I don’t know what it is about Irish authors, but I find myself drawn to their writing like a moth to the flame. Consequently it gives me enormous pleasure to welcome Olive Collins, author of The Tide Between Us, to Linda’s Book Bag today to tell me more about her work.
The Tide Between Us is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here.
The Tide Between Us
1821: After the landlord of Lugdale Estate in Kerry is assassinated, young Art O’Neill’s innocent father is hanged and Art is deported to the cane fields of Jamaica as an indentured servant. On Mangrove Plantation he gradually acclimatises to the exotic country and unfamiliar customs of the African slaves, and achieves a kind of contentment.
Then the new heirs to the plantation arrive. His new owner is Colonel Stratford-Rice from Lugdale Estate, the man who hanged his father. Art must overcome his hatred to survive the harsh life of a slave and live to see the eventual emancipation which liberates his coloured children. Eventually he is promised seven gold coins when he finishes his service, but he doubts his master will part with the coins.
One hundred years later in Ireland, a skeleton is discovered beneath a fallen tree on the grounds of Lugdale Estate. By its side is a gold coin minted in 1870. Yseult, the owner of the estate, watches as events unfold, fearful of the long-buried truths that may emerge about her family’s past and its links to the slave trade. As the body gives up its secrets, Yseult realises she too can no longer hide.
An Interview with Olive Collins
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Olive. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and The Tide Between Us in particular. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?
I’m an Irish writer with a passion for books especially historical fiction. I also love to travel and dip into other cultures, sometimes vastly different from my own. My favourite country is Cuba, I spent a month travelling around it and loved the old crumbling buildings and the people, the hospitality and the climate. I’m not a domestic goddess of any description, I cannot cook and once almost poisoned a few friends to death. My ideal night-out is a nice restaurant with good company and conversations that rolls into the early morning.
Why do you write?
I write to release the many characters and storylines that form in my imagination, if I didn’t they’d make living impossible.
(I think that sounds quite scary actually!)
When did you realise you were going to be a writer?
From a young age. I always had stories to release. When I meet new people who interest me or strangers on a bus or at the theatre, I try to establish their stories or where they’re going.
Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?
At the moment, my difficulty is where to set Book 3. Once I decide on the time and year, it becomes easier. I find it difficult establishing the character for the first few thousand words but once I find the voice and know the character as if they are life-long friends, it becomes a great release and a pleasure, it’s as if they are writing the book and not I.
What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?
My writing routine is normally rigid, 1000 words a day. Each day I set aside a few hours to read, when I find something that tickles my imagination I write about that the following day. Most of my writing is done on an armchair by a window at night. I like to write at night, the layer of darkness brings me closer my characters.
You’ve had quite an eclectic range of jobs in the past. How have your experiences affected your writing style now?
I’ve had various jobs and always welcome new experiences. I worked in the bank in England, was a plasterer in Israel, washed dishes in Tel Aviv. Each job was a new avenue to explore and gave me a clear glimpse into other people lives at an honest raw level which I loved.
For seventeen years I’ve worked in advertising. I spent my days meeting a variety of business owners who wanted to run advertising campaigns. Most people were willing, not only to discuss their businesses but also their personal lives. I’m naturally curious (or nosy) and liked to delve into their backgrounds, why they chose their careers or were they happy to take over their business from a parent? Most were more than happy to discuss everything with me however none knew that the notes I often scribbled in the car afterwards had nothing to do with their business and everything to do with their personal lives – names are always changed!!
(That’s probably just as well…)
How do you find that kernel of a story that takes over until you have to write about it?
Finding the kernel varies for each book. The Tide Between Us began with a chance encounter at a St Patrick’s Day Party in Israel. A Jamaican man who attended the party identified his heritage as Irish. He told me that vast numbers of Jamaican’s were of Irish descent. When Google became available, I researched his story and found so many accounts of exiled Irish to Jamaica, I was enthralled. One particular story about 2,000 exiled children tugged at me. I tried to comprehend their story after their arrival in Jamaica. How did they survive to find their own sense of freedom? When writing about a specific period, I read everything possible, diaries, novels, history books, academic papers and I listen to the music. Music always gives me a greater insight into the social history. The lyrics, melody and instruments convey the atmosphere of the time.
Without spoiling the plot, please could you tell us a bit about The Tide Between Us?
