‘For me, pilgrimage can be a journey of self-discovery’
Pilgrim is the debut novel from Irish writer Louise Hall.
Published in September 2018 with Mercier Press, it tells the story ‘about a man who feels he has nothing to live for, and a daughter who is determined to prove him wrong.’ The story is set during the 1980’s and moves between Dublin and Yugoslavia (present day Bosnia-Herzegovina) when the latter country was drowning under a communist regime. The village the novel is partly set in, is a hamlet called Medjugorje, known to many of us as a special place of Pilgrimage.
Louise has written a guest post for us all today, sharing her inspiration for the novel, which I hope you enjoy as much as I did!!
‘The inspiration behind the book, Pilgrim’
by Louise Hall
Pilgrim is not the first novel I have written, but it is my first fiction novel to be published. Like most authors, I get asked about the inspiration behind the book. The story is set during the 1980’s and moves between Dublin and Yugoslavia (present day Bosnia-Herzegovina) when the latter country was drowning under a communist regime. The village the novel is partly set in, is a hamlet called Medjugorje which translates as ‘between the hills’. I visited this village in the 1980’s and I remember the rolling hills, the lush vineyards and the tobacco fields. It was a poor farming village and the locals had very little, but what they did have, they gave to the influx of tourists who had descended on their once quiet village. Why were so many people travelling to this little-known village with an unpronounceable name in communist Yugoslavia? They were there because six local children claimed to have seen a vision of Mary, the mother of Jesus, on a small mountain called Podbrdo.
I grew up, life went on, and then more than twenty years later, I found myself visiting this village once again.
I was writing a feature for the Sunday Independent and while I was there, I interviewed and spoke to many people, or ‘pilgrims’. These people all had a story to tell about what had inspired them to travel to this village and most importantly, the impact this visit had on their lives. My own sister had died very suddenly a year earlier at the age of 26. I think when someone close to you dies, you become very aware of your own mortality. I was doing my own searching for answers while I was there. When I came home, I compiled two books containing the stories of these pilgrims, some well-known, some not so well known, and these books were published by The Columba Press. One was later translated into Italian by Edizioni Piemme.
But writing fiction has always been my first love and it was my sister who lives in New York who encouraged me to write, Pilgrim. During my time doing research for my non-fiction books, what I realised from the many stories I heard is that no one is exempt from troubles and life is not always a smooth and easy road to travel. This is where I gained the inspiration for the characters in the novel – everyday people from all walks of life. Ireland was going through a recession back in the 1980’s and as well as the dole queues getting longer, the heroin epidemic was beginning to sweep through the streets. It was a tough time for many and people coped as best as they could.
For me, pilgrimage can be a journey of self-discovery. There are many who will walk the Camino, climb mountains, or visit a Holy Shrine. But some are reluctant pilgrims. They do not want to be part of the journey. This is where I gained the inspiration for the character of Charlie, who has just lost his beloved wife Sarah in a tragic accident. He can barely look after himself, let alone his fourteen year old daughter, Jen, who finds it hard to make friends, except for a traveller boy named, Francis Nelligan.
I wanted to examine various themes throughout the novel: grief, faith, loneliness, addiction, friendship, love and most of all hope. These themes are always present in our lives no matter what the year or age. They follow us through time and they cannot be ignored. Being a writer, you try to make sense of the world, or at least shine a light on certain aspects of it. In this cynical age, I hope with Pilgrim I managed to do just that.
[ Prologue ]
On 24 June 1981 six children from a poor Catholic farming village in the communist country of Yugoslavia claimed to have seen a vision of the Blessed Virgin on a small mountain called Podbrdo. The children said that a beautiful woman appeared to them on the hill, holding the baby Jesus in her arms. They said that the woman they saw was young. She had black hair, blue eyes and wore a greyish-blue dress with a long white veil. A crown of twelve gold stars sat comfortably on her head. However, they became frightened and ran away.
The following day they returned to the hillside and the children, who were aged between ten and sixteen, saw her again. This time, they said, they spoke to her, asking why she had appeared. Her reply was simple: ‘I have come to tell the world that God exists.’
(For more see the book trailer and book info below)
[ About the Book ]
In Dublin, fourteen-year-old Jen and her father, Charlie, are struggling to cope with the death of their mother/wife. Charlie, in particular, seems to have given up on life. When Jen’s aunt, Suzanne, convinces them to go on a pilgrimage to a strange village in Yugoslavia, there is hope that some solace or healing may be brought to their broken lives. On their arrival, however, they find a village in upheaval. An influx of pilgrims have swarmed into the village, each looking for their own miracle. Then there are the local police, who aim to suppress this so-called ‘revolution’. Amid all this, Jen makes a friend, Iva – one of the children who claims to have seen the Virgin Mary.
Told with a deep humanity and grace, Pilgrim is a story about a man who feels he has nothing to live for, and a daughter who is determined to prove him wrong.
Purchase Link ~ Pilgrim
[ Bio ]
Louise Hall is from Malahide, Co. Dublin. She has previously published two works of non-fiction, Medjugorje: What it Means to Me and Medjugorje and Me: A Collection of Stories from Across the World.
Her fiction has been published in The Irish Times and been shortlisted for numerous competitions, such as the RTÉ Guide/Penguin Short Story Award, the Colm Tóibín International Short Story Competition and the Jonathan Swift Creative Writing Awards.
Pilgrim is her debut novel.