Friday, April 18, 2014

Never Be at Peace: the making of an Irish anti-Cinderella by Guest Author M.J. Neary

Guest author, Marina J. Neary, offers an intriguing look at her latest novel about the life of Helena Molony:   Never Be at Peace: the making of an Irish anti-Cinderella

Just for the record, I hate fairy tales - unless they are written by Brothers Grimm.  Saccharine happy endings drive me insane - unless the ogre eats the princess.  So it shouldn't surprise you that I grasped at a chance to write an anti-Cinderella story set in Ireland.  On one hand, we have all the ingredients of a timeless classic: the spunky idealistic orphan girl (Helena Molony), indifferent older siblings (Frank Molony and his wife) a cruel stepmother (who is mentioned in passing), a fairy godmother (Maud Gonne), and even a Prince Charming (Bulmer Hobson). Irish history doesn't follow the happily-ever-after protocol. Cinderella and Prince Charming start off on their noble quest to free Ireland from the Wicked King George, but about half-way through the journey they have a disagreement and end up on the opposite sides of the barricade.  Cinderella runs off with a mentally unstable married troubadour (Sean Connolly), and Prince Charming is branded a traitor and banished from the kingdom.
Helena Moloney

Maude Gonne
My readers often ask me why I choose to write about the lesser known historical characters.  Why did I not write a novel about Maud Gonne, a stunning icon of feminism and rebellion?  Because Maud Gonne does not need any more publicity.  There was an actual term  in early 20th century Ireland - "Maud-Gonning", referring to defiant melodramatic behavior which set Maud apart from her respectable contemporaries.  There is already one novel "Willie and Maud" about Maud Gonne's turbulent relationship with Yeats.  One novel per historical figure is enough. I prefer not to develop a topic that has already been exhausted by other novelists and historians.  My goal was to shed some light on her protegee Helena Molony, whom she had discovered, adopted, groomed and, ultimately, doomed her to a life of ideological martyrdom. Even if Helena had stood a chance of ever embracing traditional Irish womanhood that involved a job in the trades, marriage and children, Maud Gonne had successfully removed her from that path.
Daughters of Erin

I started writing "Never Be at Peace" during a major bout with separation anxiety from its predecessor "Martyrs & Traitors: a Tale of 1916".  The two novels are best described as companion pieces.  A few of my Beta readers who had loved "Martyrs" were twisting my arm to take his first love Helena Molony and devote an entire novel to her.  I quickly realized that there was a lot of room for developing another story.  Generally I don't work in a linear fashion, meaning I don't write from A to Z.  Certain scenes appear before my eyes quite vividly.  I hear the arguments, the love confessions, deliver patriotic speeches, the deathbed tirades.  Sometimes I write the epilogue first.  In the end I take those fragments and assemble them into the master manuscript, like a mosaic. 

Bulmer as a teenager with Herbert Hughes
While doing research for "Never Be at Peace" I leaned on many of the same sources as I did when researching "Martyrs & Traitors".  In some ways, it was easier, because a lot of the hard work had already been done.  I already had the facts and the events mapped out.  Essentially, I was describing the same events through the eyes of another historical figure.  It's like having another camera angle. I already knew so much about the Irish Volunteers, so I needed to read up on the Irish Citizen Army.  You have no idea how much money I spent on those rare books that I had to order from Ireland because they contained original illustrations that you cannot find online in electronic format.  

One of the most frustrating things is the lack of photographic documents featuring the heroine.  Most of Helena's photos from her acting days had perished in a fire at the Abbey Threatre.  I would have given anything to see a few photos of her in costume, in character.  There are a few group photos where she poses with various nationalistic and labor-focused organizations.  I've heard from certain sources that Helena was compared unfavorably to the woman her Prince Charming (Bulmer Hobson) ended up marrying. 
Dinny McCullough (cut in half) and 3 Royal Irish Constabulary men
The consensus is that Helena did not "keep well".  She ended up a prematurely aged, mentally disturbed alcoholic.  To be fair, Bulmer's wife Claire did not end up in a much better place.  Their marriage fell apart, and she became this 50-year old party girl at a bar.  Through a mixture of cunning and diplomacy, I was able to procure a few photos of Claire Hobson.  One of them came from the archives of the British National Library. It cost me $300 to get a copy of it, but it was money well spent.  To my delight I found some physical resemblance between Claire and myself.  Given that Claire was not a revolutionary figure, there is even less information available about her, and her descendants guard her mystery with vigilance.  From what I've heard, they are not very keen on sharing personal information about her, which, understandably, inflames my curiosity even further.  My sixth sense tells me that Claire had her own "broken Cinderella" story and she had her own demons, though she battled them more discretely than her predecessor, Helena Molony.
Irish Womens' Workers Union

To learn more about Marina J. Neary, you can reach her through Facebook page at:
Marina J Neary

1 comment:

La Petite Gallery said...

It sounds fascinating, it really takes so much research to write a book like that. I need to know more about the Easter Rising.
Thanks for this interesting post.