Anna Quinn’s prose glimmers and sings in her arresting debut, THE NIGHT CHILD

By Leslie Lindsay

You’d never know this is a debut. Anna Quinn writes with such a steady hand and full heart, but her words are sparse and poetic. Please join us in conversation as she talks about giving up traditional conventions, listening to the rhythm of language, and so much more. 

cover final

Perhaps the most powerful, most lyrically written book I’ve read in a long time. THE NIGHT CHILD encompasses luminous prose in a tender tale of traumatic childhood experiences and the fragile curtain of mental health and motherhood in this arresting debut.

Nora Brown teaches high school English and lives an uncomplicated life with her 6-year old daughter Fiona and husband Paul. But when, one day near Thanksgiving, Nora glimpses a disembodied face with startling blue eyes and then, later, a message and the image deepens, Nora is completely terrorized. What—whom—was that? And what do they want?

Tests are run. There’s nothing physically or medically wrong with Nora, so what was going on? Was it microsleep? Was it just her imagination?

Shaken and completely unnerved, Nora seeks the care of a psychiatrist. As the tale progresses, we learn darker truths, family history and secrets surface, and there’s more, too.

I tore through THE NIGHT CHILD. Quinn’s prose is so lucid, so glittering, it absolutely took my breath away. Readers need to be aware that the experiences portrayed are traumatic, yet under Quinn’s gentle hand, they are handled with softness and sympathy, maybe even poetry.

Please join me in welcoming Anna Quinn to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Anna, this book! Oh my. You absolutely blew me away. This is your fiction debut, but you’ve also written poetry and you teach, too. Before we get into all that, I want to know: what was driving you to write THE NIGHT CHILD?

Anna Quinn: First, thank you for having me! And thank you for your wonderful words about THE NIGHT CHILD. So now, to answer your question about the driving forces behind the story. There were many. I wanted to explore the themes of patriarchy, feminism, dissociation, sexual abuse and identity through fiction—I’d written into those themes for a decade as memoir, but I’d become stuck in my singular story, and I wanted more. I needed the perspective my imagination offered, and I also needed freedom from the voices on my shoulders. I wanted to write a survival, triumph story. I wanted to give voice to a child who hadn’t been heard for decades. I wanted to write a story about how essential it is to listen to the child within, how essential loving that child is to survival. I wanted to write about the tremendous urge of the body and mind and heart to heal itself. I wanted to write into destruction and create something life-affirming. I wanted to help in some way to dissolve the pervasive issue of child abuse in our country.


L.L.: How did your work as a poet and essayist inform your writing for THE NIGHT CHILD? Or, did it?

Anna Quinn: It did. I’ve always had a deep interest in form—how it informs content and vise-versa. Poetry and essay influence my fiction and fiction influences my poetry and essay writing—each form brings something to the table.

Essay challenges me to look beyond my familiar story and to explore the “so what” of it. Questioning the significance of content in THE NIGHT CHILD led me to a complete shift of consciousness, urged me to focus on the specific thoughts, feelings and experiences of Margaret and Nora.

And poetry? I’ve loved poetry since I was a child—felt immediately at home with the mystery, beat and pulse of it—it’s how I think really—in sensory fragments. Poetry insists I close my eyes and feel around for heartbeats—it challenges me to question and smell and taste abstractions—to go beyond primary emotions into the layers below, to continually adjust my lens, whether it’s to magnify an image, or blow the image apart and finger the pieces. Poetry teaches me to take words away if they don’t carry essential substance and intensity, to trust and use white space for breath or tension, to spend time with rhythm, and to break way from conventional restraints of structure and language.

The Night Child is an exhilarating debut: Quinn immediately pulls the reader in and doesn’t let go until the final scene. She commands each page and expertly dives into the inner working of a broken mind. This fast-paced, riveting novel of coping with the past while trying to salvage life in the present is hard to put down.”


L.L.: What aspects of writing did you struggle with when you tackled fiction for the first time? What do you think you did ‘right,’ and what might you have done better?

Anna Quinn: I think once I let go of conventional structure, and the idea that I had to do certain things, like create a traditional arc or trajectory or have certain forced plot points, and accepted the role of witness and artistic advisor, rather than a controlling narrator, the story opened up and told itself. Letting go of the voices on my shoulders wasn’t easy for me though, which is why I struggled with memoir. But once I shifted to third-person I was able to step back and trust the story in a new, more imaginative way.

L.L.: There are a lot of psychological goings-on in this tale. Were you familiar with them ahead of time, or did you have to embark on some research? And I don’t want to ask about specifics, because I’m afraid I’ll give it away!

Anna Quinn: Hmmm, well, while the characters and events are imaginative, the emotional experiences in Nora’s life regarding her marriage, mothering, teaching and therapy were very familiar to me—they held the emotional truths of my body, my heart. Margaret’s memories were most familiar of all, and were heart-wrenching to write. I also interviewed psychiatrists and other people who had experienced dissociation and childhood sexual abuse as well.


L.L.: I so enjoyed how you brought the past to light in THE NIGHT CHILD, particularly as you write about Nora’s mother’s passage from Ireland to the U.S. and the trouble that ensued. I’m curious how that piece came to the narrative because it really adds a bit of depth and understanding to the current story.

