Today I’m delighted to welcome Ruth Kirby-Smith to the blog. She is the author of The Settlement, a powerful historical novel of Northern Ireland, based on real events within her family. Ruth tells us all about the origins of her novel below…
About the Book
It’s 1984 and Olivia is returning home for her grandmother Sarah’s funeral. Sarah was a loving matriarch in small Irish village Lindara, so why would someone spit at her coffin? When Olivia finds Sarah’s red leather notebook, she unearths the se- cret her grandmother took to her grave…
In 1910 Sarah promises her anti-home rule husband Theo that she’ll keep her free thinking, suffragette views to herself. But one night Sarah finds she’s drawn into something which com- promises her principles. Later, when Theo gets dementia, he pesters Sarah about something called ‘The Settlement’. She’s mystified, but on opening a letter all is revealed. As the truth unfolds, we watch as Sarah is faced with an impossible decision – will she protect her stepson or her unborn child?
The Origins of The Settlement
It is ironic that I ended up writing a historical novel as history was my least favourite school subject. As an insouciant fourteen-year-old I was cheeky to the toughest history master at Methodist College Belfast, and he gave me such a roasting that it was still remembered at our 50-year reunion in 2017. I never turned a hair, as the Irish saying goes, meaning it did not bother me, but I had enough sense to drop the subject.
I had wanted to write a book for as long as I can remember but university, travel, career and children got in the way. When my father died, I began to question his unusual childhood and the stories he has told us of being fostered at three days old, going home to his real parents aged ten to get an education, being ‘kidnapped’ by his foster sisters who drove 50 miles across country to secretly take him back and then having no further contact with his biological parents until he was 19. This presented an interesting family history but when I investigated what was happening in Ireland during those years, I found a fascinating story which I knew nothing about. The two things together gave me the basis for my book.
The main characters in the book, Sarah and John, are based on my grandparents although the story is totally fictional. My grandfather was a lot like John – go-getting, shrewd and successful but his fortune was made with hard work in a legitimate business. He lived until I was in my 20’s and I remember him as a kind, well-informed and interesting man.
My grandmother was quite different from the character in the book. I did not know her well as she died when I was nine, but I do remember a rather cold and reserved character who showed me little affection. We children did not enjoy the monthly Sunday visits to see her because we had to sit quietly on her prickly horsehair dining chairs to have afternoon tea and I remember stuffing my dresses under my legs to protect them. My cousin George tells the story of his mother taking him as a young baby from Belfast to Co Armagh to show grandmother her new grandson. She was turned away at the door as she had no appointment, and my grandmother was ‘not receiving’. Odd indeed, and I suspect she had some mental health problems.
This gave me carte blanche for the character of Sarah in the book. The social setting is Protestant anti-home rule Northern Ireland, and I needed my main character to challenge this position and present another point of view. And so, the independent free thinking feisty Sarah came into being and she was a joy to write. In retrospect there is a lot of myself in the main character – questioning, prepared to go against the grain, outspoken and rebellious at times. As a teenager in the 1960’s I was the first person to attend the Sunday morning church service without a hat and it caused quite a ruction. Our minister, Reverend Lavery, listened to the complaints from members of the congregation and then said that it was better that I come to church without a hat than not come at all. I loved him for that, and he finds a place in the book as the local minister in Lindara taking the news of war casualties to his flock.
I also used names of friends and family. Lizzie, Sarah’s cousin is the name of two of my oldest friends, Violet was a kind a funny aunt, Miss Henderson my favourite teacher in primary school and Miss Blakeley is a tribute to David Blakeley who taught me social studies in 6th form at Methodist College and finally awoke in me an interest in studying.
The colonel is based on my aunt’s old gardener and there are many stories of his comic character. The one included in the book where he is rude to the church ladies having tea is true except that it was a local titled Lady who was his target.
The book is truly a mixture of fact and fiction and the grain of my family runs all the way through it.
Many thanks to Ruth for telling us a bit about the origins of The Settlement. The blog tour continues with the blogs below, and I’ll be reviewing the book next week.
The Settlement is published by 2QT.