Interview & Giveaway: Bittersweet Tapestry by Kevin O'Connell

Happy Monday, dear readers! I hope you all had a great weekend! Today on the blog I am super excited to be hosting an interview with Kevin O'Connell, who is currently on blog tour for Bittersweet Tapestry!

Hello, Kevin and welcome to Passages to the Past! Thanks so much for stopping by today to talk about Bittersweet Tapestry!

To begin, can you please tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

I was born in New York City, grew up and went to school in (smiles – “the pretty part,” Northwest Bergen County) in northern New Jersey, where I started to ride horses at an early age.

Most of my legal career was spent as an international business attorney, much of my work being in China. I was also a prosecutor and taught at the University of Maryland School of Law.

I came to “words” rather later on in life, as I began writing around 2012. It started as something of a lark, though it has, in truth, become my life’s work – a source of great satisfaction to me.

What inspired you to write the Derrynane Saga?

What has become a highly gratifying journey began during was seemed at the time to be a random conversation with my wife, Laurette. After a decades-long “sabbatical” from her first career as a singer/actress, primarily in musical theatre, she had just successfully created and debuted her second one-woman cabaret show. I was expressing my admiration for her creativity and my pride at her remarkable talent. She looked me straight in the eye and declared that I, too, could “create,” suggesting that I should consider taking all of what I knew of Irish and European history, as well as the O’Connells and trying my hand at writing an historical novel.

To her surprise – and mine – this idea struck a chord with me. I was undeniably intrigued by the crazy notion. It was thus with a shocking (to myself) degree of ease that a short while thereafter on a quiet afternoon in the office I began making notes on a legal pad, even scripting out rough conversations between people, some of whom had existed and one or two who surprised me by, as I wrote, magically emerging from an imagination I didn’t believe I had.

With a very rough story idea, I continued writing – just a wee bit each day, at first. Fortunately, relatively early on in this process I came into contact with several extraordinary literary professionals who indicated that the writing was good, which was encouraging. Also, just about this same time, I stumbled upon an article by Hilary Mantel (in the Wall Street Journal, of all places!) entitled “The Art of Making the Dead Speak,” I felt to some degree reassured – and experienced a not-insignificant sense of relief –as it appeared I actually had a knack for doing just that.

And so, it began in earnest.

What research did you undertake when writing the Derrynane Saga?

Like virtually all Irish (whether or not the nationality is followed by a hyphen and an additional geographic location), children of the post-World War II era, I grew up listening to countless stories – some sombre and stirring, others either scary or outright terrifying, more than a few laugh-out-loud funny. There were more characters than one could possibly list, from fairies – good and naughty, to brave warriors and kings; bold, arrogant (and seemingly always beautiful!) queens, even a king with horses’ ears! All were vivid, colourful and memorable.

Amongst those tales I recall most clearly were those involving people whose last name I share (as well as their spouses, neighbours, friends and enemies), referencing a place with the lyrically-magical sounding name of “Derrynane”.

As a result, I became a relatively serious student of the history of Eighteenth Century Europe, especially that of Ireland and France, for much of my life; one significant aspect of this being a continuing scholarly as well as personal interest in my extended family, many distant, and long-ago members of which, especially the characters of whom I write, I feel I have come to know intimately. Some of the tales which I grew up hearing, and later reading about, were the genesis for parts of both Beyond Derrynane and Two Journeys Home. This is even more so the case with regard to much of the Irish history fictionalised in Bittersweet Tapestry.

Though I did not undertake any specific research with regards to any of the three books of the Saga . . . none of these books could have been written absent almost six decades of reading and studying the works of a number of extraordinary historians and other authors – as I did with the prior two books, I include a fairly lengthy “Notes as to Sources” biographical essay in Tapestry. One thing I would add is that throughout the process I found myself continually fact-checking and double-checking, both in books and on-line. The marvel that is the internet was wonderfully helpful in verifying my surmises and avoiding factual gaffes!

What would you like readers to take away from reading the Derrynane Saga?

As so many people have said that, until reading my books, they had never even heard about the fallen “Gaelic Aristocracy” and the roles played by the Irish at the various courts of Catholic Europe, I am overjoyed when people gain this new understanding. I want them to learn at least a wee bit of Irish history – beyond that of the Famine and the Rising – and to understand the complexities wrought by what was truly the nearly 700-year long occupation of the island of Ireland by the English. Especially as these “complexities” are reflected even today in the politics and commerce amongst the Republic of Ireland, its Northern Irish neighbour and England across the Irish Sea from both of them.