Anna Quinn: I wanted to explore the generational impact of shaming and blaming the victim—who is almost always a woman. Maeve carried the shame of a teen pregnancy out of marriage in 1950’s Ireland. She was essentially thrown out of her country because of a patriarchal religion that made the consequences of her pregnancy, not only a sin but solely her fault, her disgrace, her cross to bear. This shame manifested as self-loathing and anger, and because it was only 1963, there wasn’t the kind of emotional and psychiatric support in American, then, as there is now.

L.L.:  You’re a busy woman. You own a bookstore and teach writing. Plus, there’s that stuff called ‘living.’ Writing, if it’s going to happen, must be carved out carefully. What are some of your writing routines or priorities? And can you tell us about your [writing] workshops?

Anna Quinn: Now that my boys are grown and I run my own business, I’m fortunate that I can create my own writing schedule. I’ve designated Mondays and Tuesdays as sacred writing days and I sequester myself in my writing studio from 7 a.m. until late into the night, only stopping to take an occasional walk and eat something.

The rest of the week I write at home for a couple of hours in the morning and then head to the book shop to teach, curate books, or organize more writing workshops. ~Anna Quinn 

I started the Writers’ WorkshoppeWriters’ Workshoppe over a decade ago. It began with my own search for a writing group—I’d placed a small flier on a bulletin board in our town and the response was so overwhelming, I decided to open a little space where people could come and find a group that fit their needs—ha, I was kind of like a writing group matchmaker. That little shop kept growing and we began offering workshops and bringing in instructors from around the country. Eventually my husband, Peter, and I bought the Imprint Bookstore in town and merged it with the Writers’ Workshoppe. Now, we have 7000 books and several workshops each day, readings and events, and it’s all rather magical.


L.L.:  What is your most proud moment as a writer? This could be an actual moment in time or perhaps a piece of writing you’ve completed.

Anna Quinn: Oh, whoa, that’s a tough question, also the word, proud. But I guess if you mean a moment when I bit my lip hard because I did something scary and ha, I didn’t die? Well, it’s funny that the first writing moment that came to mind was winning a writing award in 6th grade. I’d written from the point of view of an onion named Ms. Pearl. She was struggling emotionally with people skinning off her layers.I was super nervous to submit it because it was just so weird, but my teacher nudged me to, so I did, and I won. I remember when my name was called out—I just couldn’t believe it. I remember that same feeling later, magnified a million times over, when my agent called to offer me representation for THE NIGHT CHILD, and then later still, when I signed the contract with Blackstone. But, the best moment of all— when the first box of books arrived, and I held THE NIGHT CHILD in my hands. Yeah, that was a moment.

 L.L.: Is anything obsessing you nowadays? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Anna Quinn:  I’m pretty obsessed with the characters in my second novel right now. I can’t say much more except they are women pushing boundaries, and I’m all for that.

L.L.: Anna, it’s been an absolute pleasure.

Anna Quinn: Thank you, your questions were so great. And thank you again for reading my book and offering your insightful comments about it.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE NIGHT CHILD, please visit: 

Order Links: 

anna author picture .jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Anna Quinn is an author, teacher, and the owner of The Writers’ Workshoppe and Imprint Bookstore in Port Townsend, WA. She has thirty years of experience teaching and leading writing workshops across the country. Her writing has appeared in Writer’s Digest, Psychology Today, Literature Circles and Response, Practical Aspects of Authentic Assessment, Instructor, Manifest-Station, Lit Fest Anthology 2016, and Washington 129 Anthology. Anna’s first novel, THE NIGHT CHILD, was published Jan. 30th, 2018 by Blackstone Publishing.



You can conncet with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites: 

cover finalLOVE IT? SHARE IT!



#KeepTalkingMH #psychiatry #PTSD #MH #MentalHealth #MaternalMentalHealth #MentalHealthMonth #ChildrensMentalHealth

[Cover and author image courtesy of A. Quinn and used with permission. Exterior image of Imprint Bookstore retrieved from on 5.10.18]. 

Wednesdays with Writers: Hiking through Ireland, lush prose, a woman at the brink, the environment, and the healing power of art, plus Irish myths and so much more in Julie Christine Johnson’s new book, THE CROWS OF BEARA

By Leslie Lindsay CROWSCOVER.jpg

Gorgeous landscapes intermingle with the moods, magic, and mysticism of southwest Ireland in this story of self-discovery and environmentalism. 

Julie Christine Johnson has a gift for writing lush, glittery prose. Each and every word is literally dripping with spark. And her stories are as much self-discovery as they are armchair travel. Having been to both Ireland and France (where her first book, IN ANOTHER LIFE is set), I can attest to her vividly capturing both the ‘feel’ and setting of each place.

Annie Crowe is battling severe demons in her Seattle life: she’s a recovering alcoholic, her marriage is in disrepair, and her job at a PR firm is hanging in the balance. She’s at a very brittle place in her life. Of course, there’s an opportunity, however perilous to her mental health to travel to Ireland with work on an environmental mission of sorts.

When she arrives to the Beara Peninsula, Annie learns the copper mine which she is advocating for encroaches on the endangered life of the red-billed Chough where it makes its home (and nesting grounds). Residents of the area are fiercely protective of that mine, including Daniel Savage.

But Daniel, a visual artist, is struggling in multiple ways. He and Annie don’t immediately see eye-to-eye about the mine, or much about anything…yet…there’s something that continues drawing them together.

I’m honored to welcome Julie back to the blog couch. So, grab a delicious buttered scone and a cup of Irish Breakfast and join us.

