Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Anita Lock is talking with Ruth Finnegan, author of Black Inked Pearl: A Girl's Quest
FQ: Much of your work is scholarly in nature, focusing on communication, oral traditions in storytelling, and the art of the spoken word in combination with music. What would you say earmarks that "Ah ha!" moment in your life when you knew without a shadow of a doubt that you would write an epic romance story?
FINNEGAN: Not really - it just arrived without my deliberate planning or even, in a sort-of way, awareness of what I was doing. I suppose the first ‘aha’ was when it was liked enough to be accepted for publication (wow), was published, and then, especially, when it started to get reviews pointing out dimensions I had never thought of, almost as if it was a classic: ‘aha’ so I seem to have penned a novel, amazing!’ Looking at it I can now see more continuity with my scholarly work than I’d have thought -(pointed out by some reviewers).
FQ: You incorporate scenes that are reminiscent of your Donegal schooling in Ireland. Are Kate's experiences a true reflection of your Irish education? What are the similarities and differences between you and Kate in this instance?
FINNEGAN: The account of the little Donegal school in chapter 2 is an exact description, down to the ink wells, cold stove, walk there, bull, and, aged 7, crying when I found I'd forgotten to minus 13 (though in my case, thankfully, I stayed good at math). The same is true of the chapter about Oxford, all drawn from my memories, apart from the last scene - though that might have been true too (except that it was ‘Measure for Measure,’ that bleak play, not ‘Othello’ - the latter just seemed more appropriate for the story of Kate’s rejection then impulsive quest).
Kate’s convent experience in chapter 3 is different from mine. Mine was an excellent if quirky Quaker school (The Mount) where all the teachers, more, or less, competent, were kind, though there was one blinkered headmistress (rather like the reverend Mother H.E.N. in the book - actually I think she was probably the model for that). But what I learned there about literature and quotation and up to a point life was very similar: I can never be grateful enough.
FQ: Again, Kate travels to the Congo, which also seems to reflect your experience in Africa. What are the similarities and differences between you and Kate in this instance?
FINNEGAN: I’ve never been or could be a business woman like Kate nor have I visited the Congo, except for one transit overnight (the view of the river from the air was absolutely stupendous and much impressed me which is why, apart from its soft-of cosmic associations, it occurred to me to use it here). I know what a kind of cataclysmic epiphany can feel like, as with Kate, although for me, believe it or not, it was in a dentist’s waiting room in England. The stories however are authentic African, translated and slightly adapted by me, recorded when I was doing anthropological fieldwork in Sierra Leone, and casting their oral influence all through the book.
FQ: It has been said by many authors that writers can easily find themselves totally absorbed in their plot and especially their characters. Did you find that experience to be true in the creation of Kate?
FINNEGAN: Yes, absolutely. But apart from the couple of directly autobiographical chapters (Donegal and Oxford) I didn’t realise until well after I had finished the novel that Kate was myself. (And I now see that that’s why in the ‘Epilogue,’ though I express my hope, I have left the ending open for it will not, cannot, be known until my life is at an end).
FQ: You include poetic portions from different schools of literature—both sacred and secular—in Black Inked Pearl.. Is there one poet who stands out as having a profound influence in your literary background?
FINNEGAN: Yes Homer. The first real book I read (not having learned to read till I was seven - my mother thought learning about other things more important than having your head in a book - she was right) was Homer’s Odyssey, soon followed by the Iliad and crying over Prima’s visit to Achilles to beg for his son’s body, amazingly touching, still moves me to tears. They were both in the old-fashioned biblical-language translations fashionable in the nineteenth century and that affected me too.
I think Homer's similes (which I’ve reproduced and copied so freely in my novel) are, so apparently simple, among the most wonderful things in literature - indeed ‘the world in a grain of sand’ (I love Blake too).
FQ: Black Inked Pearl is written in such a way that it is open for reader interpretation. While that interpretation can vary widely, what is one thing that you would hope your audience would take away after reading your epic story?
FINNEGAN: Oh I suppose - to love the world and everything in it (not least those who search after impossible but not so impossible dreams (think of Coelho’s Alchemist), those who experience dementia, those who struggle between dream and reality - and above all yourself, the hardest.
FQ: Do you foresee more projects of epic literary proportion in the near future?
FINNEGAN: Hm, there is one trying to fight its way through this very day and before, but I am trying to close my mind to the dreams - I know they will still be there when I look. I need to finish off a bunch of academic books first. Won’t say any more at this stage but I guess I’ll be back.
FQ: Have you ever considered the possibility of writing a story for youth?
FINNEGAN: Oddly enough a taxi driver (a local church leader, originally from Ghanq) having heard the plot of the Black Inked Pearl as he drove me to the airport on the way to my yearly visit to my daughter in New Zealand - the land, to me always liminal where my novel started to come to me - suggested this. It had never occurred to me. He said ‘children should know there is a heaven and a hell!' So I am thinking about this - a version not of something new but of a Black Inked Pearl suitable for 12 year olds.
Am also planning to do an audio version in nearish future which, though unchanged in wording might be more accessible for modern youth than the written version. Perhaps too a film, which would have the same effect.
I have also been enjoying constructing some retold fairy tales for early readers (the first to be called something like The Frog Adventure - an upside-down version of the frog prince story) and have found a most wonderful illustrator to help. Watch this space!