A Virtual Interview with Ann Murtagh

This week, I had a virtual chat with Ann Murtagh about her amazing debut children’s book, The Sound of Freedom. Ann tells us all about her inspiration, writing process, and more! 

What inspired you to write The Sound of Freedom?

In 2016, I had been commissioned by Barnstorm Theatre Company in Kilkenny to design classroom resources for their 1916-themed play, The Messenger. Reading the play, I was very impressed by how it conveyed all the important historical aspects of the 1916 Rising, but when I actually sat in the audience with the children and witnessed its impact on them, it made me want to have a go at writing a story myself.

What drew you to writing about Ireland’s War of Independence?

As a teacher/historian, I was drawn to the next phase of the revolutionary period. For the 1916 class resources, I had accessed primary sources in the Bureau of Military History and was aware of the rich pickings the Bureau held relating to the War of Independence. In the 1940s and 1950s, men and women active during the revolutionary period were asked to provide written statements about their involvement. Among the Westmeath witness statements, two men referred to an account of an aeraíocht (open-air entertainment) that was planned to happen in 1919 in the town of Castlepollard, but was banned by the RIC. However, the event went ahead in a secret location up in the hills, and none other than Hanna Sheehy Skeffington spoke at it. In the meantime, a woman pretending to be Hanna Sheehy Skeffington was walking around Castlepollard, with the police observing her every move. This made me think of a story. What about a boy who was in the crowd that day? Although the aeraíocht is quite far on in the story, it was the event that got me started.

Describe The Sound of Freedom in five words.

Exciting War of Independence Adventure.

Who was your favourite character to write?

Colm’s Aunt Sheila, who comes in later in the book. She was based on a number of Cumann na mBan members who recorded statements about their activities during the War of Independence for the Bureau of Military History, and also a local spirited Cumann na mBan woman who wrote letters to the local newspaper in 1918–19. I found the letters to the paper particularly helpful for the vocabulary and turn of phrase that was used at the time.

What was your writing schedule like when you wrote this book? Are you a night-time writer, early-morning writer, sporadic, etc?

I’m an early starter and a consistent writer

How did it feel to see the cover of your book for the first time?

It made me feel immensely proud. It was also gratifying to see accomplished illustrator Jon Berkley capture a dramatic moment in the story – a raid on a big house – and skilfully convey it in a way that was faithful both to the story and to the period in which it was set

What is your favourite childhood book and why?

I had different favourite books at different times, but my earliest one was Alice Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll. I still have the copy that my mother bought me as a little girl in New York. I loved the idea of climbing through a mirror to enter a different world, as well as the way Alice tried to make sense of that bizarre world

What is your favourite thing about reading?

When an author succeeds in making me really care about a particular character, to the point where I can’t leave the book down and I have to find out what happens

What’s your favourite thing about writing?

I like the satisfaction of reading work after it’s gone through a round of edits. In my original story, for instance, I had a chapter set in the town of Delvin on Easter Sunday, when a group of men collecting for Sinn Féin outside the church were arrested. I was being true to an event that did happen, but in terms of the story, this did not earn its place, so it had to go. I incorporated any necessary information into other chapters and knew that the story was all the better for it.

If you could travel back or forward to any time period, where and when would you travel to?

I would love to go back to the townland of Glenidan in 1919, where the story is set, to see how my great-grandparents and their neighbours lived.

Ann Murtagh, March 2020

The Sound of Freedom is available to buy at your local bookshop or online here.