Leslie Lindsay: Julie, it’s a pleasure to have you back. THE CROWS OF BEARA is such a lush, lyrical read. I was right there with Annie and Daniel on that Irish peninsula. I am always eager to know, why this book, why now?

Julie Christine Johnson: Hi Leslie! Thank you so much for hosting me again, and for your beautiful review. When I began sketching characters and ideas for a novel in January 2014, I knew it would be set in Ireland and have an Irish legend or some element of magical realism woven through it. I just didn’t know where in Ireland or which legend.

I happened upon the poetry of Leanne O’Sullivan, who was raised on the Beara Peninsula and teaches poetry at University College Cork. Her collections, An download (45)Chailleach Bheara, which tells the story of the legend of the “Hag of Beara, and The Mining Road,” which was inspired by the late 18th century copper mining industry and the miners who toiled there, brought me, almost overnight, to my novel.

I knew before I began that my central character, Annie, would be an addict trying to put her life back together. Once I had my themes of environment vs. economic growth, an Irish legend based on the strength and resiliency of women and of the Irish culture, and the healing power of art, the words poured out of me. I wrote the first draft in ten weeks.

Even though it’s been over three years since I first conceived this story and these characters, the novel’s central theme—the healing power of art—seems even more relevant today. America has become so polarized in this anxious, stressful time. Art, whether visual, literary, musical or theatrical, provides a way to cope with, articulate, escape from and celebrate all that speaks to our hearts.

L.L.: I know that you are a hiker and a yogi. How did those experiences influence and inform your writing of THE CROWS OF BEARA?

Julie Christine Johnson: I first traveled to Ireland in 2002 to hike the Beara Way, the same route which Daniel leads hikers, where Annie falls in love with the Beara and Tourist-board-walking-1with Daniel. The peninsula, and the experience, turned my soul inside out. Never have I been more homesick for a place I couldn’t actually call home. Many hikes in Ireland later and I knew I’d be writing about it someday. I hiked the Wicklow Way, the Dingle and Kerry Peninsulas, parts of the Burren and Co. Galway. It’s a brilliant way to explore a place: the country unfolds before you slowly, giving you a chance to savor, to meditate, to take it all in. You become a part of the land you walk on, the sky above you, the rain as it falls, the sun as it warms you. And at night, there’s a hot shower and a cold beer.

L.L.: And your publisher, Ashland Creek Press, is focused on ecofiction—animals, the planet, the environment. It’s a diversion from your first publisher. [IN ANOTHER LIFE]. What more can you tell us about Ashland Creek?

Julie Christine Johnson: There couldn’t have been a more perfect home for THE CROWS OF BEARA than Ashland Creek Press. To work with publisher committed to using the literary arts to educate readers about the strength and fragility of the environment speaks to my heart and my intellect. Often, fiction can reach us and teach us in ways that creative non-fiction and journalism cannot. We lose ourselves in a story and from that, our hearts shift and change and we understand viscerally what’s at stake. Stories speak in ways that perhaps facts and figures cannot. Ashland Creek is at the forefront of ecofiction, or “cli-fi” and I’m honored to be part of the vanguard.

L.L.: Annie’s an alcoholic [not a spoiler, this is all covered in the first few pages]. As I’m reading, I’m thinking, ‘oh no…Julie is an alcoholic, too.’ That’s because you do such a good job of conveying the alcoholic’s struggles. Plus, I didn’t realize AA was in Ireland. I’m guessing it’s worldwide? Can you tell us more about your research into this piece of Annie’s character?

Julie Christine Johnson: It’s amazing to me that you say this. I’m honored to know that my approach touched you, for it was critical to me to get it right. When I wrote the first drafts of THE CROWS OF BEARA in 2014 and 2015, addiction had touched me, but only tangentially. Friends had shared their own struggles or that of 45f68edf62488232d797fad7d8921aec--tree-tattoo-back-tree-tattoosloved ones, and much of Annie’s experiences were informed by those conversations.

But last year, as I worked with my publishing editors on revisions of CROWS, I fell in love with a man who had long struggled with substance. A redemptive ending is easy to come by in fiction; much harder in real life. Our relationship ended recently, and I am forced to accept my limitations to affect change in another’s life, but I do not regret my capacity to love. I will continue to pray for this beautiful soul, to hope for his healing. His experiences brought truth to my work. CROWS is in fact dedicated to him and it stands in tribute to all that he has lived and shared with me, to the man I know him to be when alcohol is not present in his life.

L.L.: So The Old Woman on the hill…the Hag. You have to tell us more about her magical, mystical presence. Is this myth real(ha!), because it’s something from Ireland I am not familiar?

Julie Christine Johnson: An Chailleach Bheara. She’s as real as Ireland’s rain and stone fences and green, green hills. Her legend extends from Ireland through Scotland and it has dozens of variations, but at the heart is a goddess who is associated with water, stone, and animals, a deity who controls the weather. In Ireland, she became a mother figure, a goddess who represents all phases of a woman’s life; seven, to be exact. So I created seven women in THE CROWS OF BEARA who serve as spiritual guides to Annie.300px-Lightmatter_cliffs_of_moher_in_County_Clare_Ireland

L.L.: And the crows. I found this on your website, and thought it gives such a wonderful insight as their presence, and your writing style:

Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax. The name begins at the lips and rolls down the throat in an elegant lamentation for the endangered birds with blue-black feathers and crimson beaks that congregate on the side of a cliff overlooking the North Atlantic[…]A fragile population of Red-billed chough has found refuge on the Beara Peninsula, a lean claw of land off Ireland’s southwest coast[…]”

What more can you tell us?