My novel is based between Jamaica and Ireland (1821 – 1991). It follows the story of Art O’Neill, an Irish boy deported to Jamaica at 10 years of age. When he acclimatises to the exotic country and bizarre customs of the African slaves, he takes us through the decades of his life, the coarseness of Jamaica, a county that eventually allowed him progresses from servant to overseer and eventual landowner. We see him become a father and watch as slave emancipation unfolds liberating his coloured children. His greatest battle was fought quietly as he struggled with his abhorrence at his Anglo-Jamaica oppressors, a mutual loathing that passed from father to son. Eventually Art is promised seven gold coins when he finishes his service. Art doubts the plantation owner will part with the coins. Part 1 ends in 1891 with Art going to the Big House to claim his gratuity.
Part 2 is based in Ireland (1921 – 1991) It opens with the discovery of a skeleton beneath a tree on the grounds of Lugdale Estate with a gold coin minted in 1870. Yseult, the owner of Ludgale Estate watches the events unfold and recaps on the rumours that abounded about her father’s beginnings in Jamaica, a county with 25% of the population claiming Irish descent. As the body gives up its secrets, Yseult realises she too can no longer hide.
How did you go about researching detail and ensuring The Tide Between Us was realistic?
The research was pain-staking and vital. I have a loyalty to the reader, it must be accurate and covey the sentiment of the time. Apart from a month-long holiday in the Caribbean, I knew very little about Jamaica. I began at the beginning, researching the types of boats used for the deportees, the atmosphere of the country both socially and politically when they arrived in 1821. I used diaries, academic papers, letters from the period, documentaries and music. With each passing decade of the novel it reflected the politics of the time. I must admit, it was a wonderful experience writing about slave emancipation and the great strides the ex-slaves made after freedom. I was so involved in the characters, it was as if I too had been liberated and celebrated with them.
To what extent was it your overt intention to explore the political aspects of the way the Irish were treated in the past and to what extent was that element a side issue of your story?
Ireland was a poor country with large families, poor education and occasionally some didn’t speak English, like every third world country we were susceptible to abuse and prejudice. It’s part of our history and was a large vein in my novel as was the survival of the Irish. For centuries large numbers of Irish had great success abroad when Ireland could never offer anything apart from hard work with little to show for it. During the writing of my novel, I realised that the Irish abroad had more of a chance than other nationalities. In my novel, the Irish are indentured servants, they could travel freely (unlike the Africa slaves) in Jamaica. Once the indentureship term expired, the Irish were free. I was surprised to find some Irish had slaves and had no issues with slave-trading. It was necessary to include the political element of the time because that was the backbone of society. It dictated our lives, oppression and rebellion went hand-in-hand both in Ireland and in Jamaica.
What is it that draws you to writing about the past?
I was always interested in history and the past, and the link between the past and how it impacts our present. Not only as a nation, but how it affects smaller communities and in turn family units and finally how conflicts were passed down the generations, eventually impacting us as individuals. Every disagreement, small and large has a backstory. To understand the present, we need to go back.
In 2016 you won the Annie McHale debut novel of the year for The Memory of Music. How did that make you feel?
I was almost finished The Tide Between Us and very close to burn-out when I won the Annie McHale Award. It came at just the right time, I’d locked myself away for ten months to write the novel, in late January I was exhausted. The night I won it I drove back to my apartment and put the award onto my bookshelf in my line of vision. It was the best tonic to motivate me and finally get me over the line with the novel.
Your writing seems to have the underdog or the oppressed at the centre of your plots. How far do you think writers have a moral responsibility to provide a voice for those people?
I don’t consciously search for the oppressed voice, the voice seems to form and when I begin to write and explore the character, it takes flight. Personally I don’t and couldn’t write for any moral obligation. Writing for me is like an involuntary muscle reaction to a story or a picture or something so far in my subconscious, I’m not aware where it comes from, only when the same voice surfaces and niggles me over a long period of time, I must follow it.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?
My reading varies across all genres, contemporary, historical, classics and short stories.
If you could choose to be a character from The Tide Between Us, who would you be and why?
It would be Arry, she has no fear.
If The Tide Between Us became a film, who would you like to play Art and why would you choose them?
Maybe the Irish actor Gabriel Byrne as Art O’Neill.
If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that The Tide Between Us should be their next read, what would you say?
A saga with adversity, survival, humour. A novel conveyed with sincerity.
Thank you so much for your time in answering my questions.
About Olive Collins
Olive Collins grew up in Thurles, Tipperary, and now lives in Kildare. For the last fifteen years, she has worked in advertising in print media and radio. She has always loved the diversity of books and people. She has travelled extensively and still enjoys exploring other cultures and countries. Her inspiration is the ordinary everyday people who feed her little snippets of their lives. It’s the unsaid and gaps in conversation that she finds most valuable.
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