The Making of The Making of Mollie!

Anna Carey tells us about the compelling research process for her latest novel The Making of Mollie!

When I started writing my book The Making of Mollie, the story of a would-be teenage suffragette in 1912 Dublin, I didn’t have to think long about where to set it. When it was founded back in 1883, my old school, Dominican College, was at the forefront of girls’ education in Ireland, and it was known for its progressive ethos – its old girls include the famous suffragette leader Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington. Since 1984, the school has been on Griffith Avenue in Drumcondra, but for just over 100 years it was in Eccles Street in Dublin (when I was there, from 1988 to 1993, lots of people still referred to the school simply as ‘Eccles Street’). As my fictional heroine, Mollie, was a middle-class girl living in Drumcondra, it made sense that she would have gone to Eccles Street – which was handy for me, because I live down the road from the school’s current location.

And so a rainy day in February, I went back to school, thanks to Sr Catherine Gibson, the nun (and former teacher at the school) who looks after the archive. In a cosy room in the convent next to the school building (I’d walked past it every day for five years but never entered it before), I ate biscuits, drank a particularly delicious pot of tea, and immersed myself in the past. Dominican College began producing a yearbook called The Lanthorn in 1913, and there was a complete collection in the archive. I was able to pore through the pages for several hours, taking copious notes and photographs and finally photographing entire pages.

The Lanthorn was an incredible source of information. It told me what subjects the girls studied at school, some of which were mystifying over a century later (historical geography?). It showed me that the girls called their lay teachers “professor” (the historian Dr Senia Paseta later told me this wasn’t unusual). In the school class lists, it gave me dozens of authentic girls’ names of the period which inspired the names of many characters in the book (there were several Mollies, a LOT of Noras – and yes, at least one Grace and Stella and a few Gerties). There were accounts of “a year in Eccles Street” which told me when the girls had exams and when they put on plays (which they seemed to do surprisingly often). Best of all were the short stories about school life by the girls themselves, which were often very funny and which provided me with a lot of authentic contemporary slang. They were the parts I enjoyed the most.

The Making of Mollie is my first historical novel, and I cared a lot about making it as authentic as possible while still being entertaining. So it’s a good thing that I turned out to love the research. In fact, in an ideal world I’d have spent even longer on it. And no part of the research was more fun than throwing myself into the world of the girls who’d gone to my school 75 years before I did – and seeing they weren’t always so different from me and my friends after all.

Anna Carey, December 2016

The Making of Mollie is available here and in all good bookshops!

SOS Lusitania: How it got put into words

Author Kevin Kiely talks about his inspirations for SOS Lusitania on the eve of the centenary of the ship’s tragic sinking.

Lest We ForgetIn school I knew the bare facts about the Lusitania based on our history book that had a poster from that era ‘Lest We Forget. The poster was explained in class and we learned that the Lusitania had been torpedoed and sunk. It was an effective stirring colour poster showing the ship about to keel over. The liner was engulfed in fire and smoke and the passengers were falling. Some were in the water waving their hands. Others sat shivering in lifeboats. There were Americans among the passengers. Many of them drowned and because of this President Wilson in America declared war on Germany and the Kaiser. There were photographs of Wilson in an open-top limousine and the Kaiser in a uniform wearing a helmet with a spike on it. This was basic history with the facts as mere headlines.

Of course, in school I heard the teacher tell and retell the Titanic legend. I began to read a novel entitled A Night to Remember with its minute-by-minute depiction of the tragedy and vivid accounts of survivors who calculated how and when to leap from the sinking ship in order to have a change of saving themselves. I particularly remember the cook or kitchen porter who drank a bottle of liquor and scrambled along the flagpole wearing his life-jacket as the Titanic collapsed below him and sank under the waves. The book was on a shelf beside others such as The Longest Day documenting the D-Day Landings on the Normandy beaches.