Julie Christine Johnson: Without making a conscious choice to do so, I seem to be featuring birds in my novels: an eagle, a falcon, and a dove in IN ANOTHER LIFE; the Red-billed chough in THE CROWS OF BEARA; a main character in my novel-on-submission is named Tui, which is a native bird of New Zealand, where the story is set.

My process notebook contains pages of notes about the chough, a species of crow, but I couldn’t tell you how I landed on this little creature. I must have been Chough_(Pyrrhocorax_pyrrhocorax)_(8)researching endangered species in southwest Ireland, and found my bird that nests on the Beara Peninsula. It’s no longer endangered in this particular area, but as Daniel points out in the story, the chough is a harbinger: if something goes wrong with the chough, it signals a greater breakdown of the environment.

L.L.: Is there anything that scares you about writing?

Julie Christine Johnson: Not writing scares me. Between a full-time day job, promoting my first and now second novel, managing a freelance editing business and teaching, generating new material seems to have fallen to the bottom of the priority list. I do have another novel on submission and I’m starting a fourth project, but I’m not writing to my soul’s full need or potential.

L.L.: What’s on your to-do list this fall? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Julie Christine Johnson: I’m saving my pennies to get started on my first 200 hours of yoga teacher certification, for starters. I’m also returning to the writing classroom for the first time in about 15 months: I’m teaching a flash-fiction workshop starting in October, and a few stand-alone writing workshops in the autumn, as well. I’ve decided to take a different approach to building my platform and spreading the word about my works. Teaching instead of bookstore appearances. So much more satisfying. And the pay is better! I’ll also be working to increase my manuscript and editorial consultation business. I love working with writers!

Looking forward to finding a home for my third novel, and to digging into writing the opening pages of my fourth.remette

L.L.: Julie, it’s been great catching up! Is there anything I forgot to ask?

Julie Christine Johnson: Q: The most recent book I read and loved!

A: I have two: Sarah Perry’s historical fiction THE ESSEX SERPENT and Dani Shapiro’s memoir HOURGLASS: TIME, MEMORY, MARRIAGE.

For more information, to connect with Julie Christine Johnson, or to purchase a copy of THE CROWS OF BEARA, please visit: 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Julie Christine Johnson is the award-winning author of the novels In Another Life (Sourcebooks 2016) and The Crows of Beara (Ashland Creek Press September 2017), as well as numerous short stories and essays. Visit for more information about her writing, and to learn about Julie’s developmental editing and writer coaching services.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these social media sites:


[Cover and author image courtesy of J. Johnson and used with permission. University of Cork image retrieved from Beara Way image of tourists hiking retrieved from, tree growing from book retrieved from Pinterest; typewriter image retrieved from Ashland Creek Press, seriously cute–I may need to order! Cliffs of Moher, chough, both retreived from Wikipedia on 9.8.17] 

Writers on Wednesday: The Horrific reality of the Magdalene Laundries, how writing is like ‘a madness that cannot be shed,’ and more from amateur pianist & author of THE MAGDALEN GIRLS V.S. Alexander

By Leslie Lindsay 

Within the gated grounds of the convent of The Sisters of the Holy Redemption lies one of Dublin’s Magdalene Laundries. Once a place of refuge, the laundries have evolved into grim workhouses, shielding “fallen women” from ever showing their faces to their families. Some of these women are unwed mothers, prostitutes, or petty criminals. Others are there because their “sin” is being too pretty, too independent, or having a crush on a priest.the-magdalen-girls-cover

Such is the case of Teagan Tiernan, who’s youthful grace and beauty provokes a lustful revelation from a young, handsome priest.

Teagan befriends other Magadalen inmates, Lea and Nora, and together, they plot their way out of the institution. Still, the outside world has dangers, too.

THE MAGDALEN GIRLS (Kensington Publishing, Dec 27, 2016) explores experiences of “fallen women” imprisoned within the walls of the Magdalene Laundries in 20th century Ireland. I was completely moved by this historically-accurate, vivid accounting of one of the most troublesome aspects of the Catholic Church; yet ultimately, it’s a story of friendship, hope, and courage.

Join me, as I chat with V.S. Alexander on his beautiful, richly layered, though horrific historical novel.

Leslie Lindsay: Thanks for taking the time to join me, today. I’ve long had a fascination with the Magdalene Laundries, but I couldn’t really tell you where that originated from. Maybe it was the 2002 movie, THE MAGDALENE SISTERS, but I’m not entirely sure. What spurred you into action when writing a novel about it? What were you hoping to discover or accomplish?300px-magdalen-asylum

V.S. Alexander: Thanks for having me! I could tell you that the idea for THE MAGDALEN GIRLS was mine, but that would be a fabrication. My editor at Kensington, John Scognamiglio, suggested the concept. He had specific ideas about what he wanted to see in the book, but it was up to me to come up with the characters and the plot. The initial idea came across my desk as an “historical novel set in Ireland.” So, that was my beginning. I wrote three chapters and a synopsis, which were well received. The book grew from there. I had also seen the 2002 movie before I wrote the book, but that was the extent of my prior knowledge about the laundries.

