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‘At it's core, the novel is a love letter to Kerry’: Sneem author talks her debut book

By Fergus Dennehy
'The Midnight House' is the debut novel by author Amanda Geard and it is set in the fictional village of Ballinn in Kerry.

If there's anything that author Amanda Geard loves more than writing about Kerry - which she has so eloquently and beautifully done in her debut novel - then it's the people of Kerry themselves who she gushed over this week as she spoke to us here in The Kerryman about how she, a Tasmanian native, found herself falling so in love with everything Kerry that she was compelled to set her book right here in the Kingdom.

It’s been a long road to this point for Amanda, a geologist by training, and someone who has lived all over the world before settling in Kerry – something she said was not at all planned.

"It [Kerry] is my home now. I suppose I'll always be a blow-in but I'm really, really happy to have blown here. My husband and I, we came here on holiday probably half a dozen years and we certainly didn't have any notions that the trip would change our lives or anything like that,” she said.

"We rounded the corner of the Ring of Kerry towards Sneem and thought 'my god, this is fantastic' and we saw this big old empty house with a for sale sign hanging on it at an angle with the letters sort of falling off it. We called and arranged a viewing for the next day but by that evening, everyone in the village had assumed we were already buying the house!" she said with a laugh.

Amanda’s book, entitled ‘The Midnight House’, was released last Thursday, May 12, and is a multi-timeline mystery set in the fictional Kerry village of Ballinn. Moving between 1940, 1958 and 2019, the story is described as unforgettable and spellbinding story of secrets, war, love and sacrifice.

The story starts in Kerry in 1939 in south-west Ireland with the disappearance of the the young and beautiful Lady Charlotte Rathmore is who is last seen by the lake of the Blackwater Hall. Meanwhile, in London, on the brink of the Blitz, Nancy Rathmore is grieving Charlotte’s death when a letter arrives containing a secret that she is sworn to keep - one that will change her life for ever.

Fast forward to decades later in 2019 when Ellie Fitzgerald is forced to leave Dublin disgraced and heartbroken. Abandoning journalism, she returns to rural Kerry to weather out the storm. But, when she discovers a faded letter, tucked inside the pages of an old book, she finds herself drawn in by a long-buried secret. And as Ellie begins to unravel the mystery, it becomes clear that the letter might hold the key to more than just Charlotte’s disappearance…

It’s a book, Amanda said this week, that would most likely not exist were it not for an impromptu trip to Listowel Writer's Week back in 2019 where she was inspired to finally charge full steam ahead at her long-held dream of writing her very own book.

"Like so many people, I always wanted to write a novel but I never really thought that I could. That was until 2019 when I saw a flyer for Listowel Writer's Week in a pub in Kenmare. I thought 'what is this Writer's Week?' and so I looked into it and drove up there to Writer's Week when it was on. I went to a couple of book launches and one event in particular, it was Patricia O'Reilly, I think, and she was talking about a book on the first Rose of Tralee that she had just launched,” she said.

"She was great and I thought 'god, wouldn't it be great to be like her' and then someone in the audience put up their hand and asked some questions about their manuscript. I sort of did a double take because this woman was just regular looking person like me who's only gone and done it and has written a manuscript and is trying to get it out in the world,” she continued.

"I drove home from there and literally that night, I pulled out a load of books that I loved - these multi-timeline mysteries - and I tabbed them all and started to work out the structure and then the next few months, I went ahead and planned and wrote the novel by the end of the year,” she added.

Now, in what is surely a pinch-me moment for the Tasmanian native turned Sneem resident, here we are, a few years on from her sitting in that audience in Listowel watching someone else talk about their book to now, to her now describing to us how her novel, at its core, is a love letter to Kerry, the county she said she now proudly calls home.

"I definitely wanted to write about Kerry because I love it so much. I'm really fascinated with Ireland's history in general but also the history of Kerry in particular. Because we're renovating a big old place here, I learnt quite a bit about the big houses of the area and was fascinated with the ones that survived and what caused them to survive the 20's. I just became really interested in these absent landlords and these benevolent and malevolent landlords that existed,” she said.

"The house was certainly a central part of it and I wouldn't have set in anywhere other than a fictional small village somewhere here on the Iveragh Peninsula. Although everything is fictional, even walking into the village here, I'd get inspiration every day and I suppose that at it's core, the novel is a love letter to Kerry and I hope that my love for Kerry comes through in it," she continued.

Amanda’s love for Kerry extends far beyond its stunning landscapes she said, with its people at the heart of why the county holds such a special place in her heart.

"I do love Kerry's landscapes but I love the people here so much too. Everywhere that we have turned, there has been a hand of friendship and welcome extended to us," she said.

"Even after we had just arrived, we were in this house that had no windows and we were just huddled around this pot-bellied stove and I remember a blue tractor coming up the drive. We'd seen it whipping back and forth dropping off hay and things like that and as it came up our drive, it did a u-turn and it dropped off a pile of split logs for us on the driveway and it drove off,” she continued.

"I'm almost in tears thinking about it and we actually later met that farmer and we're actually godparents now to one of his children. I love it here to bits and Kerry is definitely home now,” she finished.

‘The Midnight House’ is available to buy online and in all good bookshops now.

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