Author Anne McLoughlin tells Owen Ryan how family tree research brought her to Darragh and to America
RESEARCHING her ancestry brought Anne McLoughlin to Darragh and to America, and the stories she heard has also informed her trilogy of novels, the second of which, Lives Without End has been published recently.
Much of the novel is set in Clare, where Anne’s great grandmother came from. “I’ve been writing for a good few years and I was doing research into my family tree. I knew a branch of it was down in Co. Clare, my great grandmother was from outside Lissycasey, in Darragh.”
The third instalment will be out in 2022. “The third one, I have it written and delivered to Poolbeg Press and it’s coming out next spring.”
Anne’s great grandmother was an O’Keeffe, and she says there are relatives of hers still living in the Darragh area now, while she learned that she had links to America also.
“My family tree research led me back to there (Darragh). In the late 1800s a great uncle of mine emigrated to America and he opened a grocery store. It mushroomed over the years into about 1,600 grocery stores all down the East Coast of America. He became very wealthy and he employed a lot of his relatives, a lot of them came over from Co. Clare and he gave them all jobs. He used to say to them don’t think you’re going to have an easy life, you’re going to have to work twice as hard as anyone else, to show there’s no favouritism.”
When she had her own booklet completed, other people asked for her help, and she heard great stories from them.
“I put it into a book form, just went to the local photocopying shop and got them to put a binding on it. I went on to track down descendants of the guy in America, and one or two of them were very helpful with information about the American branches of the family. That’s how I put the family tree together, and I wrote up all the stories. I went over to America and I met up with them and I gave them all a copy.
“Here at home a lot of people asked me if I’d give them a hand putting together their family history. They started telling me stories they’d heard from their grandparents and I thought there’s a novel somewhere in here.
“I started working on a novel based on ideas I’d picked up through the various family trees, worked away on that, and a trilogy came out of it.”
Anne worked in TV for years, on programmes like Anything Goes, Would You Believe and Fair City, and it was only when she left television that she got really into writing fiction.
“I kind of dabbled in it, but I never had time, because I was working full time. It was only when I took early retirement that I started writing seriously. My first breakthrough was at the Wexford Literary Festival about three years ago, the Colm Tobin international short story competition, I was highly commended in that, that gave me a great boost, I thought ‘I can write’ and I really got stuck into the trilogy after that.”
It was only through some friendly advice that she decided to go for a trilogy.
“I got someone to read it, she’s a TV reporter and has a very analytical sort of mind. She said the good news is you have great stories, great characters, you write well, but you have no structure. And you haven’t got one book here, you’ve three books.
“I started working on it again, developed it into three books, and I entered one into a competition at the Wexford Literary Festival last year. Paula Campbell of Poolbeg Press shortlisted people that she wanted to do a pitch of their book.
“I was one of those shortlisted people, we had to do it on Zoom because of Covid, but it meant you bypassed the slush pile that’s on every publisher’s premises. Anyway, within a day or two I was signed up for a three-book deal, and that’s how it all began.”
She says that around one third of Lives Without End is set in Clare, with Wexford and America also prominent.
Speaking about the background and plot, Anne says, “With each of the books I selected maybe two main characters. In this second book the main character is Bridie, she’s the niece of the main character in the first book Johanna, who went from Clare to America.
“A lot of the nieces went and stayed with her when they went to America. Bridie was from Wexford, went to stay with her grandmother in Clare where she met a fisherman and married him. There was a disaster happened and to try and get her life back on track she went over to Johanna in America and tried to set up a life over there, but things didn’t go her way.
“She had a very eventful time over there, but everything went wrong for her and she got involved in a relationship that would shock society if it was uncovered. She paid a high price for the things that happened her, and she decided to come back to Ireland. She had to spin a few yarns and tell a few fibs in order to hide all the events that happened in America.”
While the trilogy was inspired by the stories she collected, Anne says that there is not a factual basis to the story.
On writing the books, she adds, “When I started writing it, I just wrote incidents and gradually the characters started to emerge. I didn’t know who my main character was when I started the trilogy. As I began to write about the different incidents, characters started to take on their own personalities and I just went with them.
“Do you know, a few of them nearly wrote themselves. There was one in particular, I based him on an old photo I had of my great grandfather. I never met him, he died the month I was born. He was an RIC man, very severe looking with the handlebar moustache, I’d heard stories over the years about how rigid he was, no servile work on a Sunday or anything like that. and I didn’t really like the sound of him.
“But I started to write a few scenes with him and gradually he started going off in a different direction. I thought ‘you’re not going in the direction I’ve planned for you’ but I let him go off in his own direction and he became one of my favourite characters. Going into his backstory explained why he was so regimental.”
The two books published so far are not currently in the shops due to Covid issues, but may be bought online.
by Owen Ryan