29 March 2015

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: M.J. Neary on NEVER BE AT PEACE

This week, we're welcoming author and Unusual Historicals contributor, M.J. Neary, whose latest title is NEVER BE AT PEACEOne lucky visitor will get a free copy of Never Be At PeaceBe sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb. 

A pugnacious orphan from a bleak Dublin suburb, Helena Molony dreams of liberating Ireland. Her fantasies take shape when the indomitable Maud Gonne informally adopts her and sets her on a path to theatrical stardom - and political martyrdom. Swept up in the Gaelic Revival, Helena succumbs to the romantic advances of Bulmer Hobson, an egotistical Fenian leader with a talent for turning friends into enemies. After their affair ends in a bitter ideological rift, she turns to Sean Connolly, a married fellow-actor from the Abbey Theatre, a man idolised in the nationalist circles. As Ireland prepares to strike against the British rule on Easter Monday, Helena and her comrades find themselves caught in a whirlwind of deceit, violence, broken alliances and questionable sacrifices. In the words of Patrick Pearse, "Ireland unfree shall never be at peace". For the survivors of the Rising, the battle will continue for decades after the last shot had been fired.

**Q&A with M.J. Neary**

How did you come up with the title?
The title was actually pitched to me by my husband, an avid Celtophile and Irish history enthusiast.  It's actually from a graveside speech delivered by Patrick H. Pearse in 1915 on the day of Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa's funeral.  "Ireland unfree shall never be at peace." Both Pearse and O'Donovan Rossa were members of the semi-secret Fenian Brotherhood. Pearse was a charismatic speaker, in spite of an eye defect and a speech impediment which he had overcome.  His goal was to galvanize his fellow freedom-seekers. It's worth mentioning that at the turn of the century was a time of apathy in Ireland.  Most people had no sense of national pride, in spite of the Gaelic Revival.  The revival was more of a cultural movement restricted to the intellectual circles. In the first decade of the 20th century significant shifts happen in the arena of political and military nationalism. By 1914-15 England is weakened by WWI.

Even though the title is inspired by a quote by Pearse, the main character in the novel is not Pearse but Helena Molony, an actress, feminist and labor reform activist. In one of your interviews you refer to her as "Irish Cinderella."

I say it half-jokingly, but there are indeed undeniable parallels. Like Cinderella, Helena was an orphan with a wicked stepmother.  She also had a fairy godmother figure, Maud Gonne, W.B. Yeats' immoral muse, who took the young girl under her wing and turned her into a theatrical start and a political martyr.  She also had a Prince Charming in her life - an upper middle class Protestant lad from Belfast, Bulmer Hobson.  They came from different worlds and did not always see eye to eye on many things.  He was from a stable, prosperous family of Anglo-Scottish stock. Still, he was on the side of Irish nationalists who often regarded him with suspicion due to his privileged background.  He was against the rising of 1916 and even tried to stop it, nearly paying for his treason with his life.

Helena Molony is a somewhat obscure figure.  Unless you take an active interest in the history of Irish nationalism, her name is not one that jumps out at you.

There are some delicate nuances around Helena's personal life that the media of the day found disturbing. Helena spent the rest of her days in solitude, living with her "companion" Dr. Evelyn O'Brien, a psychiatrist seventeen years her junior.  The nature of the relationship was subject of many speculations. Some historians insist that it was romantic. Ireland was not ready for a bisexual heroine. Helena was prone to alcoholism and angry outbursts.  In spite of her contributions to the war for independence, she was allowed to fade into obscurity.  Interestingly enough, women fought side by side with men during the War of Independence and the subsequent Irish Civil War, but as soon as freedom was won, the culture shifted in the patriarchal direction, forcing women into domesticity. A new constitution was drafted pointing out that Catholicism had a "special place" in the lives of Irish people. Divorce and contraception were outlawed. Women were literally expelled from the workplace the moment they got married. As a feminist, Helena clearly did not cherish the new laws. On top of that, her orientation was in question. In short, she did not fit the picture of a perfect Irish housewife.

There is a companion novel to "Never Be at Peace"?

Indeed, there is a companion piece "Martyrs & Traitors: a Tale of 1916".  It was written in 2011 and published by another publisher.  The novel chronicles the political and intimate misfortunes of Bulmer Hobson, Helena's former lover and comrade who ended up on the wrong side of the barricades.

Who designed the cover for "Never Be at Peace"?

Interestingly enough, it was a Ukrainian artist. I singled him out after reviewing portfolios of dozens of other artists. It takes a Slavic artist to capture an Irish tragedy. The cover painting was done from scratch using Ulster murals as inspiration. The scene represents the death of Sean Connolly, Helena's fellow actor from the Abbey Theatre and alleged lover.

Never Be at Peace: a Novel of Irish Rebels available now from Fireship Press.

About the author

Marina Julia Neary is an acclaimed historical novelist, award-winning essayist, multilingual journalist, dramatist and poet. Her areas of expertise include Neo-Victorianism, French Romanticism and Irish nationalism. Her literary career to depicting military and social disasters, from the Charge of the Light Brigade, to the Easter Rising in Dublin, to the Chernobyl catastrophe. Neary declares that her mission is to tell untold stories, find hidden gems and illuminate the prematurely extinguished stars in history. She explores human suffering through the prism of dark humor, believing that tragedy and comedy go hand in hand. Her debut novel Wynfield's Kingdom: a Tale of London Slums (Fireship Press) appeared on the cover of the First Edition Magazine in the UK and earned the praise of the Neo-Victorian Studies Journal. Her subsequent novels include Wynfield's War (2010), Brendan Malone: the Last Fenian (2011), Martyrs & Traitors: a Tale of 1916 (2011), Never Be at Peace: a Novel of Irish Rebels (2014) and Saved by the Bang (2015).