Somehow, without my willing it, actually against my wanting it, my book about Maud Gonne and WB Yeats turned itself into a series.
This huge, crazy, ambitious project has been going on so long it feels like a piece of historical fiction in itself! If all goes according to plan, there will be seven books in all, each one exploring a different aspect of love. (You can see the running order here
It has taken me twenty years, writing more than a million words (now being edited), to do justice to the characters that people this world.
Here is the story of how this huge, crazy project came to be.
First: A Dance in Time
Twenty years ago, I published a novel called A Dance in Time. (It turned out to be well-named!) I wasn’t happy with the book and I blamed my publisher.
My first novel, Lover's Hollow, had been a big, multigenerational book, moving forward and backwards in time, with a modern narrator telling a historical story. When it came to brining out the second book in my two-book contract, they said I needed to produce something similar.
“You’re so lucky that your first book was a bestseller, we want to keep giving your readers what they like.”
Good standard publishing advice.
The problem was, the two novels I'd been working while they were preparing the first for publication were so different, both from my first book and from each other.
One was a literary historical, about the Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne and her poet admirer WB Yeats. The other was a contemporary mother-daughter story, a murder mystery.
“They both have strong mother-daughter themes. How about…” My editor's eyes were alight with what she thought was a great idea. “How about we bring the two together, into a story that moves between past and present, like your first book?”
Reader: I did it.
Though the reviews and sales were good, the result never felt right to me.
So when I began self-publishing in 2012, I separated them back out. The mother-daughter tale became Blue Mercy, which I published in 2013.
It was definitely a better, tighter tale for standing alone, and it has sold in more countries around the world than any of my other books.
The reviews are mixed, because some readers dislike Mercy, the mother, and others dislike Star, the daughter–but that is just as intended!
It is popular with bookclubs as it gets people arguing and there's a twist in the tale.
Secret Rose & Her Secret Rose: Version One
I then produced the Gonne-Yeats story separately as Her Secret Rose. As well as selling it through the usual outlets, I also did a crowdfunder campaign to produce a special hardback book for the Yeats 150th birthday centenary in 2015.
I put my novel together with WB Yeats's short stories in a
I worked fast on the novel, to this self-imposed anniversary deadline.
Again the reviews were good, and the book won The Carousel-Aware Prize for Fiction — but again I wasn’t satisfied. I felt there was too much going on, for one book, and I didn't feel I'd done justice to the depth of the story and its characters.
This time I could only blame myself!
Enter Lily O'Neill (Honor Bright)
I moved on to other projects, but Her Secret Rose kept calling me back, especially the narrator Rosy Cross. I began to take notes and do research on aspects of her life that I never planned to do, writing up scenes set around the concerns of the rural labouring classes in the 1880s– this time from their own perspective, not Maud Gonne's or WB Yeats's.
Rosy's obsession with Maud Gonne became a bit fanatical, and added new scenes and dimensions to the book.
Then she started poking into a completely separate project I was working on, about the murder of a sex worker called “Honor Bright” (her working name) in the early years of the Irish Free State, and pulling it across into her territory.
She told me Honor was her cousin. Her mother's sister's daughter, to be precise.
She started to draw connections for me between Maud Gonne, and her daughter Iseult, and herself and her cousin Lily O'Neill (Honor Bright's actual name).
They all started taking up more room. A lot more room.
Enough room to fully explore their fiery and fabulous lives.
In the doing, they wrenched some of the attention away from the poet, WB Yeats, whose poetry had sparked the story.
Though it still stays true to his life, the women are more centre-stage, and the books unearth some inconvenient truths that the usual biographies of the great man have tended to minimise or overlook.
From Book to Series
Yes, books. The original Her Secret Rose now has two prequels: The Holy Tree and A Life Before.
I’m currently working through my final drafts of these three, getting ready to ship them to the editor.
But it hasn't stopped there. I've also developed plot lines and written lots of first draft material turning later chapters from A Dance in Time, that twenty year old novel I thought I was long finished with, into an additional four books.
It looks like I have my first fully blown series!
The Gonne-Yeats Series will highlight the social and political and maternal achievements of Maud Gonne, and other women who are remembered more for their bodies and beauty than the work they did in the world, equally with the writings of WB Yeats.
It’s been quite the journey but finally I am proud of this work.
Publishing the Gonne-Yeats Series
New series, new publication path.
As regular readers know, I've been changing how I deliver my work and this series will be the first to get the new treatment.
I'm running a crowd-funder to raise awareness, to help fund the high-level editing it needs, and to produce a special edition print book and (if I raise enough) a multiple-narrator audiobook, which I want to have the highest possible production values and voices.
If you'd like notifications when it launches, sign up on Kickstarter here.
If you can't wait that long and if you'd like to give ongoing support to my mad, mammoth undertakings (!), my patrons get early access to extracts of my books as I write them, together with behind-the-scenes insights and patron discounts and gifts. Become a patron here.