Margaret Fernandez-Williams has had plenty of adventures during her 80 years, including the six years she spent as private English secretary and translator to one of the wealthiest businessmen in Venezuela.
Through it all, she has had a penchant for writing — in fact, she’s a published poet and has written columns for various newspapers including The Chief. But she has saved the writing and publication of her first novel until later in life, and despite her adventures, the focus isn’t on her own life, but that of her mother.
Ten years in the making, Maggie’s Dream: Escape from Ireland is a fictional account of life in rural Ireland during its most chaotic period of the bloody and troubled 20th century — the Irish Revolution that resulted, in 1921, in independence from Great Britain for 26 of the island’s 32 counties.
Fictional, yes — the character of the author’s grandfather, Barney, who is depicted as an operative of the revolutionary Irish Republican Brotherhood who is always on the run from the British “Black and Tans” — is entirely made up. Margaret’s real grandfather was a well-educated schoolteacher who steered clear of the troubles, she said.
The book’s main character, though, is closely based on the life and times of Barney’s “daughter” Maggie — the author’s mother, whose prompting led Margaret Williams to write the book as well as a sequel to Maggie’s Dream that’s in the works.
“She said, ‘You like to write, why don’t you make a story of my childhood? It’ll be good for people to know what it was like back in Irish history,’” Margaret Williams said of her mother, who died in 1977.
Maggie McGonagle was born in 1909 at the “workhouse” — the homeless shelter — in a small town in County Donegal in Ireland’s northwest. The story is set in the period from 1916, the year of the infamous Easter Rising, to 1925, covering the period of Maggie’s life from ages six to 16.
As portrayed on the book jacket, “Because of her father’s need to help his country become independent, his long absences and stresses these place on Margaret, his wife, and the rest of the family, Maggie loses her identity and freedom, only to become an indentured servant.”
Margaret Williams, who has lived in Squamish for the past 18 years, said she spent a lot of time researching the historical side of the novel to ensure its accuracy.
“I call it like a historical social novel of Ireland in the early 20th century. The social side is the poverty and how people dealt with that, and the historical side is the fight for independence,” she said.
The sequel, she said, aims to follow Maggie through the next phase of her life.
Maggie’s Dream is self-published through an online service called CreateSpace — “I haven’t tried the regular publishers because they’re only interested if you have a name already,” the author said. “It’s the way a lot of work is being published nowadays.”
Margaret Williams said she’s grateful to her editor, Ann Westlake, for her advice and guidance and to her husband David for his support.
The novel is available through amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com