rural communities, too, where there was so much on a woman’s shoulder. These aspects of everyday life are often very tricky to research. How did you find the information you needed?
I did my research at the National Archives (Dublin), The National Library of Ireland, local libraries in County Meath and I also deferred to my daughter who happens to be completing a doctorate in History at Trinity College, Dublin.
Sarah is definitely a very modern woman, especially considering the environment she lives in. But then, she’s from Dublin. She’s an urbanite. What was the relationship between women from the countryside and women from the city in that time?
The relationship between women from the countryside and women from the city at that time was at best fraught with misunderstandings and at worst was impossible. I can recall my maternal grandmother who lived through those times looking down her nose at “city folk ot Jackeens” as she called them . And even my own mother recounted tales when she was a child ( she was born in 1913) of visits from her cousins who lived in Galway city, but in contrast with her mother she felt somewhat in awe of those cousins as she perceived that they were looking down at her.
I really enjoy Biddy-Anne, the tinker woman, as a character. Our modern life has pushed nomad people to the fringes of society. It’s far more unlikely to meet and converse with them today than it was even a few decades ago. What do you think we have lost in the fading of this relationship?
Yes, during the late 20th century there was a tendency to try and “convert ” members of our travelling community or “Tinkers,” (as they were called in the time of my novel) to what was seen as the only “right,” way of living i.e. a settled life in a house , etc. However, thanks to the Trojan work of social scientists, social workers, anthropologists and more the importance of their culture/ history and indeed contribution to Irish society has now been recognised. And I think it true to say that by and large they are treated as a separate cultural group who deserve to be respected and cherished like every other citizen of this state. I was for many years a professional social worker and so I worked with several families from the travelling community. This clearly colours my writing.
Anne Frehill has enjoyed creative writing since her early teens. Over the years she has had short stories and non-fiction published in a range of magazines within Ireland.
She has also contributed to Sunday Miscellany on RTE Radio 1, and was included in an Anthology relating to the same show, edited by Marie Heaney for 2003 and 2004.
Since the start of the Pandemic, she has written regularly in a local online newsletter, on a range of topics from witchcraft to Lady Betty: Ireland`s only female executioner.
She has also contributed (during three Lockdowns ) short stories and articles to Ireland`s Own, founded in 1902 . This extraordinary magazine with it`s eclectic mix of regular and occasional writers like her has grown exponentially during the last two years despite the overall decline in print sales of magazines. It is also known for it`s iconic covers.
Her latest short story Captain Jack, has been included in the recently published 2021 Anthology of Winning Irish Stories and Memories (Ireland`s Own).
Anne has an abiding interest in history, folklore, sociology and nature. And is passionate about animal welfare and care of the earth. She is the author of When Silence Hurts and Reapers of Justice.
Her book When Silence Hurts was recently awarded a full four out of four stars by OnlineBookclub.org . The reviewer said ; “Anne Frehill did an outstanding job with character development.” And then added “for the excellent character development , the realistic story of domestic violence and the dynamics surrounding it , and the professional editing, I award this book 4 out of 4 stars.” B. Creech.
Her second book Reapers of Justice is also delighting readers,
This post is part of the Reading Ireland Month, a March event organised by Cathy Brown from the 746 Books Blog. It celebrates everything Irish, from books (of course!) to films, arts, food, culture and history – and much more of the Emerald Island.
Go have a look. It’s great fun!