Now and again, you stumble across a book that touches you, and may stay hovering in your thoughts, long after you’ve finished it. While I could safely go through hundreds of book per year, there are usually less than a dozen that I would re-read, buy as presents or continuously recommend via social media.
Occasionally, these books are by virtually unknown authors, smaller publishing houses or can even be self-published titles. When I read a review online, or from a trusted publication, I can usually spot the hidden gems among the more publicised books and add the book to my immense wish list. Sometimes, I will just pick up a book as the blurb or cover appeals to me at first glance. This was the case with Anyush, by Martine Madden.
A debut author, from the midlands, Martine has written a story, based on fact, which looks at the effects of Armenian Genocide in Turkey and blends many threads together; love, trust, hate, anger and grief. All culminating in a work of fiction that is truly memorable.
I couldn’t wait to meet this author and emailed her publisher, Brandon Press, to arrange an interview at Bleach House. Martine squeezed this in on a hectic literary weekend and I got to host herself and her husband, John, on a miserable rainy night. However, rotten weather aside, Martine graciously agreed to be grilled by myself and some bookclub members. The fire was blazing, the table was loaded with food, and the wine was waiting on the sideboard. I had so many questions and got stuck in straight away, asking about how the idea for Anyush came about?
“As many of these things happen, it was totally by chance. I set out to write a short story about our couple of years in the Middle East and remembered a conversation I’d had with two Lebanese Armenian friends who had worked there with me. They’d mentioned something about the Armenian Genocide and I decided to find out what exactly they had been talking about. Googling it, I came across the photographs taken during the genocide by a young German soldier called Armin Wegner, and to say they were heartrending is a gross understatement. Photographs of dead mothers and children, people starved to death or beaten, others marching in a grim line until they fell down from exposure, hunger and exhaustion. Pictures of women crucified, decapitated bodies and horrors so unthinkable as to seem unreal. My eye fell on the most sobering statistic of the Armenian Genocide – 1.5 million Armenian men, women and children killed in this way. A shattering statistic, and one people on this side of the globe seemed to know little about. I ditched the idea of writing a short story and (naively) decided to write about the Armenian Genocide instead.”
This challenging topic could not have been easy to research, especially from rural Ireland so I asked Martine how did she manage it? “That came about through many different channels. The internet, of course, is an invaluable tool, and the Armenian National Institute has an extremely comprehensive website. I also read Orhan Pamuk’s biography to get a sense of the city of Constantinople (Istanbul), Robert Fisk’s The Great War For Civilisation which has an excellent chapter on the genocide, Simon Payaslian’s The History of Armenia, Alice Riggs Sheppard’s ‘The Sheppard of Aintab’ about her father, Fred Sheppard, a missionary doctor in Turkey during the First World War, and Vasily Grossman’s An Armenian Sketchbook. Also I was lucky enough to come across an article written by a journalist for National Geographic in 1903 about the year he spent living in Constantinople. But basically I became a magpie, and any mention of Armenia or Armenians was fanatically pounced on”.
Each author has their own writing process and each has something to teach us, in their own way. I love hearing about their routines, approaches and tips, so as we nibbled on some mango and chilli cheese (divine) I asked Martine how she approaches it, being a busy Mum, like myself? “I’m usually at my laptop by 9 or 9.30 and keep researching or writing until lunchtime. I take an hour’s break and then continue until 5. Only of course when other commitments leave me free. That schedule is sometimes aspirational!”
Husband, John, is loving the interest surrounding Anyush and was more than happy to tell us about reading the early drafts of the book. Martine says he “read the first drafts, although probably never in sequence. A very close friend, one of the few people who knew I was trying to write this book, read the earliest complete draft and God Bless her, never discouraged me, despite the awful drivel she had to read.” This friend ended up being a good luck charm as she had a special interest in the book’s subject. She also, inadvertently helped the publishing deal with Brandon/O’Brien Press. “That friend I mentioned works for the Trinity Foundation with a woman called Zhanna O’ Clery. Zhanna is a philologist, so has a huge interest in the written word, but by a remarkable coincidence she’s also a Russian Armenian. Added to this she’s married to Conor O’ Clery, the retired foreign correspondent with the Irish Times. My friend passed the manuscript to Zhanna who in turn passed it on to Conor, who really liked the story. He then sent it to Michael O’ Brien of The O’Brien Press and Michael made me an offer to publish. Sounds easy, I know, but it took eight years to get there.”
The food was dwindling and the night was coming to the end, but I had to ask……What can we expect next? More historical fiction perhaps? “Yes. I’ve started the second book, which is linked to the first, but you don’t have to read Anyush to read this one. It’s set in India in 1905 and is told from the perspective of an English governess and an Indian boy. Lots of wonderful research!”
Music to my ears, as this character is briefly mentioned in Anyush, and I had wondered what her story was. The Empire, India, England and the early twentieth century, who wouldn’t be excited about book two?
You can read my review of Anyush here....and you can order your copy from amazon link below or get from any good bookshop. You would be mad NOT to!!!