Hello and welcome to A Cup of Conversation where I am joined by author Patrick MacDonald who is sharing his hopes of turning Darkness Falling into a musical, how he would like to have a conversation with Charles Trevelyan and is working on a new book which he describes in eight words for us.
I’m grateful to have received a copy of the book a couple of weeks ago. I added a “My Book Love For…” post last week… if you missed it my thoughts and review of Darkness Falling can be found here.
And now, grab your cuppa of choice and let’s join Patrick as he shares his A Cup of Conversation with us.
1. When you studied at Aberystwyth, what did you intend to do with your English degree?
Good grief: I didn’t intend to do anything. I went to university in the days when no-one thought about the need to do a vocational qualification and worried afterwards about what they might do. I did English because I loved the subject.
2. How and when did you first become interested in writing your own novels?
I always wanted to write but could never find the time when I was bringing up two children and trying to build a career. I spent most of my time ferrying them to an endless round of activities including tennis, squash, and football. For a time, I also managed an under twelves’ football team which, of course, included one of my sons.
So, it was only when I retired that I finally found the time to write.
3. Writing Darkness Falling must have taken a lot of research. How did you organise this and select what parts of history to include in the story?
It did take an enormous amount of research. I read several history books on the period and as many novels on the famine that I could lay my hands on, including some that had gone out of print. What distinguishes mine from the others is that as well as describing the impact of the famine on one family and their friends and neighbours, I also wanted to describe the politics of the period, and in particular, the British government’s role in managing the famine.
I didn’t have to assure anonymity because the characters in the novel are the actual historical characters from that period.
I had to obviously invent several of the conversations and situations they found themselves in, but I tried to root these as much as possible in the actual events of the period.
For example, there’s an exchange of correspondence early in the novel between three government officials; some of this I’ve had to invent and some of it I’ve simply quoted verbatim.
4. Tell us about a favourite character from one of your books and why you think readers might like him/her.
Well, it would be from Darkness Falling. There are two characters I’m particularly fond of: one is Mary, who is the main protagonist. The second, perhaps surprisingly, is Emma, the wife of a local landlord. Strangely enough, I did attend a local book club recently and the one character they really liked was Emma, which surprised me. I thought about it afterwards and realised it was probably because in the novel Emma is a very strong woman and is very much in charge of her own destiny. She is also kind, though, and determined to protect the less fortunate.
I like Mary, I suppose, because she suffers a great deal in the novel but at the end is again the agent of her own destiny. Another strong and resilient woman.
5. Please share a favourite excerpt from Darkness Falling and tell us why you chose this particular snippet.
My favourite excerpt is when Michael’s wife, Sorcha, is reunited with him when he is in prison. You’ll have to read the novel, though, to find out why. I don’t want to spoil it by explaining why it’s so powerful.
Mary and Simon walked towards the prison. They had agreed that Smethwick would meet them there and bring Sorcha with him. Together with Rian, she had stayed with the lawyer the previous night. Mary and Simon had taken an adjoining room.
Sorcha had remained silent. When they had first arrived and entered the dimly lit bedroom, she had been lying in her bed with her back to them and she had made no effort to turn to face them, or to acknowledge their presence.
Mary told her what had happened but still she stayed motionless. Mary wondered if Sorcha had even tried to understand what she had just told her, whether her hearing had shut down with her speech. Were people’s words now a meaningless babble, muffled sounds behind a wall of glass Sorcha had herself erected and had no interest in breaking.
Mary and Simon’s walk slowed as they neared the prison.
“We can’t tell him about Declan – it would break his heart and he’s suffered enough.”
“When would we tell him then? He’s got to know at some point.”
“He does but not now – I’ll find a way of telling him later. It will be too much for him and seeing poor Sorcha in her current state is already upsetting enough.”
“Yes, alright – he’s your brother and if anyone should know how best to handle this, then it’s you.”
As they rounded a corner, they saw their lawyer standing next to the entrance of the prison. Sorcha stood beside him and she looked at them dully as they approached.
