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Writer Marianne Purcell, of Feakle, whose second book Finding Hannah has just been published. Photograph by John Kelly

Breathing life into a new novel

Marianne Purcell loves using words. Long ones, short ones, unusual ones, forgotten ones, words are grist to her mill.
The East Clare author loves the feel of them on her tongue. The way words conjure up a picture, an idea or an emotion.
The Caher native believes the whole what, where, how and why of a story depends on the way words are used. Not only that, but pronouncing a word can bring its own form of delight.
“I use words as the starting point because they are the seeds that one plants on a blank page to create a story,” she said.
“The twists and turns of a word like ostentatious, the innocence of nosegay, the shambling ineptitude of hapless, the instant understanding of a word like whinge. And the picture they paint if you put them together. The hapless hero dropped the ostentatious nosegay.
“Can’t you just see him, shabby, bumbling, the fancy flowers he found on the sidewalk and plans to woo his lady with, landing in the gutter as he trips when handing them to her?
“Or whatever it is your imagination comes up with. That’s the beauty of words. They belong to everyone but the story they create is yours alone.”
Writing “Finding Hannah” her second rural crime fiction that revolves around a private investigation firm as part of a three-book deal with Poolbeg, wasn’t a chore for her.
Ex-detective, Thomas Tegan, known to his friends as Trout, and his associate Lauren O’Loughlin have opened a private investigation agency in their home village of Knocknaclogga. Tegan, O’Loughlin Consultant Investigation (TLCI) is awaiting its first official client.
Then Lauren’s cousin Marina Offenbach arrives from London, hysterical and blaming her for the disappearance of her daughter, Hannah, Lauren’s godchild.
The London police have traced a girl, potentially Hannah, to the Fishguard-Rosslare ferry to Ireland.
Lauren and Trout set out to find Hannah – only to discover that someone else is trying to track her down.
Someone who appears to have a lot of money riding on her disappearing and staying that way. Someone who has already killed to ensure that he isn’t thwarted.
They follow a convoluted trail across southern Ireland in their search for the missing girl and a friend, David, who seems to have taken her under his wing.
As the race to find Hannah gathers momentum, they find that the kindness of strangers is keeping her safe but also helping her to remain elusive.
Readers are kept in suspense to establish if they reach her before her malicious pursuer does.
The book is available in Ennis bookshop and all leading bookshops.
Her first book “Lie Of Omission”, which was published in May 2023, was picked up by Poolbeg following an open submission process.
She wrote it chapter by chapter thinking “I wonder what happened next”.
After sending Poolbeg a few chapters, the publishers requested the full manuscript and once they read the story in its entirety asked her if she would like to be published before offering her a three-book contract. She is currently working on her third book.
“I really enjoyed the writing process as well. When I was attending Duglawn National School in Killanena, my teacher, Ms Whelan told me my hand couldn’t keep up with my brain because my hand writing would start off very well before it disintegrated,” she said.
Her books come under the genre of cosy crime.
“It is all fiction, a fictitious place, fictional people and it is all very light-hearted. There is a lot of drama but no great gory details or blood and guts. I was writing short stories for years and was published a few times in Ireland’s Own,” she said. “In 2020, I won the open competition with Ireland’s Own, which gave me the impetus to go for it.”
While her lifelong ambition has always been to publish a book, she can still hardly believe she is now a two-time published author.
“I am still pinching myself. It is amazing The first time I held my book I was looking at it thinking it couldn’t be me. I read it as a book the first time it came out. While I was very familiar with the story, it was like reading a different book.” she said.
“A friend of mine said to me ‘I have to stop and think this is Marianne who wrote this” and I said ‘So have I’.
“Loads of people wrote to me and sent me messages to say they enjoyed it and were looking forward to the next one.
“I didn’t expect that. I expected I would write the book, it would go out into the world and that would be it. I didn’t expect the level of promotion that was needed to be done such as interviews and articles,”
She also enjoys her weekly task of compiling the Feakle notes for The Clare Champion.
Paula Campbell of Poolbeg asked her to write an article about her job as a respiratory scientist for the Daily Mail, which she completed in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. Having initially trained as a general nurse in Jervis Street Hospital from 1975 to 1978, she worked in the trauma unit at Merlin Park Hospital, Galway. After getting married, she took a break from nursing to rear six children for about 20 years.
Instead, she practised aromatherapy, massage, herbalism and different forms of complementary medicine.
“I was always interested in people and healing and the different aspects of it. When you work in this area and you want to look at the whole picture, you see there is more to it than just medicine,” she said.
In 2000, she want back to nursing and did the last back-to-nursing course in the Mid-West that she paid for. Completing relief work at University Hospital Limerick for two years, she did a stint one-day in the respiratory unit, which was looking for someone to be trained and upskilled as a respiratory technician and she was happy to take on this new role.
