THE STORY OF ‘FALLEN’ – How I Came To Write This Novel by Lia Mills
The Easter rising of 1916 is the best-known and probably the best-loved story in Irish history. We’re very proud of it, and with good reason. It has all the elements of the best kind of fiction: a cast of characters that any century would be proud to claim, a few hundred brave men and women laying their lives on the line against a vast Imperial army and holding on against overwhelming odds for nearly a full week. In the end they were defeated – of course they were – and the leaders were quickly executed. But that turned out to be a PR disaster for the British government, who were already at war in Europe and beyond. Little by little, support for the idea of Irish independence grew and that led to the War of Independence followed by a Civil War. Ultimately most of Ireland became a republic, while the north remained as part of the United Kingdom.
I was fascinated by all this because I used to study and teach the literary and social history of the period. There are subplots to the Rising involving acts of extraordinary courage and outright betrayals, split families, glamour, romance, tragedy and comedy. The story is so smooth and crafted, so well polished that it was difficult to see a way in under its skin to tell it from the inside out, which is what a novel needs. It took me a while to see the connection that had been right in front of me all along: my grandparents were living right on the battlelines drawn between the rebels and the British army – as in, on those actual streets. I began to wonder what it’s like when all hell breaks loose around you, if your city erupts into violence and you’ve no idea what’s going on or where it will all end.
That’s where the story began for me. The novel opens in Dublin, 1914, soon after WWI begins. Katie Crilly is a young woman trying to figure out what to do with her life, given the constraints of the world she lives in. She’s appalled when her twin brother, Liam, joins the British Army and goes off to fight in the war, as hundreds of thousands of Irishmen did. When the Rising begins in April 1916, she’s past caring about her own future because Liam has been killed. She takes shelter from street violence with friends and meets Hubie Wilson, who’s been discharged from the army with wounds. Both of them are damaged, both are wary and combative. The novel is about the impact they have on each other and the choices they make as the city catches fire and burns around them.
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