I would hope that reading my stories, would make people curious about some of the topics covered and the lives of the “real people” in the books, so as to perhaps seek out further reading.

What was your favourite scene to write?

If I may, I actually have several:

To say that Eileen’s first marriage (chronicled in Beyond Derrynane) did not begin well would be an understatement – indeed, it began so badly that she actually took steps to kill her husband., thwarted only by that he had fled the house. Their meeting upon John O’Connor’s return several days later was a joy to write.

There is a very colourful, rather thrilling point-to-point horse race in Bittersweet Tapestry; as a rider, I found it both fun and exciting to describe it (as well as the scenes and events immediately before and after) in great detail from start to finish.

Also in Tapestry, there is a tragi-comedic confrontation between Eileen and her husband and a high-ranking local English official. It was rather fun to write.

What was the most difficult scene to write?

In all three books, the most difficult scene I had to write was the rather lengthy section in Tapestry dealing with a character’s violent death. This part of the book (and indeed the events leading directly up to it, and certainly those occurring in its aftermath) were beyond painful to write – especially the actual death sequence.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I feel I must confess – and this seems as good a spot as any to do so – that being a writer was not a long-deferred dream. I have come to it rather late in life.

So I would have to say that it was not until I actually started to write the first pages that I felt like this was something I really, really wanted to do. I was certainly committed by the time several people who know of such things told me early on that what I was writing was very good – in the words of one, “You write beautifully and naturally. You need to take this seriously, because I am” and “ . . . the best thing I can do for you is to stay out of your way and let you write”.

Thus encouraged – not to mention relieved! – how could I not want to do so!

What does your daily writing routine look like?

Whether I am writing new material, working on a “next draft” or simply editing and correcting myself,-- I like to write early in the morning, and late in the afternoon – I frequently print selected pages of the day’s ‘production’ and read and edit them in bed.

What has been your greatest challenge as a writer? Have you been able to overcome it?

I think it was a sense of inadequacy, of feeling like “Can I really do this?” or perhaps more accurately “Should I even be trying to do this?” As I have touched on, very early in the process an awesome all-female creative team came together almost by magic. They helped to dispel these feelings.

Who are your writing inspirations?

Ah, such a wonderfully-diverse group . . . Ken Follett, Antonia Fraser, Philippa Gregory, Hilary Mantel, George R. R. Martin, Larry McMurtry and Edward Rutherford. Can you imagine having them around the dinner table?!

What was the first historical novel you read?

As best as I can recall, it was James Mitchener’s Hawaii

What is the last historical novel you read?

Towards the end of the Summer I finished Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, the most recent instalment in the Outlander series . . . and, yes, I have read all of them!

What are three things people may not know about you?

Uh oh (laughs)

As a child, I lived for a time in Bermuda; I learnt how to play cricket and, no, it’s not like baseball!

For a very brief time, I thought about becoming a priest – much to the obvious outspoken relief of the Salesian fathers, whose school I attended, I soon decided against doing so!

For part of two summers, I was a cowboy on a massive ranch, that sprawled into three states. Think Lonesome Dove without the violence, the humour and great dialogue – and the pigs!

What appeals to you most about your chosen genre?

I have always loved history – especially European and British, as well as selected American and that of China (which I studied in college). This said, I feel I could never be a “real historian” – I loathe footnotes!. One thing I especially enjoy about history are the side-bars – such as those small things that occur within major historical events. The ability to go into an era, even an occurrence and mingle actual historical facts and people with fictional ones is fascinating, exciting sometimes and a great deal of fun!

The author must know her history, and, as well, her characters, she must be fully aware of what really happened and what the real people were actually doing at such and such a time . . . but once she is on firm, sound, factual historical footing, the author of historical fiction is given a great deal of latitude in “toying” with the subject. What she writes must be true to the place and time. The make-believe must be believable . . . in other words, it could have happened – the whimsy of it all is that perhaps it actually did, but no one recorded it for posterity! The challenge – which is also fun – is to be able to write such that the average reader cannot tell what is fact and what is fancy!

What historical time period do you gravitate towards the most with your personal reading?

If I may, there are several:

I genuinely appreciate Eighteenth Century Europe – especially French, Irish and British history of that period – there is so much going on! I also enjoy reading about the British Raj in India – as discomfiting as colonialism feels in the Twenty-First Century, I find it nevertheless fascinating to read of India from the days of Clive up to the horridly-disastrous end of the Raj. Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century Indian history is so complex and interesting.

