A top selling American author whose latest fictional book will be set during the Troubles was in North Belfast last week to meet with a local political prisoner to hear about life in Armagh Jail. Texan writer Patricia Falvey travelled to the North over the Easter period to research her latest book, The Easter Lillies, which is set during the 1970s and ‘80s when the conflict was at its height. As part of the book will be set in Armagh jail Patricia visited North Belfast on Friday to talk to Mary Clarke, nee Doyle, who was first sent to Armagh women’s jail for republican activities in March 1974 when she was just 18 years-old.
The Ardoyne woman was able to share her experiences with Patricia as well as help her with factual details about her new book.
Patricia, who was actually born in Newry and lived there until she was eight years old, is already an accomplished author. Her first two nooks The Yellow House and The Linen Queen, which were both set within periods in Irish history, have been well received, The Yellow Door selling 13,000 copies on one day on the Amazon Kindle.
Patricia, who now lives in Dallas, said she was delighted to have met Mary to hear about her experiences and help shape her latest book.
“I met up with Mary to see what it was like in Armagh Jail, when women were also on Hunger Strike. I want to make the book as authentic as I can and also to be respectful to the women who went through this.
“I also visited a lot of places for my research such as Clonard Monastery and Bombay Street and I observed the Easter celebrations so I feel like I got a lot of work done.”
Mary Clarke took part in the 1980 Hunger Strike as a POW in Armagh jail; during her time in jail in 1975 her mother was killed in a UVF bomb.
“What Mary gave me was invaluable information and even though obviously it’s a fictional book with fictional characters I wanted to get it right.
“It isn’t just the facts but the individual perspectives of the young women who went in Hunger Strike, we were able to talk about motivations.”
Although she lived in the North until the age of eight, Patricia was raised in England before leaving at the age of 20 to find her way in the USA. She landed in New York with $200 and made her way via the Greyhound bus to Omaha, Nebraska. After two years there she moved to Boston to study and eventually became a managing director at accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers before leaving to fulfill her dream of becoming a full time writer.
Despite her years away from Ireland she still has family here, including her sister, and said it seemed natural to set her books in the place of her birth.
“I always had a book in me and even when I was a little girl I would be making up stories and entertaining myself,” she said.
“When I got a book deal I knew I wanted to write about the North, it was always rattling around in my head.”
Her first book The Yellow House, is a fictional tale set during the War of Independence. The second, The Linen Queen is set during the Second World War when American troops set up camps in the North.
She said she is excited but nervous about her latest work which will be her first set in a period when many people who lived it are still alive.
“This is the last of my three books, I sort of like to think of them as a trilogy, and one where the people of the time are still alive,” she said.
“This is also the first time I have had actual live testimony from people. I have a real passion for the North of Ireland and I like to think that my books are almost an encouragement for tourists to come here.”
Patricia added that many of her readers in America have already been inspired to come to Ireland after reading her books.
“My first two books talked a lot about the scenery, the landscape and I think it alerted a lot of people to the beauty here.”
Patricia said there continues to be a huge interest in Ireland both among Irish Americans and the rest of the population in the US.
“I go to a lot of Irish festivals and it is amazing the interest there is in Irish history,” she said.
“Estimates about the amount of people in America who can trace their roots back to Ireland show just how much people want to read about here.
“My books have mostly been sold in the US and there continues to be a lot of interest in Ireland amongst the readers there.”
The author is set to travel back to Dallas to finish work on The Easter Lillies but she hopes she will be able to launch the book back in Belfast.
“I launched my first book back in Newry and it was wonderful,” she said.
“There were actually people who came to the launch who remembered me when I was a little kid and said to me they remembered the little red haired girl. It really did feel like coming home.
“It would be wonderful to have a launch for The Easter Lillies in Belfast.”
For more information on Patricia Falvey’s work go to www.patriciafalvey.com