As a young woman in my early twenties, I lived with my husband in Nigeria, gave birth to two children there. Africa was the great good fortune of my young life. Nothing had prepared me for an entry into this world, and I even now imagine I would have had to be reborn - as perhaps I have been - to insure the glimpse I was given. A few years later - now with a third child - we lived in Niger, a country just north of Nigeria on the rim of the desert. It was here that I encountered the face of famine in the young children who were brought to the local clinics. Although I think now it was the sight of these children and the extraordinary landscapes in which they lived that first prompted me to write, I didn't begin writing fiction until I was in my forties. I had read Anna Ahkmatove's poem in which asked by someone in a crowd if she can write the horror they experience outside the prison walls where they wait, she replies, "I can." So in my arrogance, never having written a word, I said to myself, inspired by my brief stare, "I can." I whispered this to myself having no idea at all of the consequences.
So was born my first novel, Still Waters in Niger. But again I was in ignorance that a dream figure who played around the edges of that book, my great grandmother, Bridgit Fitzmaurice McDonough, would open the way into my next, Who Occupies This House. Bridgit left Ireland in 1846 during the time of the potato famine, lost a child at sea on the passage over. Her husband, who'd preceded her to this country, had secured a small leasehold in the Mohawk Valley, met her at the station in the midst of a snowstorm on Christmas Eve, caught pneumonia and was dead within a week.
Famine is endured in silence - unlike the catastrophe of war, for example - and it's the legacy of silence and the ways in which it's played out over many generations that led me to track, to reimagine, to release if I could, the ghosts who lived in the house where I grew up.