February 12, 2014 Margaret

Small box margaret hawkinsStories taking over my head – that’s the way my two books started.

In both cases it was visceral – an in-the-gut awareness that I couldn’t not get these stories down on paper. And there’s nothing to beat those magic moments of realization – they’re utterly life changing.

Restless Spirit:The Story of Rose Quinn, was about a voice from the grave seeking justice.

My latest book – my first novel – Deny Me Not, is about a woman, Hannah Casey, seeking justice too, but in the form of recognition from a father she has never known.

As writers it’s often life events that trigger books – overhearing something, experiencing something then adding to it and putting your own creative spin on it.

Imagine discovering that you had a cousin you never knew existed. That the aunt you loved – and thought you knew – had given birth to a daughter in 1940s Ireland, and had carried that secret for into her 80s.

That happened in our family – and to hundreds of thousands of families around the world, I’m sure.

Deny Me Not is not my cousin’s story but the novel would never have been written if I hadn’t experienced the joy, shock and anger that surrounded such a discovery.

Years lost, wishing that my aunt had felt able to tell… Anger about cover-up, about my cousin being kept hidden from us…

Anger that she was reared in a children’s home…

Concern that her experience there was difficult…

On the other hand, there was joy of knowing her at last, of seeing the physical resemblance between her and her mother, of having continuity where we thought a gene path was ending.

There was understanding, eventually, too, of how society’s pressures could force women to keep such secrets and the joy of meeting my cousin’s family, her children around the same ages as mine and those of my siblings.

The main character in my novel Deny Me Not has been a hidden child – a person with a hunger to know who she really is – surely a basic human right?

As a writer, coming up with the plotlines for the novel was all part of me making some kind of sense of that emotional turmoil.

I believe creative writing – the writing of it and the reading of it – helps us all do that.

In the past secrets were kept and society colluded with the keeping of those secrets. Time has shown that the keeping of secrets is unhealthy, a recipe for scar tissue in future generations.

I’m glad there is more openness now.

This minute, in relation to my aunt’s and cousin’s stories, there is gratitude that the truth came out eventually. It could have gone to the grave.

But for sudden and dramatic illness, we might have been simply left find a UK telephone number on a scrap of paper with no name attached to it in a tiny, special box in our aunt’s handbag – after her death. With a coin to cover the cost of the call.

It’s an image that will linger forever.

When it came to writing Deny Me Not I chose to write from a rural standpoint – one that I love and, I think, understand. I was reared on a farm and live on one and I wanted readers to smell the soil off the pages, to sit up half the night to finish the story of Hannah Casey.

Would the truth set her, or anyone, free? Over time the plot presented itself, laced itself through with basic human drives like fear of losing property and face and reputation and the honest yearning for love and recognition.

Writing Deny Me Not was exhausting and compelling but joyful too. Some days I didn’t notice daytime moving into night. I wrote about truth coming out and about how different personalities can react oh so differently when their comfortable worlds are suddenly threatened. If you ever get a chance to read it, I hope you like it.

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