As far as what I was hoping for—I feel my job as a novelist is to be as true, as faithful to the characters as possible in every book. Hopefully, the reader will sense that and take away my desire to tell a “true” story that is fair to every character. I didn’t want, in any way, for the novel to be cartoonish. The Mother Superior is an evil witch…Teagan is goody two-shoes with no faults. That kind of novel. Life doesn’t work that way. Much of the human parade is a shade of gray tinged by human heroism and failings. All characters have their histories of good and bad. I hope I succeeded in getting that truth across to the reader. Also, I believe that at the heart of any great novel is a love story. While THE MAGDALEN GIRLS is not a love story per se, it sheds light on these characters reactions to that emotion.

L.L.: In reading your “author’s note” at the end of the book, I learned the laundries weren’t specific to Ireland; they also were part of America, Canada, Scotland, England, and Australia and mostly run by Catholic nuns. The last laundry was apparently shut down in 1996, and the first came into existence nearly 200 years before that. What can you tell us about the history of the laundries? What fascinating tidbits did you uncover during your research? 

V.S. Alexander: When writing my historical fiction, I keep a three-ring binder for notes and research. I often fill it up by the time the book goes to a first draft. Oddly enough, if you do a subject search on the laundries (books included) you’ll find that the amount of available material is fairly limited. My binder was thin. One of the things I constructed was a list of non-fiction and fiction books that related to the subject. I came up with nine, and several of those were tangential to the laundries. My point is that there wasn’t a wealth of material—and I think that’s because the subject has only recently entered public knowledge. Even today, some readers have mentioned that they had no idea such an institution existed.

So, the history is literally being written in our time, much of it after 2002. The earliest entry referring to the laundries that I could find was a play written in 1980, less than forty years ago! My novel’s details came from my reading: what the girls wore, how they worked, how they were often “broken down” by the system. Videos from women who worked in the laundries were a great help too. One chilling fact—the Magdalens who were interviewed after THE download-33MAGDALENE SISTERS movie came out said their experiences in the laundries were “more brutal” than those depicted in the film. These women endured so much: guilt, shame, fear, isolation, poverty.

L.L.: I’m curious if a character “spoke to you” first, was there a vision or a concept you wanted to explore in THE MAGDALEN GIRLS? Can you talk about that, please?

V.S. Alexander: I wouldn’t say a character “spoke” to me first because, as I’ve said, I knew going in what the parameters of the book would be. One character, however, found her way into my heart in unexpected ways. I found myself admiring the courage, the resilience, the unconditional love demonstrated by Lea. She, who has the gift of “spiritual sight,” sacrifices the most for her friends. Lea is an awkward, gawky girl who passes her time copying the Book of Kells. She is a favorite of the Sisters because she is artistic and compliant. She was also a favorite of mine, a delight to write. Oh, and as a gift to your readers, I’m revealing Lea’s real name. She says in the novel that she doesn’t even think she can remember it because she’s been in the laundry for four years. So, for the first time, character name reveal: Ava Byrne.

All of my books deal, to some extent, with love. One of the themes I explore most often is the misrepresentation of love by any of the values we give it: sociological, psychological or physical. The Mother Superior, Sister Anne, wants to reform the girls through love although her methods hardly speak to that. In one of my previous novels I explored how love can be perverted through physical intimacy. It’s a theme I keep returning to.

L.L.: Long ago, I read an accounting of “The Butter Box Babies,” about a maternity home located in Canada in which the matrons who ran the country birthing home and orphanage would wrap deceased infants in small butter boxes for mass burial on the grounds. In some cases, this was an attempt to hide the pregnancies, in others, a form of punishment to the unwed mother. Were you aware of this? Did it inspire any of the plot points in THE MAGDALEN GIRLS?

V.S. Alexander: I was not aware of “The Butter Box Babies;” therefore, it didn’t inspire a plot point in the book. However, a similar occurrence did. That was the discovery in 1993 of 133 corpses in a mass grave on land formerly owned by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity in Dublin. Later, 22 more corpses were found, bringing the total to 155. It’s Lea who sees the burials late at night from a window and tells her friends. They, at first, don’t believe her. Who would believe that the nuns and the caretaker were burying “small bundles” on the convent grounds? download-34

L.L.: Do you believe the nuns who ran the laundries really felt they were doing a “good deed” with these girls? Have there been accounts of regret or wrongdoing on their part?

V.S. Alexander: THE MAGDALEN GIRLS is by nature a controversial book. You have on one side, the women; on the other, the Catholic Church. Both sides have held to their stories. As I wrote in the note, as far as I know, no compensation or formal apology has ever been offered by the Catholic Church regarding the laundries or the actions committed there.* In fact the Church, as an institution, has defended its actions as necessary and beneficial. However, you’re asking my opinion, and I do believe that some of the nuns truly believed they were helping the women who ended up under their auspices. My character, Sister Mary-Elizabeth, comes the closest to being one of those nuns—as a former penitent herself. It would be hard to deny that many of the nuns participated wholeheartedly in the system, possibly as intimidated and broken by their tasks as the girls. [*This article from The Catholic League may be of interest regarding myths and investigation into the Magdalen laundries]

L.L.: What is inspiring you these days? What has your attention? It doesn’t have to be literary.

