Dublin launch for Prosperity Drive

Prosperity Drive invite

Prosperity Drive, my latest collection of stories, gets a Dublin launch this week at one of my “local” bookshops, The Rathgar Bookshop. I grew up in Rathgar and eagle-eyed readers might recognize echoes of the locality in the collection.

The Rathgar Bookshop is that rare thing – a sturdy, independent, suburban bookshop serving a loyal band of readers. Under Liz Meldon’s stewardship, it’s been voted one of the top 10 bookshops in Ireland and I’m delighted to have the  collection launched there. Novelist and director of UCD’s creative writing programme, James Ryan, will do the honours.

There will be another launch of Prosperity Drive in Cork – my second home – on April 23, along with Cork poet, short story writer and novelist William Wall, at the Triskel Arts Centre, during Cork World Book Fest.

Prosperity Drive will be launched at The Rathgar Bookshop, Wednesday, March 23, at 7.30pm.  All welcome but if you’re coming, please RSVP the bookshop at rathgarbooks@gmail.com.

Meanwhile, here’s a selection of the reviews so far:

Prosperity Drive is . . . is surely one of the best Irish books you will read this year.” – Sara Keating, Sunday Business Post.

“This the most pleasurable book of stories by an Irish writer that I’ve read for many years – perhaps since the 1970s heyday of William Trevor.” ─ John Boland, Irish independent.

“. . .she is a true heir to Chekhov and the great writers. . .Seldom has Irish suburban life – especially the lives of girls and women been so sensitively and wittily, portrayed.” – Eilís Ní Dhuibhne, The Irish Times.

“Mary Morrissy. . . bewitches the reader with an immaculate yet irreverent turn of phrase, her imagination slanted at a rare angle.” – Daily Mail.




Stealing babies


The South African baby kidnap trial currently hitting the headlines has uncanny similarities to a notorious Irish baby-snatching case in the 1950s, which provided the inspiration for my first novel, Mother of Pearl.

The South African story goes like this: Zephany Nurse was kidnapped from Groote Schoor hospital in Capetown on April 30, 1997 within days of her birth and raised by her kidnapper as her own child.

Zephany’s biological parents, Celeste and Morne Nurse,  went on to have another daughter, Cassidy, who was co-incidentally sent to the same school that Zephany attended. The two girls were remarkably similar in appearance and formed an immediate friendship despite the four-year gap between them. Morne Nurse arranged to meet Zephany and alerted the police to his suspicions that she was his daughter. DNA tests were conducted which confirmed that Zephany was the Nurses’ long-lost daughter and at 17, she was returned to her biological parents.

Elizabeth Browne, above, was kidnapped from a pram on Henry Street in Dublin on November 25, 1950.  Her kidnapper, Mrs Barbara McGeehan, who lived in Belfast, took     her north on the train and passed her off as her own child to her unsuspecting husband.

Four years later – and this is where truth is stranger than fiction – Mrs McGeehan travelled south again and stole another child, this time a boy, Patrick Berrigan, from outside Woolworths on Henry Street.  As luck would have it,  a fellow passenger on the Belfast train noticed Mrs McGeehan, in particular that she had no milk for her baby, and went to the dining car to get some.  Afterwards when the alert was raised about the Berrigan baby kidnap, she remembered this incident and contacted the police.

Mrs McGeehan was traced to her home in the White City estate  in Belfast where police found the Berrigan baby and the four-year-old Elizabeth Browne, now renamed Bernadette. In these pre-DNA days, she was identified by a distinctive birth mark, and her parents, news-vendors John and Bridget Browne, travelled to Belfast to claim her.

When I came to write Mother of Pearl, which  is a re-imagining of the central events of the story rather than a straightforward retelling of the facts, the first authorial decision I made was to drop the second kidnap from the plot because, ironically, I thought readers simply wouldn’t believe it.  In the writing of fiction, truth is no defence. Just because something really happened doesn’t mean that readers will accept it in a work of fiction.

What interested me most in the story of Elizabeth Browne – who died of cancer aged 38 in 1988 – was the identity trauma of a four-year-old being forcibly removed from a loving home and familiar “parents” and being returned to a family, who though biologically related, were strangers to her. It’s a predicament  where a just solution would be hard to imagine; the judgement of Solomon comes to mind.

But in the real life story  an accommodation was reached.  Again this is another fascinating fact that didn’t go into my novel. After Mrs McGeehan served a two-year jail term for the kidnap, the Browne parents made contact with her. Every year with her parents’ blessing, Elizabeth would travel to Belfast for a holiday with the woman who had stolen her away.  It suggests an emotional wisdom even Solomon would be proud of.

Mother of Pearl, which first appeared in 1997,  will shortly be reissued as an e-book by Jonathan Cape.

