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Exploring the War’s other side

TUMULTUOS events in the early part of the last century are the backdrop for (pictured) PJ Curtis’ new novel A Nightingale Falling.

“It’s trickling into the shops at the moment, just hot off the presses as they say. It was out on Kindle for a while but the physical book is just out now,” said the Kilnaboy man last Friday morning.

The plot centres on two sisters who find themselves in an awkward spot as the War of Independence rages around them.
“It’s about two Anglo-Irish ladies living in a house in reduced circumstances. The Black and Tan wars are going on around them and they wake up one morning and find a wounded Black and Tan officer at their door and they take him in. Once they take him in, they find themselves compromised, they can’t give him back to either side. He’s in a coma for a while and he wakes up and begins to get better while they’re keeping him secret. Ultimately, as he improves, a relationship begins between him and one of the sisters. When he gets better enough, they decide to leave.”

The other sister is against this and she ends up poisoning the Black and Tan, leading to fairly serious complications.
Nearly a hundred years on, the time fascinates many people. It was something PJ wanted to examine.

“We all grew up hearing the stories of it and one of my grandmothers married a second time and her second husband was involved in the Rineen ambush and all that activity back in the twenties. There’s a house near the Lake of Inchiquin and there were two Anglo-Irish sisters living there and they were burned out because they were Protestant. I wanted to examine how it might be for two Protestant sisters who regard themselves as being Irish but are caught up in this war and are landed with this extra problem with a wounded enemy arriving at their door.”

The first draft of the novel came to him relatively easily. Then the real work began. “I wrote it over two years, the hard bit I find is rewriting and rewriting and proofing and proofing. The actual writing happens fairly quickly once I’m on a bit of a roll and I’m fairly disciplined. The hard work begins when I go back to tart it up.”

While it’s just hit the shelves, work is already well underway on bringing it to the screen. “It’s being filmed at the moment, I was at the set yesterday. I was talking to people in Offaly where it is being filmed and they were telling similar stories of houses there that were burned out. I don’t think it’d be resonant for just locality. Almost any area would have similar stories of Protestants under stress and pressure. Most of them tried to remain neutral but they were branded as being on the side of the English anyway.”

It will be a full-length feature film and is being made by Mixed Bag Media. They also filmed one of PJ’s short stories two years ago.
“It’s being shot at the moment and I’d say it’ll take at least a year before editing is done. There’s a lot of work and it’s a long journey for a small company.”
While it isn’t even nearly finished yet, he feels it will probably be shown on TV eventually.

“Any independent company has to go to the film distributors, show them their film and ask them if they’re interested in distributing it. The problem is that often they only want the big blockbusters that will bring people in.

“The initial thing is that it would be sold to RTÉ, who have shown an interest in it. The first national showing would probably be on television.”

This is the Kilnaboy native’s sixth book, five of which are fiction and all set in Clare. PJ’s only non-fiction effort was Notes From The Heart-A Celebration of Irish Traditional Music, which was published in 1994.

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