Home Lifestyle Entertainment Tyrone novelist honours late auntie in new book

Tyrone novelist honours late auntie in new book

Tyrone author Emma Heatherington told David Hennessy how her new book is dedicated to her late auntie Deirdre, losing her mother suddenly at the age of 15 and working on those biographies with Philomena Begley and Nathan Carter.

Tyrone author Emma Heatherington’s latest novel, Secrets in the Snow is a tale that shows the impact someone can still have on others even after they’ve left this world.

Secrets in the Snow is Emma’s twelfth novel, and her fifth to be published by HarperCollins who also look after the careers of household names in modern day literature including Cecilia Ahern, Barbara Taylor Bradford and David Walliams.

The book is dedicated to Emma’s late aunt Deirdre who inspired the character of Mabel Murphy who is such a pivotal character in her next door neighbour Roisin O’Connor’s life.

Emma’s aunt Deirdre meant a lot to her helping to raise her after her own mother died very young leaving a large family.

The character of Mabel is Emma’s tribute to her late relative ten years after her passing.

Emma told The Irish World: “Deirdre was a very, very special person in my life and just blessed us all with a lovely legacy in her memory as her lovely vibrant personality. She left us with some hilarious sayings. She was just a really strong presence, a really strong character.

“She was my mum’s sister. My mum was the eldest of seven girls and she died very suddenly when she was just 36 so all my aunties have been very special to me because they all rallied around. I probably have a closer bond with them than most people would with their aunts. They were heartbroken after their sister’s death. There were six of of us children left without her. They all tried to pitch in.”

Emma remembers her auntie Deirdre being there when she became a mother herself and was in some difficulty.

“When my own children were born, Deirdre was the one who was very hands on. She was standing at the window the day I was coming home from hospital waving when my son was born with my 14 month old daughter on her hip.

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“And I remember having a real panic thinking, ‘How am I going to cope with these two tiny babies?’ I was feeling fear and there was no mammy to go to for advice. Deirdre just stepped in and stayed with me for a full week.

“She was just such a huge part of all our lives. She came on holiday with us. She visited me almost every day or else I would take her for a drive. She didn’t drive so I would take her on different errands around town which was another pantomime,” she laughs remembering.

“She would always lure you in to take her to one shop and you might end up going to ten. And she would cackle and laugh if you were letting on you were in any way put out. She would laugh her head off and it wouldn’t put her off her notions. It was always a big mission.

“She was a very, very big part of my life and when she died ten years ago, she left a big hole. It’s extremely sad that she’s gone. We’re heartbroken. She died far too young.

“She’s one of those people that when I think about I can’t help but smile or laugh because she’s left us with such golden memories of her.”

Emma feels Deirdre’s presence every day in so many of the photographs of her children that Deirdre took.

“I still feel her presence. She was really into photography so most of my photographs of the kids growing up are taken by her. She’s left us with beautiful memories and I suppose I just wanted to pay some kind of tribute to her in the tenth year since she went.”

Secrets in the Snow tells the story of two friends and how one guides the other with signs from beyond the grave.

“The character of Mabel Murphy came to me with her in mind. This very lost soul Roisin is a single parent trying to start all over again in a new town. She’s trying to shut out the world, shut our her own pain and protect her son.

“Life has dealt her quite a few nasty blows. She sees the move as a fresh start to where no one knows anything about her. In waltzes Mabel this wonderful, colourful, energetic lady who ends up being the best thing in Roisin’s life and they form this beautiful inter-generational friendship. It’s almost like a mother-daughter relationship. Mabel becomes her great support and cheerleader while she fills a gap in Mabel’s life because Mabel is on her own. They have this lovely bond and their loneliness is healed.

“Even after her death she leaves her this path to follow for the first year without her. She leaves Roisin a message for every season but there’s a clause in it that she has to involve Mabel’s only living relative, Aidan Murphy who lives in New York so it throws the two of them together.

“They go on this journey and Mabel has lots of plans up her sleeve for them. It’s a love story. It’s a match made in Heaven quite literally because she’s pulling the strings even though she’s gone.

“It was lovely to create the character of Mabel in her honour. I just know it’s something she would have loved. She was a great supporter of my writing career. She knew the passion I had for it and was one of my biggest cheerleaders. She was with me the very first time I saw my book on the shelves in Eason’s. She came with me to share that moment with me.

“She was at my first book launch in the front row clapping and smiling and taking photos.

“When someone leaves such a big footprint in your life, I don’t think they disappear altogether in death. They’re here with us in so many ways.”

