1 month ago

Writer’s Block with Antoinette Tyrrell

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Antoinette Tyrrell is the debut author of Home to Cavendish, a compelling Big House novel about legacy and survival amid periods of great change. Set against the sumptuous Cavendish Hall, an Anglo-Irish pile in Co Cork, the story takes us back and forth between the Irish Civil War and the Celtic Tiger. The main protagonists are Lady Edith Cavendish in 1922 and Elenore Stack in 2002: two women bound by a great home, turbulent affairs of the heart and 80 years of history.

When Elenore Stack lets her dashing property developer boyfriend Donnacha O’Callaghan restore her beloved Cavendish Hall back to its former glory, they appear well matched. However, little does she know of Donnacha’s crooked dealings, and just what he has planned for their future. Tyrrell’s fresh, original prose brings us back to a time when credit was plentiful and corruption was widespread. In the next breath, we imagine a period of violence and uncertainty eight decades prior.

By a stroke of luck, Elenore intercepts the disposal of a diary written by none other than sixteen-year-old Lady Edith Cavendish who planned to run away to America with Tadgh Carey, a local rebel and farm hand. Enraptured, Elenore learns about those who walked the halls before her, as well as the social and political unrest that engulfed the area. In this discovery she finds a new kind of strength. A. O’Connor has said of Tyrrell’s hugely engrossing work – “A wonderful new talent – a perfect blend of historical fiction and contemporary drama.”

Tyrrell studied English and History at NUI Maynooth, followed by a Higher Diploma in Communications. She started out as a broadcast journalist, before carving out a 15-year career in public relations. Tyrrell lives with her partner Ahmed in Co Kildare. Her second novel, The Secrets Left Behind, is due for release in 2020. Home to Cavendish (€15.99) is published by Poolbeg Press and available from bookshops nationwide.

On home

My home is in rural north Co Kildare, outside the picturesque village of Broadford. I love living in the countryside. My house is on a laneway so narrow that at some points it’s impossible for two cars to pass each other! Looking out the windows of my house there are rolling, green fields as far as the eye can see. I’m Cancerian so my home is very important to me and the quiet of the area in which I live soothes my soul and inspires me to write. I live with my partner Ahmed and weather permitting, we spend as much time as possible outdoors, in our garden and walking the laneways around our house. I am a huge advocate for the benefits of fresh air and exercise for both physical and mental wellbeing. Summer evenings are spent taking in the splendour of nature on long walks and stopping off to chat to the various dogs and horses we meet along the way.

On roots

I grew up not far from where I currently live and my mum still lives in my childhood home. Although the house was very rural when my sister and I were growing up, as the years have passed the nearby town seems to be getting ever closer. As kids we’d tie a rope to the gate at the front of the house and stretch it across the road where we’d make my dad stand and wind it endlessly for us while we skipped. You wouldn’t dream of doing that now as you’d be mowed down by the speeding traffic. Thinking about my childhood home conjures up a feeling of absolute security framed by lots of books and always a faithful dog or cat following me around.

On early reading

My parents took it in turns. There was a story every night without fail. They had very different styles, my mum preferring to read from books while my father often made up his own stories. I loved both and with my passion for animals I was particularly fond of the stories my dad invented about the adventures our pets and our neighbours’ pets got up to without our knowledge. They were a precursor to the Secret Life of Pets movies! When it came to books, I loved anything by Beatrix Potter. As I got older and took over the reading myself Enid Blyton became my love. The Enchanted Wood was the first book I read on my own and I remember being mesmerised by this new world that suddenly opened up by simply picking up a book.

On creating

My writing room is tucked away in the eaves of my house with a sloping ceiling so it feels very cosy. It’s an oasis of calm with white walls, dark wood floors and a sash window that looks out to the treetops in my front garden. I write on my desk which I’ve had since I was twelve – it’s travelled with me to every house I’ve ever lived in. There’s also a deep, winged armchair and footstool where I escape to read the Sunday papers. Aside from that I have my bookshelves and a couple of boards on the wall where I write down ideas for my books. I have one painting that I love, depicting a pathway through sand dunes and the view out to sea with a lighthouse beyond. It captures the magic of a walk through the dunes and what lies beyond – I can almost smell the sea air when I look at it. My publisher, Poolbeg, has a lighthouse as its logo, so it also reminds me of looming deadlines!

On independent bookshops

Midland Books in Tullamore is a great little shop. John and the staff there are incredibly helpful and have been very supportive to me. It’s located right on the main street and has a lovely feel of community about it. From the minute you walk in you can tell it’s a family business and a labour of love. It’s been there for years and it’s great to see it thriving.

On her “To Read” pile

My “To Be Read” pile is ridiculous and I am far behind with my reading. The pile on my bedside locker currently consists of Grégoire Delacourt’s The List of My Desires because I am convinced that one day I will win the lottery. There’s also Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies. I am thinking a lot about marriage lately as I plot my third novel, so when this was loaned to me it was immediately added to the pile. Also, John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies – simply because it’s John Boyne. His ability to create magnificent stories with such diversity of subject matter is always astounding.

On escape

I love West Cork and have been going to Rosscarbery since I was a child as I have family there. Nothing is more joyful than the drive from Clonakilty when the hedgerows are thick with fuchsia, necks craning for the first glimpse of the sea and finally across the bridge and towards the village – water lapping gently and the promise of long days of salty, sea air and freedom stretching out ahead. It’s a true tonic.

On Home to Cavendish

When I think about it now, Home to Cavendish was brewing in the back of my mind for many years. I’ve always had an obsession with our Anglo-Irish houses and actually worked in one that was being turned into a hotel just as the Celtic Tiger was grinding to a halt. That’s a whole other book in itself! 2017 was a traumatic year for me as I had a house fire. I needed an escape due to the stress I was under and it was then that I finally put pen to paper. The most rewarding part of writing the book was the escapism it brought. I felt like I was within the walls of Cavendish Hall with an interlude in East Hampton. The worst was living the frustration and helplessness of my main character Elenore, as her world crumbled around her.

On Big Houses

Big Houses have always had an air of mystery about them. Their inhabitants lived such privileged lives far removed from the drudgery experienced by the masses during their hey-day in 19th-century Ireland. Stories about them offer a peek into a world that so few experienced and one that no longer exists. The contrast between the rich and idle above stairs and the poverty stricken below offers a tantalising window into a wealth of human experiences.

On what’s next

My second novel, The Secrets Left Behind, is due for publication in spring next year. I signed a three-book deal with Poolbeg so there’s a further novel after that which I have yet to start. The Secrets Left Behind starts when the tragic death of a woman, in 1980s rural Ireland, sends shock waves through a tight-knit community. Unbeknownst to three strangers, the death is about to shake the foundations of their lives, opening doors to a dark past they are unaware of and forcing them to question everything they believe to be true. I am very excited about the launch, although there is still a fair way to go. To keep updated on all my writing news, visit www.antoinettetyrrell.ie.

@SophieGrenham

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