V.S. Alexander: Well, we’ve certainly been through the strangest election cycle I’ve ever witnessed. It wasn’t inspiring, but it grabbed my attention. My inspiration these days comes from within. I find myself increasingly grateful to have the opportunity to share my stories with the world. For that, I’m thankful. I’m also an amateur pianist. The piano is a balm for me. I’m currently working on a sonata for cello and piano. I know! It sounds so pretentious, but I approach composition with humility, and also an understanding of my weaknesses as a composer. Music, like writing, is hard work, but I love it and its ability to invoke emotions. 

L.L.: What question should I have asked, but didn’t?

V.S. Alexander: How long have you been in this business? I’ve been working at the craft far longer than I care to admit. Writing is a business of creation, editing, re-writing, submission, rejection, eventual publication (in whatever form that might take) and marketing. PLENTY of rejection. Writing is also a business of patience and working through rejection. My words of advice for someone who dreams of writing would be: Read as much as you can in all genres, and never give up. You must be an avid reader, one who loves literature, to be in this game. There are some who play at writing, but true writers never let go of their dream. In some ways it’s a madness that can’t be shed. download-35

L.L.: What’s next for you?

V.S. Alexander: I’m very excited because I’m under contract to Kensington for three books, and possibly a fourth. My second novel for them, THE TASTER, is scheduled to come out in January, 2018. I can’t give the plot away, but the book is set in World War II Germany and is told from a viewpoint that’s different from most novels set in the period. What’s next? To keep on writing until the ideas or the body wears out. And, I think most writers will agree, there are always more ideas, more books, than you have time to write.   

L.L.: Thank you, it was a pleasure chatting with you! Happiest of New Years.

V.S. Alexander: Thank you, and the same to all your readers!

For more information, to purchase THE MAGDELEN GIRLS or to connect with V.S. Alexander via social media, please see:

v-s-alexander-author-photoABOUT THE AUTHOR: V.S. Alexander, who also writes under the name Michael Meeske,  is an ardent student of history with a strong interest in music and the visual arts. Some of V.S.’s writing influences include Shirley Jackson, Oscar Wilde, Daphne du Maurier, or any work by the exquisite Brontë sisters. V.S. lives in Florida and is at work on a second historical novel for Kensington.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, through these social media sites:


[Cover and author image courtesy of Kensington Books. 1902 image of a Magdalene Laundry retrieved from Wikipedia, women ironing in Magdalene Laundry retrieved from daily, both on 12.05.16] 

Writers on Wednesday: International Bestselling author EMMA DONOGHUE talks about the “fasting girls,”Nightingale nurses, how her kids are sort of an editorial board, and her THE WONDER

By Leslie Lindsay 

Emma Donoghue will probably always be remembered for the poignant—yet horrific—2010 International bestseller ROOM, a child’s point-of-view of being raised in captivity and then his amazing escape adapted for film in 2015.WP_20160920_11_28_31_Pro_LI (2).jpg

But Donoghue writes other narratives—seventeen published works, to be exact—those which stretch back in time to explore scandal, relationships, the Old Country, famine, class, and equality. All books–and all writers—Donoghue says, are political. Her new book, THE WONDER (Little, Brown September 20, 2016) is based on the real-life “fasting-girls,” a historical and religious phenomenon reported across the world from the 1500s to the 1900s: women and girls (often pre-pubescent) who claim to subsist on, well…nothing.  Whether these girls were mentally imbalanced, spiritually-driven, or something else, they drew crowds (and donations!) from tourists, eavesdroppers, medical and clerical professionals, and more. It’s at once, a wonder.

When Anna O’Donnell claims to live with no food since her eleventh birthday—nearly 4 months ago—Nightingale-trained nurse Lib Wright is commissioned from England to sit vigil, observing the child in hopes of revealing a hoax.160px-sarah_jacob

Donoghue presents the grayed landscape of post-famine Ireland in rich detail, a sort of Gothic horror and rich fascination in which one can sense the peaty landscape, feel the damp breeze, and taste the salty sea air. It’s a book you won’t want to miss, because it will change you.

Hope you have time to join Emma and I for a spot of tea a steamy scone and jam. Because neither one of us is willing to give up luscious baked goods.

Leslie Lindsay: Emma, it is such a delight and honor to have you pop by today. Thank you. Some will say it’s bad manners to ask a writer where she gets her inspiration for a particular work. But I have to know—what inspired you to write THE WONDER? Why now?

Emma Donoghue: I’m not sure why now, because I first came across the Fasting Girls Fasting Girls twenty years ago and have been fascinated by them all this time. I suspect I was just stuck in a habit of always basing my historical novels on one real person – whereas the breakthrough moment for THE WONDER was when I realized that no one of the cases was quite right for my purposes, so I needed to let myself write a completely fictional story. Albeit one that’s haunted by the real Fasting Girls.

L.L.: I’ll be honest, I’ve never heard of “the fasting girls” until THE WONDER was brought to my attention. In some ways, it reminds me a bit of the Salem Witch Trials download-18in the late 15th century America. Can you speak to how it might relate to your story?

Emma Donoghue: Yes, I’m sure Arthur Miller’s play about Salem, THE CRUCIBLE, was one of the texts that influenced me. But so did many other examples of groupthink and mass hysteria, and not all of them historical ones either; only the other day I read about a 13-year-old girl who’s died in India after a 68-day fast.  When I was writing THE WONDER I thought a lot about teenagers (with all their passion and idealism, and gullibility too) who get caught up in bad causes – from cults to ISIS.