Smethwick drew to one side to whisper to Mary.
“He doesn’t know about what’s happened to Sorcha, so this is going to be difficult, a terrible shock for the poor man, and he’s suffered enough already. Will you tell him as well about Declan?”
“No, that can wait – this is hard enough as it is.”
“Yes, I know, I’m sure it will be – well we’d better go in.”
Michael hurriedly got to his feet as he heard the sound of visitors approaching. There was a rattle of keys, the heavy iron door to his cell swinging slowly open as the gaoler led everyone in. Smethwick came behind him, gently holding Sorcha by the arm.
Michael hurried towards her and hugged her tightly. Taken by surprise, Sorcha allowed herself to be held but made no attempt to hug him back, her arms remaining stiffly at her side.
Michael’s eyes were full of tears. He pulled away a little and, still holding her, started to stroke her hair. Very slowly, Sorcha raised her arms and put them around him.
“Sorcha, my love, I’ve missed you so much.”
His voice cracked with emotion.
Sorcha looked up at him. There was a hesitancy in her eyes. Her voice, when it came, was hoarse and faint, scarcely more than a strangled whisper. She uttered a single word, tears sliding slowly down her cheeks.
6. I saw this on your blog: “The Drama Department of Huntingdon Community Radio are delighted to announce a new 15-minute comedy drama series ‘Ambleforth Manor’ written by local author, Patrick MacDonald.” Wow! How did this come about?
Originally, they wanted me to contribute to a drama series they’ve been running for some time called Huntsford, a sort of local version of The Archers. I wasn’t sure about this, though, so I suggested I write a comedy drama instead. I’ve just completed series one (twelve episodes) and am about to embark on series two.
I’m travelling down to Barton in Bedfordshire tomorrow night to do a reading with a local drama society to see whether they would be interested in staging it as a play. I would need to do some rewriting to graft the different episodes together, but I don’t think this will be that difficult.
What I would really love to do, though, is to turn Darkness Falling, into a play, and preferably a musical, since I love musicals. It doesn’t seem a natural fit for a musical, but I’ve worked out how to do it.
7. Who would you most like to meet from the time you write about in the book and what two things would you ask them?
Ah, good question. I think I would like to meet Charles Trevelyan, who was Assistant Secretary to the Treasury, and the government official responsible for managing the British government’s response to the famine.
As to the two things I would ask him, I think, first, I would ask him how he managed to separate and compartmentalise his obvious affection for his wife and children from the callous way he treated the Irish people.
My second question would be did he have any regrets as to his role in managing the famine?
8. What has your experience of self-publishing taught you about book marketing and book promotion?
It’s taught me very little because I’m not very good at it! It’s only belatedly I’ve come to the realisation that this is something I need to get much better at.
9. Can you share your experience of working with an editor?
I found it very rewarding and the person I chose suggested several changes to the novel which significantly improved it
10. Can you tell us what your next book is about in five words?
No but I can describe it in eight words though:
A woman is invited to her own funeral.
11. What are you currently working on?
It’s a novel called “The Invitation”. The hook is as above, and it’s a psychological thriller. The main protagonist, Claire, is a forensic pathologist who is also bipolar. I’ve posted the initial chapters for this on my author website if anyone is interested.
Once I’ve completed this I want to write a sequel to “Darkness Falling”. I intend this to be a trilogy.
12. How can readers keep in touch with you?
They can contact me through my website or messenger me on Facebook. Alternatively, they can use any of my Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram links below.
LinkedIn: Search using my name
Amazon link to books:
The Faces That You Meet:
Thank you for joining us, Patrick and I wish you all the best as you promote Darkness Falling and work on The Invitation. I certainly enjoyed reading it.
And to my weekly readers, if you would like to link up with Patrick you can do so on any of the links listed above.
Until next week, Happy Reading, Happy Writing, Happy You.
Big hug, Soulla xxx