This involves pulmonary testing, sleep studies and bronchoscopy testing.
“I found breathing is such an interesting subject. You can’t live without breathing. I did a lot of work around helping people to breathe,” she said.
“If you are bringing a person through a test, there is a lot of segments in it such as the lung function, the exchange of gases in the lungs and what happens to a person under pressure, you need to have a good understanding what they are experiencing to keep them calm.
“Sleep studies are very interesting. We know so little about sleep at one level and so much about it at another level. On a full sleep study, you graph the brain waves during the night of the stage of sleep that a person goes through. You also record the movement of the people, their oxygen levels and what happens to the body during sleep at night,” she said.
She explained an oximetry test measures a patient’s oxygen levels at night. If it is discovered their oxygen levels dip during the night, a full sleep study test is required.
Special monitors are placed on the patient’s head and face, belts are put on across the body, an oximeter on a finger as well as other specialised equipment. Belts measure movement and the rise and fall of the chest and the stomach. When a person is breathing properly, their stomach rises and falls in a specific way.
When a sleep study is read, it provides a story of what happened a patient during the night. However, Ms Purcell stressed respiratory technicians are not able to interpret a person’s dreams. In 2005, the role of respiratory technician became a science degree. By 2006, the name changed from respiratory technician to respiratory scientist.
Continuing to work as a respiratory scientist, she helped set up and ran the laboratory in Ennis Hospital until the Covid-19 pandemic hit and a lot of this work went back to University Hospital Limerick.
She recalled advanced respiratory nurse, Carmel McInerney, in Ennis was “amazing” when it came to setting up of the laboratory in Ennis and was very supportive of the unit.
In 2021, the mother-of-six retired to pursue her lifelong ambition to write a book.
“I said one day if I want to write these stories that are in my head, I need to give myself the time to do it,” she said.
“I retired specifically to write a book. The characters in my first book “Lie of Omission” evolved from a short story I had written for a competition. They were very much alive to me. The idea of having a private investigation agency in a small local village where everyone knows each other’s business amused me.
“I draw stuff from what I know but then you add the element of fiction to it. The second book isn’t about Feakle, it is set in the South of Ireland.”
Having completed writing courses for years, she finds her writing colleagues are very supportive.
Ms Purcell got a lot of advice from Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin, who writes under the pen name of Sam Blake and also got help and encouragement from Tanya Farrelly.
“The biggest part of writing a book appears to be the rewrites, fine tuning, honing and polishing to make sure it flows,” she said.
When you are writing something that is in your head, you think you have written it, but when you read it over, some of the stuff is still in your head and is not on paper. It also has to make sense.”
Her article “About the Job” provides an interesting perspective about such a “little word with three letters”.
“The concept of a job is interesting and wide ranging,” she said.
“The Oxford dictionary devotes nearly a full column to the meaning of the word and all its attached connotations. The basic definition of paid regular employment, expands out into a task, a responsibility and tells us that informally it can even mean a crime. And it’s such a little word, three letters, none of them particularly important on their own.
“Back in the last century, which really was only the other day, the biggest ambition of a parent was to see their child settled in a permanent, pensionable job.
“These parents had come through a time of great turmoil, when money was scarce and living a hand to mouth existence was a lot more real than it is today.
“The idea of security for life was something to work for and embrace. And if that security came in the disguise of a vocation like nursing or teaching, all the boxes were ticked. You were settled in heaven as well as earth.
“Marc Anthony is quoted as saying, “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
“My job in the Respiratory department absorbed and interested me. It led me along a lot of compelling paths and into studying an area of human being that intrigued and engaged me. Yet, it was a job and the yearning was always there to write. There’s something about words and the work of weaving them into a story that I love. To have someone say they enjoyed a story I’ve written, that they got it or that it spoke to them, is amazing.
“The limbic system, sometimes called our lizard brain, occasionally wags a finger and reminds me that writing may be a permanent occupation but it’s far from pensionable.
“Unless of course, one joins the ranks of JK Rowling et al. But the reality, as far as I can see, is that JK Rowling, loves the work she does and enjoys crafting stories that draws one into the worlds she creates.
“So, the job was interesting, fulfilling most of the time but writing is doing what I love, and in the old cliché, loving what I do. Hopefully I’ll get to do it for a long time.”

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