L.L.: In my former life, I was a child/adolescent psych R.N. I was certainly no Nightingale…still, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about nursing and medicine through the eyes of “your” nurse, Lib Wright in late 1800s. What research did you do to get the details ‘just so?’

Emma Donoghue: I read a lot about the nurses in the Crimean, who really transformed the
job in a single generation. They may not have had much authority (having to apply to doctors for permission to do anything) or many effective tools (no thermometer, even), but a book like Nightingale’s NOTES ON NURSING shows an amazing insight into the nitty-gritties (psychological as well as physical) of how to nurse well.

L.L.: I find the character of Anna O’Donnell quite fascinating. I also happen to have a little redheaded, blue-eyed 11-year old girl just like Anna, well, minus the fasting. Being a mother, I find parts of THE WONDER a challenge to read, dark and slightly disturbing. I’m not sure how I would respond if my daughter claimed to be fed from manna from heaven. Can you share your thoughts on that, please?

Emma Donoghue: My thoughtful nine-year-old daughter was a big inspiration for THE WONDER; a sort of inverse inspiration, in that her radiant health (mental as well as physical) gave me a vivid appreciation for how grueling it would be like to watch over a child whose41iqqgj5pnl-_sx323_bo1204203200_ entire system is beginning to fail. She also supplied me with the riddles the nurse and girl exchange. To answer your question, something I researched in a lot of detail was the agonizing dilemma of the parents of children with eating disorders, who get such conflicting advice about the extent to which they should back off and allow the young person more autonomy, or step in and try to save the young person’s life. I suspect that in that situation I would blunder badly.

L.L.: Switching gears a bit, do you have any writing rituals or routines? What is your work space like?

Emma Donoghue: Right this minute it’s a chair in a hotel; tomorrow it’ll be a taxi, then an airport lounge, then an airplane, then a cafe; when I’m home it’s a sofa or a treadmill desk. I don’t care where I am. I just open my laptop and plunge down the rabbit hole.

L.L.: What do you hope readers take away from THE WONDER?

Emma Donoghue: I never have a one-line message. I hope they have the rich experience of living through this intense two weeks in the lives of my characters.

L.L.: I understand your writing life is quite varied. You have a Middle-Grade (8-12 years) illustrated novel coming out in the Spring. Can you share a bit more?

Emma Donoghue: Sure. THE LOTTERYS PLUS ONE is my first for young readers, and my [own] kids (9 and 12) have been not just its inspiration but a sort of editorial panel for me.  The book aims to handle a very contemporary premise (a gay couple and a lesbian couple have seven kids together) and some painful material (dementia) with a breezy tone.

L.L.: What’s keeping you up these days? What gets you out of bed in morning? It doesn’t have to be literary…

Emma Donoghue: Book tour is what makes me lurch out of my hotel bed before five in the morning! But I have been enjoying lots of reading time on the road, including the sparklingly witty family stories WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE? by Maria Semple and FATHERMUCKER by Greg Olear.

L.L: Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have?

Emma Donoghue: Nothing springs to mind.

L.L.: Emma, it was a complete pleasure. Thank you so very much for your lovely interview.

Emma Donoghue:  Thank you!

For more information about Emma Donoghue, THE WONDER, or to connect on social media, please see: 

emma-donoghue-nina-subinAbout the Author:

Born in Dublin, Ireland, in October 1969, Emma Donoghue is the youngest of eight children of Frances and Denis Donoghue (the literary critic). She attended Catholic convent schools in Dublin, apart from one eye-opening year in New York at the age of ten. In 1990 she earned a first-class honours BA in English and French from University College Dublin (unfortunately, without learning to actually speak French). She moved to England, and in 1997 received her PhD (on the concept of friendship between men and women in
eighteenth-century English fiction) from the University of Cambridge. From the age of 23, she has earned her living as a writer, and have been lucky enough to never have an ‘honest job’ since she was ‘sacked’ after a single summer month as a chambermaid. After years of commuting between England, Ireland, 41qzk6svewl-_ac_us160_and Canada, in 1998 she settled in London, Ontario, where she lives with Chris Roulston and their son Finn (12) and daughter Una (9).

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, through these various media channels:


[Special thanks to K. Myers at Hachette Book Group. Cover image of THE WONDER from L.Lindsay’s personal archives. Image of E. Donoghue retrieved from author’s website. Credit: Nina Subin. Cover image of Notes on Nursing, The Fasting Girl, both retrieved from Amazon on 10.17.16, The Crucible image retrieved from pinterest also on 10.17.16] 


Write On, Wednesday: Back on the Saddle

By Leslie Lindsay

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Since May I’ve waffled. I didn’t want to write. The kids were home from school. I simply didn’t have the time–and on some days–the inclination to haul out the laptop, open the manucript doc and tap away on the keys.

“Once I go on my retreat at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,” I told  myself, “Then I’d want to write.” I  didn’t. In fact, the whole week in Madison just drilled in the fact that writing was hard. Damn hard. Perphaps I’d be better off without it.  My well-meaning and devoted critique partner supported me.  No, she encouraged me to re-think my statements, my intentions. I hated her for it. Throwing my laptop out of the window and lathering myself with Hawaiian Tropic sounded like the better option.

Yet for some dumb reason, I persisted. Maybe it was because I had already. spent so much time and effort on the manuscript? Sunk cost and all of that. Maybe it was because I knew there were only about 2 or 3 chapters left to write before I could consider the thing done, nevermind that editing and more rounds of revisions were needed, plus the agent submission process before it actually (hopefully) became a book.