Prosperity Drive, my new collection of stories, will be published tomorrow, February 25.

Exploding the novel

prosperity cover

February 25 is publication day for my new collection of linked short stories, Prosperity Drive. Jonathan Cape, my publishers, have described the collection, as an exploded novel, which is an apt description since the content has a distinctly boom-time flavour. (The last boom, that is!)

“All the characters in this mesmerising book begin their journeys on Prosperity Drive. Everything radiates out – often internationally – from this suburban Dublin street, and everything eventually returns to it. It is an Ireland in miniature. Like an exploded novel, Prosperity Drive is laid out in stories, linked by its characters who appear and disappear, bump into each other in chance encounters, and join up again through love, marriage or memory.”

Here’s what Hilary Mantel said about it – yes, that Hilary Mantel!

‘Mary Morrissy is a wonderful writer. These stories are entertaining and deft, so skilfully balanced and interwoven that when you begin to pick out the pattern it is a real moment of delight.’

Along with the blurbs the books has garnered, I’m also really delighted with the cover. Originally, the designers were going for a generic image of a suburb, but this is much more arresting – both visually and in its culturally authentic depiction of the book’s landscape. This is unmistakably an Irish suburban street with its bilingual street sign – good to see the Irish language getting equal billing in a UK publication! Also, whether unwitttingly or not, the Irish Tricolour makes a subversive appearance in the cover’s colour scheme – the white of the girl’s tee-shirt, the orange of her skirt, the green of the street sign.  All in all, it’s quite a revolutionary statement. . . See more on: www.penguin.co.uk



Reading the Signs

merton roadseafield

Have you ever examined street signs in Dublin?  I mean those ordinary common-or-garden signs that adorn our gables and walls and serve to tell us where we are – that is if they’re not covered with roving greenery or placed so high up that you get a crick in your neck trying to read them. Those ones.

I hadn’t considered them much, either. Apart from their function, that is, of providing information. But that’s all changed. The reason I’m not only noticing, but examining, street signs – and taking photos of them on my phone – is related to the publication of my forthcoming collection of stories, Prosperity Drive (Jonathan Cape, January 2016).  The eponymous fictional street in Dublin is the triggering location of and the uniting thread running through the stories.

Jonathan Cape’s art department wanted to use an authentic Dublin street sign as part of the cover design. I offered to take some snaps to give them a notion of what they looked like and to alert them to the fact that our street signs are bilingual. I provided them with an Irish  translation for my fictional suburban street.  Or two, in fact.  Prosperity Drive can be rendered as Céide an Rathúnais, but my preferred version is Slí an Rathúnais (literally The Way of Prosperity), because of its clever double meaning. (Some of the stories in Prosperity Drive are set during the Celtic Tiger era.)

When I went looking for an image of the archetypal Dublin street sign, I was faced with a plethora of the current style of sign – white type on a blue background, sometimes with the district number in the right hand corner in reverse – blue on white. (Though with our new super-duper ZIP codes, these old single digits will soon begin to look a bit forlorn.) But what I was looking for was its predecessors.  These were tin, with a garden green background, white lettering and the Irish version of the street name in the old Cló Gaelach. Blame it on nostalgia, but when I was growing up Dublin in the Sixties, these were the standard signs and they remain fixed in my memory as the original and the best.

I didn’t hold out much hope of finding any left – rust and vandalism had surely put paid to them, I thought. But I was pleasantly surprised at how many of them still survive, and I didn’t have to travel very far from my Blackrock base to find them.

My other surprise was to find a huge variation in fonts, style and colours in Dublin street signs. (As an ex sub-editor, fonts, in particular, are a bit of a passion.) As well as the blue and white design, there are also black on yellow signs – particularly in Dún Laoghaire and Monkstown. Perhaps in the early days, each city borough had its own style of sign? I also found a great deal of competing signage. Sometimes – as with Priory Drive in Stillorgan (see below) – there were not only two different styles of signs, but a different Irish translation of the English street name – one at either end of the street.  In later signs – probably from the 1970s onwards, the Cló Gaelach was dispensed with, and the Irish was rendered in Roman script. Then the district numbers were added.

As you can see, I’ve now become a bit of an anorak about street signage. Who cares where I’m going, I’m more interested in what the sign looks like. I thought I’d hunted down every last variation, but it was only when looking at the collection of images on my phone, I noticed that not even the vintage  green signs are consistent. On some, there is a lovely white trim around the edges, which I think looks very classy. So classy I was tempted to indulge in a bit of vandalism myself and lever one of these beauties from its moorings. But I desisted. I’ll stick with my memories and the pantheon of place-names on my phone.

priory drive romanpriory drive