A Family Reunion by Patrica Scanlan
I never really know what sorts of books I’m going to write, nor do I have any plan for a book, preferring to wait for an idea to come to me, in some way, shape or form, when I least expect it. Some of my best ideas have come to me standing at the kitchen sink, looking out the window.
The idea for A Family Reunion came about in August two years ago, when I had been to visit and tend to my parents’ graves down in County Wexford. I spent all my childhood summers in Rosslare Harbour, so my sister and I went for a walk on a beautiful, out-of-the-way beach called St Helen’s, which is overlooked by a big rambling house called The Four Winds.
Perched on a cliff, with bockety wooden steps down to the strand, the house is owned by an order of nuns. They come for their holidays, and can swim in the glittering sea that laps the small curving beach beneath them in this small piece of heaven.
I was thinking about all the women who had come to this beautiful house for respite. Had they all wanted to be nuns? Had they had a vocation, or were they fulfilled in their chosen life path? Were some of them there for reasons other than ‘the calling’, which left them sad, unhappy that they’d missed their chance to marry and have children?
My sister and I strolled along the beach chatting and I thought how lucky I was to have such a great sister. We get on extremely well and have shared the ups and downs of life and have been together through thick and thin.
And then inspiration hit!
Not all of us are lucky enough to get on well with our siblings, but at the end of the day family is often all we’ve got. What if I had a sister I loathed? (And I know many people who, unfortunately, have that sort of sibling relationship.)
And so my characters were born. Brigid, an eighty-year-old nun, and her younger sister Imelda have always been at loggerheads. Imelda deeply resented Brigid’s leaving home to become a nun, while she was left to look after aging parents, the family home and farm, as well as rearing a family of her own, while supporting her husband’s retail business.
I decided to write a generational novel about a family of four feisty women – sisters, mothers, grandmother and granddaughter – from the fifties up to the present day, and an explosive family reunion where all hell breaks loose. Brigid’s eightieth birthday party is the catalyst for the massive family row, started – of course – by Imelda, who is raging at the fuss being made of her older sister when she, Imelda, knows the real reason Brigid escaped to the convent – and an adventure-filled life in Africa – not because she had a vocation, but because she wanted to get away from her hidden past in their small rural village.
Accusations are hurled, harsh words are spoken, secrets are revealed and it seems that there will never be reconciliation.
Brigid’s niece, and Imelda’s daughter, Marie-Claire, a young woman in her thirties has left Canada to come home to nurse a broken heart, having discovered that her partner, Marc, is having an affair with an office colleague. Her mother, Keelin, Imelda’s daughter, has long had a rancorous relationship with Imelda, and loves her aunt Brigid, another reason for Imelda to be jealous.
The family are all furious with Imelda, for her outburst and for ruining Brigid’s party but Imelda nurses a deep hurt and pain of her own, and a secret she has carried for most of her marriage. Everything is not as it seems.
Can the women forgive each other and put the past behind them, or is it far too late to release old hurts and jealousies and seek an understanding from the other’s point of view?
Can Marie-Claire forgive Marc and return to Canada, or will she make a new life for herself in Ireland, where an exciting business proposition beckons? Can Keelin finally begin to forge a new relationship with her mother, now that she knows the truth behind Imelda’s bitterness?
And can Brigid and Imelda, even after all these years of animosity, realise that sisters make the best friends in the world?
I had a wonderful time writing A Family Reunion. I never knew what twists and turns were going to emerge as I went down paths I hadn’t known I would travel. In the same way as the characters have had twists and turns in their journeys, so too has this book’s title. We originally published it (at the start of the pandemic . . . I know!) as The Liberation of Brigid Dunne, but as lockdowns occurred and families were distanced from each other, reunions have acquired an even more poignant significance than before, and my publishers and I felt that the title, A Family Reunion would really strike a chord with new readers, especially around its Mother’s Day publication.
I hope, dear reader, that you enjoy reading about my four feisty women, as much as I have enjoyed writing about them.