Today, I am happy to welcome fellow Fireship Press author Cynthia Neale to Outtakes as she makes a stop in her blog tour to promote Norah: The Making of an Irish-American Woman in 19th-Century New York. Here she explains how The Great Hunger in Ireland spurs a different kind of hunger that may never be satisfied—the one to tell the stories of her ancestors. —Kim
By Cynthia Neale
The hunger to write stories has been within me since I was a young girl. I believed that if I had nothing but books, a notebook, and a pen, I’d be able to survive. I came to this conclusion during long summers in the wilds of upstate New York when Jo in Little Women was my companion and I identified with her hunger to be a writer. I hungered with Pip in Great Expectations to become uncommon and to live beyond groveling limitations.
But little did I know that I also possessed the memory of The Great Hunger, the Irish Famine, within me.
I studied English literature and struggled to write novels, but it was when I was dancing one evening in an Irish pub and peered at an Irish dresser in a poster that a new hunger made itself known to me.
Where would a young girl in the midst of starvation in Ireland in 1846 go for solace and hope? Where would she go with her own hunger? As I danced, I envisioned the cupboard of an Irish dresser becoming her hiding place and eventually a place of escape to a new land.
As a writer, I knew I needed to write this story. Their story, my story, our story.
After The Irish Dresser, A Story of Hope during The Great Hunger (An Gorta Mor, 1845-1850) was published, I learned there had been a real Norah McCabe who came from Ireland in 1847 to New York City. From that time, I’ve never doubted I’m writing about a real person who once lived on this earth.
I then wrote Hope in New York City, the Continuing Story of the Irish Dresser and thought I was finished with Norah McCabe (and with hunger), but it wasn’t so. It was then I understood on a deeper level, in my genetic makeup perhaps, that the hunger will always be with me. The hunger to tell the story of the Great Hunger of Ireland and to address hunger issues today.
I wrote Norah: The Making of an Irish-American Woman in 19th-Century New York and again thought it was the final book about Norah McCabe. I had already started writing another novel about a Native American woman after years of research. But after a few epiphanies and the advice of my readers, I knew there was yet another novel. My working title is The Irish Milliner and is set during the Civil War period in New York City.
Eaven Boland in an anthology titled Irish Hunger, writes: “The repressed past does not simply let go of us on command. The hidden scar is transmitted, invisibly and unconsciously across generations.” We have become, she says, “‘the present of the past,’ inferring the difference, but unable to feel or know it. We have not healed from these repressed horrors; it is as if unmarked Famine graves are in each of us.”
As a young girl, I did not know my hunger went beyond my need to write and escape a rural childhood, but as I reflect back, I see that hunger manifested itself throughout my life. I baked cookies for the poor country kids in my high school. I went to India to work with the poor and hungry. I worked at soup kitchens, participated in hunger fasts, and had a tea catering business. And I’ve donated a percentage of my book sales to hunger organizations.
I cannot write for the marketplace. I write for the ancestors and for hunger.
Public domain images via Wikimedia Commons.
Cynthia Neale is an American with Irish ancestry and a native of the Finger Lakes region in New York. She now resides in Hampstead, New Hampshire. She is a graduate of Vermont College in Montpelier, with a BA in literature and creative writing. Norah is her first historical novel for adult readers. For more about Cynthia, visit cynthianeale.com.
About Norah: The Making of an Irish-American Woman in 19th-Century New York
Once she was a child of hunger, but now Norah McCabe is a woman with courage, passion, and reckless dreams. Her story is one of survival, intrigue, and love. This Irish immigrant woman cannot be narrowly defined! She dons Paris fashion and opens a used-clothing store, is attacked by a vicious police commissioner, joins a movement to free Ireland, and attends a National Women’s Rights Convention. And love comes to her slowly one night on a dark street, ensnared by the great Mr. Murray, essayist and gang leader extraordinaire. Norah is the story of a woman who confronts prejudice, violence, and greed in a city that mystifies and helps to mold her into becoming an Irish-American woman.