Emma has learned that people remain with us even after they pass away from the tough experience of losing her mother when she was still only a teenager.

“My mother died very suddenly and very tragically and left a very, very young family. Now that we’re all adults I can see her in every one of us. I think people live on in different ways. I think that’s very comforting when you see a glimmer of someone you love and have lost in someone who is still here.

“She died very suddenly of a heart attack. She wasn’t sick. There were no warning signs at all. She had just had a baby that was eight months old. She was extremely young: Full of life, full of energy, full of craic, full of song- Great singer.

“I was 15. We were at the stage of really getting to know each other. She was becoming a person in my eyes, not just mummy. It was those teenage years and I was starting to have a different relationship with her: Telling her my secrets, talking about boys. That was all just taken away from all of us very, very suddenly one Saturday morning and our whole lives changed.

“She’s missed her kids growing up. Even now, I think we all wonder in what way things might have turned out differently had that not happened.

“Her life was taken from her very, very young and, 30 years on, we still can’t get our heads around it.”

The book has already been received well with numerous five star reviews. Well known TV presenter and fellow novelist Fern Britton selected Secrets in the Snow as her monthly pick for her book club.

“That was definitely a ‘pinch me’ moment to hear of Fern Britton’s involvement. My editor emailed me to say Fern had chosen it and I just stared at the screen for a few minutes to take it all in.

“It’s been a lovely few weeks. The feedback has been excellent, couldn’t ask for any better.

“People are getting in touch saying how much they love the story, related to the characters and couldn’t put the book down. As a writer, they’re the best compliments.”

Emma has already revealed she would like the actor Aidan Turner to play Aidan in any movie of Secrets of the Snow.

“Wouldn’t that be just lovely? I’m just putting it out there to the universe. You never know.”

So who would be her choice for Mabel? “I would love Meryl Streep or Julie Walters. May as well set the bar as high as I can.”

Emma has also written bestselling biographies by first penning the story of the ‘Queen of Country and Irish’ Philomena Begley and more recently Nathan Carter.

“This very day three years ago was the day Philomena Begley’s book was published,” she says when reminded.

“She lives in our parish. She’s a neighbour of mine. I’ve known Philomena growing up and her daughter was a year below me in school. She was approached to write her life story and they said, ‘Would you know anyone you could work with on it?’ She nominated me. The rest is history.

“Me and Philomena got stuck into her life story. It was brilliant to delve into her early years and how she became a big, big country music sensation. She came from very humble beginnings to go on to play at the Grand Ole Opry and places like that.

“That was fantastic. We’re still good friends.”

Emma saw how important family was to Philomena.

“You would imagine someone like Philomena’s career would take over everything but no, she is very, very family-orientated.

“She could tell which one of her children were phoning her from what time of the day it was. Typical Irish mother. Just as she’s going to answer her phone she goes, ‘That’s Aidan, he’s just out of the doctor’s with the child’ or ‘That’s our Carol. She’s on her break’ or ‘That’s Mary, wonder how she got on today’. She just knew every move they were making and they’re in constant contact all the time. She’s very close to her children which is lovely to see.

“Just after that finished up I said, ‘I really enjoyed that’. I wonder if there is anybody else looking for a ghost writer. It was really coincidental because I contacted John Farry, Nathan’s manager, to see if he would be interested in Nathan’s story so far and he said, ‘Would you believe I was just at a meeting yesterday with Penguin and we have signed a contract to write Nathan’s story but we’re looking for a writer?’

“We just hit it off. We got on like a house on fire. I went on tour with them, spent time with his family, we used to meet up for writing sessions.”

Nathan’s story was another bestseller and even nominated for an Irish Book of the Year award.

“It was great to see someone of his calibre behind the scenes, what they’re really like. I had a lovely time. You see him on the TV and you hear him on the radio but you don’t realise what goes into keeping a talent like him on the road and in the spotlight. It was a real eye opener to see that.”

Many of Emma’s stories have been set in and around her home county of Tyrone. It is a place she has never felt the need to stray too far from.

“I have never lived anywhere else apart from university in Belfast. I’m not very well travelled at all,” she laughs.

“To be honest it was a lot to do with my whole family situation growing up. Because I was the eldest I was needed at home and that’s what really kept me here. I would have loved to travel and try out living in different places but that’s not the way it worked out,” she says without any regret.

“I’m still in the village I grew up in. My family is here.

“A lot of people do travel the world and then come back. I just didn’t do the travelling the world bit, I just stayed.”

Secrets in the Snow is now available at all good bookshops plus Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and online as an ebook or in audio from Amazon and all usual outlets.

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