RISING STAR: Annemarie Neary

Newry author talks about her debut novel, Venice and 'a mad robin who gets going around midnight'

Who/What/Where/Why/When is Annemarie Neary?

I’m a fiction writer (originally from Newry, now living in London via Dublin). My first novel, A Parachute in the Lime Tree, is out now.

What is your novel about?

April 1941. The morning after the Belfast blitz, Kitty discovers a German parachute caught in one of the lime trees on her land. That sets up a chain of events with life-long consequences for four characters - two German and two Irish. While most of the narrative takes place in neutral Ireland, the story’s roots are in Berlin. In the relationship between Oskar, whose parachute Kitty discovers, and his Jewish sweetheart, Elsa.

What gave you the idea?

Some of the characters have been bubbling away for ages. Most of the research was done in London – the newspaper library at Colindale was invaluable, as was the library at the Imperial War Museum.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I always assumed I’d be a writer, without actually doing much about it! It took me a while to marry the desire to write with the determination and discipline it takes to do it. People write for different reasons. In my case, I’m excited by situations I

haven’t encountered, places I don’t live... Maybe it’s not a bad thing that I came to it a bit later, when there’s less of an autobiographical impetus.

What was the first thing you ever wrote? Do you think you'll ever go back to it?

Pretentious poetry and stories that used far too many words. I hope not!

World War II and the Holocaust is still a very sensitive subject. Did you ever have any qualms about your ability to address the various issues?

Of course, but I think writing fiction is about trying to develop a kind of intuition about other people’s lives. You draw on your own (sometimes mundane) experiences to propel yourself into narratives of much more profound jeopardy. I didn’t just plough in. I read as much as I could about the period, but ultimately you need escape actual events and fly off on your own.

With regard to those sensitivities, the four key characters in the book are all very young – just nineteen to twenty one – but emotionally the German characters are much older than that. Kitty and Charlie still approach life with stars in their eyes, but Oskar and Elsa already know a much darker world. Kitty can be quite maddeningly naïve, and both her mother and Aunt Effie live at some remove from the real world so there’s a fair bit of humour there, but I hope that doesn’t obscure the deadly seriousness of some of the other strands.

So, what's next?

I’ve finished the first draft of another novel, Siren, set partly in Belfast, in fact! Over the past couple of years, I’ve also been working on a collection of Venice stories (Venice is a bit of an obsession).

Do you write to sound or silence?

I write when nobody else is in the house (or when they’re asleep). No music or talk. Traffic noise is fine (there are always plenty of red buses and Sainsbury’s lorries). At night, there’s a mad robin who gets going around midnight.

If you were creating a soundtrack for A Parachute in the Lime Tree, what songs would you use?

There’s a lot of music in the book already, so that’s not too difficult. Nocturnes, both Field and Chopin, feature prominently, but the three pieces I’d choose would be Chopin’s 'Nocturne in D flat Major', Margaret Burke Sheridan’s version of ‘I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls’ by Balfe, and Lehar’s 'Dein ist mein ganzes Herz'.

The book has its own Facebook page, with links to some recordings.

If you were to find a famous person from history hanging in YOUR Lime Tree, who would you prefer it to be and why?

My friend Gillian sent me my very own lime tree when the book came out. It’s in a pot on my balcony, though, so I don’t think I’m likely to find anyone interesting in it anytime soon. If I could combine it with a bit of time travel, I’d like to go back to early sixteenth century Venice with Marin Sanudo, a great diarist, gossip and all-round man about town.

Would you ever consider moving back to Northern Ireland?

Northern Ireland is such an incredibly exciting place at the moment, with so much positive creative energy and a huge number of new things happening. Sadly, moving back is not an option for me right now, with my sons at school here in London, but who knows what the future may bring.

Read an extract from A Parachute in the Lime Tree on Annemarie Neary's website.