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Mary Finn - Author

About the Author

Mary Finn worked for years as a magazine journalist with Radio Telefis Eireann, the Irish Broadcasting service. She lives in Dublin with her son and works as a freelance writer. Anila’s Journey is her debut novel and was inspired by an original 18th Century portrait, which hangs in the National Gallery of Ireland (and now graces the front cover), as well as a lifelong fascination with India.

Q & A with Mary Finn

1.   Anila is an incredibly strong and determined heroine of the story – how easy was it to write her character?
The first image I had of Anila was of a very small girl, standing on a flat roof, waiting impatiently for her father.  The second was of her quite a bit older, standing in a room where there were stuffed birds, making a pitch for her talent as an artist.  These images grew into the two separate narratives Anila tells – her childhood story and her present adventure.  Once I had these two strands, I recognised her character and what had happened to her and she became very familiar to me.

2.  Where did the inspiration for the story come from?
Most of it came from the painting, An Indian Lady, by Thomas Hickey, from the National Gallery of Ireland, which is featured on Jim Bunker’s lovely cover design.  I thought that the Lady looked both independent and soulful. People in the Gallery stop and stand for ages in front of this painting.  I began to wonder what the sitter’s life might have been like.  But Anila is not the Lady; nor is the Lady Anila’s mother.  The painting  kickstarted my imagination, however, so I bless it.

3.  Although primarily a read for teens, does it also have a wider appeal and if so, who?
When I was writing I wrote for the reader I am myself, and I am an adult.  Adults have told me they have enjoyed the book very much.  Perhaps we are too much inclined to segregate books by age or genre or whatever.  I would not put any age on what I imagine the readership might be.

4.  What authors with similar appeal do you enjoy reading?

I love the historical novels of Rose Tremain and Sarah Dunant, and, for young people, Adele Geras.  I love Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and the stories of Chekhov: they show you a Russia that histories can’t.  Even if a story is contemporary I will be more attracted to it if it opens up a world, with its detail and colour. The best picturebooks do this too.  I don’t like sparse plotty things with endless dialogue.

5.  It’s very evocative of time and place – what research was involved in order to write the novel?

Enormous!  Truly.  If I had stopped to think and been sane about the project, I would not have attempted it but I think I was possessed by the need to write Anila’s story.  It’s a period novel, so obviously there was all that history to discover, but it’s also an investigation into another culture/cultures, another climate,  another eco-system.  I read so much, from Bengali folktales to East India Company ships’ logs to accounts of pianos travelling up the Ganges in the 1770s.  Also lots of modern Indian fiction because novels have so much useful detail. I found websites which showed me the birds of West Bengal in wonderful close up.  I got lots of useful advice from the Botanic Gardens in Dublin, a treasure-trove. Best of all, I went to Calcutta eventually and met the wonderful Bunny Gupta, a historian who steered me past my worst mistakes (wrong clothes! wrong use of language! wrong names!).  But I loved all the research anyway.  I’m a bit wiser now.

6.  This is your debut novel.  When did you first feel that one day you’d write a novel?

I can’t really say.  I worked as a writer, as a journalist, so I always wrote for a living.  But as a child I wrote fiction and lots of it.  I think I’m just a late starter.

7.  What advice can you give would-be children’s authors in getting published?

I can only relate my own experience.  I sent  an enormous (originally the story was much longer) manuscript away to three publishers.  I got encouraging replies from all of them, though equally they all turned it down.  But Walker’s reply was a bit wistful, a bit “we’d like to see it again if only you would take it in hand”.  So I did, and they did, and then it all happened very smoothly.  They had faith in it.  I can only wish my experience to be replicated for others.  One bit of advice: trust your editor and try to do as she (it’s usually a she) says.  They really do know best.

Mary Finn - biography

As a child
I was an only girl, with two brothers, and my father adored me, which is a wonderful start for any young female. On my first ever holiday when I was six, he took me to West Cork, his home county, a beautiful part of Ireland.  I remember saving hay, which I thought was a heavenly activity that should happen in the city too, every day. I remember the wind singing in the telephone wires, which I thought was a noise from another, friendly world, probably heaven.  Both my parents were teachers and reading was just what one did.  I was taken to the library when I was six, and truly I have never left.  But I also loved swimming, and horse-riding (which we couldn't afford) and having Enid Blyton-type gangs and adventures.  I always had good friends.

As an adult
I still love West Cork, I still love reading and I still have good friends - some things last. I know that kindness is the only thing that matters.  It's what you remember most about people at any age.  The best thing about being an adult (there are some, honestly) is that this truth is now hard-wired into your bones. Also, you really don't mind quite so much what other people think about you.  This is liberating and saves on clothes. Somewhat. 

As an artist
I wish I WAS an artist.  Also a dancer, a singer, a wood turner, a dress maker, a penguin whisperer.  But it seems that if I have to choose then I am a writer.The best definition I have found of a writer is this: "A writer is someone who finds writing to be much more difficult than other people do who are not writers."  That's true.  It makes you a very good reader though.

10 things you didn't know about Mary Finn
1. I make very fine pancakes, real French-slim crepes, that I serve with maple syrup and proper vanilla ice cream.
2. I love walking around cities on my own or with a companion. I know my way around Paris quite well by now.
3. I like cats and dogs equally and for different reasons. Don't believe for a minute that you have to choose.
4. Scottish accents are the absolute best, in my book.
5. I have a very desirable blood type - O Neg. - so I feel obliged to give blood regularly, though I should be better at it.
6. I hate having to raise my voice. It makes me cross.
7. My son, then four, and I once met Roald Dahl in Galway.
8. I very much like where I live (Dublin) but I would prefer it if we had four distinct seasons as they have in New England. Mind you, I think we used to.
9. I flew a plane twice, for a few minutes. There was a real pilot around as well, however
10. I like good manners.  Even babies can have good manners.

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