And then I went to Ireland, home of W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, Bram Stoker, other well-known literary figures. Maeve Binchy, Jonathan Swift. Ireland loves their writers. They used to have their faces on dollar bills, before the Euro. My darling hubby would look over at me in the tiny rental car, me the passenger on the opposite side of the car from what we are accustomed to here in the U.S., on the other side of the pond and say, “So, what stories would you write about this area?”

I sat the guidebook down, marking my page on castle ruins of County Limerick and looked to him, “Seriously?”

“Yes, seriously,” he responded.

“Well, I…don’t know.”

“Too foreign for you?” He pressed.

“Something like that.” More like, I’m on vacation and how dare you try to make me work. But the fact was, my brain was already spinning tales, asking questions, looking for answers the muse would provide. It was too much almost to recount those story ideas to my husband, because doing so might actually mean I can’t get away from it, it might actually mean I had to write.

The words and descriptions of the countryside filled my head as it blurred past in a series of green and brown and blue. And even though I toted my journal along, I didn’t really use it. Blasphemous? Maybe. But honestly I was too busy reading the guidebook, taking in the sites, experiencing things that I just wanted to get away from it all.

And when we returned to the States, my fingers were itching to write. Not on the laptop, mind you but on notes, paper, lists…just something to whet my appetite. I wrote travel reviews on TripAdvisor. Does that count? Eventually, several days after being home–and several dozen loads of laundry, picking up the dog from the kennel, the kids from the grandparents, I anxiously opened the manuscript.

It wasn’t half-bad. In fact, it wasn’t nearly the mess I thought it might be. Being away from it actually renewed my passion, let me look at it with fresh eyes. And that, is a good thing.

So what are you waiting for? Write on, Wednesday!


The Emerald Isle: They may not be Irish…but the bagpipes are cool

By Leslie Lindsay

I wonder if I can pound out a blog in the next twenty minutes before I run off to pick up my daughter from preschool?  Hummm…sounds like an emperical question.  In fact, that was what my now husband-then-boyfriend used to say when I would have some psychology-related question (more like musing).  I thought I was being particularly astute with an observation or insight and then he would sort of smash it when he cocked that grin and suggested it could actually be studied.  (Where’s the fun in that?!)

But I digress.  Sort of.  You see, when I first “met” my husband, he was away in Ireland/Scotland.  With a friend.  Who was a girl.  (I know now that it was completely platonic, but at the time, I had no idea).  I had just started working at the same place as my would-be-honey.  I didn’t know I’d fall in love with the guy.  But I heard about his travels and it piqued my curiosity.   I love to travel, as well.  Alas, I have never been to the Emerald Isle.

Jim has and he liked it.  And he came back with stories of haggis (sheep stomach filled with parts that people “over there” eat and like), bagpipes, castles, rock walls, and beer.  And of course, the bagpipes.

I owe due credit to my Scottish Laddie who has taken up the art of squeezing on a plaid bag filled with air from his own sacs (we call lungs) and squeaking out a sound that is supposed to be music to your ears.  Well…it is.  And some like it more than others.

It’s not I don’t like it.  I do think it’s kind of cool that he has such an unique hobby.  He loves it.  Or, did.  You see, bagpiping is time-consuming.  There’s the practice, the group, the parades one must march in, and other special events like weddings and funerals.  (Yes, I walked down the aisle to the tune of bagpipes; alas my groom was not the muscian).  And so when we had our own little lassies, he hung the pipes up to focus on his growing familiy.

But I know there are times–and March is one of them–that gets his toes a tappin.’  The thoughts of pulling out the bagpipes is at the forefront of his mind.

Where did the bagpipes come from?  What’s the deal?  Well, I wish I had time to succinctly summarize a little research, but I don’t.  I have 8 minutes left to blog and that’s it.  12 minutes have already passed.  Here are some links for your browsing pleasure:

The Emerald Isle: All Things Green and Small

By Leslie Lindsay

It’s the month we celebrate all things green and little.  As in leprecahns and four-leaf clovers and emeralds.  Or, peas.  Or endamane.  And perhapsps even Thin Mints.  Though they aren’t really green.  They just “taste” that way–but they do come in that iconic green box.

What’s that you say?!  Oh?  You’re not Irish.  Well…who cares because this month, we’re all Irish!  In fact, I recall as a kid my parents didn’t really support the whole “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” thing either.  It was always “we’re a little of everything.  There’s no way to tell that we’re really Irish, anyway.”  True, I grew up with an un-Irish last name and always believed I was of German/Austrian ancestry.  But, as time went on I learned that we are, indeed Irish.  It comes from my mother’s side (and maybe dad’s side if we ever got the the bottom of that surname change way back when.  I think we may have derived from the McLean clan, but who really knows?!)

The thing is, I’ve got two redheaded children to “prove” my celtic ancestry.  (Actually, red hair may  also come from the German side of my family, too).  But, in all fairness (and we are fair), I think it’s a safe bet to say that there’s a wee-bit Lassie to me as well.

Each Friday this month, we’re going to discuss all things Ireland:  How about some Irish step dancing?  Guiness beer?  Red hair?  Four-leaf clovers?  Leprecahns?  Rainbows?  Potato Soup?I don’t know…let’s see what else we can come up with!

Stay tuned and Top O’ the weekend!