Since I have spent so much time there, I remain captivated by China in general, especially by the later Imperial period (the Ming and then the Qing dynasties, until the latter’s fall in 1911) as well as the Opium Wars and the founding of Hong Kong, through the rise of Mao and “modern China”.

I frequently read of the American Revolutionary period.

What do you like to do when you aren't writing?

We have a rather large family, including 10 grandchildren – being with some or (sadly. infrequently because of time and schedules) all of them is a lot of fun.

As I indicated before, I read a fair amount.

I enjoy travel – after many years of grinding, oft-times solitary long-hauls to China, Europe is practically a short hop, so that’s our destination of choice. And I do like ships.

Above all, I love virtually everything equestrian. Though I do not ride very much anymore, and I haven’t competed in ages (yet like an adolescent schoolboy reading automotive magazines, I still avidly await the arrivals of Practical Horseman and The Chronicle of the Horse), perhaps the most pleasurable overall equestrian experience I have ever enjoyed is the volunteer work I am doing now with an incredible organisation called Maryland Therapeutic Riding.

Utilising the science – although it is perhaps also something of an art – of hippotherapy, which is the the use of horses and horseback riding as a therapeutic or rehabilitative treatment, especially as a means of improving coordination, balance, and strength, but also valuable in treating autistic children as well as adults such as “wounded warriors” and others who have suffered major trauma, the incredible therapists, teachers and specially-trained equestrians daily help sometimes dozens of individuals. The group’s motto is “Horses, Healing and Hope”.

I feel truly privileged to be able to care for the horses who do such incredible things. And by “care,” yes, in addition to grooming them, walking them out, exercising them, I mean mucking their stalls and keeping their bedding fresh.

Making the experience even more personally meaningful, is that, since I was a child I have always found early mornings (which is when I usually work) on a horse farm to be a singularly serene time: sleepy horses are incredibly sweet, to feed them breakfast is to guarantee that one’s own day begins receiving unqualified affection and gratitude. There is something almost “zen-like” in doing barn work or “grooming” the fields, especially as the wispy fog lifts and the sun becomes full.

Something many people may not know is that horses have their own quirks and personalities: as is always the case, one has ones “favourites” – mine being a beautiful softly-golden coated Norwegian fjord horse named Emma . . . she is a bit of an adolescent female “drama queen” with frequent head tossing and hoof-stomping, whose motto in this year’s calendar is “Have patience. Trust and understanding take time.” Some mornings, my forehead pressed against hers, I will speak softly, inquiring if she’s going to be an especially good girl today. Her huge soft eyes tell me, she will definitely try! My other fav is also a mare, wee Beauty, a sweet black Miniature Horse/Shetland Cross who, because of her minute size has her own quarters called “The Baby Barn” – and a joyous bit of “attitude” – of her it is said, “Sometimes the smallest things take the most room in your heart.”

Lastly, what are you working on next?

Truth be told, and there has been very little secret about it . . . the Derrynane Saga will continue – so no great surprise! In terms of Book Four – which will probably begin sometime in 1777 – I actually have a working title and the very rough – mine are always very very rough! – beginnings of a precis, though this one even includes some scenes and dialogue. From what I can tell, these will be very eventful years for the characters

That is great news! I know a lot of readers that will be looking forward to that! Thanks for spending time with us today!

Bittersweet Tapestry by Kevin O'Connell

Publication Date: November 1, 2019
Gortcullinane Press
eBook & Paperback

Series: The Derrynane Saga, Book Three
Genre: Historical Fiction

A dramatic decade has passed since sixteen-year-old Eileen O’Connell first departed her family’s sanctuary at remote Derrynane on the Kerry coast to become the wife of one of the wealthiest men in Ireland and the mistress of John O’Connor’s Ballyhar – only to have her elderly husband die within months of the marriage.

Unhappily returned to Derrynane, within a year, under the auspices of their uncle, a general in the armies of Maria Theresa, Eileen and her sister, Abigail departed for Vienna and a life neither could have ever imagined – one at the dizzying heights of the Hapsburg empire and court, where Abigail ultimately became principal lady-in-waiting to the Empress herself, whilst Eileen, for nine momentous years, served as governess to the Empress’s youngest daughter – during which time Maria Antonia, whom Eileen still calls ‘my wee little archduchess’, has become Marie Antoinette, dauphine of France, though she continues to refer to her beloved governess as “Mama”.