The real history of the Lusitania never entered my consciousness fully until the summer of 2006. I had been in Cill Rialaig, the Famine village, and visited a childhood haunt, Ballinskelligs. My adventures took me out to the Big Skellig one day using the cheap-fare boat. But I was restless in Kerry and one Sunday morning travelled east. I have relatives outside Cork city and although we have lost contact, it seemed an idea to take that route. I reached Cobh in a sort of minor torpor and nostalgic mood. I decided to break the journey, and found a B&B high up in the town near Park Terrace. I wandered around. To anyone who does not know Cobh it is full of rising and falling pathways, and footpaths giving different views of the giant harbour. It is a labyrinthine meandering harbour with lakes and islands linking Cork to Cobh and the Celtic sea. At sunset, I saw different aspects of the harbour with sailing vessels and one giant cruise liner.

I sat in a pub along Westbourne Place. The spirit of the Lusitania haunts Cobh. Its story emerged as if some being had transfixed my attention and taken me hostage until the bare outline of the plot was written down: Finbar Kennedy runs away from home. His father is staff captain on the Lusitania. Finbar arrives in New York having escaped with his life. Like many others, he boards the ship on its return voyage into disaster amidst spies, gun-runners, world history and romance. He miraculously survives against so many dangers. In every way the story was implicitly true. It was the real-life story of the survivors.


In 2009, I was lecturing at the University of Idaho, and had abandoned my original excitement and enthusiasm for the Lusitania. I was absorbed by poetry, and an academic text demanded a treasury of research. It seemed that my tale of a runaway would remain as a manuscript. One night, towards the close of the year, I was invited to a faculty dinner. Across from me was Richard Spence, a history professor and author of books on international espionage. His wife led us in a triangular discussion to which he vaguely contributed. I, out of politeness added about as much as he. I wanted the subject to return to literature and away from history. However, when the name Aleister Crowley came up, I agreed that I had heard of him and made a few comments to keep the conversation going. Professor Spence, according to his wife, had just published a book on Crowley, entitled Secret Agent 666 where it mentions the plot to sink the Lusitania. Our discussion opened out about the inquests into the disaster, and how Captain Turner in command of the Lusitania seemed frightened to speak about it during his lifetime. Professor Spence had read international intelligence documents to inform his book. I mentioned that I had begun a story but remained uncertain as to how it could ever get finished. Professor Spence promised to have a copy of his book sent to Brink Hall at the university where I worked in the English Department.

Secret Agent 666 led me back to the Lusitania as the story came alive filled with real characters and real history. Crowley is a common Cork name, and was perfect as a real passenger which slightly altered his actual role in 1915. I kept my plot line deliberately vague in places where history has no actual documentation. However, the actual events required little detective work based on the full research. Back in Ireland, I went to Cobh on a day trip to walk the town and its hilly streets. I was enacting my young hero’s return home. What you write about actually happens in part to yourself, which is true of SOS Lusitania for me. Soon, I had a very emotional and historically accurate narrative, hammering it all together into a clear prose style.

At the editorial stage, Íde ní Laoghaire literally came on board, and creatively suggested the Historical Note. The fact that The O’Brien Press considered publishing political history and conspiracy wrapped up in fiction is in keeping with their tough-edged principles. Already they had published A Horse Called El Dorado where the central character escapes from Colombian drug dealers and endures a series of dangerous journeys arriving in Ireland. Life in Ireland proves difficult for the hero who, through the Travellers, finds a vocational career in horse racing. The novel won a Bisto Merit Award in 2006.

I am currently re-visiting SOS Lusitania in order to bring the story into 1916 using additional real-life characters from real history. The story has suggested a trilogy to lay bare this crucial historical period. The sinking of the Lusitania unleashed events which still resonate into the twenty-first century.

Kevin Kiely has had several collections of poetry published, plays broadcast on RTE and is engaged in literary journalism and editing. He has received Literature Bursary Awards from the Irish Arts Council, and is Honorary Fellow in Writing with the University of Iowa. SOS Lusitania is his first book for young readers.

Writing Anyush

Debut author Martine Madden talks about what inspired her to write Anyush.

