New Hampshire Union Leader 05/03/2012, Page L02
Between the Pages
NH author chronicles life of 19th-century Irish immigrant
By PAT DeCOLA
New Hampshire Union Leader
Cynthia Neale is just a soft spoken, well-read mother of one who grew up in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York and has resided in Hampstead for the past 14 years.
She’s also the author of what very well could be a blockbuster book-to-movie sensation one day. On St. Patrick’s Day of 2011, Neale published “Norah: The Making of an Irish-American Woman in 19th Century New York” and it has been picking up steam ever since.
The story beautifully illustrates a specific time and place in American history through the eyes of an Irish-American woman, showing what life was like for her demographic during a tumultuous era in New York City’s history.
“I started putting the pieces together for a film with an actor I met in Chicago and we started having conference calls with a production studio for a month straight,” said the Irish-American author. “The plan was to call it ‘The Irish Dresser’ after one of my previous novels featuring the same character and it’d be a rated ‘R’ feature film.”
These plans were put on hold because the studio wants to keep the integrity of the novel intact and doesn’t think it could do it justice just yet. Down the line, however, expect to see a “Norah” film hit theaters, she said.
But who exactly is “Norah”?
The heroine of the tale is the fictional Norah McCabe, who, along with thousands of Irish immigrants, comes to New York with her family in the mid-1800s, having escaped the potato famine that killed more than a million people in their native land. Defenseless and poor, they arrived in New York City to try and create better lives. The McCabe’s determined, imaginative and hopeful daughter Norah begins to rebuild her life in America. Her story is one of desperation, cruelty, and ultimately hope and survival.
Think “Gangs of New York” (which Neale used extensively for her research) through the eyes of a young woman.
“I was able to find records of an actual ‘Norah McCabe’ that came over from Ireland, too,” said Neale. “My grandmother’s maiden name was McCabe, so I might even be related to her.”
The novel has been received well for a small press and has enjoyed mostly positive reviews.
Book review outlet Feathered Quill claimed, “This story is filled with so much intrigue, mystery, and beauty, that you’ll cling to every word while watching Norah grow into a strong, courageous, and brilliant woman, who ends up truly proud of her Irish blood.”
Neale has done numerous radio interviews, TV hits, and several Barnes and Noble appearances in Nashua and Manchester.
“When you’re promoting a book, there’s certainly a lot of pounding the pavement to be done,” said the author, who also enjoys Irish set dancing. “It’s certainly tiring and exhausting. It takes away from all the research and writing that I want to do and it’s a constant battle with time.”But it’s all worth it when you see the positive response from all of your hard work.”
While the target demographic for the readership for “Norah” was predominantly women, even some men have grown to see the value of her tale.
So much so, in fact, she teased that the unofficial tagline for the novel has become “Real men read Norah.”
“Norah” is Neale’s third novel.
“The Irish Dresser, A Story of Hope During the Great Hunger” was her first, followed by a sequel called “Hope in New York City.” Both are children/young adult historical fiction that follow the life of McCabe.
“Norah McCabe came to me as a child of 13 in my first children’s novel, ‘The Irish Dresser’,” said Neale. “I had been roused to read all things Irish because I hadn’t been privy to the knowledge of my Irish heritage. As a writer, The Great Hunger period of Irish history grabbed me by the heart and wouldn’t let go.”
Perhaps her Irish ancestors were trying to tell her something.
“Along the way I received many rejections for my first book. But I just felt nudged by my ancestors to keep going and it worked out.”
In addition to promoting her novels, Neale spends time going to schools to talk to children about history.
“I try to get them excited about the different things that have happened in the past.”
Before “Norah” hits the big screen, the author is keeping busy and is currently researching and writing another adult historical novel, “Catherine, Queen of the Tumbling Waters.”
The story details the life of Queen Catharine, a Native American, who once ruled a village that was destroyed by General John Sullivan in 1779. She is also writing “Pavlova in a Hat Box, A Collection of Recipes and Memories.”
Not a “shameless” promotion at all, but a warranted one! Readers need to know about Norah and the making of a 19th century Irish-American woman. Thank you, Cynthia, for sharing this wonderful article.
Thanks, Nancy! There isn’t a link for it to be read online and Pat DeCola suggested I paste it into facebook. This is one of the best articles written thus far, I think.