Therese Walsh's Family Relationships Blog Day Guest Post
Writing the story of my family while writing the story of my heart
…without ever even knowing it
By Therese Walsh
The Last Will of Moira Leahy is many things—an emotional tale of twin sisters, a family saga with elements of psychological suspense, mystery, romance and mythical realism—and it’s sometimes been hard to describe it for just that reason. But one thing it definitely is, which I never called into question, is fiction. I created the characters and their dramas, and researched the story into life by learning about the coast of Maine and Rome, Italy and Javanese culture. So when a fellow writer asked one day about beginnings, and where the inspiration for my slate of make-believe folk had came from, I said, “my imagination,” without a single bat of my eyelashes.
“Hmm, are you sure?” she asked. “Think about it. Let me know.”
Her questions had been simmering on my backburner for a while when some parallels began to emerge in my mind.
The main character of LWML, Maeve Leahy, was 16 when she lost her twin.
Her loss became a central consideration while planning her present and coping with her future.
She shut people out, including her family.
She was strong, but she was in pain.
She needed, somehow, to move beyond it, for someone to help her.
My sisters and I lost our father twelve years ago.
My youngest sister was 16 at the time.
Our father’s death devastated all of us, but especially her; and her recovery experience became very important to me.
Maeve and my sister differ in personality, and much about Maeve’s story is unlike my sister’s story, but healing from a deep loss was what I wanted most for them both. I was shocked by the similarities between them and even a little embarrassed that I’d never noticed the linkage before.
How did my family story work its way into the pages of my novel in the first place? I think writing like a “pantser,” when you don’t have your story plotted ahead of time, is a lot like journaling. You will, nine times out of ten, find yourself writing about that which weighs upon your heart—and you’ll try to formulate a solution. In the case of LWML, that solution wasn’t something that could apply to my sister in real life, but that didn’t prevent her from developing a keen interest in what happened to Maeve Leahy.
Interestingly, Maeve’s story has resonated most strongly with that sister. After me, she’s probably read LWML more than anyone and cried the most number of times over its pages. She’s cheered the most times, too. (I don’t believe in unhappily ever afters.)
Today, that sister is stronger now, in control of her present and able to look to the future without flinching. I spoke with her to make sure she didn’t mind that I share this story, and she didn’t.
“Get it out there. Truth is truth. Tell the whole world that I love this book and that they will too!”
She said it with a passion that would’ve made Maeve Leahy proud—and that’s not fiction.
Have you ever read a book you identified with more strongly than you expected?
Have you seen yourself or a family member reflected in the traits of a fictional character—for better or worse?
If you write, do you find that real life sneaks its way into your fiction? (Are you a plotter or a pantser?)
Therese Walsh's debut novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, was officially published today (October 13, 2009) by Shaye Areheart Books (Random House). Her essay above is part of a very special event--Family Relationships Blog Day--in celebration of her novel's release. View the post below this one for a list of fantastic blogs participating in this monumental event.
Therese is the co-founder of Writer Unboxed, a blog for writers about the craft and business of genre fiction. Before turning to fiction, she was a researcher and writer for Prevention magazine, and then a freelance writer. She's had hundreds of articles on nutrition and fitness published in consumer magazines and online.
She has a master's degree in psychology.
Aside from writing, Therese's favorite things include music, art, crab legs, Whose Line is it Anyway?, dark chocolate, photography, unique movies and novels, people watching, strong Irish tea, and spending time with her husband, two kids and their bouncy Jack Russell.
Find out more about Therese by visiting her website: www.ThereseWalsh.com.