As Bittersweet Tapestry opens, it is the High Summer of 1770. Having escorted the future Queen of France from Vienna to her new life, Eileen and her husband, Captain Arthur O’Leary of the Hungarian Hussars, along with their little boy and Eileen’s treasured friend (and former servant) Anna Pfeffer are establishing themselves in Ireland.

Their ties to Catholic Europe remain close and strong; in addition to Abigail and her O’Sullivan family and General O’Connell, his wife and young daughter in Vienna, their brother Daniel is an officer in the Irish Brigade of the armies of Louis XV, whilst their youngest brother, Hugh, is studying at École Militaire in Paris, his path to a commission in the Dillons’ Regiment of the Brigade. His gentle Austrian friendship with Maria Antonia having inevitably waned, Hugh’s relationship with the strikingly-beautiful young widowed Princess Marie Thérèse Louise of Savoy is blossoming.

Though happily ensconced at Rathleigh House, the O’Leary family estate in County Cork, being prominent amongst those families which are the remnants of the old Gaelic order in the area, Eileen and Art find that the dark cloud of the Protestant Ascendancy hovers heavily, at times threateningly, over them.

Bittersweet Tapestry is a tale of stark contrasts – between Hugh’s life of increasing prominence amidst the glitter and intrigue of the French court and Art and Eileen’s in English-occupied Ireland – especially as the latter progresses into a dark, violent and bloody tale . . . ultimately involving an epic tragedy, which along with the events leading up to it and those occurring in its dramatic wake, will permanently impact the O’Learys, the O’Connells – and their far-flung circle of family and friends in Ireland and across Europe.

With his uniquely-descriptive prose, Kevin O'Connell again deftly weaves threads of historical fact and fancy to create a colourful fabric affording unique insights into the courts of eighteenth-century Catholic Europe as well as English-ruled Ireland. As the classic story unfolds amongst the O’Learys, the O'Connells, their friends and enemies, the tumultuously-dangerous worlds in which they dwell will continue to gradually – but inexorably – become even more so.

Bittersweet Tapestry joins O’Connell’s well-received Beyond Derrynane and Two Journeys Home as The Derrynane Saga continues – an enthralling epic, presenting a sweeping chronicle, set against the larger drama of Europe in the early stages of significant – and, in the case of France – violent change.

Available on Amazon

About the Author

Kevin O'Connell is a native of New York City and a descendant of a young officer of what had—from 1690 to 1792—been the Irish Brigade of the French army, believed to have arrived in French Canada following the execution of Queen Marie Antoinette in October of 1793. At least one grandson subsequently returned to Ireland and Mr. O'Connell's own grandparents came to New York in the early twentieth century. He holds both Irish and American citizenship.

He is a graduate of Providence College and Georgetown University Law Centre.

For much of his four decades-long legal career, O'Connell has practiced international business transactional law, primarily involving direct-investment matters, throughout Asia (principally China), Europe, and the Middle East.

The father of five children and grandfather of ten, he and his wife, Laurette, live with their golden retriever, Katie, near Annapolis, Maryland.

Website | Facebook | Goodreads

Blog Tour Schedule

Friday, November 1
Review at Gwendalyn's Books

Sunday, November 3
Review at Carole's Ramblings

Monday, November 4
Review at Locks, Hooks and Books

Wednesday, November 6
Interview at The Writing Desk
Feature at Chicks, Rogues, and Scandals

Friday, November 8
Feature at Maiden of the Pages

Monday, November 11
Interview at Passages to the Past

Wednesday, November 13
Review & Guest Post at The Book Junkie Reads

Friday, November 15
Guest Post at Before the Second Sleep

Sunday, November 17
Review at A Darn Good Read

Monday, November 18
Review at Books and Zebras

Tuesday, November 19
Feature at What Is That Book About

Wednesday, November 20
Review at Al-Alhambra Book Reviews

Friday, November 22
Feature at Historical Fiction with Spirit

Monday, November 25
Review at Hooked on Books

Tuesday, November 26
Review at Red Headed Book Lady
Review & Guest Post at Nursebookie

Wednesday, November 27
Review at CelticLady's Reviews

Friday, November 29
Review at Broken Teepee
Excerpt at Coffee and Ink

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Passages to the Past
All rights reserved © 2013

Custom Blog Design by Blogger Boutique

Blogger Boutique