An exclusive Authorlink interview
By Ellen Birkett Morris
When author Patricia Falvey had a high level job as managing director at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC, working as a national tax consultant, she didnt spend her vacation time at exotic resorts. She attended writing conferences at Skidmore College in New York, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown in Massachusetts, and Wesleyan College in Connecticut.
Writing has always been a great passion for me. The conferences made the idea of writing as a profession real, said Falvey, author of The Yellow House.
The conferences also gave her a sense of connection with other writers and insight into techniques that built her skills as a writer.
When you work in corporate America you are so far removed from things of the soul and spirit..
When you work in corporate America you are so far removed from things of the soul and spirit. I found that being with others of like mind was emotionally satisfying, said Falvey.
She also spent her free time writing. Falvey experimented with formulaic romance novels, but found that she wasnt passionate enough about the stories she was telling.
Then one night an open mic reading, twenty years ago, she read a short story about Northern Ireland, where she was born, that was set in recent time and dealt with the clashes between Protestants and Catholics known in Ireland as the troubles. An agent in the audience wanted to know if the piece was part of a larger novel.
Thus began her journey writing The Yellow House. The story, set in the beginning of the 20th century, follows the family of Eileen ONeill as they struggle with religious intolerance and the emergence of past secrets. Eileen fights to regain her family home and decide whether her fate lies with a passionate political activist or the wealthy son of the pacifist family that owns the mill where she works.
I grew up listening to a lot of stories about this period and I have always been fond of reading Irish history, she said.
Falvey was raised by her Irish grandmother until she was eight. Her grandmother grew up during the Irish Civil War at the turn of the century. Her grandmother and great-grandmother worked in a mill like the novels protagonist Eileen.
I knew I wanted to write about a woman living then and I knew I wanted to make it the story of a choice between war and peace, said Falvey. She also knew she wanted to write it from a female point of view, since many books on the conflict are written from a male perspective.
Falvey was prompted to work on the book in earnest when a chance encounter led her to meet her agent, Denise Marcil, president of Denise Marcil Literary Agency.
Falvey met a friend of Marcils while Falvey was in New York City on business for PricewaterhouseCoopers. She was eating by herself at the hotel at a table with the only empty seat when a woman asked to join her. They struck up an acquaintanceship and the woman asked Falvey to join a group of women for a spa trip to Jamaica. One of the women on the trip was Marcil.
The greatest challenge for me was daring to write a book about Irish history. |
Falvey and Marcil met in April and by August Falvey had sent Marcil the first 50 pages of the book.
The greatest challenge for me was daring to write a book about Irish history. Could I tell the story accurately? I was afraid people would say that I got this or that wrong, so I solicited reviews from people who knew the history of the area, said Falvey.
She also enrolled in a three-week course in Irish History and Culture at Queens University at Belfast, and visited the historical society and mill town museum in her grandmothers hometown of Bessbrook in Northern Ireland.
Falvey also struggled to get the voice of the character just right. She moved from Ireland to England when she was a child, and later to America.
I was writing the story in first person and had to get the voice of a young Irish woman living in Northern Ireland, who was smart, but not overly educated. I live in Texas. My dear sister lives in Northern Ireland. I listened to her accent and wrote down her sayings. Once I got into the characters head, her voice got a lot easier, she noted.
Writing a novel is like building a suspension bridge. You have to craft it . . . |
Falvey started her writing with character and place and worked on tightening the plot after she had completed a first draft of the novel.
Writing a novel is like building a suspension bridge. You have to craft it carefully and build suspense to keep it moving forward, said Falvey.
In June of 2007, three years into her association with Marcil, as she was polishing the final draft of the book, Falvey quit her high powered job to pursue writing full time.
It was a big leap leaving a very good job, a career I built up, to go into something so uncertain. As scary as it has been, Ive never felt as whole and integrated in my entire life. It is never too late to follow your dream. If it is there, pushing at you, pay attention, said Falvey.
The book went through several phases of editing. Marcil helped bring up questions about pacing and tone and urged Falvey to make sure each character was fully realized. Professional editors offered line edits.
It is a commitment. It is hard work to write, edit and revise to make sure you have the best product. The joy will be in the creation no matter what happens to the manuscript, said Falvey.
She recommends going to conferences to connect with other writers and hone your craft. She advises, You have to write about what you love. Vampire stories may be popular, but dont write one if you dont care about your character.
Her second book, titled The Linen Queen, is going through the editing process. That story is set in Northern Ireland during World War Two and explores the impact of American GIs on a small mill town. Her third book will be set in the 1970s and 1980s and the protagonist will be engaged in a hunger strike.
|About Patricia Falvey|
Patricia Falvey was born in Newry, County Down, Northern Ireland. The Yellow House is her first novel.
About Regular Contributor|
Ellen Birkett Morris
Ellen Birkett Morris is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in national print and online publications including The New York Times. She also writes for a number of literary, regional, trade, and business publications, and she has contributed to six published nonfiction books in the trade press. Ellen is a regular contributor to Authorlink, assigned to interview various New York Times bestselling authors and first-time novelists.