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Author Interview: Lisa Boyle

Updated: Mar 24, 2022

"Their silent disgust failed to affect me anymore. But this was not silent. This was loud and forceful and violent. I could not ignore it."

Dear Inmate is the second book in Lisa Boyle's Paddy Series and was released earlier this week on March 15th.

Her debut, Signed, A Paddy, chronicles the life of fourteen-year-old Rosaleen, who is forced to flee Ireland for American at the height of the potato famine.

Book Two picks up four years later, and centers around Rosaleen's life in Lowell, Massachusetts. Here's the official blurb:

Massachusetts, 1854. The anti-foreigner American Party, better known as the “Know-Nothings,” take power throughout the state. The city of Lowell elects Leonard Ward, a member of the party, as its mayor. Suddenly the “Know-Nothings” are everywhere. And they’re going after the Irish.

Rosaleen is ready to fight back. Emboldened by strange conspiracies about the Catholic Church, violent mobs and corrupt government officials are making life nearly unbearable for her people. Lowell’s newly formed police department is committed to ridding the streets of “Irish filth,” beating and arresting anyone who crosses them. When Rosaleen uncovers a horrific truth, it will test her in ways she could never have imagined.

Targeted by dangerous opposition, she needs help. But are her friends as loyal as she believes?

Kirkus called Signed, A Paddy:

"A compelling and reflective mix of tragedy and optimism..."

While the BookLife Prize said it was:

"Powerful and entire world is set up for deep imaginative reading."

Having read and loved the book myself, I was thrilled to be on the ARC team for Dear Inmate. You can read my full reviews of both novels here.

Working with Lisa was a pleasure, and I'm honored she agreed to be interviewed.

LQ: Tell us a little about how this story first came to be.

LB: Well, since this is the second in the series, I knew it would take place in Lowell, Massachusetts but that was about all I knew when I started out. I did some research about what was going on around that time in Massachusetts and learned a little more about the Know-Nothings (who make a very brief appearance in the first book). Once I learned just how severe their politics were toward the Irish, how fanatical they were about foreigners and Catholics in particular, and how much power they wielded, I knew that had to be a central part of the story. If Rosaleen couldn’t have avoided them, then neither could I!

LQ: What is your writing process like? Are you more of a plotter or a pantser?

LB: I am 100% a pantser. I might have a rough idea of where I want the story to end up, but that usually changes along the way. It’s something I love about historical fiction, actually. If I have all of the facts, all of the players of the time before I start writing, it’s easy to weave those into the story as I go along and let it drive the characters’ actions.

LQ: What do you need in your writing space to help you stay focused?

LB: Lots of papers and sticky notes and note cards! I handwrite my first draft which is just as time consuming as you might imagine, but I love how it steers the process. I type after every few chapters and do a lot of rewriting when I type. So the story is always changing along the way, getting clearer and sharper. But because of that I am always jotting things down that I’ll need to remember for later. Scene ideas, etc. Oh, and I also always need my research books right next to me!

LQ: Have you ever traveled as research for your book?

LB: Yes! I have actually gone on two trips already for the third book in The Paddy Series. The series takes place almost entirely in America and mostly on the east coast. I visited the National Park in Lowell, MA, on many occasions when I used to live in Boston. And for book three, I’ve visited Civil War battlefields in Maryland and Virginia. I was sad that I couldn’t visit Ireland for book one. I’m still hoping I can get there one day.

LQ: When you’re writing an emotional or difficult scene, how do you set the mood?

LB: I am such a character-driven writer that I am already in their heads when I begin to write a difficult scene. My characters feel incredibly real to me and that makes it tough because I do feel their pain. No spoilers, but I cried writing one of the scenes in book one!

LQ: How do you come up with character names for your stories?

LB: Usually I just pick them from a list! It’s something I don’t choose to spend too much time on because their other attributes are much more important to their development. I like to keep the names true to the time period, so I find a census list from around the time, in the U.S. and a similar list from Ireland, and I pick names from that as I go along. Rosaleen is the exception to this. I chose Rosaleen after Ireland’s famous political song, “Dark Rosaleen.

LQ: If you were to write a spin-off about a side character, which would you pick?

LB: From the first book, I would write one about Boudica, Rosaleen’s friend from the workhouse who gets sent to Australia. I’m not sure about this second book! Maybe one of the real-life nuns from the Notre Dame school. They inspired me to write the nuns in my book (who are all completely made up). Their story is a pretty amazing one that I don’t get into very much.

LQ: Are there any books that inspired you to become a writer?

LB: Yes! I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. Some of the most influential books from my childhood would have been The Chronicles of Narnia, all of the Roald Dahl books, but probably most important to what I write today, The American Girl series. Addy was my favorite. I read her books over and over again. But I also liked Felicity and Kirsten. My daughter just got her first American Girl books recently and I am thrilled that she seems to really love Courtney’s story from 1986. Which doesn’t seem like history to me (that’s the year my husband was born) but it is!

LQ: What book (or books) are you currently reading?

LB: I am currently reading At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier. It’s my first of her books and I am really loving it so far. I saw a reviewer call it a “dysfunctional little house on the prairie,” which seems to be a pretty accurate description so far. But it’s really well-written and I enjoy emotionally challenging books. I’m excited that I found a new-to-me author with a backlist that I can binge!

LQ: What books, films and/or TV shows most inform the aesthetic of this book?

LB: Hmmmm good question! I would say, for a book: Little Women (because of the strong female relationships), and for a film: Gangs of New York (because of the outfits of course! But also because of the corruption and prejudice against the Irish).

As indicated above, Lisa is already hard at work on Book 3, which I cannot wait to get my hands on. Stay connected to her for updates by subscribing to her newsletter. You can also follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

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