At the Historical Novel Society conference in September I met Annemarie Neary, the author of A Parachute in the Lime Tree, and I was intrigued to hear about her book as it is one of the first novels to be published by the predominantly non-fiction publisher, The History Press Ireland. I read the book soon after I returned home from the conference and enjoyed it immensely. The book is a completely different look at the Emergency as World War II was known as in Ireland. It is partly love story and partly historical novel and gives a glimpse into what life was like in Ireland when most of the Western world was officially at war.
Events in this story don’t follow a predictable path – it’s not a formulaic war romance and that made it interesting to me. As I read things didn’t always turn out as I willed them to but I was still satisfied with the novel’s conclusion. The four main characters’ stories weave together in a clever, believable way and I got involved in each person’s struggles. This is a quirky historical fiction that will stay in my mind. So I’m delighted to welcome Annemarie Neary here today to talk about the book. Let’s get started, shall we?
Tell us about your novel
The novel is set in neutral Ireland in 1941 during the tense weeks following the Belfast blitz. The morning after Belfast is bombed, Kitty discovers a German parachute caught in one of the lime trees on her land. That sets up a chain of events with life-changing consequences for all concerned. Most of the narrative takes place in Ireland, but the story’s roots are in Berlin, in the relationship between Oskar, whose parachute Kitty discovers, and his Jewish sweetheart, Elsa.
What prompted you to write about this historical event or era?
My aunt was a student at a music school in Dublin where one of the students was a German-Jewish prodigy exiled from pre-war Berlin so that might well have been one reason. However, I think it was fundamentally a ‘what if?’ In this case, what if a man fell from the sky?
How closely did you stick to the historical facts?
The story is fictional, of course, but I did set myself the condition that everything that happens in the book must have been possible.
If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?
I didn’t knowingly deviate from the historical framework.
What research did you do for this book?
A lot! I read many books on neutral Ireland (In Time of War by Robert Fisk is by far the most comprehensive but there are good accounts on certain aspects by people like Clair Wills, T Ryle Dwyer and others). I also managed to contact an octogenarian former member of a Luftwaffe crew. Someone I encountered on the internet very kindly interviewed him on my behalf at his home in Australia and sent me the tape. I scoured contemporary newspapers for little details of everyday life glimpsed in the background of photographs or through the small ads.
Do you use a mixture of historic figures and inventedcharacters in the novel?
All my characters are fictional. In only a very few cases are real characters referred to and they all remain off–stage.
In an historical novel you must vividly re-create a place and people in a bygone era. How did you bring the place and people you are writing about to life?
It’s important to remember that some things never change. A daisy is still a daisy and milk goes sour. When you include historical detail you must be careful not to shoe-horn it in. It must arise naturally and be the kind of thing that your characters would notice in the normal course.
There often seems to be more scope in historical novels for male characters rather than female characters. Do you prefer to write one sex or the other. And, if so, why?
Not sure why this should necessarily be the case. I have four point-of-view characters, two male and two female. I think it is probably easier to write your own gender, but to cross over and imagine yourself a 20-year old Luftwaffe conscript is for me the essence of what writing is about.
I’m always curious about how the novels I read were created so thank you for answering my questions, Annemarie.
To learn more about Annemarie and A Parachute in the Lime Tree readers are invited to visit her website.