The author M.J. Neary offers a book called Never Be at Peace, which surrounds the Irish uprising against the British on Easter 1916. Today, she is featured here with an interesting article about how people viewed a non-Irish person writing about a major Irish historical happening. Take a look and then view her book and author bio below. I’ll be back around with a review later this month!
“Who Gave You Permission to Write about Ireland?”
by M.J. Neary, author
As every other young author, I kept hearing the same advice: “Write what you know.” But what you know is not necessarily what you grew up with. Five novels later, if I could have a penny for every time someone asked me why a Russian-Polish continental Euro mutt like me would write about Irish history, I wouldn’t need a day job. Over the course of my Celtic adventures I have discovered that the Irish as well as Irish-Americans split into two categories: those who are very welcoming and eager to share their culture with the world, and those who are rather defensive and hostile towards outsiders. I guess same can be said for all people who have a strong sense of ethnic identity.
When I signed up for an Irish language course in college, my professor, a Dubliner no less, said to me, “I think are n the wrong place. Eastern European women’s studies are down the hall. This class is for Irish-Americans who want to learn about their heritage.” It’s a miracle he didn’t call me a bloody communist. Thank God I did not have a cup of coffee in my hand, because it would have ended up all over his shirt. I continued with his class and had the best Gaelic pronunciation. By the end of the semester, I was his favorite student, though he was reluctant to admit it.
Now that I have an Irish married name, people don’t second-guess my devotion to Irish culture so much and my decision to write about Irish history. Then I open my mouth at book signings, and people ask me, “You have a bit of a brogue. County Galway?” I smirk. County Chernobyl more like it. I don’t really have an accent. After 22 years in the US, I sound like a typical corporate New England bitch that I am during the day. If we’re selling medical equipment, people wouldn’t think to ask me where I was from. But when you do explore the question of ethnic identity in your books, your readers try to place you as an author and as a person in an ethnic context. They start scrutinizing your every opinion through the prism of your ethnicity. “Oh, look, she parts her hair in the middle. Never seen that before. That’s how they must do it … over there … in County Galway.”
One common misconception that has been a source of great frustration for me is that you need to be ethnically Irish in order to write about something as sensitive as the Anglo-Irish conflict. My college professor held that belief. He gave me an A, but he discouraged me from writing fiction set in Ireland, because “it just wouldn’t come out authentic.” According to him, you have to be born there, or at least have parents who were born there, in order to fully understand the melancholic long-suffering collective Irish soul. What a bunch of elitist boloney! It’s like saying that white people should not attempt to play jazz, or non-Jews should not attempt to write about the Holocaust.
I believe that being a genetic outsider gives me a certain advantage, that of healthy detachment and objectivity. There are benefits to embracing a cultural tradition as an adult on your own accord as opposed to being born into it. One benefit is that you cannot be accused of taking sides and spreading propaganda. As a historical novelist, I do not engage in propaganda or apologetics. That would make me a politician, and that’s the last thing the world needs. I can always throw my hands up and say, “Hey, don’t look at me. I’m just a dumb communist Polack. This is my impartial view of another country’s past.” With the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in Dublin just around the corner, there is a great deal of revising and reevaluating happening.
Truth be told, I am no stranger to the idea of nationalism. Growing up, I was exposed to a fair amount of it at home. My biological father was a Polish nationalist, who had perceived Russia as Poland’s cultural and political oppressor. Like his Irish counterpart Patrick Pearse, whose speech inspired the title for “Never Be at Peace”, my father believed in the power of a good spectacle, the bloodier and messier the better. He believed that if you cause enough commotion on the streets in the name of your Cause, that’s half the battle already. Winning is not required. Victory in a military sense would be the cherry on top. Attracting attention is good enough. You cause a skirmish, and that will automatically put you on the map. It will give you credibility, and your enemies will know that you mean business.
While I retain considerable amount of admiration for my biological father, I harbor no illusions about his motives. Was he really fighting for the interests of an oppressed nation, or was he merely fighting for limelight? I’ve grown to realize that nationalism in various countries unfolds according to the same formula. You just need a bunch of eager barricade-climbers. Many of them don’t understand what they are fighting for. They love the idea of being martyrs for a noble cause.
I can write about Irish rebels, because I’ve seen that euphoric fanatical light in my own father’s eyes. Unlike Patrick Pearse, my father survived his flirtation with martyrdom. still alive. He was not shot on the barricades or executed by the authorities. Now he looks back on his escapades with a mixture of nostalgia and embarrassment. Had he been born in Ireland at the turn of the century, his fate might have been different. So yes, I feel qualified to write about the Easter Rising of 1916, because I believe that I have enough insight into the psyche of a revolutionary.
Here’s the author, red hair and all….I mean she has red hair, doesn’t that qualify?
Never Be at Peace, Book 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.
Here is a picture of Helena sent by M.J. Neary:
Author M.J. Neary, Biography~
A Chernobyl survivor adopted into the world of Anglo-Irish politics, Marina Julia Neary has dedicated her literary career to depicting military and social disasters, from the Charge of the Light Brigade to the Easter Rising in Dublin.
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 appeared on the cover of the First Edition Magazine in the UK and earned the praise of the Neo-Victorian Studies Journal.
With the centennial of the Easter Rising approaching, she has written a series of novels exploring the hidden conflicts within the revolutionary ranks. Never Be at Peace: a Novel of Irish Rebels is a companion piece to Martyrs & Traitors: a Tale of 1916.
Praise for Never Be at Peace~
“M. J. Neary’s Never Be at Peace is a gripping and intense tale of Ireland in the thick of revolution. Told from the perspectives of the brave and uncompromising men and women involved in the fight for independence, it will delight fans of women’s history and Irish history. Meticulously researched and boldly-written, Never Be at Peace is a masterful story that breathes life Edwardian Ireland and illuminates the hearts and minds of these unforgettable Irish patriots.” –Evangeline Holland, Edwardian Promenade
“Neary’s Helena Molony is a storm of a character who comes to life along with a cast of the giants of early 20th century Ireland. Helena’s story will stick with you long after you turn the last page.” –Meghan Walsh, The Recorder, The Journal of the American Irish Historical Society
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