"Sparrow" is the second in Maureen's series that focuses on Fragile X Syndrome, a chromosomal genetic disorder. In On Sparrow Hill we meet new characters and reacquaint ourselves with some of the characters from the first book in the series, The Oak Leaves." Like the first book, the story toggles between contemporary times and historical times, the the contemporary set in in modern-day England and the historical in Ireland.
The reader is quickly drawn into the life of Rebecca Seabrooke, commercial manager of the estate that once belonged to Cosima Escott Hamilton, ancestor of the family featured in The Oak Leaves. The storyline also reaches back to the struggles that Berrie Hamilton, Cosima's sister-in-law, faces as she strives to open a school for children with special needs. A daunting task today in spite of all we know, but a very huge challenge in the 1800s.
Maureen has kindly answered the myriad of questions that bubbled to the surface as I read this book. And, the best news of all is that she will send a signed copy of On Sparrow Hill to a lucky winner who leaves a comment with this message! Details about the drawing follow the interview.
Maureen, welcome to A Writer's Journey. I didn't realize when I started reading On Sparrow Hill that the setting would be completely in
I was in
For the contemporary portion of On Sparrow Hill, I depended on English friends to make sure I had some of the details right, like phrasing and some of the societal differences between here and there. I also contacted the estate manager at one of the historic homes listed on-line for tours and wedding receptions, to see what his job entailed. He was happy to help, and we corresponded for months as more questions came up.
Another question comes to mind, if you haven't traveled to
One of my first readers was born in
I worked for many years in special ed in an elementary school district, and I'm well aware of how much of a struggle it is for many parents to have their special needs child labeled. In the story you focus on a school that Berrie starts for children such as Cosima's brother Royboy. Was it difficult having to write about the labels people of that era placed on such children, given your own son has Fragile X Syndrome?
At first it really was difficult, because the terms they used in Victorian times have evolved into such hurtful terms today (lunatic, imbecile, idiot). But it made me realize that language is still evolving today. Even though everyone knows what “mentally retarded” means so it’s the easiest term to describe my son, there have been several phrases to take its place because the word “retarded” or “retard” has joined the ranks of an insult. So we say “mentally challenged” or “cognitively impaired,” when all of the terms, both historic and contemporary mean the same thing. Many words can be misused to hurt someone, which is always painful. But within the context of history, terms like idiot and imbecile took on a different, less painful connotation. One of my contemporary characters mentions the harsh words, so it’s not ignored in the book, just pointed out.
I was amazed at how you write dialogue so well to fit your characters. This book must have been quite a challenge. From the English way of speaking and their particular names for things that we Americans don't use, to Katy's manner of speaking as a lower functioning person, to Quentin's haughty mother, to the precocious American child, Peyton. Whew, it makes my head spin. What special techniques, if any, did you employ to get into the head of everyone and make them sound so authentic?
Being in the disability community myself, because of my handicapped child, I was interested in seeing how services have changed through the years. I think that’s the first ingredient we need when we research something: passion. If the author is excited about the subject, it’s easier to search harder to find more details and have more to pick and choose from that’ll best fit our stories.
This is the second book in your series that focuses on Fragile-X syndrome. Have you had a large response from people who deal with Fragile-X in their lives after "The Oak Leaves" came out?
I’ve had a number of notes (mostly emails) from other moms who are dealing every day with Fragile X Syndrome, who’ve faced the same diagnosis I faced and is described in The Oak Leaves. I have to admit those are my favorite notes, because we share the connection of one or more family members who struggle in many of the same ways. I’m an author, but I’m a reader first and foremost, and one of the reasons I love books so much is sharing some measure of the human experience. When someone contacts me to thank me for putting into words all the emotions they went through themselves…well, there’s nothing like it.
Can we look forward to another book about this most interesting of families?
At this point, these two books are the whole series. But I never say never, at least as far as potential books in the future! If I do revisit these characters, though, it’ll be a while before I can get back to them. Next winter I have another contemporary with Tyndale coming out, tentatively titled “My Sister Dilly.” It’s about a woman who leaves her small Midwestern town behind for the faster paced, trendier lifestyle of LA. But when her sister makes a horrible mistake and ends up in prison, she returns home to take care of her. She learns she can’t really go back, all she can do is accept forgiveness. This book revisits the disability community, too, but it’s not related to Oak Leaves or On Sparrow Hill — although, like those two, it DOES have a romance!
After that I’ll be revisiting the First World War for another romantic historical series (also with Tyndale), so I’m excited to say I have my next few books lined up.
Thanks for having me, Pam! Your questions were a pleasure.To win a copy of On Sparrow Hill, please leave a comment with this posting. The drawing will take place next Friday, February 22nd.
PLEASE LEAVE CONTACT INFORMATION WITH YOUR COMMENT, OTHER WISE I WON'T BE ABLE TO CONTACT YOU AND WILL BE FORCED TO LEAVE YOUR NAME OUT OF THE DRAWING.