Gemma Whelan (pronounced jem●ma wee●lan) is an Irish-born theater director and the author of the recently published Fiona: Stolen Child, which she talks about charmingly on this video.
Fiona is the story of an Irish-born New Yorker who has written a semi-autobiographical novel, though she denies the story’s relevance to her own life. The portrayal of her brother in the novel has led to family conflict, which is compounded by the death of their father. Having suffered a nervous breakdown after returning from her father’s funeral in Ireland, Fiona moves to Los Angeles to work on the adaptation of her novel into a screenplay. Her psychologist brother also lives in Los Angeles. Through the process of writing her story into a different medium, Fiona is forced to face the secrets and the shame of her own past and come to terms with the family she has left.
Whelan lives in Portland, OR, with her husband. We asked her a few questions.
What is this story ultimately about? I think that the major theme is about overcoming misperceptions of self and others.
What’s the significance of “Stolen Child” in the title? The reference is to the W.B. Yeats poem “The Stolen Child,” which refers to children being stolen away by the fairies and thus escaping the worries of human life. In Fiona, the meaning is metaphorical and refers to lost childhood.
If you were a bookseller, how would you describe the book to customers? A cinematic novel ranging from Manhattan to Hollywood to rural Ireland. It’s a story of a creative woman’s life transformed by loss.
What books were helpful to you in writing Fiona? Jung, How to write a Damn Good Novel by James Frey, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and Linda Seeger’s screenwriting books.
What have you read recently that you’d like to recommend? Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann and How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton.
What’s your favorite Northwest bookstore and why? Powell’s City of Books. Because it’s an experience of total immersion. Like a many-roomed hotel filled with books and you just wander from room to room and you’re constantly surrounded by books.
Tell us about your next novel. It’s a Gothic coming-of-age story set in San Francisco and rural California. The protagonist is a 21 year-old Irish immigrant called Aisling, from Co. Mayo (in the west of Ireland).