It was a quiet afternoon in the X-Ray department of Tawam Hospital, a government run facility in the oasis town of Al-Ain, in the emirate of Abu-Dhabi. The staff, a mix of English, Irish, Jordanian, Maltese, Egyptian, Scottish, South African and Lebanese, was gathered in the viewing room when a mouse ran across the floor. Several people ran from the room and others hopped onto the counter tops; only my Lebanese Armenian friend, Houry Belian, remained where she was. Short, thin and with the nickname ‘the milk bottle’ because of the whiteness of her skin and her obsession with staying out of the sun, Houry regarded the mouse with a dispassionate eye before pouncing on it, catching it in both hands and wringing its neck. This incident compounded the enigma of ‘Houry’, a girl who in 1978 had emerged from a Beiruti bomb shelter after fifteen days of heavy artillery fire and described herself as ‘not normal.’

Some time later, I decided to visit pay Houry a visit. The single women’s compound was located within the hospital grounds, covering approximately an acre of dusty terrain bordering the main Al-Ain road. The accommodation consisted of wooden huts, not unlike the sheds found in many suburban back gardens, and had two small bedrooms, a sitting room and a bathroom. Walking through the women’s compound was like passing through a field of beehives with the constant drip and drone of air conditioners. In forty degrees of heat, they made living in a wooden box just about bearable. As I approached Houry’s hut, I became aware of another sound, a shrill, hysterical screaming coming from inside. Her door was open but there was no sign of her in the living room. She was in the bathroom, pressed against the wall and rigid with fear. The look on her face was so pathetically terrified that I thought there had been a break-in or worse. Until she pointed with a trembling finger to the bath.  Near the plughole was a perfect specimen of Blatta Orientalis. I never expected the civil war survivor and mouse killer to have a pathological fear of cockroaches.

Years later, in 2006, John and I were settled back home and I hadn’t thought of Houry in a very long time. Because the Middle East was as topical then as it is now, I was writing a piece about our time there and a conversation with Houry came to mind. Knowing that John and I were just married she had asked me about our wedding, and I had innocently mentioned that we’d honeymooned in Turkey. Her reaction was almost comical, her black eyebrows disappearing below the frames of her glasses and her small hands clenching into fists.

‘Are you not knowing about the Armenian Genocide?’

I didn’t know the first thing about it so she told me some of the details and, after uttering some platitudinous expressions of sympathy, I forgot about it. Or thought I had. Sitting at my laptop, I began to wonder what exactly she’d been trying to tell me and decided to Google it. The first website I came across had a photograph of a young German soldier in uniform and wearing an Arabic ghutra and egal on his head. His name was Armin Wegner and he had disobeyed orders to photograph extensively the death marches and massacre of Turkey’s Armenians during the genocide in 1915. I clicked on the link to his photographs and it is no exaggeration to say that those pictures changed everything.

I find it difficult to explain the effect Armin Wegner’s photographs had on me except to say it had much to do with where my own life was at the time. In the first picture there was a woman’s naked, emaciated body lying by the road with the corpses of her two children on either side of her. In 2006, my five children were young and I was at that stage where my world view was governed by their needs and the necessity of keeping them safe.  Wegner’s picture was like a scene from every mother’s worst nightmare, a dystopian vision of hell. And it was only one of many. I went on to research the Armenian Genocide in detail, and from this came my novel, Anyush. I also began to realise that Houry’s family had survived not only the civil war in Lebanon, but a much older conflict.

A card arrived from California just after Christmas in 2012. I opened it and read ; ‘To Martine and John, Happy Christmas, from Houry.’ Eight short words spanning a continent, an ocean and perhaps more than just twenty years.

Martine MaddenMartine Madden was born in Limerick, worked in Dublin and later moved to the United Arab Emirates with her husband John. The stories recounted to her by the Armenian diaspora there prompted her interest in Armenian history and formed the basis of the novel Anyush. Martine returned to Ireland in 1990 and now lives in the Midlands with her husband and five children.