In this strange time she has managed to publish her first solo novel: A Measured Thread. Yeah!!
(Full disclosure: Mary was a client of mine. I helped her publish he book.)
Let’s hear from Mary:
Where did you grow up and how has this influenced your writing?
I’m born-and-bred Irish, emigrating to the USA at the age of twenty-five. The nuns who taught me over the course of twelve years put a great emphasis on writing and reading. In junior school it was all about handwriting. I remember ruled copybooks and the importance of keeping within the blue (lower case) and red (upper case) lines. We had dictation too, where the nun read aloud and we wrote in our copybooks with a pen dipped in ink. At high school we studied a canon of literature that included Nathaniel Hawthorne (Tanglewood Tales), Kenneth Graheme (the Wind in the Willows) and several Shakespearean plays, as well as poetry. Each week we had to write compositions — three-page stories — in English, French and Gaelic. My mother read to my sister and me from as early as I can remember, and encouraged us to read — something we both have continued throughout our lives. Literature is bred in the bone in Ireland, I think. We like words: speaking them, writing them, singing them, and the country has produced more than its share of Nobel laureates in literature.
What is A Measured Thread about?
My editor, Christine Keleny, asked me this question so many times throughout the four years I was writing A Measured Thread, and I think I gave her a new answer every time. On one level it’s about on old lady approaching the end of her life, who it trying to come to terms with a fateful decision she made fifty years earlier when she first emigrated to the USA from Ireland. Themes of guilt, abandonment and forgiveness weave their way through the story. But on another level the story is a homage to a sense of place, to finding a true ‘home’ — the ultimate treasure for an emigrant. I had to create a villain, Bill Breunig, in order to highlight Maggie’s dedication to the stewardship of her land. She knows that in the bigger scheme of things she is just passing through, but she wants to pass her land ethic on.
Where did you first get the idea for the story?
About eight years ago, I was in Ireland in our family home. Sorting through old papers, I came across a box of letters that my father kept — letters that I wrote home from when I first emigrated. The packages were as I describe in A Measured Thread, typed blue aerogrammes redolent of age. I brought them back to Wisconsin… and stared at them for weeks and weeks. Eventually I got up my courage to sort through the packages, and began to read. At first, I thought about the young woman who wrote those weekly letters home, the young Mary Behan. But then I began to think about my parents. What went on in their minds as they read the weekly missive? It gave me a completely different insight. The conflict between these two mindsets was the spark that prompted me to begin writing.
What was your goal in writing this novel?
One of the things I wanted was to give a woman’s voice to emigration. Many of the writers on the Irish diaspora are men (e.g., Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín) and even though their protagonists may be female, those writers haven’t grown up with all of the baggage that comes from a society dominated by men. Ireland’s matriarchal Druidic history is reflected nowadays in the archetypical Irish ‘mammy’, but whereas she wields her influence skillfully, she still doesn’t really have power. I wanted Maggie to be a person who not only broke through glass ceilings, but lived a successful life on her terms. And I wanted her to share her memories with Isobel in order to empower the young woman.
What is your next project?
I felt at a loss when I finished writing A Measured Thread. There was elation of course, but I had been working steadily on the novel for four years, so it was strange to realize that I had finally arrived at my destination. I didn’t have the energy (or desire) to begin another novel right away, so I decided to try my hand at writing short stories — one per month for a year. I found a wonderful group of beta readers who were willing to read the stories and give me honest feedback. Now, six months into the project I’m enjoying it very much. My hope is that at the end I’ll revise and assemble enough of the stories to publish them in a volume. Deep down, though, I’m hoping that one of them will cry out to become a full-length story — my next novel.
There is another project close to my heart: to write another book with my sister. Valerie and I wrote Abbey Girls, a memoir about our childhood in Ireland, especially our time together at boarding school.
We want to write a book about traveling with our father, Mick Behan. It’s from him that we inherited our love of travel, and over the years we each (both together and separately) have had amazing and hilarious adventures with him. As with Abbey Girls, the format will be epistolary, for we have written innumerable letters to each other since Val emigrated to Canada in 1969. We have diaries and photographs… it’s going to be so much fun!
Interesting in picking up Mary’s book?
ISBN: Paperback – 9781734494303; Ebook – ISBN 9781734494310
Or go to her website: mvbehan.com
Here she is on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53244963-a-measured-thread
More about Mary:
Mary is a retired professor of neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She devotes her time to writing fiction, memoir and short stories. Her first book, Abbey girls, is a memoir she wrote with her sister, Valerie Behan, about their childhood in Ireland. She lives with her husband in the Driftless Area of southwest Wisconsin in a historic log cabin overlooking a tallgrass prairie.