Stephen King talks about story being the collison of two unrelated ideas – the ideas behind Little Bones weren’t entirely unrelated but they collided one sunny Sunday afternoon as I was driving back from a Readers Day that author Sarah Webb and I had programmed at a hotel in Dublin Airport. It was about 5pm in the afternoon and pre M50 so a LONG drive home (I once counted 35 sets of traffic lights) but as I put on the radio and pulled out of the car park a documentary was starting on RTE about Kerry born playwright George Fitzmaurice. Fitzmaurice is best remembered for his play The Country Dressmaker which he submitted to the Abbey Theatre. It was such a success that it rescued the theatre after the problems of John Millington Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World in the same year. Born in 1877, Fitzmaurice became introverted and isolated as he grew older and died in 1963, in a rented upstairs room in No.3 Harcourt Street, Dublin. He was aged 86 years and left no will and few personal belongings – apart from a copy of every play he had ever published and a few in draft form, which were in a suitcase under his bed.
It was Fitzmaurice’s suitcase that caused the collision of ideas.
Several years previously I’d watched an RTE TV documentary about a young Irish girl who was living in lodgings in Manchester. Belinda Agnes Regan discovered she was pregnant before she left Ireland but, unmarried, had no choice but to hide the pregnancy. She delivered the baby herself, incredibly in a room she shared with another much younger girl who apparently slept through her ordeal. Wrapping the baby in a shawl, she crept to the bathroom but when she returned, the baby wasn’t breathing. Hiding the body in a suitcase, she left it under her bed, returning home to Ireland to talk to the family priest. While she was away, the body was found by her land lady and she was arrested for infanticide.
These two stories, quite separately lit a light bulb in my head and on the drive home I started wondering about dress makers and what would happen if the bones of the baby had ended up in a dress – a wedding dress – the crucial thing that Belinda Agnes Regan must have yearned for, for nine long months. At that point I had no idea who owned the dress, or how the bones got there, or WHY…
Stories can take a long time to develop, and to find their way. I was struck by the image of the bones being found by accident in the home of a beautiful young artist. Cathy Connolly jumped off the page as a character from early in the very first draft – her quest for the truth becoming a theme for the book. More often in trouble than out of it, she is so real to me now that I can hear her talking whenever I think of her.
Writing and rewriting what started life as The Dressmaker , the characters and story grew, developing over time. While the story didn’t change, when Bonnier’s Twenty7 signed the Cat Connolly trilogy, the title of the first in the series did – to Little Bones. And very soon Little Bones will out in the wild, and you can meet Cat Connolly, laugh with her and cry with her, and step right into her world.